Strong legs, iron lungs, and an aerobic engine can take you a long way in running but Eliud Kipchoge and Patrick Sang know better than most that mindset is key to reaching the very highest echelons.
Their partnership of 22 years has yielded two Olympic gold medals, and two official world records, and seen Kipchoge become the first in history to run a marathon in under two hours.
The pair have learned from experience but have tips that can help any athlete on their way.
Taking things step by step
The first step for Sang is clear: setting achievable goals.
“You see before I handle any athlete I profile them. Overall we have parameters, given the kind of talent you have, this is the optimal we are looking for. So we have from the onset, realistic goals.”
Most won’t have access to coaches the calibre of Sang but it is an important lesson nonetheless. Be as objective as you can with your initial targets and avoid setting yourself up for disappointment, setting too big goals too early on. That doesn’t mean a lack of ambition it just means committing to developing over the long term.
Kipchoge puts it even better: I am a believer of the philosophy of going up a tree and there are many branches. You grab a branch before reaching and grabbing another, so what has happened and what I have achieved are the branches. I don't know which one I will grab next.
Both Sang and Kipchoge are clear, it’s a journey that takes time. When the pair linked up Kipchoge was just a 16-year-old boy with big hopes and dreams like anyone else. But it is a path that can only be followed if you’re willing to make some sacrifices to achieve your goals.
It was a lesson Kipchoge learned early on, becoming a world champion at only 18.
“After the 2003 World Championships, I realized that the only way to perform is to be self-disciplined, to leave other things, and to treat sport as a profession. We planned and trained well for the whole year and that's the only way to make your life rewarding if you do it.”
Kipchoge’s regime is not possible for most but it is important to know, in order to achieve bigger goals you will have to make a conscious decision to move away from things that aren’t aiding your overall progression.
Any visit to the Global Sports Communication camp in Kenya will show you that discipline is at the core of everything they do. Each run is done with a clear purpose, rest is prioritized and the routine is strict.
Looking around its grounds, however, will hint at another key part of the group’s success. Dotted around the flower beds are a collection of trees planted by various illustrious visitors to their Kaptagat home.
For Kipchoge and his teammates, each provides a chance to learn and with it an opportunity to adapt your mindset further.
Sang recalls one of those most important guests:
“For Eliud, it was a very long journey and the turning point was when he took over this program that Nike had come up with (Breaking 2). What changed in him was nothing much other than his mindset, because he believed why not?
At that point I wanted to learn more because his mind was so fixated, I mean he could do anything. So it became a big challenge for me because now he was a student that wanted to go to territory that we had never planned together but I could see he was convinced.”
Embracing the struggle
Of course, Breaking 2 did not in itself achieve its goal, 25 seconds slipping past the two-hour mark before Kipchoge passed the line at Monza and the world record holder’s career has been interspersed with moments of difficulty, no more so than a chronic hamstring problem preventing his participation in London 2012.
Yet learning from those lows can be just as valuable as any victory. Kipchoge is adamant:
The struggles are good in life, especially in sports, because you realize that any struggle is not permanent. If you struggle then treat it in a good way and you'll actually come back again (stronger).
In the same way, the pair has learned to embrace difficult times they have also learned not to ride their highs. It is the reason wandering around the camp you will still see Eliud's name on a rota to clean the camp and why on Thursdays you will often see him making some tasty chapatis for teammates and staff alike.
Humility and resilience can take you a long way.
Sharing the load
Kipchoge’s eventual success in the INEOS 1:59 project showed the power of the group. Much like the pair feed off each other, they also draw energy from the talented teammates within the Global Sports Communication camp.
As Sang says, greater things can be achieved together and stress better shared:
“To achieve at a very high level, you cannot do it on your own. You see those athletes helping one another. It makes your stress levels manageable so I think when you see somebody smiling it’s actually a way of relieving the stress, for somebody is taking the burden you don’t have to think alone.”
Kipchoge’s achievements have been fueled by a strong sense of self-belief but they’ve also been aided by these simple steps to improve his mindset, ones any runner can replicate for themselves.
Discipline, humility, patience, sacrifice, and teamwork, are five key elements that have created a mindset that has taken Kipchoge and Sang to the highest of heights.