Eliud Kipchoge: One of the Greatest Marathoners of All Time
Just as Hank Aaron is considered to be among the top several greatest baseball players of all time, Eliud Kipchoge, who made history in Vienna in 2019 by completing a the marathon distance in less than two hours, is widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest long-distance runners. Here, we explore the Kenyan long-distance runner’s life and outstanding achievements.
Born on November 5, 1984, in Kapsisiywa, Nandi, Kenya, Eliud Kipchoge knew his father only from photographs since he and his three older siblings were still very young at the time of his death. In a documentary, he recalls having been very conscious of the fact that Kenyan society eschewed fatherless children. This made him determined to become successful to support his family — something that his mother, a nursery school teacher, encouraged by instilling the values of hard work and self-discipline that would become the hallmarks of his career and were evident from at least as early as his first job, which involved collecting milk from locals and transporting it more than 12 miles by bicycle. Having received one Kenyan shilling per liter for those efforts, or the equivalent of about 90 cents, it took him five months to save up for a pair of running shoes.
An alumnus of Kaptel Boys High School, Kipchoge did not run competitively until after his graduation in 1999. Nevertheless, his time at the school prepared him for such running, as it required that he run two miles to school daily.
Adolescence, Patrick Sang, and Early Success
Having gathered with friends while young to watch elite steeplechaser Patrick Sang compete on a black-and-white television, Kipchoge was inspired by the Olympic medalist, who became his trainer in 2001 after Kipchoge requested training plans that proved instrumental in his 2002 first-place finish at the Kenyan trials for the IAAF World Cross Country Championships junior race and fifth-place finish at the World Cross Country Championships, where the Kenyan junior team won gold. Later that year, Kipchoge also won the 5,000 meters at the national trial for the World Junior Championships in Athletics, but was forced to miss the championships after falling ill. In 2003, he won the IAAF World Cross Country Championships junior race.
Turning up for early morning training, completing grueling runs along the edge of the Rift Valley, and spending weeks holed up in training camps away from his wife and family, Kipchoge has followed Sang’s training regimen without question ever since those early years.
An Unusually High Tolerance for Pain
In his documentary, Kipchoge points out that every athlete needs to undergo pain to achieve success, explaining that the way a person thinks about pain is the way their life will be.
Born to the Kalenjin tribe, Kipchoge’s enculturation involved resisting pain from a young age through initiation ceremonies and an arduous rite of passage. Such tests poised him for success in a sport like marathon running, where competitors must push through pain to achieve success.
With pain tolerance that is famously high, Kipchoge tends to smile rather than grimace when the going gets tough in long, challenging races. A marathon is a feat of endurance to most, but in one recent interview, Kipchoge explained that with fans, sponsors, the media, and the outside world in general placing an incredible amount of pressure on him, training for competitions is more painful than the competitions themselves.
Completing the Rio marathon on the last day of the games, Kipchoge won in 2:08:44. With a finish significantly behind that of Kipchoge’s, Feyisa Lilesa took the silver medal with a time of 2:09:54.
Having already won an Olympic bronze medal in Athens in 2004, as well as a silver medal in Beijing in 2008, Kipchoge won gold again in the marathon at Tokyo 2020.
Breaking the Two-Hour Barrier in Vienna
In 2019, the 34-year-old Kenyan ran the INEOS 1:59 Challenge, a marathon in Vienna where thousands watched with excitement as he, with the assistance of 41 pacemakers, became the first human to complete the marathon in under two hours with a time of 1:59:40.
A Modest Lifestyle, despite Success and Fame
With basic accommodations, but everything he needs, Kipchoge views his camp in the Kenyan Highlands as the perfect training environment. At any given time, 30 or more athletes train at the camp, with runners sleeping two to a room and pitching in with daily chores.
Worldview: Running as a Metaphor for Life
Guided by the belief that “no human is limited,” Kipchoge seeks to inspire the next generation of long-distance runners, showing them that, in running and in life, if you block out negativity, remain focused, and work hard, amazing things can happen.