For marathoners, race day is the completion of a months-long journey of training.
So, when world-record holders Eliud Kipchoge and Brigid Kosgei of Kenya tackle the London Marathon on Sunday (2 a.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold), it will be the end of a most unusual season.
Kipchoge, a normally calm, philosophical speaker, likened the onset of the coronavirus pandemic to “an electric shock” in his training stable.
“It was really difficult for us athletes, especially in Kenya, and maybe Africa in general,” he said Wednesday. “For the last 17 years, personally, I’ve been with the whole team, training with more than six people to 10 to 20 every year, year-round.”
Runners adjusted to working out in isolation. Some skipped workouts.
“Our training was hindered,” said fellow Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich, the fourth-fastest female marathoner in history and challenger to Kosgei on Sunday. “Everyone go to his home to train alone.”
Given that, Kosgei refused to predict or even tease that she could challenge her world record set at the Chicago Marathon last October — a 2:14:04, taking 81 seconds off Paula Radcliffe‘s 16-year-old mark.
“Due to this pandemic, I cannot say I will run this and this,” said Kosgei, a 26-year-old mother of twins. “Most of the coronavirus affect us so that we didn’t do a lot of training enough like last year.”
The women’s elite race also includes four-time Olympic track medalist Vivian Cheruiyot.
The men’s race lost significance with Friday’s withdrawal of Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele with a calf injury.
Bekele clocked 2:01:41 to win the 2019 Berlin Marathon, missing Kipchoge’s world record by two seconds. Now, the top competition to spoil Kipchoge’s record of 11 wins in 12 marathons are the second-, third- and fourth-place finishers from London last year — Ethiopians Mosinet Geremew, Mule Washihun and Shura Kitata.
Kipchoge is so dominant that he may well be racing the clock over any person. In his last 26.2-miler last October, he became the first person to break two hours, doing so in a non-record-eligible event in Vienna.
The question for Sunday: Is his world record of 2:01:39 from Berlin in 2018 in play on a different London course?
Traditionally, runners wind around the River Thames and produce some of the faster times of the six World Marathon Majors. Kipchoge’s course record is 2:02:37.
This year, they’re in “a secure biosphere” and will complete 19 loops of St. James’s Park without the usual spectator crowds before finishing at the usual line at The Mall.
“It’s really difficult to say it’s really fast or not,” Bekele said of the course before withdrawing. “It’s never easy to run on curves for such a long way. You can lose some speed sometimes.”
Kipchoge said his running group recently recongregated, “and training actually was good.” He remarked Wednesday the exact time span since he last raced — 11 months, 18 days.
Kipchoge, who burst onto the scene by winning the 2003 World 5000m title at age 18, isn’t outwardly putting pressure on himself to produce another historic performance in a first-of-its-kind marathon.
“I have shown the way, to many athletes, that to run under two hours is possible,” he said. “So I have done my part as far as the sport of athletics is concerned.”
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