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A Little Bit of Everything: Eliud Kipchoge and the INEOS 1:59 Challenge

Our resident sports psychologist Adrienne Langelier takes a break from getting y’all over your mental hurdles to reflect on this past weekend’s accomplishments.

October 11-13th, 2019a weekend for the ages in distance running. So many amazing things happened that I am still processing; from Brigid Kosgei smashing the women’s marathon world record in Chicago, to Eliuid Kipchoge’s 1:59:40 marathon at the INEOS 1:59 Challenge Saturday morning in Vienna.

I observed some takeaways from Eliud Kipchoge’s 1:59:40 and wanted to share them here. I apologize to those expecting a black and white mental training piece as this will likely be more of an Op/Ed.

There are, however, some things to consider from this event that may help all of us in our journeys in both running and in life. And let’s be real, sport is at its best when it provides a good side helping of spectacle. Running is no different. 

“We have made history together and together we can make this a beautiful world”. -Eliud Kipchoge 

A Grand Slam

We’re still in baseball mode down here in Texas with the Astros in the playoffs, so let’s compare it with the great American pastime.  Anyone like watching the Home Run Derby? One player, alone on the field, in front of thousands of fans and millions of TV viewers.

Kipchoge’s race was something like that, but much more difficult, with much more pressure, and a razor’s edge of precision. Also, teamwork (more on that later). When someone is great, it sometimes doesn’t matter the context. 

Whether it goes down in the official record book or not, the INEOS 1:59 Challenge was quite the spectacle. While Eliud Kipchoge is in a different sports universe than Bryce Harper or Aaron Judge, he showcased his ability and handled being the center of attention beautifully.

It takes a special set of mental skills to endure the pressure of millions watching you both in-person and online for almost two straight hours. As a sports psychologist, I have always been impressed with Kipchoge’s ability to tune out uncontrollables and stay in tune with both himself and his pacers. When pursuing a world record or even just a PR, it’s critical to not get too high or too low emotionally. 

But, wasn’t the race engineered? Yes and no. Kipchoge made it a point (see opening quote) to credit those who helped him break this incredible barrier. Corporations contributed crazy amounts of cash and Kipchoge had a team of world-class running homies at his disposal as pacers. The event organizers themselves said it was just as much of a science experiment to see how far technology could take a runner.

Yes, technology can take a runner places (we’ll save the full Nike alphaFLY discussion for another day). But it can only take a runner so far. In the same way, a strong body can only do so much. However, when those things are combined with a strong mind and unwavering confidence, the doors are opened for something of this magnitude to happen.

kipchoge INEOS challenge
Photo courtesy of INEOS 1:59 Challenge

One For All

A better me makes a better us.

My colleague Dr. Rob Bell in his book, ‘The Hinge’, asserts this statement regularly. After a series of negative events in the professional running world, running needed something like this. A man who lets his running do the talking made a statement and gave credit to others in interviews. Kipchoge specifically mentioned in his post-race interview that he hopes to see a whole new generation of runners breaking the 2-hour mark. In my opinion, we need more of this in running— confident, tough, and grateful individuals laying the groundwork for the future.

A word on belief— regardless of dollars spent, pacers, or any other aids given in Kipchoge’s pursuit, this would not have been possible if Kipchoge was not fully confident he could break the two-hour barrier. After all, we saw what happened in the first Breaking2 attempt in Italy two years ago, when both Lelisa Desisa and Zersenay Tadese, two of the greatest runners in the world, both fell off pace by the 20 km mark. That race was also engineered with precision and featured Nike’s latest shoe technology.

While Eliud Kipchoge ran a 2:00:25 that day, he was undoubtedly prepared more than anyone out there, just as he was for his marathon wins before Vaporfly or alphaFLY were even words. Let’s not forget he won Berlin in 2015 with bloodied and blistered feet after his insoles were flapping out of his shoes by the 10 km mark. Talk about mental fortitude.

This is a lesson for all of us trying to do bigger things in our lives: we need to see our goals as absolute truth, even before ever attempting them. 

Lastly, it’s okay for it to not work out the first time. Monza’s ‘Breaking2’ was cool, but not quite there timewise. With a little re-tooling and learning, we can still do some pretty cool things. 

Thanks, Eliud Kipchoge, for reminding us to believe. 

No matter the scope, we can do hard things. 

 

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