I realize that it may sound a bit strong as a statement but, with due limits and distinctions, it is not. But we’ll get there slowly.
Eliud Kipchoge is, without a doubt now, the strongest marathoner around and one of the strongest in history, if not The Strongest. Winning from 2014 to 2022 any marathon he has participated in (from Chicago in 2014, to London – 4 times, as in Berlin, where he set 2 world records) and, as if that were not enough, also winning two Olympic golds and having a very good chance for the 3rd as well, are a palmares that even Paula Radcliffe – for many years the fastest woman in the world – calls incredible: “To put it in perspective – Says Radcliffe – it’s getting it right one day every four years, for 12 years. And history shows that that’s extremely difficult to do, and only he can do it.”
Much has been said and written about his preparation and character. His approach is described as very methodical and focused, his preparation impeccable and faultless. After all, to achieve similar results, nothing else can be expected. He in the meantime manages to withstand any pressure and always increase his performance, until he bettered his own Berlin record in 2022 by 30 seconds.
It is worth remembering that 30 seconds in marathon is like forever. A record can be broken even by a single second or a few hundredths; he lowered it by 30 seconds.
Here we finally come to the thesis that this article aims to prove. The idea comes from a statement by Kipchoge himself: “In Berlin, my plan was not to run under two hours, my plan was to break a world record.” Which, we specify, he had established himself.
Kipchoge was and is competing only with himself, because at present he has no rival. When you are on the top of the sporting world and have no credible opponents, the only way to improve is to try to beat yourself.
Does it sound familiar? Your opponent is yourself, just as Kipchoge’s opponent is himself.
Kipchoge is unquestionably a unique creature. Not surprisingly, he has no opponent, at least in the immediate term. Yet, beyond the physical and psychological characteristics that make him different from the rest of us, he can be an example for how to deal with challenges, sporting and existential.
Indeed, what does his approach teach us? Some very important things.
1. Choose your goal carefully and be realistic
Kipchoge knew he could not reasonably run in Berlin in less than two hours, but while everyone was thinking about that chronometric limit, he had more accurately identified the real time to beat: the time set under the same conditions by a human being (incidentally himself) on that same course. The goal was a human limit already touched, namely that of the world record. Not a theoretical and inviolate limit, namely that of two hours, however much he himself had already beaten it in Vienna, but only over the distance and not over the course of a marathon.
2. Choose your opponent
He could only choose himself, or rather: his best past version in an international competition, that is, the one who had set the previous world record. Speaking of us and our slim chances of winning a marathon, we just have to beat ourselves. Or at least our previous versions.
3. Prepare yourself with method and dedication
Nothing is left to chance and no results are achieved without proper physical and especially mental preparation. Kipchoge is the strongest in the world both physically but also mentally. As he runs the last few dozen meters before the finish line, he smiles. Not only because he is close to the finish line but also because smiling helps him.
We cannot-you cannot-ever beat Kipchoge but you can always try to beat your past self. Always, at least as long as your age allows, of course.
Not neglecting the fact that, from a certain point on, even doing the same time as your past self is like beating it, because the anagraphic time has been added to the chronometric time, which by necessity makes every performance worse.
Except for Kipchoge, who, at 38 years old, continues to leave everyone astounded at his ability to improve endlessly.
Maybe it has a secret, maybe it is just dedication and physical and mental talent.
The good news is that there is one more thing we have in common with him: like him, we have a body and a mind. What he was able to do with these two elements is not precluded to any of us, subject to physical impediments.
Kipchoge is human after all. Like us. That we always come after him. Much, much, much, much later.