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World record the goal for Wilson in Frankfurt Marathon

By Myles Edwards.  Reporting from Iten, Kenya.

Thousands of Kenyan athletes regard the world marathon record as the potential pinnacle of their career, the Holy Grail, the ultimate goal.  It is why, just like clockwork, at 6am, 10am and 4pm you will see an abundance of runners churning out mile after mile on the red dirt roads of Iten and other Kenyan towns.  Only a handful will reach such a level. 

The sheer depth of Kenyan talent over the marathon distance is perhaps most comprehensively demonstrated by the fact that Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich is officially the 9th fastest ever man to run 26.2 miles, and only the 8th fastest among his countrymen.  On the streets of Frankfurt on October 30th, the world record is a realistic possibility for the popular and charismatic, ‘Kipsang’:

“We as athletes have aims and expectations which become higher and more ambitious as we achieve.  Now my ambition is the world marathon record.”

Wilson Kipsang winning the 2010 Frankfurt Marathon

Speaking at myself and Dan Mulhare’s place in Iten, Kenya, the reigning Frankfurt Marathon champion was in cheerful and confident mood when discussing how he plans to retain his title and become the fastest man in history in the process.
 
“Frankfurt is my favourite marathon.  The people are friendly and the hospitality is fantastic.  Due to Patrick Makau’s world record run inBerlinlast month (2 hours 3 minutes 38 seconds), my plan has now changed.  I do not intend to run like Makau did, at times he was running 2.03.10 pace and then slowed. 
 
“I aim to run around 2.03.25.  The final 5km should be about maintaining pace, not slowing down.  If I aim for 2.03.05 then I could easily die.  As long as it is under the world record time then I will be very happy”, he said followed by his trademark chuckle of ‘aye aye aye’.

Kipsang explains how his role as a pacemaker has played a big role in his success but goes on to attribute his sensible yet tough approach to training as the biggest factor:

“Being a pacemaker is a crucial part of the learning process.  It teaches you speed control and you have a free mind with no pressure.  I always felt good and it taught me to have no fear.

“You must be clever and sensible and not just run, run, run.  Training is important but training well is the key.  It takes discipline and hard work.  I am a very focused guy, when I want something I go out there and work hard to get it.  The main thing is to live positive, if training is not going well then do not worry, it will come.”

In three days time, the city of Frankfurt could be witness to a new world marathon record.  Whether or not Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich is successful on this occasion, you can be sure to see much more of this determined and personable athlete at the forefront of men’s world marathon running in the not so distant future.

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An insider’s look at life on the ground in Kenya

ROGER ON RUNNING: A DIARY FROM ITEN
 
An insider’s look at life on the ground in Kenya
 
By Roger Robinson and Myles Edwards
As featured in the Web Only issue of Running Times Magazine.
 

My friend, Myles Edwards, a 23-year-old, national-class 800m runner from Scotland, is living and training in Iten, Kenya. The following are edited selections from the email diary he sent me in September and October. Not only do they give a glimpse of what a visiting runner encounters while training in Iten, Edwards’ entries also give telling insights to some of the world’s top runners.

Watching Dan Mulhare at the Ndalat Cross Country

My neighbor is Linet Masai! When she got home from the world champs, the celebrations went on until it was time for their 6 a.m. run. For such a slight lady, she has a huge amount of laundry – hogging five washing lines today with all her kit from the worlds and Zurich. Haven’t spotted the Daegu bronze medal hanging there! My room is basic — power comes on and off, no furniture, and it took three days to get a bed. But who cares? The people are terrific. Theo the taxi driver waited three hours at Eldoret when our plane was late.

Runners are everywhere. It’s like living in World Running HQ. I watched the world champs 800m on TV with Brother Colm, Rudisha’s coach. He was so relaxed! He just sat there. All he said was, “Easy, OK.”

Can’t wait to get back running. The shin is improving, and Lornah Kiplagat’s camp is great — this morning did gym, aqua-jogging, and a killer one hour on the exercise bike. Then at the physio, my appointment came between Augustine Choge and Mary Keitany. Jeroen, the physio, is a great guy, very modest, who has treated everyone from top soccer players like Robin van Persie to Mo Farah. My only problem is Simon, a neighbor, a 2:10 Ugandan marathoner, who laughs at me because I get up late in the morning. They have all run two hours or more before I appear at 8 a.m. But wait. I’ll show them.

