'The greatest feeling': Running's philosopher king on how he does it
Plus races in San Rafael, Oak Island, Surfside Beach + Utah's canyon country
“I had a friend in India who told me that — the guy is 50 years [old] now — and he told me he will die before we see a human being run two hours flat. I met him one month ago in New York and I joked ‘You will never die again because you have seen me run two hours.’” — Eliud Kipchoge
I’m not sure how many of you follow the world of elite running, though no doubt you’re familiar with at least some of the big names in the sport, people like Kara Goucher, Deena Kastor, Bart Yasso and others.
So if you don’t follow it — and not that many runners I know actually do — you’d be forgiven for not knowing who Eliud Kipchoge is. Until this past weekend, that is.
The 34-year-old from Kenya officially became the world’s fastest man last Saturday by breaking the two-hour barrier in the marathon distance by an eye-popping 20 seconds, running the Ineos 1:59 Challenge in Vienna in 1:59:40.
That, of course, came after he shattered the world record for the marathon distance last fall, winning the 2018 Berlin Marathon with a jaw-dropping time of 2:01:39 — a full one minute and 18 seconds faster than the old record, which was set by a Kenyan runner named Dennis Kimetto back in 2014.
Both of these are only the latest in a string of athletic accomplishments Kipchoge has put together since he began taking running seriously when he was in his teens.
To date, he has won 11 of the 12 marathons he has entered, including the gold medal in the marathon at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Along the way, he’s become known as a kind of “philosopher king” of running, peppering his interviews with references to everything from Aristotle to Steven Covey, pointing out in a recent interview that The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is one of his favorite books.
He even looks the part, with a face that appears much older than his 34 years, as detailed in this adoring profile.
Humble beginnings, then a mentor arrives
Kipchoge started his journey to becoming the world’s greatest marathoner in the humblest of beginnings, growing up in a small Kenyan village called Kapsisiywa, where he ran every day to and from school.
The youngest of four children, Kipchoge’s mother taught school and his father died before he had a chance to get to know him. “I’ve only seen pictures,” he told the Times.
While he continued to run throughout school, he never considered it could lead to something bigger. But then a childhood friend named Patrick Sang, who’d gone to college in the U.S. and run competitively in the Olympics, moved back home to Kapsisiywa.
The pair reconnected, inspiring Kipchoge to dream bigger and enter regional races, a path that led to him running and winning world championship track and field events.
The relationship completely transformed his young life, as Sang explained:
“When you’re young, you always hope that one day you’ll be somebody,” Sang said. “And in that journey, you need someone to hold you by the hand. It does not matter who that person is, so long as they believe that your dreams are valid. So for me, when you find a young person with a passion, don’t disappoint them. Give them a helping hand and see them grow.”
The lessons he learned from Sang have obviously stuck with him. But Kipchoge’s path has had its share of bad luck and unfortunate turns, too.
In 2012, he failed to make Kenya’s Olympic team for the 5,000-meter race, after winning medals in 2004 and 2008. That bad day at the track prompted him to consider running longer distances, and eventually to leave the track for the roads.
It’s there, in the 26.2-mile distance, that he found his calling — and perhaps the right challenge for his formidable intellect, as the marathon requires from its competitors such a high level of physical and mental preparation.
You can read much more about Kipchoge in here, but I also wanted to introduce you to a speech he gave last year to the Oxford Union Society, the now 200-year-old British club that calls itself “the most famous debating society in the world.”
In this calm library, dressed in a suit and tie — a far cry from his running outfit, far from the streets of cities like Vienna or Berlin — is where Kipchoge’s philosopher side comes out.
The things he has to say capture so much of what it means to be a runner, so much of why we all keep doing it day after day, week after week — including what he has to say about:
“Only the disciplined ones are free in life. If you are undisciplined, you are a slave to your moods. You are a slave to your passions.”
“I believe in a philosophy that says to win is actually not important. To be successful is not even important. How to plan and prepare is critical and crucial. When you plan very well, then success can come on your way. Then winning can come on your way.”
The importance of optimism
“In any profession, you should think positively. That’s the driver of your mind. If your mind is really thinking positive then you are on the right track. ‘Pleasure in what you’re doing puts perfection in your work.’ That was a quote by Aristotle.”
I hope you’ll give the video a listen, as it’s full of wisdom and insight each of us can implement in our own lives, even if we never reach the heights that Kipchoge has.
In the meantime, keep in touch and let me know how your running is going — and any requests/questions you have.
As always, keep in touch!
P.S.: Parts of the essay above appeared first in an email to paid subscribers last September. Today seemed like the perfect time to share it with everyone. Sign up for a full membership here to get more just like it every week.
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Moab, Utah | Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020
The second in a series of Moab-area trail races known as the “Triple Crown of Moab,” this race unfolds along the southern edge of Utah’s stunningly beautiful Arches National Park, where you’ll get to take in views of towering red rock formations like those in the photo above, as well as the snow-covered peaks of the La Sal Mountains off in the distance. Organizers say the trails are “smooth and easy at points, technical slick rock at others, and there’s even some sand [along the route] to shake things up.” The race starts at about 4,600 feet above sea level and reaches a peak of about 4,770 feet, so while the elevation is high, the climbs aren’t overly challenging.
$95 and up | Sign up here
San Rafael, Calif. | Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020
A challenge indeed. Featuring steep hills along single-track trails through this 1,514-acre state park that overlooks the shoreline of San Pablo Bay just north of San Francisco, this race offers nearly 1,000 feet of elevation climb between the start and the half-way point. You might even spot wild turkeys out on the winding, up-and-down course, which offers plentiful shade thanks to its canopy of trees, and you’ll enjoy a long downhill stretch in the race’s second half, through the area known as Miwok Meadows all the way to the finish.
$55 and up | Sign up here
Oak Island, N.C. | Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020
Famous for its long ocean piers, its lighthouse and miles of sandy beaches that swell its population from about 7,000 year-round residents to more than 40,000 in the summer, Oak Island hosts this February race along a long, out-and-back stretch on Dolphin Drive and Beach Drive, the island’s main oceanfront road, while another half marathon in April showcases the Oak Island Lighthouse. Also, you can choose between two 13.1-mile routes at this race — an east course and a west course, with the former featuring flatter terrain and the latter featuring more beachfront running as well as a stretch over the island’s intra-coastal waterway bridge.
$49 and up | Sign up here
Freeport, Texas | Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020
Get off the pavement with this half that’s run entirely on the sands of this tiny beachfront town along the Texas Gulf coast, about an hour’s drive from Houston. That means it’s not just a stretch of the race that takes place on the beach — all 13.1 miles of the half marathon are run on the beach, starting from Surfside’s Stahlman Pack Pavilion. From there, you’ll run about two and a half miles out and then turn back, passing by the starting line as you head north along the beach, all the way to the 9th mile, and then head back in for the finish. The best part, organizers say, is that it’s impossible to get lost — the ocean is over your shoulder the entire way.
$75 and up | Sign up here
Hurricane, Utah | Saturday, March 7, 2020
Set for its 10th annual running next year under the wide-open, brilliant blue skies of southwestern Utah, this race offers up a course that one reviewer described this way: “if you want rock bands and spectators, this isn't for you. But if you want unbelievable views in a rural setting, this is great!” Run at a time of the year when temperatures should be perfect for running — around the mid-50s — the race starts and finishes in Hurricane, a city of about 13,000 that lies about 20 minutes from nearby St. George, Utah, and about a two-hour drive from the closest big city, Las Vegas. And if you’re up for sightseeing after the race, Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks lie a short drive from here.
$55 and up | Sign up here
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