In 2003 when Gilbert Koech began coaching his wife, the newly crowned IAAF World Marathon champion Edna Kiplagat, he saw much more in her than the lovely women with braided hair from Iten with whom he would have their two children. He saw a champion in the rough.
"When I see the history of her, she's a good racer and she's a good fighter," Koech said. "When she was in World cross country, I see the race she was running, and she wasn't getting any kind of training. I had a small group, and she was the only lady and I tell her,'if you are patient, you will be at the top of the world.'"
That is where Kiplagat, 31, is today after her 2:28:43 victory here, which made her only the second Kenyan woman after Catherine Ndereba to win the World Marathon title. But, it would take more than the eight years of hard training she put in since then to get there. It also required Koech to give up his own aspirations as an athlete and focus solely on coaching his wife. That was a difficult decision, especially since he had won a minor Marathon in 2009 winning US$17,500 in prize money, a lot of money for the couple at the time. Koech needed a push.
"This girl is going to do it if we do everything right with her," Kiplagat's agent, Brendan Reilly recalled thinking as he watched his client win the 2010 Los Angeles Marathon in a personal best 2:25:38, a performance which earned her $145,000 plus a car. "I told Gilbert that you have to dial back your own running career. He thought about it for two days, and he said, 'Brendan, you're right.'"
The couple then redefined their relationship, a transition which felt natural to Kiplagat. They were still husband and wife, still supporting each other as they had before, but now her career was the most important of the two. She said that her whole family got behind her, including eight year-old son Carlos, and four year-old daughter Wendy.
"What I can say, especially my husband he has been helping me a lot," Kiplagat said. "And also my children who give me enough time to do my training. what I can say is the most important thing is to get support from the family."
Kiplagat's victory in Los Angeles was the rebirth of her marathon career. In 2005 she made her debut at the distance in Las Vegas, running a disappointing 2:50:20. She finished in tenth place, and won just $500. It would be another five years before she would attempt the distance again.
"I think my first Marathon when I ran in 2005, I didn't do well," Kiplagat said. "So, I had to do my road races until I improved. When I started running last year and started getting experiences in my races, I learned the difference between road races and Marathon."
After recovering from Los Angeles, Kiplagat hit the USA roads again with great success. She finished second in the Freihofer's Run for Women 5-K, won the Steamboat Classic 4-Mile, finished third in the Peachtree Road Race 10-K (31:18 PB), then broke Catherine Ndereba's course record at the Utica Boilermaker 15-K. Those marks were enough for the ING New York City Marathon organisers to offer Kiplagat an invitation, including a modest appearance fee.
"Getting into New York was Edna's big break," said Reilly.
In that contest, Kiplagat used her patient approach to win with a very strong final three kilometers. Her time was slow (2:28:20) but she showed that she had already mastered the tactics of Marathon running.
"I tried to run all of my races the second half faster," Kiplagat explained. "It was part of my strategy to run the second half faster."
But Koech wanted Kiplagat to also run a fast Marathon, so Reilly made a deal with the Virgin London Marathon. Koech changed her training to incorporate more speed work, and Kiplagat delivered a sizzling 2:20:46 there last April, good for third place. Koech said his wife is very coachable.
"She is smart, and she listens to any kind of advice and she implements," he explained. "You see, she improves."
Kiplagat will now return to New York to defend her title. After that, she hopes to focus on the 2012 Olympic Marathon in London, should her country select her for the team. But right now, the couple are just enjoying the moment.
"I'm happy about it; I don't know what to say," Koech said searching for the right words. "I'm so happy. What we did took a long three months preparation."
His wife agreed. "Being the first time representing my company in a championships I'm very happy because I didn't know that I was going to be a winner," she said. "Being the winner today I'm pretty happy."
David Monti for the IAAF