Faith Kipiegon’s formula for success

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Faith Kipiegon’s formula for success

Simon Freeman on what makes the Kenyan the best middle distance runner on the planet

Faith Kipyegon is full of surprises, but maybe not in the way you think. You could point to the fact, for example, that the scale of her recent world record breaking was not fully anticipated by fans or observers.

At the Diamond League in Rome on June 2, the two-time world and Olympic champion set a world record in the 1500 meters in 3:49.11, becoming the first woman ever to break 3:50 for the distance. Then, on June 9 at the Diamond League in Paris, the 5000m world record was broken with 14:05.20. The mile followed in Monaco last month, slashing almost five seconds off the previous mark of 4:07.64.

For those close to Kipyegon, however – including her training partners and her coach – these outstanding performances were part of a trajectory that saw her star steadily rise. So what has helped her achieve these feats? It turns out the answers can be deceptively simple.

I was recently on a trip to Kenya, during which part of my time was spent with NN Running team in their camp at Kaptagat. The first chance I had to meet Kipiegon and the other athletes – including luminaries like Eliud Kipchoge and Geoffrey Kamworor – personally was on a track session at Moi University located South East of Eldoret.

Arriving at the track before sunrise, my first impression was that it was something of a cliché that the world’s greatest distance runners would choose to use such a basic facility.

But I thought maybe that’s part of the reason they’re so good – there are no distractions, just a 400m red clay oval with a deep groove rubbed into the surface of the inside lane (no real painted fairways, per course).

Kipiegon was on the track well before the other athletes who would be joining her for the session. She quickly changed and began a warm-up, walking clockwise around the outer edge of the track. She didn’t seem bothered that her teammates weren’t there yet. She just did what she had to do, in silence, alone.

Faith Kipiegon (NN Running)

In the end, the 29-year-old finished the session in the company of another athlete. Although coach Patrick Sang told me that all the athletes in the NN Running team I enjoy teaching them, the overwhelming feeling I got was one of the most serious. After the session ended, I asked team physicist Peter Nduhiu about how Kipyegon was seen by the rest of the team. The seriousness I witnessed on the track seemed like one side of a very different personality when the woman many consider one of the all-time greats wasn’t training or competing.

“Well, Faith is a very good man,” Nduhiu explained. “I would say she’s the kind of person who will interact with everyone, in a very kind way. She gets on well with everyone and is very comfortable to be around.

Faith Kipiegon (Getty)

When I asked Kipchoge and Kamworor what it was like to have Kipyegon in the camp, their answers were the same and unequivocal: she is a pleasure to spend time with and at the same time she is very focused in training and competing. Both remarked on her ability to switch into “work” mode when needed, but also be completely relaxed at camp the rest of the time.

Talking to her, I wanted to know why she wanted to live six days a week in the camp, apart from her husband (2012 Olympic 800m bronze medalist Timothy Kitum) and young daughter Aline, who live just a few kilometers away. It’s the same schedule as everyone else NN Running team athletes maintain – in camp from Monday morning to Saturday night, with Sunday at home.

“It’s a lot of sacrifice,” she said with a big smile. “Being in camp all week, Monday through Saturday. I just stay with my daughter for two days and then come back here [in Kaptagat] on Monday. So it takes a lot of dedication and discipline. But this is my career. This is my office.

» This is an abridged version of a feature that appeared in the August issue of AW magazine, which you can purchase here

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