Distance running king Geoffrey Kamworor returns to the “Big Apple” in a bid to retain his New York City Marathon title in November. We find out more about the Kenyan with the insatiable appetite for winning over any distance or surface.
Is there any endurance challenge beyond Geoffrey Kamworor?
Still aged just 25, the remarkable Kenyan has already notched up a hat-trick of World Half Marathon crowns, two World Cross Country titles (three, if we count his U20 gold from seven years ago) and he is also the reigning New York Marathon champion.
As the 2015 world 10,000m silver medallist, he is also a supreme operator on the track making him truly the a “Man For All Surfaces” – and the world’s pre-eminent all-round endurance talent.
When Kamworor talks of his successes, he does so with a total confidence in his abilities yet without a trace of arrogance. He has total faith in his extraordinary gifts, yet the long-striding Kenyan did not always possess the swaggering belief he does today and had to be coaxed into the sport by a schoolteacher.
“Running 5km to and from school twice a day as a primary school student I knew I was fast,” explains Geoffrey, who grew up the second youngest of seven children on a maize farm.
“At high school I won every distance from 800m and 10,000m but I was scared to proceed to the next level. I did not believe in myself.
“It was only after a teacher encouraged me that I could become a professional runner and I saw Kenyans competing at a world-class level, did I have that desire to one day compete against them.”
It was not an entirely straight-forward transition, though, and for some time he grappled between pursuing a career in running against his academic ambitions.
“I was a good student, a hard-working student,” he insists. “After high school I wanted to be a lawyer. I thought it would be the best profession for me.”
Yet after stringing several impressive wins together including in a domestic 10km road race as a 16-year-old, running ultimately won the tug-of-war for his affections.
“From that point, I saw the talent in myself and my running,” he explains.
In 2010, at the age of just 17, he spent a summer racing track in Scandinavia. He performed admirably clocking PB’s of 7:54 and 13:42 for the 3000m and 5000m, respectively yet “everything was to change” in late-2010 when he joined Global Sports Communication and started training with their world-class Kaptagat-based group under the influential coaching of Patrick Sang.
Rated as one of the world’s leading coaches, Sang, a former world and Olympic steeplechase silver medallist, is lauded for not only his intense knowledge of the sport but for the fatherly-approach he adopts with all his athletes.
With Sang in his corner, gradually Kamworor’s self-confidence grew, a belief augmented by training alongside marathon great Eliud Kipchoge.
“I knew Eliud was a great athlete but what I have really learned from him is the value of hard-work and discipline and how you treat yourself as an athlete,” says Kamworor of the Olympic marathon champion. “He has been very encouraging and has become a great friend.
“In fact, the training group [which also includes two-time world marathon champion Abel Kirui] is always so friendly and jovial – we have a lot of fun in Kaptagat.”
Living in small dorm with two people to a room, conditions in the camp are best described as basic with few distractions.
Training from Monday to Friday in Kaptagat every week – he only returns to his home in Eldoret on a weekend – his workload is centred around two key sessions every week; the Tuesday speed session on a hard-packed dirt track in Eldoret and the gruelling long runs of up to 40km on the red-coloured trails at an energy-sapping altitude of more than 2500m.
Progress under Sang has been rapid. Just three months after joining the camp, he raced to U20 gold at the 2011 World Cross Country Championships.
The next year – two months shy of his 19th birthday – he ran a stunning marathon debut of 2:06:12 on the streets of Berlin.
Even the occasional speed bump in his career has been met with a stunningly positive response. At the 2014 Tokyo Marathon, Kamworor was disappointed to place sixth in 2:07:37 before he and Sang set their sights on the World Half Marathon Championships in Copenhagen just five weeks later.
Despite facing a strong field including the likes of Zersanay Tadese, the five-time champion from Eritrea, and Wilson Kiprop, Kamworor was unfazed, making his decisive move at 15km to claim a 13-second win.
“It was unbelievable to win a world title for the first time, it gave me a great belief,” he adds.
The next year he added the senior World Cross Country title and a world 10,000m silver behind Mo Farah before retaining his World Half Marathon crown in Cardiff in 2016 under challenging circumstances. In wet conditions, he slipped and fell start of the race badly scraping his knees but recovered to strike gold once again.
The man with the Midas touch next produced a mature display to retain his World Cross Country crown in Uganda in 2017 and this year in Valencia in March he completed a hat-trick of World Half Marathon crowns with another dominant performance, powering clear of the opposition in the final 6km.
“It is always about the next competition for me,” he explains. “The medals I have won have always motivated me, but after I win a medal I forget about it and aim for the next goal. In some ways it is a bit like climbing a tree. When you climb up to the next branch you forget about the branch that you have left behind.”
Despite his affinity for the World Cross Country Championships and World Half Marathon Championships, his growing bond with the New York City Marathon is also special.
After finishing second – 14 seconds adrift of Stanley Biwott – on his race debut in 2015 he returned last year to add his name to the roll call of great New York Marathon champions.
Forging ahead in the final 7km, Kamworor repelled a late charge from Wilson Kipsang to take the race victory in 2:10.53 and clinch yet another memorable win.
“It meant a lot to me,” he says. “Running at New York is like running at home. It is my favourite race. The course is up and down, sometimes flat. I am used to this from my cross country background, it is not a challenge for me. It is similar to the terrain I train on in Kaptagat.”
Kamworor returns to the ‘Big Apple’ in November as he hopes to become the first man since John Kagwe 20 years ago to win the New York City Marathon in successive years.
Invariably well prepared and with a range of weapons in his arsenal to draw upon, including strength, speed and mental aptitude, there is little doubt the athlete dubbed “The Man for All Surfaces” will once again be the man to beat on the streets of New York and in all future races whatever the distance or terrain.
“I would like to win as many as possible world and Olympic titles and also to win as many marathons,” he explains of his future ambitions.
“Running is my passion, my office,” he explains. “It is my daily activity that I cannot live without.”
Words: Steve Landells
Photography: Dan Vernon