It would have been impossible to have secured the place we have and had all these experiences without the help of a mutual friend of mine and my training partner out here, Dan Mulhare.

During my appointment with Jeroen today, Abel Kirui came in with Wilson Kiprop, and every one started dancing and celebrating Abel’s world champs marathon victory. I was on the table and he shook my hand as he danced round. That doesn’t happen every day!

The streets are like nothing I have seen before. Roads are pretty good, driving is appalling. The taxis drive on whatever side of the road they feel like. The people don’t have much in material things. I walked into a store called “Runners Point,” and it was like a charity shop, just shabby second-hand clothes, and some adidas apparel from before my time. The “London Marathon Shop” sells eggs and not much else. Some of the local runners, Kenyan and Ugandan, have begun to hang about asking for things. Very friendly at first, but now they seem to assume that we are wealthy and can give them everything from watches to food. But I didn’t work so many hours for this trip to give away my equipment to a full-time athlete with a manager.

Ran over 40 minutes yesterday, my longest run yet, because I misread a sign that I thought said “Iten 3K.” It was a fantastic loop. Until then, I’d run the same out and back on the road to Eldoret. Pretty sure some of the kids I passed have never seen a mzungo before. I gave them high-fives, said “Jambo,” and did my Usain Bolt imitation. Jogged down to the track, where there were around 150 athletes bashing out sessions of 400, 600, 800 and 1,000 reps, mighty impressive at that altitude. One European runner who has set up as a coach was loud and unpleasant to his athletes, who were “only” doing 1K reps in 3:06. The whole track heard him shouting at them, and he ended up sending two home. I felt like putting an arm around and saying don’t listen to him, well done, and stick to it.

Moses Mosop ran 45K today and went through 26.2 miles in 2 hours 16 minutes. At altitude! He plans to run Chicago but not try for the world record because he has some disruptions. Mary Keitany has been away at the Lisbon half, and will be doing New York. I’d better not say how she plans to run it. But she intends to win and won’t be waiting around. It looks likely she will be wearing my watch in NYC. I had dinner with Jeroen the physio and Mary’s coach, Gabriele Nicola, who is really helpful to me and incredibly knowledgeable, an absolute fanatic when it comes to knowing times and splits. He analyzed every split from Mary’s Lisbonrace to see where she can improve. He really cares about all his athletes. And Jeroen has become such a good friend I’m giving him my Aberdeen F.C. top. (The way they are playing this season, it might not count as a gift.)    




One really good friend is Enoch. I helped him set up an email and Facebook. He’d love to go to university but there’s no way his mother can afford it. Lornah and her husband, Pieter, have a great program that sends outstanding Kenyans to American colleges.   

The bad news is my running has stopped again, as the shin is far too sore. Did 100K on the gym bike yesterday, inspired by when Dad requested a treadmill in his chemo isolation room in 2007. [For Myles’ dad and his response to cancer, see “Roger on Running: Running Old and New.”] I hit the wall at 92K, but still did my 2-minute Ks target. No point in being down. I have a great physio who is far cheaper than home, and all the time in the world to work out and get mega fit. Bad things happen to everyone, it’s how you deal with them that sets you apart. 

Today I was sitting in the sun when Linet Masai shouted for my help. I ran over and in her living room a socket and extension cable was sparking. I made sure she was well away from it and got her to turn off the power. The plug had melted in the socket and snapped when I tried to pull it out. So I got a friend who was going to Eldoret to buy a new plug and socket, and dropped it off tonight after my stretching class with Jeroen, to Linet’s very shy sister Maggie. Five minutes later Linet came over, smiling but shy, asking how much she owed me, but I said nothing, it’s for a neighbor. When do you get opportunity to do a favor for a world-class athlete? Her smile went from ear to ear. It’s amazing to get to know her as an ordinary person at home, after reading about her, things like your magic description of her running, “Roger on Running: The New York Mini 10K.” I showed Linet her fan site on Facebook, which she had never seen. Some days I watch soccer with her and all her sisters. Linet supports Chelsea and her sisters support Man Utd, but no one is perfect.  I hope to one day take them to a West Ham United match.

