Eliud Kipchoge: “Accept no limits”

Kipchoge’s mental outlook seems even more important than his physical gifts

By Amby Burfoot

Eliud Kipchoge, red shirt at right. Kaptagat, Kenya 2005.
(Photo by Mary Austin.)

A number of years ago, while running with Eliud Kipchoge--yes, I did actually run with Kipchoge--I asked him an simple question. His answer reflects probably the most important aspect of his unprecedented marathon career. 

You have heard by now that Kipchoge ran a 2:01:09 marathon Sunday in Berlin to break his own marathon world record. You know that he has won the last two Olympic gold medals in the marathon. You know that he ran a mindblowing 1:59:40.2 in the INEOS exhibition marathon in Zurich three years ago.

I could go on, but there would be no point. At this stage, anything anyone writes about Kipchoge’s marathons is essentially pointless. We simply don’t have the words. Nor do his “stats” make any sense. He’s on a different planet than any previous marathon runner, thus comparison is empty.

So I return to my easy training run with Kipchoge. It took place in early 2005, high on the Rift Valley escarpment near Kaptagat, Kenya. I was there with a small group of American marathon fans eager to learn more about the Kenyan runners. The tour was led by John Manners, himself a seasoned track and field aficionado. Manners grew up partially in Kenya, learned Swahili, went to Harvard, and had a long journalism career at the old Time-Life. He provided deep research for several of Kenny Moore’s wonderful Sports Illustrated articles about Kenyan runners.

With this background, Manners was able to secure our group a run and meeting with the Kaptagat training camp runners. We assembled on one of Kenya’s famously red and rutted clay roads.

Before we set out, I stepped forward rather timidly to make a request. “My wife wants to run 4 miles today, but she’s not very fast,” I said to the Kenyans. “Would anyone be willing to run 10-minute pace with us?”

You understand, of course, that these were mostly guys who could race 10,000 meters on the track at 4:30 pace. I didn’t expect a response from any of them.

One raised his hand, however, and stepped forward from behind the others. He had a wide, disarming smile. Yes, you guessed it. 

As the other runners, Kenyans and awestruck Americans, moved steadily ahead of us on the clay road, Eliud Kipchoge hung back. My wife was huffing and puffing, but I had the chance to ask him several questions as we ran. 

Even before that, I marveled that he had acquiesced to our slow pace. I didn’t know any elite Westerners who would have agreed to the same. They would have considered it a waste of time and effort, if not worse. After all, you don’t advance your world-class status by slogging along with hobby joggers.

Eighteen months earlier, at the 2003 World Championships, Kipchoge had won the 5000 meters in 12:52.79 over the seriously fast Hicham El Guerrouj and Kenenisa Bekele. I had always considered Ethiopians better kickers than Kenyan distance aces, based mainly on the results of  Miruts “Yifter the Shifter” Yifter and Haile Gebrsellassie.

So I decided to question Kipchoge about this. “When you’re racing the Ethiopians on the track, don’t you worry that they will outkick you?” I asked.

“No I don’t fear the Ethiopians,” Kipchoge replied. “I don’t feel fear about anything.”

That was 17 years ago. Kipchoge’s marathon prove that his attitude, perhaps more than anything else, has helped him separate from the pack. He often says, “No human is limited,” and he’s been running that way for decades. The mind is more important than the legs.

Eliud Kipchoge, red shirt standing, Katagat, 2005. (Photo by Mary Austin.)

50 Years after Munich: What Frank Shorter Means to Running

On September 10, 1972, 50 years ago this Saturday, Frank Shorter won the Olympic Marathon in Munich. His compelling victory contributed to the U.S. and then global running booms. 

But I don’t remember and revere Shorter for his gold medal as much as for the words he spoke to Kenny Moore about why they should run in Munich. The Marathon took place just 5 days after the massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes. “We have to not let this detract from our performance,” Shorter said. “Because that’s what they want.”

These words reflect and reinforce the healing power of running. We have needed similar words on too many occasions since Munich--at the 2001 NYC Marathon post 9-11;  when Ryan Shay died in the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials; during and after Hurricane Sandy and its devastating impact on New York City and its canceled marathon; and in our return to running events after Covid.

And especially, particularly, most emotionally of all, in our reclaimiing of the 2014 Boston Marathon after the bombings, deaths, and maimings of 2013. We humans face frighteningly random and uncontrollable events, from the immense natural forces around us, and too often from ourselves. (I’m thinking at this moment of the  tragic murder of Eliza Fletcher in Memphis.)

And yet we struggle back. We remain resilient. We return to running.

Because it is all we can do. And everything we must do. In 1972, Frank Shorter gave us the performance and words that still set the standard: “We have to not let this detract ….”

That’s why I’ll be remembering and honoring Shorter on Saturday--50 years after the Munich Olympics but as relevant as ever.

John J. Kelley Ocean Beach Road Race Winners

Since its first running in 1963, the John J Kelley/Ocean Beach run has always been a no-entry-fee race. This tradition continues to the present. In its early days, the race attracted top national-level runners such as Kelley himself, Amby Burfoot, Jim Keefe, Ray Crothers, Norm Higgins, John Vitale, Tom Fleming, and many more. The New York Road Runners used the race as a sort of summer getaway. That brought Gary Muhrcke, Nina Kuscsik, Ted Corbitt, Fred Lebow, Jim Fixx, and others. 

