The Profile Dossier: Eliud Kipchoge, the Human Who Has No Limits
“Only the disciplined ones in life are free."
Eliud Kipchoge re-defined human limits when he shattered running's last great barrier — the sub-two-hour marathon.
Kipchoge ran a historic 1:59:40 marathon in Vienna last year, averaging an extraordinary 4 minutes and 33 seconds per mile.
Few people believed it was possible for a human to achieve this remarkable milestone — at least this soon. As recently as last year, one expert predicted the two-hour mark wouldn’t be broken until 2028 or 2029. But Kipchoge had no doubts about his ability to make history.
"I was really calm, I was just trying to maintain the pace,” he said. “For me, it was not 50-50, it was 90%.”
Kipchoge, the most decorated marathoner on the planet, comes from humble beginnings. He grew up the youngest of four siblings in Kapsisiywa, a small village in rural Kenya. His dad died when Kipchoge was very young so he was raised by his mom, who worked as a teacher.
As a child, Kipchoge viewed running solely as a means of transport. He ran two miles to and from school every day. When he finished high school, he helped support his family by collecting milk from the village and selling it in Kapsabet, which is about a 12-mile bicycle ride away.
"Life was hard," he says. "But I have never complained. And I never will complain."
Kipchoge's life began to change when he met Patrick Sang, a respected figure in the region who had studied at the University of Texas and won an Olympic silver medal in the steeplechase before returning to Kapsisiywa.
He became an organizer of sports events in the region when he saw serious potential in then16-year-old Kipchoge.
“When you’re young, you always hope that one day you’ll be somebody,” Sang said. “And in that journey, you need someone to hold you by the hand. It does not matter who that person is, so long as they believe that your dreams are valid. So for me, when you find a young person with a passion, don’t disappoint them. Give them a helping hand and see them grow.”
The more Sang worked with Kipchoge, the faster Kipchoge advanced. He learned to take control of his mind as well as his body. He learned how to smile through the pain. He understood the importance of self-discipline. Needless to say, his endurance — both personally and professionally — has served him well as a long-distance athlete.
Kipchoge has nothing to prove. He has won 12 of the 13 marathons he’s entered during his running career, including the Rio 2016 Olympic Games marathon, and four London marathons. He also holds the marathon world record for a run during competition. He is the reigning Olympic champion.
So why did he decide to take on the two-hour marathon?
“The reason for running 1:59 is not the performance,” Kipchoge said. “The reason to run 1:59 is to tell that farmer that he is not limited; that teacher that she can produce good results in school; that engineer that he can go to another project.”
On being the greatest marathoner ever: This profile documents Kipchoge's astonishing rise from selling milk at a market in Kenya to becoming a champion at the top of his sport. His luck turned around when he linked up with Patrick Sang. Kipchoge is direct about their bond: “If I hadn’t met him, my life would be different.”
On becoming the philosopher-king of running: Kipchoge has become running’s philosopher-in-chief — a DRI-FIT wearing Yoda who thinks hard about the meaning of his quest. Kipchoge’s own wise words have made his seemingly superhuman achievements transcend sports.
On staying humble: Kipchoge grew up poor. Today, at age 36, he’s a multi-millionaire. But he's hyper-aware that money and fame can make you miserable. That’s why he’s chosen to live a monastic life in the remote village of Kaptagat, and he’s insistent that happiness is about simplicity. "I don't have extra money to actually make my mind go haywire," he says. "I am a human being and I stay a human being. Money stays away. I'm not working with money; money is in the bank. I want to live a simple life."
On attempting the sub-two-hour marathon: This remarkable documentary tracks Kipchoge's journey with Nike to break the two-hour marathon. It shows his training regimen, measuring his seemingly superhuman abilities, and the importance of living a life of simplicity. Ultimately, however, Kipchoge falls short of his goal by a mere 25 seconds. "You can aim for something, and it can slip out of your hands," he says. But he refused to give up. This is a must-watch.
On breaking the two-hour barrier: People used to say that running a sub-two-hour marathon was impossible. They said that it would undoubtedly kill the person who attempted it. And then ... Kipchoge broke new ground and made the impossible possible. This is his remarkable journey to successfully breaking the two-hour barrier. The second he crosses the finish line, he hugs his wife, and says, "No human is limited. You can do it, and expect more."
On a life of lessons: In this speech, Kipchoge shares some of the many lessons that he has learned over the span of his career on the track and the roads. One of the biggest lessons he points to is this: Make discipline your lifestyle. "Discipline is not a one-time event," he says. "Self-discipline is like building your muscle. It’s like going to the gym. You cannot go to the gym today and build your muscle. You should get a program and go slowly by slowly."
