NAIROBI, October 3- He has every reason to give up and hang his spikes as an appendix in history but in the best example of enduring spirit of human existence; Emmanuel Mutai has emerged as the embodiment of fighting for a better day.
On seven occasions, the 30 year-old has seen his best efforts fail to clinch the honours at World Marathon Majors races, the apex of his chosen sport but each time, he has dusted the disappointment to try again.
In the past week, he has been a constant smiling presence in the grand procession to acclaim the new king of marathon running, Dennis Kimetto, who is basking in the glow of setting the scarcely believable 2:02:57* world record last Sunday from Berlin, through Nairobi and on Thursday, the tiny village of Kamwosor in Elgeyo Marakwet County where it all started.
Many would have retreated to a shell but Mutai has taken it in his stride, his 2:03:13 huge personal best only serving to embellish his standing as the ‘eternal bridesmaid’ a tag he simply cannot seem to have a way of shedding off.
“No, we did not sit down, for me, I wanted to run in Berlin since 2008 but to get a chance was not easy. This year when I got a chance, I decided to go for it and was prepared to go there and run as fast as I can.
“In terms of discussion, everybody was prepared for his own (race),” the man who set the benchmark as the fastest loser in a world record eligible course when he followed Kimetto home revealed how there was no joint strategy to attack the previous 2:03:23 standard set by compatriot Wilson Kipsang at the same race last year.
The Kenyan trio of World Half Marathon champion Geoffrey Kipsang Kamworor who fell off to finish fourth behind Ethiopia’s Abera Kuma, Mutai and Kimetto pushed the pace when the last rabbits dropped out at 30K and when they were done, history was made.
“The start of the race was a bit slow but when we crossed half way, it was faster but slow by 5 seconds, we wanted to cross at 61:40 but we crossed at 61:45. After that we tried to move faster and when we reached 27K, we realised we were 10 seconds inside the former world record.
“At 30K, when the pace makers dropped out, we were in 2:02:40 pace and we maintained that for 5 or 6 kilometres. Dennis suggested we push faster but I said no, we are inside the world record and let us keep it at that until close to the finish then we can go for it,” he explained.
Mutai conceded at 38K, he started tiring but realising he was still under the old standard; he pushed on to the finish even though victory had already fallen off his hands when Kimetto made a surge to the finish.
“Dennis was in front of me and I realised I would be number two. What came in my mind was to run as fast as I can so that I can beat my personal best. I tried to move faster and at the end of it, I managed to get that (2:03:13),” he added after improving his lifetime best from 2:03:52 from Chicago last year where he once again lost to Kimetto’s 2:03:45 course record.
Running under 2:04 in Chicago, a massive improvement from the 2:04:40 PB from his London Marathon victory in 2011, the only occasion Mutai bucked the bridesmaid trend at a WMM race that stood as a course record for two years, made him believe he possessed a world record in his legs ahead of Berlin.
“It was really challenging because I knew Chicago is not always good. When I ran 2:03, I realised that I get a faster course; I can run faster than that. When I had a chance of going to Berlin and everything goes well, if the weather is perfect and I have trained well, I knew lowering my personal best was possible.
“I changed my training a little bit. I went out for longer distances especially on Sunday when I usually rest but I had to alternate, going for 30K on Sunday which is longer than what I usually do,” he narrated.
Since his full marathon debut on April 15, 2007 with a seventh finish at the Rotterdam Marathon, Mutai has evolved to be one of the most consistent runner over the ultimate distance for almost a decade, running 13 races under 2:10.
“What concerns me most is how I train. I take what I do seriously and at the end of my professional career, I can do other things. My aim is to focus and set goals and in the end, I will be very happy if I achieve them. I always see where and what I did wrong and work to rectify it.
“I’m targeting to run between 2:02:50 and 2:02:40 in the near future.”
In Berlin, Mutai stretched his amazing sequence of second finishes at WMM to seven, a record having been led to the altar at London (2010 and 13), Chicago (2013), New York (2011 and 2010) and World Championships (2009).
This undesirable outcome is enough to crush the spirit of even the strongest but the silver winner from the Berlin Worlds is determined to compete for Kenya at the biennial showpiece and chase the top medal next year in Beijing.
“In the future, I have to make sure I win a race. I’m not disappointed because if I get disappointed, I will not achieve what I want if I say I come number two, number two always. I focus for the win and whatever I get that day, I appreciate it,” he said with a laugh.
On his duels with Kimetto in Chicago and Berlin, Mutai admits he lost to the better finisher on both occasions.
“The difficult part for me when I’m with Kimetto is between 38K and 41K. I need to see how to work on that because the last time in Chicago, he dropped me at 40K and this time (Berlin) he did it a few metres from 40K.
“I usually do 40K a few times in training and I need to make sure I can go faster in the last 2K by maybe doing 42K in training because one starts getting tired between 39K and 40K to the finish,” he elaborated.
“I’m looking forward for the World Championships even though I’m not assured of a place. Let me sacrifice and see what I can get for my country because most (elite) athletes do not want to run in championships.
“Athletics Kenya should tell us early maybe at the end of the year who will be going so that I can get a race early maybe in Tokyo in February so that by August, I have recovered,” Mutai, who ran to a 17th finish at the London Olympics in 2012 having raced at the city’s marathon in April said.
Despite his positive outlook, he confessed the succession of near misses is indeed deflating.
“Sometimes it is so hard because you target to be the first and you don’t get that. At that time, I tell myself to go for the best and I find myself running the best time because I missed the first position. Yeah, sometimes I feel unlucky,” the man who improved on his own fastest losing time from Chicago last Sunday revealed with another big laugh.
However, he is aiming at enjoying at least another five years on the elite circuit before considering retirement hopefully, not as the eternal bridesmaid of marathon running.