A few minutes with Lornah Kiplagat

Lornah Kiplagat, 36, has been absent from the racing scene for awhile, but she’s back. She has excelled at distances from the 5K to the marathon, and has continued to race competitively across that distance spectrum throughout her career. She holds four world records for road racing: 5K, 10M, 20K and half marathon. Originally from Kenya, she has been a Dutch citizen since 2003. The Mini 10K was one in a series of post-surgery “comeback” races for Kiplagat. A four-time winner of that event, she’d hoped for a fifth title and was leading for the first half of the race before being overtaken by the eventual winner, Linet Masai. Kiplagat would finish fourth.

You’ve been running fast forever. How have you managed to have such a consistent career?
I think it’s just good planning. Good support, the right people around you. And a lot of running. So if I can also do that as a career, then you like to do that extra.

After setting the world record for the half in Udine, Italy, 2007.

What’s it like to have a tulip named after you?
It’s nice. How did you know about that?

I went to one of your sites and there was a story about that. I thought that was pretty neat.
Yes, it was nice of the Dutch that they did that for me. They mentioned this to me about seven years ago, even more. They thought it was a good idea, and they started preparation for it. Because it takes a long time. But it finally came out. It’s a very funny flower because it’s very strong. We have tulips and home and normally tulips don’t last long. They were lasting like for three weeks!

That’s very appropriate for a marathoner.
Yeah. Tulips normally just wither down.

Do you train in Holland?
Yes. But mostly in Kenya. Because of the altitude. It’s nice in Holland in the summer. I like it. But in the winter, it’s better in Kenya, for sure.

I was reading about your High Altitude Training Centre in Kenya. It seems like the focus has become less on athletics and more on academics.
The focus is really both. But we’re more into giving opportunities to top athletes all over the world. So they are able to train there.

Did you always have it in your head that you wanted to start something like this?
It was with a group of people. We have one guy in Kenya that’s selecting students. And they are staying in my place. They get coaching. They also get to study there. After that, they can come to America. We do it with four people. My part is to coach them — not so much to coach them, but to motivate them. So it works really good. They are boys and girls, top students from high school.

Is your foundation still focused on AIDS prevention and AIDS education?
Yeah. We are growing, actually. We’re starting up a high school for 300 girls. The training camp was so small. We could do only 12-15 girls.

How did you manage to grow it so quickly?
We’ve not yet gotten funding, but we have the plans for doing that.

How do you select who gets into the school?
They have to meet a certain academic level. And they all have to be doing something in sport. Football, hockey, running.

Do they have to maintain a certain level of academic consistency to remain in the school?
Yes. They have to. You know, they come there and they go down…we want them to come there and go even higher. Academically and in sport. This would be a boarding school. Before we didn’t have a school. They would only stay there during holidays. They could go to schools all over Kenya. They’d come to us in August and December, but it was not enough. It was too short to do something. Finally, I said, “I’m doing something, but it’s not enough.” So we needed to put [together] a better structure. We hope the first class will be 2013. It’s nearby the altitude training center. We’re trying to get the funding, but even if we don’t get it, it will still happen with our own money. I’ve got the ground to build the school already. It’s 18 hectares. That was the hardest part — getting the ground.

What made it so difficult? Finding the right place?
That and getting the right ground in such a place is almost impossible anymore. Getting a space that big. I had to move four families.

Was that difficult? Did they not want to leave?
No, it was an opportunity for them. If they give me one acre of land, then I have to buy them two and a half somewhere else. But in a nice place, where they can really farm. And still with some money on top of that. So they saw it as an opportunity to get more land. That was the most difficult part, and now that’s done. So the rest — putting up the buildings — is not a big deal for me. If we get funding, it will go quicker. If we don’t, it will go slower. But still, it will happen.

Do people know that you’re doing this project? Do people at these things ask you about it?
I don’t even talk about it. When I see that you’re interested, I talk about it. But normally I don’t even mention it.

