There are some places that are synonymous with athletes. Eliud Kipchoge and Berlin, Michael Jordan and Chicago – the list is endless. One could say that Joshua Cheptegei and Valencia belong on that list.
The Ugandan has a longstanding and successful relationship with the “Ciudad del Running” – the City of Running. It has played host to some of his greatest successes, including two of his World Records, and on Sunday (3 December) Joshua will look to add another page to his running story as he returns to the Spanish city for his marathon debut at the Valencia Marathon Trinidad Alfonso.
For Joshua, tackling the marathon presents a new venture, a new challenge, after an illustrious ten-year career on the track. The change in training and learning the marathon has been something he has relished in recent months.
The marathon is a new adventure and I am really looking forward to it as a new challenge. It is going to be an exciting challenge.
However, with the Paris Olympics around the corner, the track-based chapter of his career is not finished yet. He will look to add the 10,000m Olympic titles to his accolades that include three-time World Champion for 10,000m and Olympic Champion for 5,000m. That is whilst becoming the fastest man in history over 5,000m and 10,000m, the latter in Valencia where he returns this weekend.
Over the course of his glittering track career, Joshua has learnt that consistency and patience are key to success. He intends to take those lessons with him on his 26.2 mile journey. Afterall, the marathon is unlike any other distance – it does not care for what you may have achieved in the sport before.
“The track has taught me to be patient when chasing my goals. I will approach the marathon in the same regards. If you are not patient in the marathon, it means you will not be able to reach your destination and goals. I want to approach this marathon with a lot of respect as it is something new for me. I want to approach it in a new dimension. All of us are built differently, what is important for me is to just enjoy the race and see what happens after 35 kilometres”.
Training for a distance further than you have ever raced before brings about many challenges, but also learning experiences. Always based in Uganda as part of his ambition to build a running culture and inspire the younger generation, training has comprised a mixture of easy runs, tempo runs, track sessions with longer repetitions, and longer runs on Sundays. Lessons on diet and hydration, what is needed to enable your body to run longer and longer, have been important too.
It hasn’t always been straightforward, however. Inclement weather – unexpected at this time of year – has led to tricky conditions, with runs usually in the forests of Kapchorwa made difficult with rain and mud. Adapting training to suit the conditions is nothing new for Joshua and his team, however, and he says everything is progressing well and smoothly.
There have been lessons from friends and mentors also, including fellow NN Running Team member Eliud Kipchoge and fellow Ugandan (and 2012 Olympic Champion) Stephen Kiprotich. Joshua fondly remembers watching Stephen winning the Olympics in London eleven years ago whilst in high school, dreaming of one day becoming a national hero like him. More recently, he always makes sure to watch and learn from Eliud in his races:
Eliud is one of the greatest distance runners and the greatest marathoner I’ve ever seen. It’s a great honour for me to always learn from the greatest. I am looking forward to putting into use what we have always shared together.
Joshua’s decision to return to Valencia for his marathon debut was an easy one. He knows the roads well, having broken the 10km World Record in 2019. The fond memories continued a year later, after breaking the 10,000m World Record at the NN Valencia World Record Day. Furthermore, the December date allowed enough time to prepare after the World Championships in August and recover before training for the Olympic Games begins.
“For me, Valencia was of course the best choice. It had to be Valencia because of the history of running there. It is a good organisation and a good course. I wouldn’t want to do a debut in a place I’m not familiar with – so for me that was Valencia”.
The Valencia Marathon is known for producing fast times. Whilst this would be a positive outcome of Sunday’s race for Joshua, it is not the primary objective. More important is gaining knowledge and lessons for the future.
What would make a perfect race for me in Valencia to learn and experience the marathon. I am not looking at running fast times, because it is a new distance for me and I am still learning in training. I want to learn and the best for me would be seeing myself be on the podium.
Whatever happens on Sunday, it will be the opening of an exciting new chapter in Joshua’s career.