NEW YORK (03-Nov) -- In 2019 Shadrack Kipchirchir accepted an invitation from New York Road Runners to ride in a lead vehicle ahead of the TCS New York City Marathon. He was coming here anyway to compete in the Abbott Dash to the Finish Line 5-K the day before, and riding in the lead vehicle would give him a chance to see the world's largest marathon up close and really experience the energy of the event firsthand. When the race was over, he knew where he would run his first marathon.
PHOTO: Shadrack Kipchirchir in New York in advance of the 2022 TCS New York City Marathon (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
"New York, they've been really great to me," the 33 year-old Kipchirchir told reporters today at a press conference near the marathon finish line. "I've come here all the time for the 5-K, but I normally come for the 5-K specifically to watch the marathon. I was lucky enough to be invited to the lead vehicle for 2019. It was amazing. I was like, why not do it in New York? Everything is great. The city is great."
After that lead vehicle ride, Kipchirchir went home to Colorado Springs and started making plans to make his marathon debut in New York in 2020. But the pandemic made that impossible (the 2020 race was cancelled), and with the Olympics pushed back a year to 2021, Kipchirchir shifted his focus for 2021 to making his second Olympic team at 10,000m. But that new plan fell apart when he suffered a torn calf last spring which wiped out his entire summer and fall racing seasons. He wouldn't race again until January of 2022 when he won his second USATF cross country title, just one of seven national titles he's earned since changing his citizenship and allegiance to the United States from Kenya at the end of 2014.
Kipchirchir sees his move up to the marathon as "natural," he said. As a track athlete --where he achieved a 10,000m best of 27:07.55 at the 2017 World Athletics Championships in London-- he was already doing high mileage and long runs. Under coach Scott Simmons his training has not changed radically to get ready for Sunday's marathon.
"When I was doing the track I was doing a lot of high mileage," Kipchirchir explained. "Not a lot of difference, but what changed is the long runs. You know, I changed from 20 miles to 24 miles, 26-mile long runs, and add more mileage. In the evening runs I added more mileage, to double more... and to rest more."
He was also able to get support from his regular training partners: Leonard Korir, Sam Chelanga, Hillary Bor, and Paul Chelimo. Korir is also running Sunday's race, and he and Kipchirchir were careful not to get too competitive in training. When asked, he didn't want to compare his fitness with Korir's.
"In training it doesn't show," he said diplomatically. "We always run about 80%... so you can't tell in training. He's really fit. He was supposed to do Chicago I believe but he chose New York instead."
Kipchirchir said that Chelanga was the guy who was pushing the hardest in training, and that had really helped Kipchirchir get through his workouts.
"I love him," said Kipchirchir of Chelanga. "He's always a team player. You know, most of the guys, they help a lot, but Sam Chelanga is a little more more pushing. We love him so much."
For Sunday's race, Kipchirchir has not planned for a cautious approach. While it would be satisfying for him to be the top American --meaning he would have to beat Galen Rupp, Korir, Scott Fauble and Jared Ward among others-- he's aiming higher, he said.
"Just go there and compete," he said when asked about his race strategy. "I'm just going to go there and hang with the lead pack for as long as I can, and be patient and pray the whole time of the race. So, that's the main thing."
Kipchirchir is acutely aware of the epic difficulty of the New York course, and he said that it was part of his attraction to the event. He did well in his half-marathon debut here back in March (1:01:16, 4th place), which is also held on a hilly route from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Sunday's course is even harder.
"I just want to come here to run a little bit farther," Kipchirchir explained. "The farthest I've run here is 13.1 miles. Debuting in New York is amazing to me. I love this city, and I'm excited. Everyone says that New York is hard; I want to do it in a hard course."
Unfortunately, Kipchirchir won't have the in-person support of his wife, Elvin, and their six-month-old son, Mylo. Mylo got very sick with the flu and he and Elvin couldn't make the trip. Nonetheless, thinking of them provides him with tremendous motivation.
"He motivates me a lot," said Kipchirchir after showing a reporter photos of Mylo on his phone. "He's the reason why I push hard. Initially I had no reason to push hard, but now I have a family and they look up to me. It motivates me a lot."
Kipchirchir is also motivated by New York's tradition of hosting important marathon debuts, especially by Americans. Deena Kastor (2001), Meb Keflezighi and Marla Runyan (2002), Abdi Abdirahman (2004), Dathan Ritzenhein (2006), Kara Goucher (2008), Shalane Flanagan (2010), Molly Huddle (2016), and Bernard Lagat (2018) all made their marathon debuts in New York.
"It motivates me a lot... to come to New York and to debut in New York," Kipchirchir said. "Seeing the past, the Americans who have run here and done really well, you know, that's why I'm here. I'm here for the tradition to go on. We're not going to stop."