“Last time when we caught up with you, I told you that when the time to go for the world record comes, we will let you know. That time has come and we are working on it day and night knowing well it’s a huge ambition but we are determined to lower it. Watch us this season,” Bernard Ouma, the coach of 2015 World 1500m silver medalist Elijah Motonei Manangoi, has declared.
It is a huge call for an athlete that holds a personal best of 3:29.67 set in Monaco on July 17, 2015.
It is surely one that will make athletics pundits sit up and rub their noses. It is not just another record.
It is Hicham El Guerrouj’s record of 3:26.00 that has stood since 1998 when the Moroccan blazed through Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy to erase Nourddine Morceli’s time of 3:27.37.
Put into perspective, Manangoi needs to shave off 3.66 seconds from El Guerrouj’s record. It is a feat even Kenya’s most successful and third fastest runner over the distance Asbel Kiprop has not achieved. In fact, Asbel came closest to equaling El Guerrouj’s record on the same night at the same venue Manangoi clocked 3:29.67. The father of Kenyan athletics as Kipchoge Keino is fondly referred, himself an acclaimed 1500m runner never came anywhere near owning a world record over the distance.
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But as they say, “You can’t fall if you don’t climb, because there’s no joy in living your whole life on the ground.” And Manangoi and his coach Ouma at Rongai Athletics Club, just outside Nairobi, are keen to scale the impregnable ceiling.
The target is to run 3:25.99 or even under.
After a disappointing display at the Rio Olympics where he was forced off with a hamstring injury, Manangoi has kicked off his season in style at the Dusseldorf Indoor Games in Germany where he set a world lead time off 3:37.67.
“We are aiming for the world record this season and nothing short of it,” Ouma beams on further probing on its viability.
“Our focus during the off season was to work on conditioning his body and we concentrated most on managing his injury that he got in Rio so that it does not recur again, but now we are mostly concentrating on speed work. He is in great shape and ready to bring down the world record.”
The 24-year-old Manangoi is reputed to have awesome endurance and speed, which he showed recently when he ran at the Bahamas relay trials at the Kenya Prisons Grounds in Nairobi West.
Ouma said they have written to Nike requesting for a specially designed pair of spikes to help Manangoi chip away at El Guerrouj’s jaw-dropping record.
Currently, the lanky miler is using a pair of Nike Zoom Victory Elite 2 spikes that have a generative plate design on the outer sole, which according to the manufacturers provides zones of stiffness and flexibility for lightweight propulsion.
“We will make do with what we have pending a response from Nike,” Ouma said.
But what does it take to running 1500m and more so break the record?
According to researchers, 1500m demands are similar to that of the 800m, but with a slightly higher emphasis on aerobic endurance and a slightly lower sprint speed requirement.
According to Eleanor Jones, a senior sport scientist at the University of Birmingham, to have a good middle distance race, one’s training should follow the “SAID” principle – Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands.” It means one has to adapt to the training that might include building more muscle or more mitochondria (the muscle’s power station) or tolerating higher levels of discomfort.”
Ouma says: “What we are doing with Manangoi is raise the blood lactate which would then generate more lactic acid in his blood, but then in the process create lactic acid tolerance by embarking on high pace and shorter recovery.”
When El Guerrouj broke the record on July 14, 1998 in Rome, Italy, he averaged just under 55 seconds (or under 13.8 seconds per 100m) in the three and three-quarter laps race around a 400m track.
Using two pacemakers – including Kenya’s Noah Ngeny, who’d win the 1500m Olympic gold in 2000 – El Guerrouj literally ran away with the race and the record, finishing in 3:26.00 to post what has become the longest-standing 1500m record on the IAAF’s official list, writes Mike Rosenbaum in www.thoughtco.com.
“As for us, we are training and strengthening him at between 52-53 seconds lapping,” the Hungary trained athletics coach said.
However, Ouma and Manangoi’s ambitions will come down to a clutter of factors such as the venue to attack the record and the environmental conditions at play at the time as Tim McGrarry et al observes in Routledge Handbook of Sports Performance Analysis, which they say: “Air temperature, humidity, air pollution (particularly in marathon) and wind direction should be considered in detail...In some circumstances, wind conditions can delay runners reaching their maximum velocity.”
Berlin in Germany, Brussels (Belgium) and Rome (Italy) have been the favourite capitals that athletics World records and been broken and set.
Ouma and Manangoi are targeting the Herculis IAAF Diamond League in Monaco on July 17 just before the World Championships in London on August 5-13.