In the lush green gardens of Eliud Kipchoge’s training retreat in the Kenyan highlands, the greatest distance runner of all time is describing the dusty beginnings to his sparkling career.
Growing up, running for Kipchoge was functional. Schoolchildren in Kenya often run long distances without thinking anything about it, and he would run to school and back every day, also repeating the journey at lunch.
“You don’t know you are running because it is a must,” says Kipchoge.
But in 2002 at the age of 18 his life was changed forever when his now-coach Patrick Sang offered him a training plan to channel his obvious talent. The only problem? He didn’t have a pen.
“I just got a stick and wrote the plan for 10 days down on my arm,” Kipchoge says. “Then I just crammed it in my head, rushed home and got a pen and paper to write down what he had told me while it was fresh in my mind.”
Eighteen years later, Kipchoge – now 35 and a multi-millionaire thanks to his incredible athletic success, the first person to run the marathon distance in under two hours – has unsurprisingly long since replaced the stick and arm method with a training journal.
But many things have remained the same. The life Kipchoge lives is a simple one, as free from distractions as possible. The setting is the remote Kenyan village of Kaptagat.
Short presentational grey line
The first thing that strikes you is the quiet.
It’s taken a 24-hour journey from the UK, with three plane rides and multiple taxis, to reach Kipchoge’s camp. We’re a long way from the hustle and bustle of city life.
The bright orange dust roads that surround the camp are bumpy and rutted. But inside the gates, the grass is lush, green and smooth. A host of people mill around – at any given time up to 30 athletes live and train here – but the atmosphere is slow and tranquil.
If it weren’t for the rows and rows of £200 Nike Vaporfly shoes on racks outside the two dormitories (one for men, one for women) you could be forgiven for thinking you were in a Buddhist retreat.
Kipchoge’s weekly routine is certainly monastic. From Monday to Saturday every week, running is a religion. Despite his wife and three children being only a short drive away in the family home, Kipchoge chooses to spend the week in a basic room in the dormitories here. There is one nod to his celebrity status – he has his own room while everyone else shares. But other than that life is spartan.
“Our life here is simple, very simple,” he says. “Get up in the morning, go for a run, come back. If it is a day for cleaning, we do the cleaning, or we just relax. Then go for lunch, massage, the 4 o’clock run, evening tea, relax, go to sleep. As simple as that.”