Friday, June 5, 2009 exclusive interview: Catherine Ndereba "They shall run and not be weary."

Catherine “the Great” Ndereba is a running legend. Wikipedia says:

“Wincatherine Nyambura Ndereba (born July 21, 1972) is a world class Kenyan marathon runner. She won the Boston Marathon four times and silver medals in the Olympics in 2004 and 2008. Ndereba broke the women's marathon world record in 2001, running 2:18:47 at the Chicago Marathon. In 2008, Ndereba was described by a Chicago Tribune sportswriter as the greatest women's marathoner of all time.”

Catherine will take part at Sunday’s Mini10k in NYC. On Friday before the race she was visiting a school in Harlem to run with the kids. Due to the rain everyone had to stay inside but that didn’t stop anyone to have lots of fun. After taking care of the kids, Catherine took time to sit down with for some questions. Enjoy!

I always liked the Mini 10k. All races organized by the NYRR are races I want to run as they are well organized. I like the community. It feels like coming home whenever I come to NYC.

What about the women’s 10k in particular?

I like the race because it doesn’t matter how fast you run as long as you run. It’s great to see all the women taking part. Running, whether elite or recreational, makes one feel good.

Is your 12 year old daughter running? Does she have your talent?

Yeah, I think she has the talent. But she’s not really into running. She always says if they are running at school “Mum, don’t expect me to be Top5 or Top10. Maybe Top30.”

And is that ok with you?

It’s ok with me because I can’t force her to do what I am doing. She has to decide herself what she enjoys doing. I know she likes basketball but I’m not sure if she’s tall enough to be good at it. [laughs]

What has your training been like since this year’s London Marathon?

I haven’t been able to train much at first as I injured my left toe during the marathon. It wasn’t a major problem, just a large blister but it kept me from training well for about 7 to 10 days. After that I started getting back into things with one run per day. Everything is going well now and I am getting back into my routine.

What kind of races are you planning to do this summer?

I hope I’ll be able to do the road racing circuit. And after that I will do a fall marathon but I haven’t decided yet which one. For now I just keep on training and then will see what kind of shape I am in.

Are you running Boston again one day?

Yeah, I will have to go back to Boston. It’s a race I really can’t leave. But you can only do one marathon at a time. [laughs] I think I have done it seven times! And it’s also where I had my marathon debut.

Is the Mini your first race since London?

I did a 5k at the Prison Champs in Kenya. I was hoping to do the 10k but it was parent’s day at my daughter’s school for 7th graders so I had to change plans and do the 5k where I finished 4th in 16:48.

Have you been training in Kenya?


You live in Nairobi, right? What’s the training like there compared to Iten/Eldoret where most of the Kenyan runners live and train?

I live in Karen about 25 mins. from Nairobi city centre. Training there is ok. Most of the people run at Gong which is very close to Karen. I like it there.

Do you have a good group there?

There is no group in Karen. If I want to train with a group, I have to go to Gong. But since I am not used to train with a group, I always go out training with my husband or brothers or sister.

Can they keep up with you?

Yeah! Some of my brothers can even leave me behind and my sister can keep up with me.

Have you changed your training over the years since you started doing marathons?

Not really, not really. I do the same thing each and every time.

What’s your favorite workout?

Fartlek! And maybe 400s on the track.

Are you doing any crosstraining?

When I build up for the marathon, at the very beginning of my build-up, I do like 2-3 months of gym training twice a week.

What’s your highest mileage before a marathon, say 5-6 weeks out from the race?

It’s about 100 to 120 miles.

What does your taper week look like?

I do about 50-55 miles. I might do a long run of 75 mins. at most and add 10 400s as speedwork. All other days I run easy to moderate and less than an hour.

How are your easy runs compared to your marathon pace?

They are about 2-3 mins. slower, say 8 min pace [per mile].

Are you doing any running drills?

No. I just run.

Is stretching important to you?

Yes, after training and maybe before training just to get my body moving.

Physical therapy?

I get massages about twice weekly when I do high mileage otherwise it’s once a week.

Which is your favorite race?

Boston is one of my favorite races. It’s one of the most prestigious races.

Do you like the hills in Boston?

Yes, I do because the layout of the course reminds me of back home where the roads and routes I train on are always up and down.

How do you find the NYC marathon?

It’s another kind of layout. It’s also tough. I find the tarmac hard there for the legs.

How often have you run NYC?

About four or five times?

Wow! I hope you come back this year.

The first I did in 1999, then 2003 and….2005? 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Are there any competitors you have an eye on in particular?

I don’t eye anyone. I always train to beat my time and be my best. If my best allows me to beat the competitors then that’s great.

