NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, the Olympic marathon champion and world record holder, said he was looking forward to a beautiful race on Sunday in Enschede, the Netherlands, a run he sees as crucial preparation for this year’s Tokyo Olympics.
The race was originally scheduled to take place on April 11 in Hamburg but was postponed over COVID-19 restrictions, forcing the organisers to look for an alternative location.
It will be Kipchoge’s first outing since his surprise loss at the London marathon in October when he was eighth, more than five minutes slower than his world record of 2:01:39 and over a minute adrift of Ethiopian winner Shura Kitata.
“My goal is the same – to run a good race and a beautiful race,” he told reporters in a virtual news conference on Friday. “All of us will enjoy, we will test ourselves, the shape we will have on Sunday, but above is the beauty of the race.”
The event, closed to the public, will feature more than 50 elite athletes from at least 20 countries, said the organisers.
Among those competing on Sunday against Kipchoge will be 2012 Olympic marathon champion Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda.
“Winning is important, specific time is important but I can’t say I want to aim for this time, I really want to run a beautiful race,” Kipchoge said.
Kipchoge also said it had been hard to cope with the restrictions on training resulting from the pandemic.
“COVID has destroyed everything, it has destabilised our training, our lives. Now we train with the small groups and we are competing without the fans,” he said.
“I have been in the sport for the last 17 years and trained with a crew and imagine one day you are being told to train alone,” Kipchoge added. “But all in all, we have overcome, we are nearly overcoming.”
Considered one of the sport’s greatest marathoners, the 36-year-old suffered his first defeat since 2013 in London.
Kipchoge, who up until the London marathon had won 10 straight races, said he had suffered from a blocked ear that affected his breathing and cramp in his hip.
While he told reporters he did not change any part of his training regime after the London race, the experience taught him how to run without fans, who have been forced to stay home from sports competitions due to the pandemic.
“I still continue with my training, I have the same coach, same management, same thinking and that’s why I am here again,” he said.
“We started to run without fans in London and this is the second leg of running without fans and that’s one way to learn and actually absorb and accept that we should move on because life cannot stop anymore.”
Overseas fans have already been barred from attending the Tokyo Games and organisers plan to decide this month on the maximum number of local fans permitted in venues.
The race in Enschede on Sunday, taking place at Twente airport, is crucial preparation for the Olympics marathon in August, said Kipchoge, the first man to run the distance in under two hours in an unofficial race.
Kipchoge will also for the first time use a biosensor to monitor his glucose levels during the race, a tool that he said will help him know when he can “fuel”.
“It’s good actually this race was organised, to help me and the rest of the people who will be qualifying for Tokyo,” he said.
(Reporting by Omar Mohammed; Editing by Ken Ferris)