Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Makau now the Marathon’s man to beat

Pat Butcher for the IAAF

When Patrick Makau finished a rainswept real,-Berlin Marathon on Sunday (26) morning, having won impressively in 2:05:08, he took off his sodden shoes to reveal saturated socks which had bunched up beneath both his feet. "That happened in the first 100 metres," he said matter-of-factly.

Now 'that' is the sort of thing that can prey on a marathoner's mind, causing a loss of concentration and maybe even a lost race. But Makau is made of sterner stuff.

"If it had interfered with my running, I would have stopped and removed my shoes and socks. But I didn't have to do it, so I forgot about it. But I was afraid to step in a lot of water. There was a lot of water on the road, but I avoided it. I stayed behind the group and avoided the splashing. When the group broke up at 30k, that gave me the chance to come through."

Patient and methodical

If that all sounds a bit pedantic, it is probably a good summation of Makau the marathoner.

"He's very methodical," says his manager Zane Branson. "And he's focused. He makes a plan and he sticks to it. Unlike a lot of Kenyans. Before his first marathon, he'd already planned his first three marathons.

"He has a certain routine, he likes his solitude. He's very serious, and that intimidates some of the other guys. Like in the days before the race, photographers kept asking him to smile. Patrick's the sort of guy who'll smile after the race."

Makau certainly has much to smile about. All the patience required of a marathoner, that he had talked about pre-race, was brought to bear on the latter stages on Sunday morning. In the final 10k, he outpsyched then outran his two remaining rivals - compatriot Geoffrey Mutai and Ethiopian Bazu Worku - and won, despite the conditions, in the 11th fastest time in history.

In overcoming his rivals as easily as he ignored the rain, Makau added the third fastest of the year to the best of 2:04:48 he ran in winning the Rotterdam Marathon in April. "It was crucial for him, this race," said Branson. “It was either going to really establish him, or prove that he needed to do more work."

‘Know your opponents’

Asked if there any time during the race, and especially the final kilometres, that he thought he might not win, Makau laughs for the only time during a 30 minute chat on Sunday evening.

Speaking of his colleague Mutai, who he'd beaten by seven seconds in Rotterdam, but who was with him on Sunday until the final 200 metres, he said, "The best thing is to know your opponents, and I know him, I know how he runs." When asked if he wasn't afraid of the finish of someone who could run a 27:27.59 10,000met at altitude (as Mutai had done this summer), he said, "I can do such, I have run 58 minutes twice (half-marathon), and 59 minutes many times. He had nothing to worry me. In the marathon, you have to be strong in your mind."

Of the 20-year-old Worku, he said, "he looked very strong, but this is a big race, it's an international field, like a championships. People can surrender in the last kilometre."

The trio was still together at 39k, when Makau dropped back, in what he admitted had been a ploy to fool his rivals. "I was just testing them to see how strong they were. If they thought I was dropped, they would push, but they didn't."

That was the signal for Makau to begin his charge. Worku faded immediately, and Mutai succumbed on the run in. "The first thing I had to do was cope with the weather. We wanted to run 2:03, and the first 15k was very good. We were fresh and warm, but the weather was getting worse, colder; and we got slower..."

No one was complaining about 2:05:08 in those conditions. But at Monday morning's press conference, Makau opined that they had cost him a minute and a half. But he quickly added that at 25, he has plenty of time, pointing out that Haile Gebrselassie and Paul Tergat were far more experienced and well over 30 when they set their world records. "I think I need one or two more races (marathons) before I try for the world record again."

"That's probably a rain-world record anyway," said one of my colleagues, about his 2:05:08. "I looked at the top ten, and they were all set in good conditions."

Few people outside runners enjoy rain, but it should be emphasised that Kenyans' particular aversion to rain comes from its association with malaria.

I was once filming with Moses Tanui in Eldoret, and wanted to get a shot of him leaving his house to go training. He emerged from the gate, felt a solitary spot - that none of us had even noticed - shot back inside, and refused to come out again.

Another manager raised a hollow laugh when I told him that story. "One time in Eldoret, there was a rainy period that lasted for six weeks," he replied, "none of my runners trained even a single day during that time."

Began running at 17

Makau is the second of five children born in Manyanzwani, in Kenya's Eastern Province, though he now lives in the Ngong Hills outside Nairobi with wife and two and a half year old daughter, Christine Mueni. "She already understands running, she watched on TV today," said Makau on Sunday evening. "If I put on my shorts, she knows she can't come with me, but if I put on my jeans, she knows I'm going to the market."

He started running at 17, the year before he entered high school where, due to the vagaries of the Kenyan educational system, he stayed until the age of 22. "I didn't run seriously in the year before high school," he says, "but from high school, I was serious. I ran by myself for a year, then joined a group (including multi-Honolulu winner Jimmy Muindi) for two years. Then I started racing in 2006. I was fourth in a half-marathon in Nyeri, then eighth in Ndakaini, it was very hilly, I was unable to maintain the pace on the last hill. Then I won a 25k in Tanzania."

He followed that with his first race outside Africa, in Tarsus (Turkey) and won again, before winning another half-marathon in Denmark. "That was only 67 minutes, because I knew I was going to run the Berlin 25k the next week. That was a much bigger race. I didn't know I was going to win, but I knew I would do well, because the guys I was training with were strong."

He duly won, and since then, he has won the Berlin 25k again, and the Berlin 'half' twice, two of the eight occasions he has gone sub-60 minutes. Now he can add a marathon victory in his home-from-home, where he is staying on for this next week, with 25k race director Christophe Kopp. "To relax, and see those things I haven't already seen," added Makau.

"He feels comfortable here," says Branson, "he'll almost certainly come back next year. And he'll probably do London next April." True to form though, Makau said he needs to go back home and assess his recovery, and will probably confirm that in a couple of month's time.

Not every great half-marathoner can make the transition to the full distance, and be a great marathoner, and Makau admits he was worried prior to his debut in Rotterdam 2009, when he finished fourth in 2:06:14.

"I was happy. We consider the time more than the place, and it was a good time. But I knew my mistake. I did just one long run (before), 38k, and it wasn't enough. And I was training alone, I feared the marathon. Now I do eight long runs, the longest is 38k, but I also do 25k, and every week a 30k; and I do track sessions, speed workouts in a group."

Well, it certainly worked. And it makes Makau the man to beat at the moment. No matter the kudos attached to being World record holder or Olympic champion, those gents are going to have to up their game to cope with Patrick Makau.