by Paul Gains
Record breaking has become a habit for Geoffrey Mutai, and organisers of the Ottawa 10km - an IAAF Silver Label race - are hoping that he is in form when he lines up in the Canadian capital, May 25th.
The Kenyan superstar set course records in winning both the Boston and New York marathons in 2011 and then went on to win the 2012 Berlin Marathon in a personal best of 2:04:15 - the fourth fastest time in history. Though renowned for his marathon victories, the 31 year old is also a very competent 10km runner. Indeed, he set a brilliant course record of 27:19 at the 2011 Boston 10km - the 9th fastest time ever run.
Mutai’s primary focus this spring will, of course, be the Virgin London Marathon, April 21st. But he can always be counted upon to deliver an extraordinary performance even though he will have just five weeks to recover before Ottawa.
This is the man who recorded history’s fastest marathon - 2:03:02 on the point to point Boston course, which is not eligible for world record purposes - and he won’t be going into the race blindly either. A year ago he won the Ottawa 10km in 27:47 with almost a minute to spare. Assisted by Charles Kimeli, his favourite pacemaker, he reckons he can challenge both the course record of 27:24 set by Ethiopia’s Deriba Merga in 2009 and, possibly, Leonard Komon’s world record of 26:44.
“The course in Ottawa is not bad so I think a world record is, maybe, possible,” Mutai declares. “But for a 10 km race it’s very important that weather conditions are good. I will need an athlete who can run a stable speed as pacemaker. I prefer a pacemaker from my own training group who knows me and I know him.
“You never can plan a world record. A world record comes or doesn’t come. And, of course it’s important how quickly I recover from the marathon.”
Mutai trains with a large group in Kapng’tuny about 50 kilometers from the town of Eldoret and believes he can run some very fast times this season.
“My training and preparation for the London marathon is going well,” Mutai says, “I can follow the program I want to do very well.
“I’m not training alone. In my camp we have around fifty athletes among them Dennis Kimetto (5th fastest marathoner of all time), Franklin Chepkwony (2:06:11 marathon best), Wilfred Kirwa Kigen. Sometimes Wilson Kipsang (2012 Olympic bronze medalist) is training together with our group, especially with long runs.”
“I don’t think my training is really different from other athletes. The good thing is that we have a strong group and that makes me also stronger.”
Mutai is the eldest of nine children born into poverty. As an elementary school student his father lost his job at a local textile factory and his parents were unable to afford his school fees. His education, thus, came to an abrupt end. He found employment in various jobs while taking up competitive distance running. At one point he worked as a lumberjack for the Kenya Power and Lighting Company.
“In that time I had an injury so I couldn’t train,” he remembers. “But I needed money so I had to take that job. The job was only for two years and it was not dangerous for me.
When I was free of my injury I started training again and in 2007 I finished in second position in the KassFm marathon in Eldoret, Kenya. There I met my manager Gerard van de Veen from The Netherlands.
“I signed a contract with him and from that moment I knew that I now had the chance to make my career outside Kenya. In the year 2008 I won the Monaco marathon and the Eindhoven marathon in Holland where I ran a course record.”
Success on the roads has led to financial prosperity and he hasn’t forgotten his roots nor his responsibility to others. In a country where the Gross National Income per capita is just $780, he is wealthy.
“When you earn good money your family expects something from your side,” he reveals. “I support my family, my parents, my cousins financially, like helping them to build a house or by paying school fees for the children. I feel it is my responsibility and duty to help them so that they can have a good education to reach something in future.”
Mutai appears unconcerned with the amount of time he will have to recover from the Virgin London Marathon saying he tends to recover very quickly. After London he will return to the home he shares with his wife and two children and slowly prepare for the Ottawa 10km. So, what does he remember about his first Ottawa experience?
“I have good memories of Ottawa,” Mutai responds. “There were a lot of people watching the race who were supporting me. That is stimulating a lot when you want to go for an ultimate result.”
If the conditions are right and Mutai recovers well from his marathon, a fast time can be expected on the flat, fast Ottawa course. How fast depends upon Mutai’s frame of mind. It is certain that organisers can depend on the Kenyan to deliver a world-class performance.