Eliud Kipchoge, Kenya’s Sports Personality of the Year for 2018, isn’t bothered at all about having not earned State honours on Independence Day.
The huge irony of characters like the “githeri man” garlanded on previous national days, celebrated for merely offering comic relief, and Kipchoge’s world record run at last year’s Berlin Marathon uncelebrated, is the least of the Olympic champion’s worries.
Kipchoge is wealthy. Extremely wealthy.
But he is doesn’t flaunt his hard-earned riches by driving fuel-guzzling SUVs or treating his family to helicopter rides to beat the Nairobi traffic.
He can afford to.
But he would rather lead a simple life.
Like a monk in a Kaptagat monastery.
That’s what makes him a special athlete.
One we should all be grateful to have seen in our lifetime, because he’s a tough act to follow, and the world will take several generations to nurture one of similar mould.
He’s the G.O.A.T., the great of all time!
Kipchoge is also a philosopher, and gets his kick out of meeting people and reading books. Lots of books.
From motivational, to business and inspirational.
At the moment, he’s reading The Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters.
The book is basically on mind management, where Prof. Peters demonstrates, in layman’s language, how one’s brain works to offer insights on how to make the mind works for us.
“Professor Steve Peters is an expert on how to manage your mind. It’s a very good book as far as knowing how a human being’s mind works,” Kipchoge, 34, tells me as we chat, beachside, at the Sarova Whitesands Hotel, his focused eyes surveying the beach line matter-of-factly.
This book is crucial to Kipchoge’s career, as his mantra has always been “if you don’t rule your mind, your mind will rule you.”
“I receive a lot of help from books,” he continues.
“They say knowledge is in books.
“There are two places where you can get knowledge – from books and people you meet.
“That’s why I’m reading books and meeting people. You cannot be successful when you don’t have knowledge.
“I read all books from inspirational books, motivational books and business books. I also want to start reading fiction. I’ve never read a fiction book but I will soon start doing it,” he adds.
Reading has helped in his mental training, an extremely important aspect in elite sport, especially the marathon.
“You know, 42 kilometres is a very long way and anything can distract you, either at the halfway mark, or three-quarters or some kilometres to the finish.
“So the moment your mind gets tired, then you are gone. It’s better for your body to be tired than your mind.
“Mental training is 60 percent important. Although you must be fit physically, but if you are both physically and mentally fit, then you are ready.”
This is the sort of philosophy that enabled him shake off Ethiopia’s debuting Guye Adola at the 2017 Berlin Marathon.
Running his first marathon race, the 26-year-old Ethiopian challenged Kipchoge, shoulder-to-shoulder, from the 30km mark.
Kipchoge (2:03:32) eventually won the battle, but he was mentally bruised and the Ethiopian rewarded with the fastest ever time for a debutant, 2:03:36.
“It was mental torture because I didn’t know what would happen or how strong the guy was,” Kipchoge recalls.
He emphasises that mental training is the most important aspect of marathon running, along with long-term preparations.
“When I’m running, I think about the finish line. I think about the splits; I think about the kilometres.
“After four months of training, then I’m ready to run. If I don’t train for four months, then I’m not going for a race, because that’s poor preparation, and I’ll go into a race fearing that some people will come and pass me.
“Someone who is more prepared can beat me, but when I’m well prepared, I don’t worry, and I concentrate on my splits and move.”
What makes Kipchoge stand out from the rest of the athletes is that he’s a stickler to detail.
No wonder his shoe sponsors Nike involve him in research and development of their distance running products.
So much respected is the Olympic champion that he has a boardroom named after him at Nike’s Beaverton headquarters in Portland, Oregon, USA.
He won the 2015 Berlin Marathon despite a “wardrobe malfunction” that saw the insole of his Nike Streak shoe flip out midway the race.
After that, he joined Nike technicians in Beaverton to improve the product.