Berlin and Chicago — wow! All Kenya is very happy. According to Canova, Mosop was only in 85 percent shape. Before the race, he said Moses would run “around 2:05:40,” not a bad prediction. [Mosop won Chicago in 2:05:37 on Oct. 9.] In the gym on the way to the shower I got chatting with a guy who after about five minutes casually mentioned that he was one of Patrick Makau’s pacers in his Berlin world record. I also talked to Wilson Kipsang. He told me, “As athletes we have expectations and aims. As we accomplish these, they change. Now my expectation is the world marathon record, and my aim is to do that in Frankfurt on Oct. 30.” Gilbert Kirwa will be at Frankfurt, too, and Agnes Kiprop could win the women’s. Then comes New York, with Mary Keitany. It goes on and on. This is an incredible place!

Three nights ago I picked up severe food poisoning and lost so much weight in 12 hours I was taken to hospital. Now I weigh the same as a Kenyan. Iten District Hospital was great, the staff were impressive and friendly. I was home in time to leave at 7 a.m. (see, I said I could do it!) for a local cross country race. Great trip, as Maggie and her friend Chemtai were running, and others from the Masai family came along. They are incredibly friendly and helpful people, and they laugh, laugh and laugh some more all day long. The race was like no event I have ever seen — kids everywhere, big fields, incredibly fast. Chemtai was 3rd in the Senior race and my training partner Dan ran 40:29 for 12.8K /7.95 miles, and only came 94th! He was first mzungo, and the kids had never seen a white man. I lost count of the number who asked me to sponsor them.   

Today I walked one hour, increasing the pace, and ran in the pool, which tests the breathing — and NO PAIN. Will try running again soon. My plan now is to get injury-free when I’m home, get a job to save some more money, and then come back here in March. I’ve made amazing new friends here, like Enoch, Jeroen and Linet. It’s opened up so many things I would like to do with my life, like coaching, and freelance journalism, and helping people find good therapists. I’ll do some of it here. This is a special country.

Roger Robinson has done many things in a lifetime in running, including racing for England and New Zealand, setting masters records at Boston and New York, and working as stadium announcer and TV and radio commentator. Most of his jobs involve finding words to describe or analyze running. The first of his successful books, “Heroes and Sparrows: a Celebration of Running” was reissued this year. Senior writer for Running Times he has won three U.S. running journalism awards. “Roger on Running” appears monthly on runningtimes.com. Read all of Roger’s articles here.

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Athletics Kenya could run into trouble

Kenyans training session: 10 x 1km. Kamriny Track, Iten. September 20th 2011

By Myles Edwards.  Reporting from Iten, Kenya

Athletics Kenya, this morning announced that all Gold medal winners from the recent World Championships in Daegu will be selected for the London 2012 Olympics. 

This would be standard practice for most countries and require virtually no announcement nor analysis.  However, look into this a little deeper and you see just how bold, and potentially foolish, this statement is.  World 5000m gold and 10,000m silver medallist, Mo Farah – barring injury or a catastrophic drop in form – will be selected for Great Britain at our home Olympics.  The same goes for Dai Greene following his impressive 400m hurdles gold medal in Daegu earlier this month.  The difference being that UK Athletics do not have to deal with the possibility that other athletes could potentially break world records between now and London. 

Kenya has a bottomless pit of talent at their disposal across all distances above 400 metres.  This is most comprehensively demonstrated in the marathon, particularly in the male event.  What makes the race inLondon even more special for Kenyan athletes is the tragic passing of current title holder Sammy Wanjiru earlier this year.  His run to victory in Beijing captured the hearts, not only of a nation, but the world as a whole as he won Kenya’s first ever Olympic marathon gold medal. 

Abel Kirui wins World Championships Marathon in Daegu. (reuters)

Each country is allowed to select 3 representatives for the 26.2 mile event at London 2012.  This morning’s announcement guarantees Abel Kirui one of those berths.  Along with his personal best of 2.05.04 (Rotterdam 2009) his impressive 2.06.54 to scoop gold in Daegu has cemented his place.   Also on the plane to London is newly crowned world record holder Patrick Makau who, on the streets of Berlin, took 21 seconds off Haile Gebreselassie’s previous mark to run a time of 2 hours 3 minutes 38 seconds.  Already Kirui and Makau have welcomed the decision saying that they will give Wanjiru a fitting tribute by regaining his title inLondon.  This leaves one slot up for grabs. 

