Kenyan trio Eliud Kipchoge, Bernard Koech and Bernard Kipyego have been working together for several months in their local training location of Kaptagat in a bid to make the 2014 ABN AMRO Rotterdam Marathon a race to remember on Sunday (13).
Collectively, they promised to work together, hopefully for between 35 or 38 kilometres into the race, with the target of producing some impressive performances at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race.
“This marathon is about fast times for all of us,” Kipchoge told the media at the press conference on Thursday.
“Rotterdam has a fast course and that’s the reason why I choose this race for my third marathon.”
The 29-year-old former 5000m World Championships gold medallist on the track runner came to Rotterdam in February, straight just after winning the Barcelona half marathon in 1:00.52 and the race organisers of the famous Dutch race drove him around the course.
“I now know every kilometre of it, from the start till the finish, and it’s very flat and fast,” he added.
Kipchoge is clearly the man to beat on Sunday in the 34th edition of the famous race, which has seen three world records in the past.
He won the 2013 Hamburg Marathon on his debut in 2:05:00, one of the fastest ever first-time outings, and then was a surprising second in the Berlin Marathon last September, where Wilson Kipsang broke the world record with a time of 2.03.23. In only his second race over the classic distance, Kipchoge himself finished in 2.04.05 and he is currently the sixth fastest man ever on a record-legal marathon course.
‘This weekend, the world record is not on my mind; that’s a goal for the future, just like running the marathon in the Olympic Games in Rio. Here in Rotterdam I want to run a personal best,” added Kipchoge.
Of course, if he achieves that ambition than it would also improve on the Rotterdam course record, held jointly by his compatriots Duncan Kibet and James Kwambai who both ran 2.04.27 in 2009.
Kipchoge says he is an ‘old school athlete’. After a long and successful career on the track and in cross country, he ran his first marathon in 2013, but he said his training schedule didn’t change a lot.
“I do one long run every week, that’s all.” Elaborating, Kipchoge said he has runs over 30 kilometres twice a month and also 42 kilometres twice a month.
“My body has adopted to the programme of my coach Patrick Sang (the two-time World Championships 3000m steeplechase silver medallist) very well and, in the last couple of months, I did exactly what I had planned.’
Kipchoge is an athlete who takes a methodical view of his training and writes down a report of every training session. “At the end of the season, I want to evaluate what I’ve been doing and afterwards I can close the book and start preparing for the next race.”
“The marathon is not about magic. It is all about mentality. You have to prepare very well and you have to focus, and I believe that a long experience on the track and in the cross is the best way to run a fast marathon,” commented Kipchoge.
Another important element in the marathon career of Kipchoge is the cooperation with his training partners or “my friends”, as he calls them.
He has been working together with Bernard Koech in recent times and they both convinced Bernard Kipyego to join them on their road to Rotterdam.
Koech looking to learn from past mistakes
Now 26, Koech had an impressive debut at the Dubai Marathon in January 2013, when he run 2.04.53.
Last October, he was third in Amsterdam, but what was for him a disappointing 2.06.29.
“I made a big mistake there. I always want to be a frontrunner, but I had to learn that in a marathon you have to be patient,” said Koech.
“I was tired after 35 kilometres. On Sunday, I hope we will stay together until 35 kilometres, and then we will see who is the best from that point in the race.”
After some modest success on the track, he made the switch to becoming a road warrior two years ago. “I had problems with my knee in 2012 and decided to try it on the road. Now my injuries are over.”
Kipyego is the most experienced marathoner of the triop of friends and training partners. He will start in his 10th race over 42km on Sunday.
His best of 2.06.29 came at the 2011 Chicago Race but with 59:10 to his name in the half marathon he would like to do better.
“But a full marathon is quite different than a 21 kilometre race,” mused Kipyego. “I definitively had a lack of training mileage (in the past). Now, I’ve done more long runs and I feel I’m better prepared. I’m ready for it.”
The race can also boast of three other strong runners , all with career bests under 2:06, who could challenge the Three Musketeers from Kaptagat.
Kenya's experienced Alber Matebor, 33, has 18 marathons under his belt with his best performance of 2.05.25 coming three years ago in Frnkfurt. Since 2011, he has always finished in the top 10 of this highly competitive event.
His compatriot Jafred Kipchumba, 30, knows what it takes to be a winner in The Netherlands after triumphing in the nearby Marathon Eindhoven in 2011 in what was then a course record of 2.05.48 while Ethiopia's Birhanu Gebru, 27, is currently enjoying an excellent streak of form.
Last October, Gebru finished second in the Amsterdam Marathon in what was then his personal best of 2.06.06 and he improved on this n Dubai earlier this year when he was third in 2.05.49.
In the women’s race, Abebech Afework is the clear favourite. The 23-year-old Ethiopian was second in the last year’s Rotterdam race in a personal best of 2.23.59 and will start at a pace designed to bring her to the finish line in 2.22, in her fifth marathon.
She has already been a marathon winner in 2014, taking the Houston Marathon in 2.25.52 back in January.
Rotterdam is expecting 35.000 runners to take to the streets this weekend, including the kid’s runs and an accompanying 10km race.
The weather should be ideal for runners of all standards, with temperatures between 11 and 14 degrees Celsius.
Cors van den Brink for the IAAF