How to rest, fuel and recover like the marathon world record holder Eliud Kipchoge

Over the years marathon running has become something of an art form. The science of running has also progressed significantly since the days of the St. Louis 1904 Olympic marathon where athletes including the eventual winner Thomas Hicks drank brandy and even strychnine, a form of rat poison, in the belief that they would improve their performance.

Today’s elite marathon runners like Eliud Kipchoge have strict training plans and diets that help them achieve peak performance on race day.

However, one thing that often goes underlooked is the importance of rest, fueling and recovery in marathon training and running.

And whether you’re an elite runner or training for your first big event, there’s no one better to learn from than double Olympic champion and reigning marathon world record holder, Eliud Kipchoge.

How much does Eliud Kipchoge sleep?

While staying in bed is a luxury some can’t afford when they’re training for a marathon, sleep is probably the best way your body has to recover from hard training runs and set yourself up for a successful marathon.

For Kipchoge that means a whopping 10 hours on average - but that doesn’t all come in one big overnight sleep session

“I’m sleeping eight hours during the night and two hours during the day,” the only man to run a marathon in under two hours revealed while training for the Ineos 1:59 Challenge.

And it’s not just Kipchoge who sleeps this much when preparing for race day. NN Running Team coach Addy Ruiter, who has trained Olympic 5,000 and 10,000 metre gold medalist Joshua Cheptegei, revealed that the 10-hour rule is commonplace among elite marathon runners.

“In general the average elite marathon runner would get around eight hours (a night) plus another two hours during the day for a total of 10 hours. During those two hours, an athlete may not always be sleeping but they’ll at least be lying on their beds making sure that they rest.”

While non-elite runners may struggle to find time for a mid-day rest, the principle of getting a good night’s sleep has been well established, with benefits that include muscle repair and the release of growth hormone.

So if you are struggling to keep up with your marathon training plan, more sleep is a good way to get your body in the right shape for another session.

How does Eliud Kipchoge taper before a marathon?

For many people, tapering before a race is key to their marathon day performance. In simple terms, it involves reducing your training for two to three weeks before your race so that you can arrive at the starting line rested and ready to run at your best.

While this works wonders for a lot of runners, Kipchoge does not taper in the traditional sense before his races.

In his training log for the 2017 Berlin Marathon, the Kenyan revealed that just a week out from the race he had run 182 km (113 miles). It was only in the final week when he travelled to Berlin that he lowered his mileage from his weekly average.

For a large part of the marathon running community, simply copying what Kipchoge does would be futile. He takes no days off during training and his rest day - if you can call it that - includes a 20km easy run.

However, it does make you understand that there’s no “one size fits all” solution for marathon running. While two to three weeks at reduced mileage may be best for some, as little as a week can work for others - including the greatest marathon runner to have ever lived.

How does Eliud Kipchoge fuel during a race?

While a runner’s diet leading up to a marathon race can help them get into tip-top shape, what they consume during a race is equally important.

For Kipchoge, that means taking on large amounts of carbohydrates in the form of drink mixes and running gels.

In the build-up to his 2018 marathon, it was revealed that Kipchoge was consuming around 100 grams of carbohydrates per hour in his race, the equivalent of two cups of long-grain brown rice or just over four slices of white bread.

For most athletes, 100 grams would be on the higher side of what their bodies are able to consume, with many non-elite runners staying within the 25-60 grams per hour range.

However, as with many things to do with marathon running, much of this is down to trial, error and indeed training (in this case training your gut to handle the carbohydrate intake). And if in doubt, it is recommended that you speak to a registered nutritionist.

How does Eliud Kipchoge recover from a marathon?

So, your marathon is done and the first thing you want to do is put your feet up and relax to recover from the strenuous effort you’ve just put your body through.

However, as with so many other aspects of his marathon plan, Kipchoge doesn’t follow conventional wisdom.During his training for the Ineos 1:59 challenge, Kipchoge revealed that he runs slowly for four days after a marathon. The main reasons for this are to check whether he has "cured well" and doesn't have any physical injuries that require medical treatment following his race.

After this, however, it’s time to rest. And for Kipchoge that means three weeks of "total" or "active" rest to ensure his body has recuperated before he once again begins training.

As coach Ruiter explains, athletes don’t have to be at their peak all year round - it’s all about resting, fueling and recovering in the right way to be at your very best on race day.

“The elite athletes I work with don’t have to be in peak physical shape the whole year round they just try and peak for competition, which in the case of many marathon athletes is twice a year,” he says. “They then take a post-race rest for three to four weeks to recharge the batteries. Most marathoners would then do two months of basic training followed by a more specific block of three-month training before the marathon.”

posted Monday April 10th
by Sean McAlister