AFIRCANAMERICAN 15 APR 2020
With her third-place finish at the American Olympic Marathon Trials, Sally Kipyego secured her second trip to the Games. Her first was in 2012, when she was a citizen of Kenya, and she won the silver medal in the 10,000 meters. Kipyego, who was a nine-time NCAA champion at Texas Tech University, became an American citizen in 2017 after living for 15 years in the U.S.
She gave birth to her first child, daughter Emma, in July 2017, and returned to marathoning last year. After a DNF at Boston last April, Kipyego was seventh at the Berlin Marathon in 2:25:10, her PR.
The Trials turned out to be harder than she expected. On the hilly Atlanta course, she hung on to finish in 2:28:52, well behind winner Aliphine Tuliamuk (2:27:23) and runner-up Molly Seidel (2:27:31). In a Skype call with Runner’s World on April 9 from her farm in Kenya, about 7 miles from Eldoret, she spoke about her Trials experience, how Kenya is handling COVID-19, and her training in a country that’s under curfew.
Sally Kipyego: Not really. I agreed with the decision for them to postpone. I thought that was the right call. I was anxious before they decided and I didn’t know what was going to happen. I think when you’re in limbo, you don’t know, there is a lot of anxiety. I liked it more because they didn’t cancel it all together. They gave us another chance to chase the dream next year. I was really pleased with that. I was relieved more than anything.
Do you think you will try to run a fall marathon, if they happen?
I am more optimistic than you. I think fall marathons will happen. Right now, I’m going to try to get a little bit quicker. Even though I’m not racing, I’m going to try to spend a little more time and work on those weaknesses and things I have neglected the last few years. Speed has been one of them.
Ideally I would have road races of a shorter distance, but I’m planning on doing maybe a fall marathon if that is possible. If not, then a spring marathon, an early spring marathon maybe. It depends.
How did you recover from the Trials? Were you beat up?
Not too bad. As much as that race was difficult, I was kind of surprised how well I felt afterward. I always take two weeks off to recover to just kind of see how I’m feeling and start off slowly. And if I feel like I need a few more days, I’ll take it. This season I didn’t even need the few days.
“I WENT TO THE TRIALS TO WIN THE TRIALS. THAT’S THE TRUTH. BUT IT DIDN’T HAPPEN. LUCKILY ENOUGH I MADE THE TEAM.”
Have you watched the race at all?
No. I couldn’t bring myself to watch that race. There was a lot of rawness to that race. I’m very critical of myself anyway, naturally. I felt that I fell short of the objective of the day, but still my second goal was achieved. I wanted to win the Trials. Based on how difficult that race was, I couldn’t really be unhappy with the result. So I couldn’t bring myself to watch, and now I’m just going to let that go and move on.
So you were a little disappointed in yourself?
That’s the thing, that sounds almost ungrateful of me to say I was disappointed. How can you be disappointed, you made the team, you know? You had a decent day. There are people who had worse days than I did. But in simple terms, I didn’t go to the Trials to make the team; I went to the Trials to win the Trials. That’s the truth. But it didn’t happen. Luckily enough I made the team.
When Aliphine and Molly put down a 5:17 mile, the 22nd mile, you weren’t too far behind them. Were you aware of the move? What were you thinking?
I anticipated the move between mile 19 and mile 22. I was waiting. I was kind of surprised how long we were holding on and no one was making the move. I just didn’t expect the move to be so decisive and so abrupt, you know? I figured it would be a prolonged push, but it felt like such a sharp move. Right away I realized that I needed to pace myself. I knew there was a steep hill at the end of mile 23 and I knew that the end of that race was going to be really hilly and difficult.
I felt that if I went with that move, I probably would not survive and I probably will hit the wall really hard. So I figured, I’ll let them go. If I can, try to catch up, contain myself and run within a reasonable pace that you can sustain. I didn’t want to jump with it. I wanted to pace myself and see that I could actually finish the race.
Were you running scared the last few miles?
It’s funny how three miles can seem like 20 miles. I really thought that the chase group was going to catch me and I was going to run with them and then try to kick at the end of race.
But then over time, after a mile, I realized they weren’t catching me. I thought, okay, so they’re not really running as hard as I thought they would be.
Then when I realized they weren’t coming, I realized, maybe it’s time I go and keep going. I had a lot of people shouting really good information along the way. I had a lot of people telling me how far back they were. Someone would tell me 50 meters, or 10 seconds, or 15 seconds or 75 meters. That helped a lot, even though I was dying. I trusted the reports. I was like, I don’t think anyone is going to lie to me.
You did not inspect the course at all, even though you were there a full week ahead. What was your thinking there?
In hindsight, that was probably my biggest mistake. When people flew to Atlanta to check out the course in October, I made the mistake of not going. I looked at the map and thought, okay, it’s a hilly course, I’ll just prepare for a hilly course, you know? But I think it was much more than what the paper could give you. I think the people who flew down and ran on the course and saw the course physically were a little more prepared. For that kind of course, you need to actually see. I thought I was really prepared for a hilly course, but running it I realized I wasn’t.
When you look at the splits at the end—from myself all the way to 10th-place finisher, we were running six-minute miles. It’s ridiculous. These are elite athletes that are on top of their games. I think I thought I was ready, I thought I was good. Until I got there. In hindsight, I should have probably gone to Atlanta.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW
But it was probably good not to check out the course right before the race, because then the training was done.
It’s too late. By then I would panic. My coach and manager went to the course and looked at it two days before the race. They gave me some notes and some things I should pay attention to. There was no point in looking at it two days before the race. It was kind of pointless. I would freak out. I’m glad I didn’t. I trusted my training. I approached it as—I’m good to go, I’m fit, I should be able to handle this. I’ve run New York well, so I should be able to handle it. That was my thinking. That was my approach.
How much are you running right now?
Easy running. Some light strides and fartleks. We’re at the very beginning. And because of what is happening in the world right now, you are kind of pacing yourself, obviously. You kind of want to pace yourself. I’m trying to get conditioned. Just get strong and make sure that I’m in a good place if there was an announcement that we’ve got a vaccine and we should go back in a month—I should be able to do a few workouts and be fine.
What is Emma up to these days?
She’s almost 3. She’s running around like nobody’s business. That’s the beauty of the fact that we live on a farm. I’m so glad we came. The weather is good now. So you can really get out. The kid can run, she can bike all over the place and all that good stuff. I couldn’t imagine being right now in a contained place. I think if we were in the U.S. if they’re toddlers, they can’t go to the playground. You can’t go to the places that children really like to go to to play around.
Emma is not very good with being contained. She really likes to roam around. So this is a really good environment right now. So I get up in the morning and I go for a run, around 6 in the morning.
And my husband will be in the house. I have my niece who stays with us. She goes to college, but all the colleges are closed. I come back, and when I get back, Kevin will go for a run. I stay in. We just kind of float through the day.
I can’t go to the gym, I’ll do the gym at home in the front yard. Just spend the day walking with Emma. She only stays in the house to have a meal. The rest of the day she’s outside.