There has been a rise in the level of men’s marathon. What do you think it needs that the same happens in women’s marathon?

I don’t know. People will have to believe that hey can do it because once you believe, you can. And if you don’t believe it, it’s impossible even if you train for it.

How hard is it for a young woman in Kenya these days to run?

It’s easy now in African culture, it’s much more accepted. Personally, I never had any problems in my village. In my school, when I was running, we got like special treatment when we won races. But that was never my goal. I was simply running because I had a love with running.

So if you wouldn’t be a pro runner, would you always run?

I would always run. I started running at school and I didn’t know that anyone would run anywhere else. So after school, I was just running on trails as I didn’t know about cross country or track. When I was at school I didn’t know that there would be coaches for running. I just used to wake up and did my running. I did not know what I was doing. I didn’t know that you were supposed to stretch if you want to run well. A lot of stuff. But keeping on running and running and running made me a good athlete anyway.

Is London 2012 in your mind?

Yeah, yeah, I am setting my mind towards that.

How about worlds in Berlin this year?

Right now I am reserve for the Kenyan team. We’ll see.

Would you like to run?

I would like to run but at the time when decisions were made I was unsure because of my toe. I wasn’t sure if I would have enough time to recover and get in shape.

What does a typical marathon prep week look like for you, say 5 to 6 weeks out from the race?

Mondays I do my long run between 16 and 18 miles. Tuesday is fartlek and Wednesday is steady. Thursday I’m going to the track. I run 15-20 400s depending on how I feel. If I feel good, I do 20. If not, I just do 15. Rest is one minute to one minute and a half walking. I run the 400s at 75 sec.
Friday I do my easy run and Saturday I do one hour steady. On Sunday I don’t run but go to church.
If I have a race, I change my program accordingly.

What are you drinking during a marathon?

I normally take Enduro. It’s just a powder to hydrate. I also use that in training. I mix one scoop with eight ounces.

Are you using supplements?

Sometimes. Vitamin D, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron. That’s it.

Why these?

Just because I think this is what I don’t get enough through my diet sometimes.

What’s your diet like? Are you meticulous with your diet?

There’s nothing I don’t eat at all. What matters is that it is full balanced diet.


If I have to go to McDonald’s because I am short on time, then I go for the chicken Caesar salad or a chicken sandwich. It’s not the kind of food that I like to eat. Even if I come to the US, I can make a whole year without going to McDonald’s. I usually don’t eat out but rather cook my own stuff. When I am away at races, I try to find an Italian place because I can get pasta or a good salad.

When the going gets tough in a race, what’s your mental strategy?

The word of God helps me to keep on going. I encourage myself a little bit.
I have this lovely phrase in the book of Isiah chapter 40: “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
If the going gets tough, I remind myself that I can do all things. Not because of me but because of who is in me, Jesus Christ. The bible says in the book of Habakkuk chapter 3:19 “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.”
So when I remember that the Lord is my strength and I don’t have anything left, I remind myself that I have somebody much, much greater than me who makes me to be able to move.

Is there a phase in marathon where the going gets tough in particular for you? I just recently spoke to Abdi Abdirahman and he said that in a 10k the toughest part is the first two k until he gets into a groove.

Sometimes it’s different depending of the pace, for example during the whole second half and then always the last k. In marathon it just keeps getting tougher and tougher as the race goes on.

You said your longest run is 18 miles. Do you never run longer?


What’s your pace at that 18 mile run, say 4 weeks out of the marathon?

About 30 seconds per mile slower than marathon pace. I try to make it a constant pace.

Do you do a lot of marathon pace workouts?

No, I like to do easy because I don’t want to wear myself out before the marathon. [laughs]

You still feel prepared even if you train easier than you race.


Is that experience or what is it?


Has that changed over the years or has that always been the case?

I’ve always done the same kind of training.

Some of our female readers wonder if and if so how women get faster after giving birth. How was that for you?

I also got better although I never ran a marathon before I had my baby. However, I was able to run many PRs after having my daughter.

Why do you think it is that way?

I don’t know! I have no idea. Maybe people believe that a woman’s body is able to endure more pain because of going through birth but I don’t know the connection. [laughs]

Thanks a lot Catherine for the interview. Are you looking forward to race Sunday? Should be easy for you.

I don’t know! [laughs]

Well, Deena Kastor might not be running due to a foot problem.

Really? You are the first person to tell me! [I think she needs a better agent.]

You’re faster anyway.

[laughs] But I heard they are aiming to run at sub31 pace!

Everyone has dreams, talk is cheap.


We have a quiz every Tuesday and I would like you to sign this NIKE visor so it can be the prize for our winner.

Really? That’s great!