Since winning in Chicago in 2014, Kipchoge has received a standing invitation to compete in the world’s most legendary foot race. But until recently, the clock was a priority for him, which meant going to places with drag racing tracks and bunnies.
But now that Kipchoge has won a record in London four times, Berlin three times and Chicago once, and has held the world record (2:01:39) for almost four years, speed is no longer the obsession she once was. Completing an incomparable CV is essential.
“Obviously the draw is Boston’s history and fame,” said Amby Burfoot, who won Boston in 1968. “You come to Boston if you have a real sense of the value of tradition.”
Next year, Kipchoge’s competitive schedule could well put him front and center of the start line in Hopkinton.
“We think speaking with his group, New York is a good option for him this fall, followed by Boston in the spring,” said Mary Kate Shea, Boston Marathon Pro Athlete Program Manager. “We would be very happy if Eliud chooses to crown his distinguished career with the Boston run.”
The postponement of the 2020 Olympics to last summer and the postponement to the fall of London and Boston, the two spring marathons, have scrambled Kipchoge’s schedule for 2021. So after retaining his five-ring crown at the Games by the widest margin (80 seconds) since 1972, Kipchoge called it a season.
This gave him plenty of time to prepare for the Tokyo race in March, which he won in 2:02:40, the fourth fastest time in history, despite losing about 10 seconds when the leading group took a wrong turn shortly after the 10-kilometer mark.
By running a winter marathon, Kipchoge gave himself the opportunity to tick two more boxes this year: the world championships in Eugene, Oregon, in July and in New York in November.
That would probably be more than Kipchoge is willing to take on. He has never run more than two marathons a year, and he prepares for it thoroughly.
“Eliud is methodical in what he does,” said Carey Pinkowski, Chicago’s longtime race manager. “It’s a gradual build up and he’s taking a very long recovery, which has extended his career. He doesn’t run a lot. You don’t see that in a lot of other events.
If Kipchoge were to bypass the world championships, he would have eight months to train for New York, then five months to prepare for Boston and a grueling journey unlike any he has ever encountered.
“Boston has this big question mark,” said Tom Ratcliffe, director of KIMbia Athletics, which represents distance runners. “Can you actually run on hills?”
Although Kipchoge hasn’t climbed Newton’s tri-mountain, he will likely receive a detailed scouting report from training partner Geoffrey Kamworor, the two-time New York champion making his Boston debut this year.
“Eliud will get a lot of information on this race,” Shea said. “Geoffrey is exceptional on the hilly and strategic courses. He will return to report, as will a number of other Kenyan athletes who are on the field.
Kenyan men have been racing and winning in Boston since 1988 and have won three of the last four laurel crowns. The topography and tactics are therefore quite familiar to them. If you feel the need for speed, you go elsewhere.
In the absence of a 20 mph tailwind, running a 2:01 in Boston is virtually impossible. And due to the course’s overall differences in elevation and the quirks of its point-to-point layout, any world records set here are not recognized by the international federation.
Given the capricious weather in April, victory times fluctuate considerably; displays for the men’s champions for the last five races ranged from 2:07:51 to 2:15:58. In Boston, you race to win as much as you can, because the clock doesn’t matter.
Kipchoge’s two slowest marathon times – 2:08:44 and 2:08:38 – came during his Olympic triumphs, which were tactical races without leaders. The Boston format will therefore be familiar to him and he will do the proper groundwork.
“Sometimes athletes condense their training to six or eight weeks,” Pinkowski said. “Eliud takes a long preparation. He doesn’t rush things.
Kipchoge is consistently in top form when he takes the line, as evidenced by his results. Of his 16 marathons, he has won 14. His first loss came on his second outing in 2013 in Berlin, where he was second to compatriot Wilson Kipsang, who set the world record.
The other was two years ago in London, where Kipchoge, hampered by hip and leg cramps, came eighth in freezing rain on a modified course.
“Kipchoge is still our king, even if we beat him,” said Ethiopian winner Shura Kitata.
Should Kipchoge win New York in the fall, it would pave the way for him to complete his quest in a race more revered by his compatriots than any other.
“Winning Boston is life-changing, especially for Kenyan athletes because of the history the country has had with Boston for decades,” Shea observed. “Being the Kenyan champion in Boston is key to my career.”
Given his extraordinary career, a win here would be more empowering than defining for Kipchoge. And that would set him up for what could be a glorious ending at the 2024 Paris Olympics.
No runner has ever won three Olympic marathons. Kipchoge turns 40 that summer, but he has that date circled. Tokyo was not his last run around the rings.
“You will always see me around,” he said.