  • Speaking with Wilson Kipsang last week, he is in good shape to get close to the world record inFrankfurt, a month from now. 
  • Emmanuel Mutai, the reigning London Marathon champion is due to run the New York City Marathon in November.
  • Geoffrey Mutai recently clocked 2.03.02 inBoston to make him the fastest man in history.  Unfortunately the IAAF did not deem the course to meet their criteria for world record eligibility due to the percentage of downhill from point to point.  He will also runNew York.
  • Finishing four seconds behind Geoffrey in Berlin was Moses Mosop who already this year has a world record to his name over 30km on the track, running 1.26.47.  Just last week, in preparation for the Chicago Marathon on October 9th, he completed a training run of 40km in 2 hours 6 minutes.

Whilst today’s announcement undoubtedly contains an element of controversy, the selected athletes have come out in full praise, saying that it gives them ample time to prepare properly for the event.  However, in relation to the mens marathon it is far too early to make such a bold statement.

In the highly possible event that the world record was to be broken once or even twice in the coming months, it may force Athletics Kenya to reconsider their stance.  Whatever their final decision there will surely be complaint.  Standing by their announcement would potentially deny a man who has run quicker than the current world record the chance of becoming an Olympian.  Backtracking and picking the fastest people would look highly unprofessional and completely mess up the racing and training plans of Abel Kirui, a proven championship performer with a fast time of his own.  Their actions show a total disregard for the individual athlete.  In effect it may well not matter who they pick as they posess such strength in depth.  However, in effect all they are doing is forcing someone to run a world record time.

Sir Alex Ferguson thinks Danny Welbeck’s from gives him a selection headache.  Javier Hernandez just needs to work hard in training and bide his time, the World Marathon champion from Daegu may have to contemplate running another marathon and potentially break the world record in the process to solidify his place.

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“Some things never change……some things.”

By Myles Edwards

 
 
Cast your mind back to 1967.  Labour were in power in the United Kingdom.  War in the Middle East was causing conflict in the western world.  Casino Royale was a box office hit.  Mini skirts were the craze.  Ken Barlow was strutting his stuff in one of the nation’s favourite soap operas.  Some things never change……some things.

Mel Edwards is a former British marathon international runner with a personal best time of 2hours 18minutes 24seconds (set in 1967), and is widely regarded as one of the most inspiring, modest and popular coaches in the running fraternity.

Born in December 1942, he graduated in Civil Engineering from Cambridge University in 1966 and has since enjoyed a great deal of success in the world of distance running.  In a career which has spanned over 40 years, Mel has endured a roller coaster of ‘injuries’ and success at every level from club competitions to international level.  Detailed and accurate training diaries have been kept, which show he has racked up a total of over 100,000 miles of running!

Mel Edwards at Font Romeu, high altitude training camp 2008

Following receiving his second Cambridge ‘blue’ for his exploits on the track he went on to bigger and better things in 1967.  It was quite literally a record breaking year for Mel.  He impressively broke the Scottish 6 mile record – whilst finishing 2nd to Lachie Stewart, but went one step higher on the podium in the English universities 3 mile race by cracking the previous record.  1967 saw him really flourish as an athlete, most notably in the marathon distance of 26.2 miles.  In his first attempt at the event, Mel ran away from his rivals early on to win the Harlow marathon and climb to 4th in the British rankings.  To cap it all off, he narrowly missed out on the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, by 2 places.

What contributed to this large amount of success in a sport, which, at the time was highly competitive in the UK?  In an answer that was oozing with Mel’s typical, determined attitude, he said:

“It was down to single minded focus on getting the best out of myself, by doing the work and when injured leaving no stone unturned to find the solution.”

Renowned for his training regimes of around 100miles per week, what makes Mel stand out is his positive attitude and dogged determination to get the best possible outcome from everything he does.

In November 2006, aged almost 64, Mel underwent a MRI scan for lower back pain.  45 minutes later he was diagnosed with Myeloma, an incurable but very treatable form of bone marrow cancer.  After numerous treatments and minor disruptions to work, 8 months later he was back to full-time work as a chartered road safety engineer and running over 20 miles per week.  His reaction following the diagnosis typified his personality traits.

