Mutai going for third straight win; Kipsang eyeing World Marathon Majors title.
If former marathon world-record holder Wilson Kipsang of Kenya gets antsy and takes off early in Sunday’s New York City Marathon, he can expect two-time reigning champion and fellow countryman Geoffrey Mutai to be right on his heels.
After all, the two occasionally train together at 8,000 feet of elevation just outside of Eldoret, Kenya, in Kapng’etuny as part of a large group that also includes current marathon world-record holder Dennis Kimetto, who shattered Kipsang’s mark by 26 seconds at the Berlin Marathon in September, running an eye-popping 2:02:57.
And even though Kipsang and Mutai will both be vying for the win on Sunday morning, the two do not think of one another as rivals. Instead, they refer to one another as brothers, or colleagues—they will work together as long possible and let the strongest man come out on top.
“Yeah, I will follow him,” Mutai said when asked what he would do if Kipsang were to make an early move. There is not a chance that we will leave each other. We will be fighting together. The strongest [runner] will win, even if it is my brother Kipsang. Everyone wants to win the race, so I cannot say I will win or who will win, but only that the strongest will win. “
The 33-year-old Mutai, who destroyed the New York course record in 2011, running 2:05:06, repeated as champion last year following the cancellation of the race in 2012 due to Hurricane Sandy. He’s raced sparingly in 2014, finishing a disappointing sixth at the London in April, running 2:08:18.
“Before London I was tired,” Mutai explained. “I did not have a lot of time to recover before the race and I felt tired during the race.”
In his only tune-up before New York, a 10K in the Czech Republic in early September, he ran a quick 27:32 to finish a close second to fellow Kenyan Geoffrey Ronoh. Despite a lack of races heading into New York, Mutai says his preparation has gone well. Although they’re part of the same training group, Mutai and Kipsang rarely did workouts together leading up to New York. While Kipsang took to the track at least once a week, Mutai stayed away from the oval, choosing to do most of his training on the hilly roads around Kapng’etuny. He did most of his quality sessions alongside Kimetto, his main training partner, which has given him the confidence that he’s ready to compete for the win on Sunday.
“We don’t train together all the time,” explains Mutai, who is 4-1 against Kipsang over the course of his career, with the only loss coming at London in April, where Kipsang won in 2:04:29. “Only sometimes. I know myself and I have confidence in myself. But what happens in the race is different. I know everyone is ready so I cannot say I fear someone specific. All of my friends are strong.”
For Kipsang, the 2014 New York City Marathon will serve as his Big Apple debut. The 32-year-old is known as a speed demon, but he has also shown he can fare well in non-paced races, evidenced by his bronze medal performance in the 2012 Olympic marathon in London. Due to the nature of New York’s winding, undulating course and the forecasted cold and windy conditions, he’s not likely to add another fast time to his resume on Sunday, but there’s a lot more on the line for him on the streets of New York this weekend.
If he wins on Sunday, Kipsang will capture the 2013-2014 World Marathon Majors title and the $500,000 prize that comes with it. If he doesn’t break the tape in Central Park, Kimetto, one of his training partners and reigning marathon world-record holder will collect the first place prize. When asked if he and Kimetto has discussed the World Marathon Majors title at all, Kipsang was rather coy, saying, “We rarely talk about that, because when it comes to competition everybody wants to be a winner but we will just have to accept the outcome.”
Despite his penchant for paced races, Kipsang feels confident heading to the starting line of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge on Sunday morning. He says he’s improved a lot on the hills in recent months and is looking forward to the challenge of not following a pace maker—a luxury that’s helped him run under 2:05 five times in his career, the most of any runner in history.
“It’s a nice challenge,” Kipsang said of New York. “This is something new to me, to run on a hilly course, when it’s cold, with no pacemakers. It’s really good because one of my dreams has been to run in all the Major races, to take the challenge and see what I can really do. Because if you only run the same races you might not be in a position to get a real measure of yourself, so I think this is a good test for me to see what kind of time I can run in these conditions on such a hilly course.”
When asked if his friend Mutai had given him any specific advice for tackling New York’s point-to-point, hilly layout, Kipsang laughed, saying, “Not really!” Kipsang said he will “just be ready for whatever comes” his way.
With a loaded field full of past champions such as Meb Keflezighi, Gebre Gebremariam and Mutai, an Olympic gold medalist in Uganada’s Stephen Kiprotich and a long list of accomplished international athletes on the starting line next to him, Kipsang will have plenty coming his way on Sunday morning. And despite the pre-race chatter of strategy and slow times, Kipsang hopes he and his colleagues can work together to do what he’s done better than any other marathoner in history: run fast.
“I think for someone like me, I’ve always been trying to run fast,” Kipsang explained. “When I go to a race, it’s more interesting when you run a faster time on the course. That’s really my plan because I always try to see if a race like this has been run 2:05, if I can run faster than that, I think it’s better. If you are going for the win, you will get the win. But if you are running for time, you cannot achieve alone. You have to push with other guys and everybody should be trying to go for the time. I think it will be fun for me.”