“I was among those who tested the Nike Streak series of shoes. From “Streak 3” to “Streak 6,” I was the main tester.
“It’s hard to test because you need to run and your mind also needs to concentrate on the comfort of the shoe at the same time.
“We always say the shoe wearer knows where it pinches,” he explains his interest in R&D.
“It’s good that you run in a shoe, give feedback and this then creates a bond between the shoe company and the athlete.
“Because it will then be easy for the technicians to improve the shoe and make some one or two changes.
“The technicians are sharp people and they use the computer to do some things, but they also need to give the product to a human being to test, and then they can make a comparison between the computer and someone who is actually running.
“So It’s really good to have that relationship between the technicians, the company and the athletes.
But then again, why Nike?
“I’ve been with Nike for a very long time and it has been really beneficial,” he explains.
“It’s not only beneficial to professional runners, but it’s also beneficial to social runners because Nike make shoes that handle any weight - even over 100kg or 150kg - anybody can run in them and the muscles will be OK.
“Nike also have shoes for long distance drivers. But, above all, Nike is the “fastest” company at the moment, and I hope it will be the fastest for some years to come, or even forever, because they are many years ahead of any other company as far as shoes are concerned.”
During the Berlin Marathon and at the “Breaking2” project, Kipchoge used the Nike Zoom Vaporfly Elite shoe that he helped develop.
Some analysts compared running in this shoe to running on springs, but Kipchoge puts things into proper perspective: “The beauty of the Vaporfly is in the recovery. You recover faster and the impact from the ground is less. This shoe lessens the impact.”
And lately, the world record holder has been running, in what’s now trademark fashion, short tights and arm sleeves.
“Along with Nike, we have been testing the short tights which have been very good.
“Reason number one is because it holds the muscles together, and the moment your muscles are compact when you are running, then it has less impact on the grounds.
“We have tights for sprinters and for long distance running. You can’t easily tell the difference, but the two of them have many benefits.
“The arm bands are good when its cold, because you cannot wear a lot of clothing, and the armband makes your skin warm.”
Back to the issue of cars…
“You have a lot of money. Why don’t you buy big cars, spend money and enjoy life?” I ask him.
His response is almost instinctive.
“But I have a big car from Isuzu,” he says with a broad smile.
“But seriously, to enjoy life is not to drive a big car.
“What I know is that every human being should know that someone else is owning your dream car, so there’s no need to dream about a big car when someone is already owning it and you are there still dreaming!
“Personally, I enjoy life by knowing people. I enjoy life by associating with people. I don’t enjoy life by driving a big car!
“I’d like to thank Isuzu for giving me the opportunity (to use the Isuzu D-Max) for one year and now I’ve signed another deal for two years and it’s easy to move from one point to another and enjoy a big car that I’ve never been driving.”
“What about missing out on State recognition on Jamhuri Day? Does it bother you?” I ask.
“Not all all.
“I’m a planned person and I know what I’m doing.
“You don’t force somebody to recognise you.
“But, all the same, I thank the government for providing us peace, that’s why we are training.
“I don’t complain because I was not honoured. I’m not complaining that the government is not recognising me.
“Personally, I shook the hand of the President and the Deputy in Kakamega (during Jamhuri Day celebrations) and they told me “thank you.”
“That’s the biggest thing I’ve ever heard from the Head of State and that’s enough.”
Having been celebrated as the IAAF World Male Athlete of the Year at the annual global athletics gala in Monaco two months ago, what does Kenya’s Sports Personality of the Year Award, given to Kipchoge at Fort Jesus on Friday night mean to him?
“This award is crucial to my sporting career,” he says.
“It will be really a big boost to those who are surrounding me as they have done a lot in my sports career.
“I’d like to pass my word of gratitude to my coach, my family, NN Running Team of the Netherlands, Nike, my management Global Sports Communications, my colleagues and all my friends in all the social media platforms, and the unnumbered but not forgotten.
“It’s really a significant contribution to my sports career.”