“Those are malignancies, cancer”, said Dr. Frank Smith.  Much to the doctor’s amazement, Mel’s immediate reaction was not to be shocked but “I’ve got a big cross country race coming up soon.”

When asked if he felt his attitude and fitness achieved from competitive sport had helped him face cancer head on, Mel’s response was definitive:

“There is no question these elements made fighting myeloma much easier. I would hate to have had to deal with it if I had never had to show determination in my life due to things coming too easily. Certainly fitness means that you have a built-in reserve which can be used to deal with additional stresses.”

It is this attitude which has served Mel so well throughout his life and during the treatment.  An inspiration to many, but what makes this inspirational character tick?

“I am inspired by the opportunities available to do constructive things, such as helping people with their athletics aims and trying to make roads safer in my working capacity. These aims, when carried through, give people a feel-good factor.”

British marathon running was booming in the late 1960s and continued to do so for the best part of the following two decades.  In 1968 there were only 2 countries to have more than 3 runners faster than Mel – Japan and UK, which, looking at today’s standards makes him look rather unlucky at missing out on competing at an Olympic Games.  But it is evident that excuses, simply, aren’t in his nature.

In 1968, 46 UK men broke the 2hours 30 minutes barrier.  In 2007, only 31 men managed to achieve this feat.  With all the advances in footwear, nutrition and training tools, as well as even faster role models, albeit almost all from other countries – why is there such a decline in British marathon running standards?

Mel’s opinion on the decline is, again, filled with absolute clarity:

“It is down to distance runners not putting in the work they did 40 years ago.  You have to be totally dedicated to getting the mileage in and choosing the right races.  Between 1966 and 1984, in Aberdeen alone, there were ten guys faster than 2 hours 20 minutes for the marathon.”

For many people, it is intriguing to find out what gets an athlete through long runs without boredom setting in.  For Mel, it is simple:

“I really enjoy the challenge of distance and time.  The fact that others with an aim to be in the top echelons of marathon or cross country running in the UK, were doing similar training also gave me a desire to be the best.”

A common site in elite marathons. (World record holder Haile Gebrselassie 3rd from right)

The lack of top marathon runners in the UK today is in stark contrast to the likes of Kenya, Ethiopia and America.  For Mel, in the late 60s and 70s you only had to turn up for a local race to compete with or witness elite athletes in action.  Therefore can the lack of male distance running role models in the UK be a factor in the decline of standards?  Perhaps so, but with Mel’s philosophy, it is very likely that all smaller factors would subsequently fall into place.

“More role models would emerge as a result of increased hard work from individual athletes.  To be the best, you must learn from, and work harder than those faster than you.”

His fair, no nonsense attitude spans far wider than himself or anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting him.  For those who are not familiar with the name, Oscar Pistorious, he is a South African Paralympic runner, known as the “Blade Runner”.  He is the double amputee world record holder in the 100, 200 and 400 metres and runs with the aid of carbon-fibre limbs, attached from the knee down.  In 2007 Pistorious took part in his first international able-bodied competitions.  However, the International Association of Athletics Federations (with their typical Rubix Cube-like mindset) ruled that his lower leg, artificial limbs gave him an unfair advantage over able-bodied athletes and subsequently banned him from competing under their rules.  Thankfully this decision has since been reversed and he is eligible to compete in able-bodied Olympic competition.

Mel’s opinion on Oscar Pistorious’ situation not only demonstrates his love of a challenge but also seems to apply common sense to some harsh obstacles which had previously been placed in the path of the young South African’s destiny.

“I believe he should be allowed to compete at the highest level possible.  He is not far off the top able bodied 400m runners and relishes the challenge of competing against them. Why deny him the chance?  He deserves the opportunity to enjoy himself as he wishes and I see this taking precedence over views of others on his actions.”

The British male marathon running scene offers little sign of competing at the front of world class racing.  At 67, Mel Edwards shows less chance of slowing down than Formula 1 cars and even less likelihood of quitting than Ken Barlow:  “I have no reason to stop.  I feel good and it is exciting.”

Some things never change.

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