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Joshua Cheptegei: Eliud Kipchoge Backs Ugandan for Greatness Before Marathon Debut

Joshua Cheptegei is yet to run his first marathon but two-time Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge believes the Ugandan could become the world’s fastest man over 26.2 miles.

Cheptegei won 5,000m gold at the Tokyo 2020 Games and holds the world record for both that distance and the 10,000m.

His Kenyan inspiration, Kipchoge, is now backing Cheptegei before the 27-year-old’s marathon debut in Valencia on Sunday.

“He is already a record holder in other fields and he has a huge chance to break a world record in the marathon,” Kipchoge told BBC Sport Africa.

“Joshua is talented and disciplined. He is learning well.

“I am happy Joshua is trying a new venture. I will be watching and giving my moral support as always.”

Cheptegei is regarded as one of the best distance runners in the world, with three 10,000m world titles and a world cross country title alongside his Olympic gold.

He previously held the world records for the 5km and 10km road races and trained with Kipchoge, who broke the marathon record twice, in 2015 in Kaptagat.

The Kenyan says Cheptegei’s “growth” has derived from the various distances he has run, but the 39-year-old has advised the Ugandan to run his own race on Sunday.

“Kipchoge inspired me a lot when I was starting up my career, his legacy inspires me,” Cheptegei said.

“His kind words have always been able to shape me over the days and years. Eliud is always keeping an eye on me, always guiding us in a good way.

“It’s a great honour to learn from the great. For this special regard, I’m looking forward to putting into use what we always share together.”

Joshua Cheptegei in action in the 5000m race en route to winning gold at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021

As he steps into the unknown and a different running rhythm, Cheptegei says he will give the marathon the respect it deserves.

“Marathon has no respect for persons. I want to approach this marathon with a lot of respect because it is something that is very new to me,” he added.

His coach Addy Ruiter says Cheptegei must be wary of pressure, with his track events at next year’s Olympics in Paris still in mind.

“This debut is especially for learning how the body and mind adapt to marathons,” Ruiter said.

“The focus for next year is the 10,000m at the Olympics – because of the new generation of running shoes (Cheptegei will use Vaporfly) we could do this also without it affecting his preparation for Paris.

“When I look at his preparation, a time of two hours and three minutes to two hours and three and a half minutes is realistic.

“I’m sure he can run much faster than that, but that’s something for after Paris and then he has to focus 100% on the marathon.”

Cheptegei is Uganda’s greatest athlete, with a career spanning a decade, and he won his first world title – the 10,000m junior crown – in 2014.

“The track has always taught me to be patient when chasing my goals,” Cheptegei said.

“I will approach marathons in the same regard.

“When you aren’t patient in a marathon, it means that you will not be able to reach your destination.”

A ‘low volume’ in training

Cheptegei took time off after the World Athletics Championships in Budapest in August, where he won his third consecutive 10,000m world title despite carrying a foot injury.

It has reduced his marathon training time to only eight weeks instead of the standard three months.

“We didn’t make a lot of changes in his training,” Ruiter said. “We extended his normal sessions in kilometres.

“Joshua’s week in training includes track session on Tuesday of between 14km and 18km, a threshold run on Thursday of between 14km and 16km then long runs on Sunday in marathon pace, building up from 20km to 28km or a slower long run, building up from 32km to 40km.

“The extra kilometres in the hard sessions were sometimes tough for Joshua because he never did it before, but the body was responding well.”

On average Cheptegei was clocking up between 140km and 160km each week, which Ruiter terms “low volume”.

“One of the reasons for a low volume is our tough environment. We can run only uphill or downhill, there are no flat areas around Kapchorwa,” Ruiter added.

“For the threshold session, and the session on Sunday, we drive first down the mountain to do it at lower altitude and on a not-so-hilly tarmac road.

“Sometimes we do the threshold run at 2000m altitude on a course with long hills. His favourite session is the threshold session, but not when we do it on this course.”

Ugandan athlete Joshua Cheptegei celebrates after breaking the 10,000m record in Valencia in October 2020

Cheptegei says switching from track to marathon training has taught him some valuable lessons.

“The longest run I’ve ever run in training is 40km,” he said

“It’s just like picking up the miles as you also incorporate the easy runs for recovery. So it’s something new for me.

“It is because of the marathon that I have learnt about hydration.

“I have learnt about diet, about mileage. The long run is something that used to be tiresome for me, but now I’m learning to accept that it’s going to be my part of life in the future.”

Cheptegei hopes for podium on debut

Valencia provides familiar territory for Cheptegei.

In 2020 he broke Kenenisa Bekele’s 10,000m world record, which had stood for 15 years, in the Spanish city.

On Sunday he will line up against the legendary Bekele along with Gabriel Geay and Sisay Lemma, who will also compete around the two hours and three minutes mark.

“The field is rich [but] I think he will perform very well,” Kipchoge observed.

Despite his track glory, Cheptegei is approaching the marathon with caution. Not even a personal best of 59:21 in the half marathon will get him pumped up.

Some inspiration may be the debut success of Kelvin Kiptum’s time of 2:01:53 in Valencia in last year, but he is guarded in his expectations.

“All of us are built differently. For me it is important to just enjoy the race and try to see what happens after 35 kilometres,” Cheptegei said.

“What will make a perfect race for me in Valencia is to finish the race. That would be an achievement for me.

“I’m not actually looking at running fast times. The best for me would be seeing myself on the podium.”

Source : BBC