Eliud Kipchoge could hardly sleep on Friday night.
Even the greatest marathon runner of all time, for once, admitted he had butterflies in his stomach.
The Olympic legend told the Sunday Nation in Vienna that he went to bed at 9pm on the eve of the race and was up at 3am, went to the washroom and stayed up in his room at the Sh57,000-a-night Marriott Courtyard Hotel.
He felt weak, and the hours between 4am and 9.15am “went so fast and felt like 30 minutes.”
His mind was fixated on 9.15am, the start time for his race against the clock in the well-choreographed INEOS 1:59 Challenge where he was aiming at running the marathon (42 kilometres) in under two hours — the first time anyone had done that.
The 34-year-old world marathon record holder then ordered oatmeal for breakfast and as fog engulfed the Austrian capital, he and his support team made their way to the Prater Park, a 15-minute walk from his hotel, venue of the challenge.
Telephone calls from President Uhuru Kenyatta and various other global dignitaries the previous day, the presence of Deputy President William Ruto at The Prater, combined with his own family’s presence added to the pressure.
But with 500 metres to go, with the finish line in sight and after all the pacemakers had dropped out, the pressure was off.
Kipchoge started pumping his fists into the air and acknowledging cheers from the crowd that had jammed the long, tree-lined Hauptallee avenue to celebrate what the Kenyan legend equated to man landing on the moon.
The clock read 1:59.40, making him the first man to run the 42-kilometre marathon distance in under two hours.
“That was the best moment in my life,” the father of three told the Sunday Nation with a huge sense of post-race relief, a fitting reward for the close to five months of hard work and training in Kaptagat.
“To see just 500 metres to go, and the fact that I’m about to make history was a great feeling.
“The pressure was so much on my shoulders, and on Friday I had a lot of pressure as I received a lot of phone calls, from the President of Kenya – and the deputy is here – calls from all over the world wishing me good luck. And when you receive calls from high-profile people, it builds pressure,” he said with a huge sense of relief.
Race organisers, led by Kipchoge’s management team, Global Sports Communications, had set him a constant pace of two minutes and 50 seconds in order for a sub-two hours time to be realised.
Basically, he was to run 100 metres in 17.05 seconds or 200m in 34.17.
The pace would compare to running 400m in one minute, eight seconds 800m in two minutes, 16 seconds, 1,500m in four minutes and 16 seconds, and the 5,000m, 10,000m and 21 kilometres in 14:13, 28:26 and 59:59, respectively.
A group of seven pacemakers ran with him in turns, five in the front in a ‘V’ formation to block him from the wind, and two behind him to steady the pace.
A zero-emission Audi e-tron electric car was ahead of the pack, beaming green laser lights onto the tarmac reflecting the required pace for the pacemakers to follow.
The technique worked out brilliantly, much to the joy of Kipchoge whose mantra was “No human is limited”.
“I’m the happiest man today. The message that ‘no human is limited’ is now in everyone’s mind, and it shows that if you believe in something, put it in your heart, transfer to your mind and save it in your mouth, it can be realised,” he said philosophically.
With Kipchoge required to run at a steady pace of two minutes and 50 seconds throughout the 42 kilometres, journalists at the media centre were glued to their television screens which projected the pace after each kilometre.
After two kilometres, the legend had already gained three seconds on the designated pace, running 2:49 and 2:48, before dropping two seconds with a 2:52 split at kilometre three.
But then the pace steadied after a 2:51 sixth-kilometre split with the only other blips coming in kilometre 13, 20, 22, 30 and 32 through which he ran in 2:52 in each of these kilometres. Knowing that he was nine seconds inside target Kipchoge steadied ship until the final kilometre in which he sprinted through in 2:42, easily the fastest of the 42.
“I tried to maintain the pace and not to be slow, and to follow the instructions.
“Many things were going through my mind, like what will happen after 30 kilometres, after 40 kilometres, but all in all, my mind was fixed on running in under two hours.”
“It was not 50-50. It was 90 per cent.”
In 2017, Kipchoge fell just 26 seconds short of breaking the two-hour barrier at a similar challenge organised by American sportswear giants, Nike, running 2:00:26 in Monza, Italy.
After that close shave, his management team along with scientists and other experts regrouped to see how they could gain those 26 seconds.
Their global search for a suitable venue ended with Vienna for various reasons, principally as Vienna had the right weather conditions, flat, fast course and the location enjoyed plenty of pure oxygen, essential for pushing the body harder.
“Monza was about getting experience and I’ve now realised my dream,” he told Sunday Nation.
With the race broadcast live to billions of viewers in over 200 countries, the superstar from Nandi County said he is proud to have excited the world.
“I’m proud to have made, not only Kenya, but the whole world, glued to their televisions, Facebook pages, Twitter, along with those who came here to witness it live.
“Sport can unify people and send a positive message to the whole world.”
Asked if he felt he could run faster than 1:59:40, Kipchoge responded by saying he was happy to have broken what is considered the last barrier in athletics after Briton Roger Bannister became the first man to run a sub-four minute mile 65 years ago.
“Who is 65 years or older in this room,” he asked at the press conference room which was located adjacent to the finish line.
“Maybe less than 10 people. Most of you did not see Roger Bannister running, so you should be celebrating seeing me breaking a barrier after 65 years,” he said to the amusement of the audience.
Kipchoge paid glowing tribute to his wife Grace, children Lynn, Jordon and Griffin, along with his coach of 19 years Patrick Sang, saying he lacked the vocabulary to describe their contribution to his glittering career.
“I lack an English word to describe their contribution. They have done a lot.
“My coach Patrick Sang is more than a coach. He’s more than a life coach. He’s more than a sports coach.
“If I was born in Britain and my English manufactured in Britain, then I could get the words to describe Sang, but I learnt my English in Kenya and I don’t have any vocabulary to describe him.”
Is he now officially the G.O.A.T., the greatest of all time in marathon running?
“I’m a believer of challenges and I’m a believer that you climb one branch to the next branch.
“I’m happy to run under two hours, but I don’t know if I’m the greatest.
“In Africa, they say you can’t shave your own hair, or you cannot be your own barber, so thank you for telling me I’m the greatest,” he told journalists.