The course changed with road constructions, measuring from 10.6 to 11.6 miles through most of its history. In 2017, it changed to a half marathon, and began drawing upwards of 1000 runners again.
The course has never been easy or pleasant. For many years, the race started at noon like other New England road races that mimicked the Boston Marathon's start time (in April!). In 1975, it was over 100 F on the start line.

The race has always been supported by Ocean Beach Park administration and local communities. For the last several decades, it has been managed by Way Hedding and SNERRO, the Southern New England Road Race Officials. Finishers receive chowder and soft drinks, and a refreshing dip in Long Island Sound with a view of Long Island and Fishers Island. 

Ocean Beach Kelley Road Race Winners
First Sat Aug. Since 1963 Inclusive, New London, CT
1963 John J. Kelley 54:51
1964 John J. Kelley 57:13
1965 Ambrose Burfoot 60:42
1966 Ambrose Burfoot 57:05
1967 Ambrose Burfoot 56:45
1968 James Keefe 57:31
1969 Ambrose Burfoot 58:31
1970 Norman Higgins 55:12 Nina Kuscsik      ~77:30
1971 Ambrose Burfoot 57:10 ?
1972 John Vitale 55:14 Kathy McIntyre 73:42
1973 Thomas Fleming 56:24 Barbara Wynne 85:36
1974 Morgan Fennell 56:55 Mary Mapelli         77:48
1975 Justin Gubbins 60:56 Marilyn Bevans 86:17
1976 Ambrose Burfoot 58:09 Ann Dunham         84:32
1977 John Vitale 61:36 Lauri Pedrinan 75:36
1978 Ambrose Burfoot 58:58 Carolyn Bravakis 73:19
1979 Thomas Grundy 60:41 Robin Ladis         67:37
1980 Paul Friedman 57:09 Katie McDonald 74:52
1981 John Vitale 58:32 Deede Garvey         74:09
1982 James Flynn 58:10 Jane Welzel         67:15
1983 Odis Sanders 57:46 Jane Welzel         69:11
1984 Gary Nixon 58:59 Agnes Ruane         69:21
1985 Gary Nixon 57:33 Agnes Ruane         66:57
1986 Wayne Jacob 59:52 Kathy McIntyre         73:47
1987 Wayne Jacob 57:32 Carla Brown         70:55
1988 Joe Banas 64:45 Mary Lynn Pastizzo 70:39
1989 Wayne Jacob 60:07 Mary Lynn Pastizzo 72:50
1990 Spyros Barres 60:40 Kelly Pinckney 74:08
1991 Kevin Grant 58:59 Kelly Pinckney 71:30
1992 Spyros Barres 62:21 Mary Lynn Pastizzo 69:59
1993 Glen Guillemette 59:46 #Heather Dawson 70:55
1994 Glen Guillemette 60:00 Kim Goff         68:48
1995 Uri Romaniuk 63:05 Heather Bessette 70:22
1996 Eric Woronick 61:52 Heather Bessette 71:04
1997 Glen Guillemette 61:08 Heather Bessette 74:22
1998 Peter Oviatt 62:28 Kerry Arsenault 70:58
1999 Jeff Novak 62:34 Kerry Arsenault 72:43
2000 Brad Malay 63:56 Heather Bessette 72:15
2001 Ben Smith 64:29 Melissa Perkins-Banas 72:15
2002 Greg Wenneborg 61:30 Maura Danahy 74:21
2003 Gavin Coombs 60:55 Carolyn Verdon 75:58
2004 Chadwick Brown 62:20 Kerry Arsenault 68:35
2005 Brendan Brown 64:18 Melissa Perkins-Banas 75:25
2006 Gavin Coombs 61:59 Melissa Perkins-Banas 74:25
2007 Eric Blake 63:18 Melissa Perkins-Banas 75:52
2008 Mark Olivier 64:16 Tara Cardi         75:19
2009 Samuel Alexander 63:02 Laura Brustolon 74:47
2010 Kevin O'Neil 63:47 Laura Brustolon 73:20
2011 Michael Conway 60:46 Laura Brustolon 71:34
2012 Michael Leduc 64:26 Laura Brustolon 70:18
2013 Everett Hackett 59:36 Kristina Dearborn 70:25
2014 Michael Conway 60:34 Laura Brustolon 70:00
2015 Everett Hackett 60:01 Sybil Shapiro         73:37
2016 William Sanders 62:13 Kristen Rudd         74:23
2017 Everett Hackett 1:09:11 Brianna Demers 1:24:08
2018 Donn Cabral 1:09:39 Brandy LeClair 1:25:42
2019 Everett Hackett 1:08:39 Sydney Devore 1:22:42
2020               **virtual run only**
2021 Alex Nordstrom 1:10:23 Jessie Cardin         1:14:25
# later Heather Bessette, so 5 total wins

^ Christian Murray ran his first Kelley race as a 12-yr old in 1976. He has not missed one since. Last year, 2021, was his 46th in a row.

* changed to Half Marathon in 2017

+ results compiled by Bill Billing