On achieving the last milestone: A new documentary titled Kipchoge: The Last Milestone premieres on August 23. It documents Kipchoge's journey to shattering one of the last sporting barriers, and examines his unbreakable mindset. Even though he had failed before, Kipchoge persisted until he was able to achieve what he set his sights on.
TECHNIQUES TO TRY.
Strive for simplicity: There is no doubt Kipchoge is a wealthy man, but he understands the power of living a simple and disciplined life. At his training camp in Kenya, he shares chores with teammates. Though he's a millionaire, Kipchoge is not above scrubbing the toilet at the facility. Between training sessions, he takes an hour-long nap and hand-washes his gear before his second run at 4 p.m. Bedtime is no later than 9 p.m. Kipchoge keeps his life simple — no partying, no drugs, no frivolous spending. “If you have a sharp knife, it will cut straight and clean," he says. "That is how I make my decisions. Self-discipline is not a one-night thing. Learn to say no to passions and impulses." Kipchoge believes that misery arises when you begin to unnecessarily complicate your life. Learn how to find joy in the simple things: "I enjoy the simplistic training in life and in marathon. You run, eat, sleep, walk around – that’s how life is. You don’t get complicated," he says. "The moment you get complicated, it distracts your mind."
Learn from the greats: Kipchoge is an avid reader, and he enjoys reading everything from Aristotle to sports biographies to self-help manuals. Some of his favorite books include “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Stephen R. Covey, and "Who Moved My Cheese," by Spencer Johnson. "There are no more loyal friends in the world than books," Kipchoge says. "They have been a source of pleasure for me and allowed me to understand the world better and helped me grow as a person." He avoids fiction and prefers business books and autobiographies. Kipchoge reads for an hour every afternoon and another hour right before bed. He has one rule: He always keeps a notebook handy so that he can take notes. “When you write, then you remember,” he says.
Save your best effort for the moments that matter: We live in a society that praises all-out effort all the time. But giving a task 100% of your energy can lead to burnout, over-exhaustion, and injury. That's why Kipchoge has a golden rule: He never overextends himself in training. He estimates that he rarely pushes himself past 80% energy expenditure when he embarks on 25-mile training runs. He reserves his maximum effort for the marathons he wins and for the records he chases. “I want to run,” he says, “with a relaxed mind.”
Learn how to become a master of chaos: During a marathon, the mind and the body are very much at war. When Kipchoge's body is telling him to quit, he becomes hyper-focused on his mind. During one race, the insoles on his sneaker came loose, causing his feet to blister and bleed. In 2017, the race in Berlin came with steady and stubborn rain. In 2018, London marked its warmest race on record. In the face of discomfort and pain, he still won all of the events. It's become somewhat of a meme that Kipchoge begins smiling when the pain sets in. That's because, he says, pain is nothing more than a mindset. When he feels it looming, he floods his mind with positive thoughts and memories that get him closer to the finish line.
Remember the formula for consistency: Kipchoge lives life by this formula: Motivation + Discipline = Consistency. Like many successful athletes, he emphasizes the process, not the result. He focuses on consistent and precise running rather than the actual outcome of the race. “When you bring motivation and discipline (together), then you can be consistent," he says. "I'm confident in saying that consistency is key if you want to grow in a new profession. Be it sport. Be it law. Be it all sorts of professions. If you are not consistent, you can not go anywhere. Consistency makes you grow.”
Play a mental movie to prepare for a big event: The individual reps during the training process are what builds mental and physical confidence. Kipchoge has a notebook in which he has recorded every single workout he's ever done. There are thousands of miles written down that allow him to look back and know everything that he has done to prepare for a big race. "I have kept a training diary to record my training plans and my feelings and emotions for a long time," he says. The log allows him to play a mental movie that gets him in the right mindset. “To run a big marathon and win takes five months," he says. "When I’m on the starting line, my mind starts reviewing what I have been doing the last five months. I believe in my training, and I treat myself as the best one standing on that line.” Whenever you feel unsure of your abilities, you can summon immediate confidence by looking back at your hours of preparation and progress.
QUOTES TO REMEMBER.
"No human is limited."
“It’s not about the legs; it’s about the heart and the mind.”
“Only the disciplined ones in life are free. If you are undisciplined, you are a slave to your moods and your passions.”
“If you work hard, follow what’s required and set your priorities right, then you can really perform without taking shortcuts. If you’re taking shortcuts, you can’t be free.”
“Become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Accept change.”
“If you want to harvest money, you must plant the seeds of service."