Two veterans will work together to target 2:03:45 course record.
If Kenenisa Bekele, arguably the best distance runner in track and cross country history, achieves his goal of breaking the Chicago Marathon course record of 2:03:45 on October 12, he’ll have an old rival and friend to thank for contributing to the effort.
Bekele, Ethiopia’s world record holder for 5000 and 10,000 meters and the winner in his marathon debut in Paris on April 6 in 2:05:04, will be joined in Chicago by Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya. Kipchoge’s 2:04:05 in Berlin last fall made him the runner-up to Wilson Kipsang, who set the world record of 2:03:23 in that race.
“Kipchoge is an experienced athlete,” Bekele told Runner’s World Newswire by phone from Ethiopia. “For many long years, we raced together.”
At the 2003 World Championships, the then mostly unknown Kipchoge was the surprise winner of the 5000 meters over Bekele and 1500-meter world record holder Hicham el Guerrouj of Morocco. When Bekele won the 5000-meter gold medal at the 2008 Olympics, Kipchoge won the silver. “We know each other, we’ll help each other, we’ll fight together,” Bekele said about their race in Chicago on October 12.
Jos Hermens, the agent for both men, told Newswire he is involved in discussions of pacemakers for Chicago, but “we definitely will bring people who fit with Eliud and Kenenisa.”
Last spring, Hermens made clear that Bekele picked Paris over other options like the London Marathon because the Paris race would be built around him. And so it was; despite a tight hamstring in the closing stages, Bekele ran solo to the finish and won by by 1:45. Chicago will have a deeper field, but by design, Bekele and Kipchoge could be occupying their own 26.2-mile world within the race.
“There will be a lot more even running,” explained Hermens. “At the end, you don’t know; it will be a big fight. But for a long time, they’ll run together for a good time.” Upon mention of the possibility of Bekele’s going to Berlin, the fall marathon that’s yielded the last five men’s marathon world records, Hermens remained firm. ”We thought the competition with Eliud and him would be better,” he emphasized.
In addition to his three Olympic gold medals, Bekele has won 11 World Cross Country titles. He extended his range with a confidence-building half marathon victory over Mo Farah at the Great North Run in England last September and then turned his focus to the marathon.
During the Paris Marathon, Bekele admits, he was occasionally nervous, struggling with his own eagerness in a race that commands far more patience than anything he’d done on the track.
The Ethiopian appeared to be running well within himself, with no signs of heavy laboring, on the streets of Paris. Before the 20-mile mark, Bekele’s remaining rival, Tamirat Tola, “made a big surge and Kenenisa responded like a track runner,” noted Hermens. “Kenenisa was a little bit too keen to get rid of him,” and his right hamstring tightened up. “After that, he didn’t really push. He just finished the race. I’m sure he could have run a minute faster. He still sprinted at the end because he thought he could get under 2:05.”
Bekele expects to be in better shape for Chicago. He believes he “maybe overtrained” or missed a key element in preparing for Paris. “Now I will calculate everything better,” he said, with the heaviest training load reaching 130 miles a week and at least one long run of 28 or 30 miles about six weeks before Chicago.
Hermens doesn’t anticipate a recurrence of Bekele’s hamstring tightness. “Paris is hillier than Chicago,” he said. “We can avoid the problem.” Still, Bekele is doing exercises to “get a better balance between the quadriceps and the hamstrings,” Hermens said.
All of Bekele’s training is in and around the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, which is at 7,770 feet of altitude. Much of it is off-road, through forests.
His recovery powers remain strong. About a month and a half after his Paris victory, he defeated Wilson Kipsang by five seconds at the Great Manchester 10K in England. Bekele hasn’t raced since, and while he may return to the Great North Run in September for one competition prior to Chicago, that isn’t certain.
In an era of runners in their early 20s breaking 2:05 for the marathon, Bekele does not wish he tried the distance earlier.
“My age is not that much,” he said. I’m the beginning of 30. [He turned 32 in June.] These ages are good for marathon. I don’t regret about track. I did many great things over the track.”
One regret involves much of the period between his double victories at the 2009 World Championships and his fourth-place finish in the 10,000 at the 2012 Olympics. “Maybe I missed two or three years of injury. It’s okay. I’m happy now,” he declared. “The world records are mine, both five and ten.”
He expects he could have five or six more years an elite marathoner. At the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, “my goal is to win over there.” And a world record is in his thoughts. “Yes, sure, yes,” Bekele said. “It will be perhaps before 2016. God willing, we’ll make it. I will fit it in.”