Reigning Chicago marathon champion Abel Kirui of Kenya returns to the London marathon on Sunday, where the strong field is led by the 2:03:03 Berlin winner and former Olympic track champion Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia.
"All the work is done," the 2009 and 2011 world marathon champion Kirui told RunBlogRun several days before the April 23, 2017 competition. "I am ready for this race."
The native of western Kenya has run the London city marathon three times, dropping out in 2011 and placing fifth in 2010 and in 2012 before taking Olympic silver there, after which he suffered an injury. He placed fifth in Tokyo in 2:08:06 in 2016, and ran 2:11:23 in Chicago to win, while his personal best is his 2009 Rotterdam 2:05:04.
As soon as he won his first world marathon majors (WMM) race in Chicago last October, Kirui expressed his eagerness to return to London and race several current and recent Abbott WMM race champions there.
"It will be the biggest race ever, because you can see that Kipchoge is now in amazing shape, and Bekele is now coming in full swing of his years of cross country and track," Kirui told RunBlogRun at the time. "I need to go to London."
Kirui, who in his conversations recalls races with vivid imagery, likening runners to aircraft and graceful, speedy creatures of nature, also listed London former champion Wilson Kipsang and runner-up Stanley Biwott as in-form athletes he sought to face there.
Three of those men will not be racing the Virgin Money London Marathon, with 2016 London and Rio Olympic champion Kipchoge having committed to the Nike Breaking2 project aiming to run 26.2 miles in under two hours this spring; Kipsang having run the Tokyo marathon in February; and Biwott having recently pulled out with injury.
RunBlogRun: You were looking forward to racing Kipchoge, Bekele, Kipsang and Biwott in London, but some of them will not be there. What are your thoughts about your competition?
Abel Kirui: It was actually my joy to run with these big names. I know Bekele is there, he's a great challenge; and this young athlete from Eritrea, [Ghirmay] Ghebreslassie, the young boy who won in New York.
Also, I don't underestimate anybody. In competition, you don't rule anybody out. So I think I will be careful and focus, and if all goes well, I will win, but for me, I will be fighting to be top three and it will be a big joy for me, because I have seen several times a good position in London.
RBR: Have you run any other races after Chicago, besides a [February 12] half marathon?
Kirui: It was only the buildup and the Barcelona half marathon. No other races in between. It was two months ago that I ran the Barcelona half marathon, which was OK. I ran 61:30. That was just a build-up for the real marathon.
After that, we had a lot of workouts with [coach] Renato Canova and things went very well. The last workout we did, it was track work and speed work. Last week I had another long run of two hours, 20 minutes and then I did speed work on Friday before I went to see my family in Kapsabet.
RBR: How does your training before London compare to the training you did before Chicago?
Kirui: I think actually, I increased a little bit more in this one. I was excited to win something in an American city. I was thinking that after I achieved that, now I need to do something good in London. So I put a lot of effort in training. I made some [additional] workouts in this one.
Because, you know, in London now, it is faster than Chicago, so I had to put some more speed work, because they were starting to run 2:03, maybe attempting the world record. ... [A recent] track workout with Renato was amazingly good.
RBR: Who were you training with?
Kirui: I was working with some young athletes... Sometimes Renato was coming with some groups from Iten, and it was actually very hard workouts, because we were initially a very big group, but finally, we were finishing with maybe a few athletes in the track. So a lot of the athletes were falling away, because the workouts were not easy. It was like a military training.
RBR: Are there some well-known athletes among them?
Kirui: Some track runners, Thomas Longosiwa; Victor Chuma, who is the guy who is in the group of Eliud Kipchoge trying to go sub-two hours. Those are the strong athletes of the day. There's also a guy called Kwemoi, a very strong guy, a track athlete. Those were some of the names. Track runners and some road racers.
RBR: What's your goal for London?
Kirui: I really need to win, actually. My prayer is to win. I don't know what will be, but my shape is OK now, so I think all will be well.
RBR: You had a real battle with defending champion Dickson Chumba in the final miles of Chicago.
Kirui: I knew this guy was very strong and I knew what is going to save me only is to go where my energy can get completely finished up ... and we shall die and collapse in the sprint race, a sprint finish like one time between [Paul] Tergat and [Hendrick] Ramaala in New York.
RBR: Tell me about your last race in London, which was at the Olympics.
Kirui: Kipsang made a move the first [10K], like a gazelle. He was running like a cheetah, alone, all alone, almost one kilometer. ... We were closing step by step, me and [Ugandan Stephen] Kiprotich. When we caught him, we tended to slow, I don't know why, because we were thinking we'll go progressively.
Everybody was calculating where to strike. I was thinking to strike when we make a turn in the small roundabout. So Kiprotich made a swift turn before we reached where my mathematics was.
RBR: Your first world title was in Berlin in 2009.
Kirui: Berlin was tactical. It was also a race like Chicago. I was in good shape. I had done some good work. I was comfortable in any pace. You remember, [Tsegaye] Kebede was in good shape, Emmanuel [Mutai] was in good shape. It was like jetting, like fighter jets. I am happy that my mathematics was applicable. I was all the time coming from behind and closing and gaining momentum in the last part, and -- sshhooo! -- I shot past and I won.
RBR: After your last global medal, you had an injury.
Kirui: Things were OK; after two world championships, Olympic silver, London invited me, so I wanted to win in 2013. I was doing 45K in training, and I don't know what happened ... We realized there was a crack in my shin, ... a stress fracture. ... So the whole year went, the whole of 2013.
RBR: And 2014 [in which you had top 10 finishes in Tokyo and Amsterdam, as well as at Amsterdam 2015]?
Kirui: It was dismal. It was coming, but my leg was still fearing. When I wanted to do some hill sprints, my leg was fearing because it was going into the mind ... I was told by the doctor: "If you do something silly, it can carry you three years." So I was all the time cautious. So I think it actually carried me the whole 2014 with some kind of fear of training. 2015 also was coming but not well. ... Training was not proper because Renato then was in China [until late 2015].
RBR: How did you feel winning your first WMM, in Chicago?
Kirui: This is the first Major. You see, I am almost complete in my work. Because I was thinking if I win one race in the U.S.; one race in Asia, which I have already done, in Daegu; one race in [continental] Europe, which I have already done, in Berlin; you know, I am going around the globe. I think I am almost complete. I need London, maybe one time.