Cheptegei chooses Valencia for marathon debut

Cheptegei (C) is set to hit the road. PHOTO/COURTSEY 

What you need to know:

Cheptegei, will for the first time in his elite career, compete over the 42.195km distance when he lines up among the elite runners for the Valencia Marathon on December 3. 

Far away back home, as Kassav’s 1989 song Ou lé played for hundreds of athletes and fans situationally pushed to the outside track of Namboole Stadium during Day Two action of the National Track & Field Championships, Joshua Cheptegei and his management finally made their secret public somewhere in Spain on Sunday. 

Marathon wait is over

And so, after a long wait, it’s going to happen. Two nights after his solid second-place finish and a second fastest career time over the 5000m race of the Lausanne Diamond League in Switzerland, Uganda’s most decorated runner announced he will make his marathon debut this year.

Cheptegei, will for the first time in his elite career, compete over the 42.195km distance when he lines up among the elite runners for the Valencia Marathon on December 3. 

The announcement was made by race organizers, his management Global Sports Communication (GSC) and their elite multinational long-distance group NN Running Team. 

“I feel it is time to expand my horizon, I have been running on the track for 10 years now,” Cheptegei announced. 

“I have always had full focus on the track distances, while I knew the marathon was waiting for me. It is an ambition that I am really excited to go for, it will be new and challenging.”

A decade on track

The two-time reigning world 10000m champion has bossed the track stage for almost a decade since winning the world junior 10000m gold in Eugene, Oregon in the USA back in 2014. 

Cheptegei has since claimed four world records (WRs) and still holds the 5000m and 10000m WRs previously held by his Ethiopian idol Kenenisa Bekele. 

However, GSC and his coach Addy Ruiter believe it is time to take the next step in the long-distance running arena. 

“To continue being motivated, its time for a new adventure,” said Ruiter. 

“It is something we have been planning carefully. After 10 years of competing at the highest level in track, this will be a new fresh air,” said GSC manager Jurrie van der Velden. 

Why Valencia though?

Owing to his profile, Cheptegei could have started his marathon stroll at the deep end, maybe at one of the World Marathon Majors (WMM) in Tokyo (Japan), Berlin (Germany), London (England), New York or Boston or Chicago (all USA) but it’s not the case. 

Yet, Dutch-man Jurrie usually offers his runners marathon debuts and races in Dutch cities like Enschede, Rotterdam or Amsterdam, sometimes Mumbai, India or Istanbul, Turkey but it’s not the same with Cheptegei. 

So why Valencia? “Valencia brings it all together,” explained Jurrie. “As you may remember in 2019 they provided Joshua to shoot for a WR for 10km on the road. In the middle of the pandemic they created the opportunity for Joshua to shoot for the 10.000m WR on the track.

In Valencia, they have always been going up and beyond to help Cheptegei to achieve what he wants. So, it is only a logical decision to go back to the place which makes you feel at home,” added Jurrie. 

“Valencia is a very special place for me, I have run two of my WRs there and they organised the NN Valencia World Record Day for me in Covid-19 times. I know the track in Valencia and I am very excited to explore the roads here,” Cheptegei added. 

Choices for Paris 2024

Cheptegei’s marathon debut will come three months after his career fourth and last shot at the world 10000m gold medal at the Budapest World Athletics Championships due August 19-27 in Hungary. 

However, that 42km race in Valencia is key in plans for the runner ahead of the Paris Olympics due July 26 - August 11, 2024 in the French capital. 

Yet ideally, Cheptegei would still want to win that 10000m Olympic gold considering Ethiopian Selemon Barega stunned him during the Tokyo 2020 Games two years ago. 

Furthermore, his persistent word on doing the marathon was always focused on after Paris 2024. It partly explains why he only debuted over the 21km as a trial during the 2020 World Half-Marathon Championships in Gdynia, Poland. 

“For next year, my focus will be on the track at the Paris Games, but hopefully my marathon debut will be a good experience and then I can decide after the Olympic Games what my next steps will be,” Cheptegei explained.

“This means also that we keep it open for this moment which distance he will run in Paris. When his debut is successful, it can be the marathon and not the track,” added Ruiter. 

The plans only imply that Cheptegei must be perfect from Budapest through Valencia to Paris. 

Date of birth: September 12, 1996
Major Races: 5000m, 10000m
Personal Bests: 5000m (12:35.36), 10000m (26:11.00)
Coach: Addy Ruiter
Manager: Jurrie van der Velden
Kit Sponsor: Nike
June 30: Lausanne DL (2nd, 12:41.61)
Jun 2: Florence DL (4th, 12:53.81)
Mar 19: New York Half-Marathon (2nd, 1:02:09)
Feb 18: World X-Country (3rd, 29:37)
Dec 31: NN San Silvestre 10K (1st, 27:09)
Jul 24: Oregon Worlds 5000m Final (9th, 13:13.12)
Jul 21: Oregon Worlds 5000m Heat 1 (4th, 13:24.47)
Jul 17: Oregon Worlds 10000m Final (1st, 27:27.43)
May 27: Prefontaine Classic 5000m (1st, 12:57.99)
Mar 6: Cannes 10K (1st, 26:49)