We attended the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon elite women’s press conference
It was a press conference like no other: the two titans of women’s marathon running, Brigid Kosgei and Ruth Chepngetich, sitting some metres apart due to the newly administered bumper technology ensuring that social distancing was strictly adhered to, peered at with great interest by the global press, nose to screen, via zoom.
Brigid is the current world record holder for women running in a mixed-sex race, with a time of 2:14:04 achieved last October at the Chicago Marathon. Having trumped Paula Radcliffe’s 16-year record earlier, she famously said, “I can go quicker” suggesting that 2:10 was an achievable time for a female athlete. Ruth is the 2019 Marathon World Champion, and has a marathon PB of 2:17:07 that puts her number 4 all-time behind Brigid, Paula Radcliffe and Mary Keitany.
Both of the Kenyan athletes looked happy and confident, gamely taking on complex questions from the press. But it was clear that both of them were holding a few cards to their chests.
When asked how it felt to return to London, Brigid replied with a big smile, “I am happy and excited to do this marathon again. I really like London because it’s a good course, and people are happy and cheer each other. I hope I will do my best to be invited next year.”
Ruth explained that she was also happy to be in London: “I’ll try my best,” she said, modestly. “I’ve trained well, I feel good, and ready for the run on Sunday to try my best.”
The pandemic was discussed, and its affect on training, with Ruth in particular pointing out the difficulties that it had entailed – training in isolation is a very different beast to the usual scheme of things.
Later, when Brigid was asked whether she was looking to break her record, she would only carefully say that: “Due to this pandemic, we didn’t do the same training like we did last year.” And she wouldn’t be drawn into offering predicted times, saying, “I want to try my best only on Sunday.”
Both women were asked about the footwear they were choosing to wear on the course. Ruth smiled and said, unsurprisingly, “The Next% – these are the best shoes that I like.” While Brigid seemed to slightly admonish the questioner, explaining, “The person does the running, not the shoes. It’s me who can run! My body moves, not the shoes.” Well said, Brigid!
The athletes were asked what advice they would give people running the marathon for the first time, and sadly neither answer filled this Sunday marathon runner with joy: “You must be disciplined,” said Brigid. “And you must work hard. If you don’t work hard, nothing will come easy. Be serious in everything.” Hoping for some respite from Ruth, we weren’t rewarded: “Be focussed, determined and disciplined,” she agreed.
When asked about their training, it seems as if both Ruth and Brigid have the requisite amounts of focus, determination and discipline, chucking back the mileage like no-one’s business. Ruth said, “I train near Nairolbi, and in a week I do around 160 to 170km.” While Brigid upped that: “I train in the Kapsait camp, and do about 180-190km.” Very similar to our own training, that.
Finally, the question we all wanted to ask. Brigid, did you talk to Paula Radcliffe after last year’s marathon when you broke her record? And what was that like? I might be wrong, but it looked as if Brigid at this point supressed the smallest of smiles. “I spoke with Paula Radcliffe,” she said. “And she said well done. But I think she was not happy because the record was gone.” We think Brigid might be right, there.
It only leaves us to say the very best of luck to these two incredible athletes, who are breathtakingly wonderful to watch. We can’t wait to see them in action on Sunday! Who’s going to come out on top? World record holder Brigid or Marathon World Champion Ruth? Or someone else entirely… With a brand new race in a brand new space, it feels like there’s everything to play for.