Mary Keitany is arguably one of the best female marathoners of all time, and on Sunday will be aiming to record a fourth consecutive win at the New York City Marathon.
The Kenyan is the current London Marathon champion and the record-holder for the best time in a women-only marathon. Sunday will see her looking to add another title to her considerable list, including wins in NYC in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
KweséESPN caught up with her ahead of Sunday’s race, where she discussed her luminous career, performance targets and her AIMS nomination.
KweséESPN: What do you consider your major achievements in your career so far?
Keitany: I was the World Half Marathon Champion in 2009, winning in a championship record of 66.36. Two years later in Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon, I set the world record in Half Marathon when I clocked 65.50 to win the race.
Just recently I improved my personal best in Half Marathon to 65.13 at the beginning of the year in Ras Al-Khaimah Half Marathon, that has now earned me fourth-place ranking in the all-time list.
This year, I not only set a personal best in marathon but also broke the women’s-only marathon world record in a time of 2 hours, 17 minutes and 1 seconds where I won the London Marathon. Not forgetting the fourth-place finish in marathon at the 2012 Olympic Games.
I have won three times London Marathon in 2011, 2012 and 2017 and three as well in New York City Marathon in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
KweséESPN: What made your comeback after maternity leave in 2014 so successful? Perseverance or experience?
Keitany: My motivation in athletics has always been high since I started. In every race, in every challenge, I always found my own motivation to challenge myself. Right after my maternity leave I went back to training hard again and regained back the focus and motivation.
This was highlighted by winning in New York Marathon in 2014 after the maternity leave. I won it again in 2015 and later on in 2016.
But sometimes not everything can be smooth and in London 2016 marathon I had the biggest hurdle with the worst race of my career, finishing ninth in London after a huge fall.
I got extra motivation to show it was bad day and I was not at the end of my career, and went back to train stronger than before and went on to win the third New York Marathon, as well as running a world record in women’s-only race in 2017.
KweséESPN: Where do you find the motivation to maintain such high consistency?
Keitany: Motivation comes from my lovely family. My husband Charles Koech, and my son Jared and daughter Samantha. Family for me is everything. From London 2016 event, Charles took up the mantle of being my coach and he helps me a lot in every moment and also in my day-to-day duties.
KweséESPN: The New York City Marathon is always a special race for you, having won there an impressive three times in a row and chasing a remarkable fourth. How special it is for you in terms of the course, atmosphere and prestige that it brings?
Keitany: New York is the marathon for all the amateurs, the dream of every runner not only for elite but also the fun runners.
Every runner would like to run in New York at least once in their lifetime. The town very much participates in the event to make the running experience there incredible.
It is the atmosphere in New York during the week building up to race day that makes the event different from other marathons.
London is no doubt the most competitive, while Boston has a unique history, but New York is simply New York.
KweséESPN: Do you think the course record (set by Margaret Okayo in 2003 — 2:22:31) is the only thing missing at this point when it comes to crowning the success of your exploits in the streets of New York? Are there any plans to go for the course record?
Keitany: For me it’s more important to win than [break] the course record. Honestly, what I’m interested in is to try to win for the fourth time. If somebody will go fast at the beginning of the race, I’m happy because I like fast races. It will be difficult to do it alone and without pace makers to beat the course record. But if there will be good weather and if the other women take up the fast pace, I can also try to run fast for the second half of the marathon.
KweséESPN: What do you think of the field this Sunday?
Keitany: It is one of the best the organizers has ever assembled. This year you have Boston Marathon champion Edna Kiplagat, who is also the recent winner of silver medal at this year’s World Championship in London, being one of the athletes in contention in Sunday’s race. Mare Dibaba, the Ethiopian who was second at the Olympic Games is also a contender. I respect everybody because marathon is a distance that is always difficult to manage, but my preparation was good and I will do my best to win.
KweséESPN: Do you plan to go as far as Tokyo 2020 to medal in the Olympics, which has been an elusive feat in your trophy cabinet?
Keitany: One of my dreams is winning Olympic Games. I was fourth in London. But Tokyo is three years away, there is still a long time to go. It does not only depend on me to be in Tokyo 2020. In Rio 2016, I was hoping to represent Kenya but Athletics Kenya did not select me and it can happen again.
KweséESPN: Comment on your nomination for Association of International Marathons and Distance Races best marathon runner nomination?
Keitany: I’m delighted about the AIMS nomination. AIMS is the real organization of world running and is completely devoted to the running movement. I was disappointed not to be nominated in the top 10 athletes for the IAAF best athlete of the year award, even after beating the world record in the women-only race. What can I do to be in the top 10, if the world record in the marathon is not enough?
KweséESPN: As a powerful woman in sport, what is your advice to the young girls trying to be elite athletes, as well as women in different aspects of the sport, be it coaching, running, media or administration?
Keitany: To be an athlete and a mother is not very simple, but if you have near you a family and a husband who can help you in achieving, you have already done huge part of the job.
Moreover, at the beginning and in all of your career you have to be highly motivated to achieve your best. Also, the people who are around you are important. The coach, the physiotherapist, the pace makers who help you in training, as well as your agent.
To become a champion you need good and professional people around you, but the most important thing is to have a high motivation, which has to be always present every day of your career.