No, I ask because I was surprised. I did some research on you yesterday. I know you as a runner but had no idea you were heading up all these other projects.
I don’t think most people are interested. They just want to see how the running will be. This is for my own good feeling. I don’t want to be just a runner and then pass by. I want to be a runner, but establish my roots. You want to know where you came from and where you end, what you brought to influence society. That’s what we [with husband/coach Pieter Langenhorst] do. Pieter supports me very well with this work. He’s the one making things happen. Sometimes you can be together, but if the other partner doesn’t have the same motivation, it doesn’t work. For us, it works very well.

I came across an interview with you a few years ago in which you were describing your experience of going to one of your first races in Kenya. You slept in a bathroom. There was basically no support. Have things improved in the last 18 years?
Yeah. It’s improved a lot. It’s like day and night.

Yes, it was really shocking.
It’s quite impossible now to have that kind of experience. There are so many athletes now, so many girls. Girls running now is a normal thing.

Is it still one of the biggest professional opportunities there?
Absolutely. In the last 10 years, it’s grown like crazy.

Can I ask you about your running, or are you tired of answering questions about that?
No, it’s okay.

You’ve been coming back with some shorter races. Are you planning on returning to the marathon?
I will build up slowly now, since I am coming back from injury. But end up at the marathon.

Do you have one in mind?
Not yet.

As you’ve moved into your thirties, have you found that you need more recovery between hard workouts?
Yes.

Are you doing two workouts a week now? Or three?
I run, of course, every day. I do speed work three times a week. But not very sharp, though.

What kind of mileage are you doing right now?
70-80 miles a week. Not a lot.

What do you get up to when you’re peaking in your training for the marathon?
If I’m going for the marathon, for sure over 100.

Do you think after you turn 40 that you’ll keep competing?
No, I think I will just go to easy running. But not competing. It depends.

Because a lot of women are running well into their forties.
I’m not far from 40…

That’s why I’m asking.
I will just see how it will go.

If you scale back the running, will you spend more time on these other projects?
Yeah. That’s like my baby.

Do you think doping is widespread in women’s distance running?
No, I don’t believe it. Because I know most of the women in distance running and most of them are really clean.

I know it was bad in the eighties. A lot of the Chinese times, people don’t even really count because it’s assumed they were all on something.
And it is possible [to excel without drugs]. It’s just a matter of training hard. Simple. No shortcuts. Knowing most of the girls in long distance, you can tell that they train hard. Even in competition, you can see somebody who you can say, “Hey, something is wrong.” So it happens, but it’s not common.

Do you train by heart rate?
No.

How do you know how hard to run?
I used a GPS watch. Every kilometer, I know what speed I’m running and I feel. So if I’m running under 4:00 per K, and I’m feeling good.

Do you race with a GPS?
Sometimes [Kiplagat wore her Garmin 310xt at the Mini 10K]. When I’m not sure, I race with a GPS.

A lot of people are funny about it. They think it’s cheating, that you have an advantage over other people in the race. Or they assume that elites never use them.
No. It’s no different with a watch. Every kilometer, you can see [the split]. What’s the difference? There’s no difference.

Track Talk #8 with Bill Aris

I’ve been catching up on podcasts and came across this one from back in April, a 90 minute LetsRun.com interview with Bill Aris, who is regarded as probably the best high school track coach in the country.

Aris has a healthy, rational approach to training, using ideas that can be applied to anyone who is looking to improve. I imagine anyone who’s coaching would find this useful as well. His philosophy is based on fitting the training to the runner and making each runner’s goals about the process of improving rather than chasing after a particular race time.

I also loved this quote: “Running is all about delayed gratification.” Yet he somehow manages to productively coach teenagers, who are not always known for their ability to delay gratification. Probably because he applies a perfect balance of structure, compassion and respect for his charges. He’s passionate about what he does and it shows in the way he talks about it.

Here’s background on the interview. And here’s a link to the MP3 download.

Well worth a listen.

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