Sally Kipyego, who will make her much-anticipated 26.2-mile debut at the TCS New York City Marathon, is nervous.
“I’m excited; I’m thrilled about it,” says Kipyego, sounding more like her usual sunny self. “But I’m also a little anxious because I don’t really know what I’m getting myself into.”
In reality, she has a pretty good idea. The Kenyan 10,000-meter silver medalist from both the 2012 Olympics and the 2011 World Championships, a nine-time NCAA champion out of Texas Tech tied for most titles in history, has been here before. In 2011 she watched from the lead race vehicle as Mary Keitany—the defending TCS New York City Marathon champion who will be among Kipyego’s rivals on November 1—ran the first half in 1:07:56. That’s six seconds faster than Paula Radcliffe’s first 13.1 miles of the 2003 London Marathon, in which she demolished the world record.
“I freaked out,” says Kipyego. “I could not believe it. I was terrified.”
Her concern didn’t subside when Keitany fell off her torrid early pace, getting reeled in to finish third. “That last six miles looked painful even just being in the car,” says Kipyego. “So I cannot believe I’m doing this.”
Despite her incredulity, Kipyego is encouraged by how well her body has responded to marathon training.
On October 1 she tweeted from her training base in Iten, “I never thought I would ever be able to run 22 miles and be fine to train the next day.” This ability to bounce back from long runs, to train effectively day after day despite fatigue that has left her more tired than she has ever felt in her life, has given her newfound respect for the human body.
Learning patience, to hold something back rather than stomping the gas pedal, has been a bonus. Kipyego is determined not to get carried away in the race; to be competitive, but not to get any grand ideas.
The decision to attempt a marathon has been three years in the making, as Kipyego waited for the day when her head and heart agreed that she was ready. It was while she prepared for the IAAF World Championships this summer, in which she finished fifth at 10,000 meters, that she began to feel she needed a different spark, and things quickly fell into place.
“A great athlete once told me, ‘You will know when you are ready,’” Kipyego says.
That athlete was Meb Keflezighi, who is also running the race in New York.
For all of Kipyego’s trepidation, she is looking forward to race week, which she will share with her husband, Kevin Chelimo, who is running, too. Besides what she called “the beauty of being around runners who love running for what is,” she is eager to jump off the deep end to see if she can swim.
Cue Michael Phelps. In 2014 Kipyego made her 13.1-mile debut at the NYC Half. Before the race, she had never run farther than 14 miles, and feared the wheels might come off near the end. She called the race “scary to begin with just because it’s a long distance for me.”
Kipyego won, setting an event record.
By Barbara Huebner
Watch the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon on November 1 on WABC-TV, Channel 7, in the New York tri-state area from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. EST and watch it across the country on ESPN2 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. EST.
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