The Kipchoge Mindset: How Eluid Kipchoge broke the 2 hour marathon record

Something funny happens when Eluid Kipchoge runs his marathons. For the first 30-35km or so, his face is as stoic as can be. But then suddenly, he starts grinning. No, it’s not mocking his competitors as he is about to win. Nor is it because he is extremely happy in the moment. In fact, it’s the opposite.

It’s become a meme. Eluid Kipchoge begins smiling when the pain sets in. When his body shoots out pain and asks him to quit, Kipchoge focuses on his mind. “When you smile and you’re happy, you can trigger your mind to not feel your legs!”

Apparently, research now shows that smiling relaxes you – which actually improves your running performance – sometimes by as much as 5%! And maybe that’s the reason Kipchoge has the record for running the fastest marathon! He has run the marathon in under 2 hours and 2 minutes – thrice! And has managed to do what was thought to be impossible: run 42km in under 2 hours!

But how can you build the Kipchoge mindset? How can you force yourself to smile in the depths of pain? There are three steps to it.

1. It starts with acceptance. 

You can’t change your mindset without first accepting the circumstances objectively.

In fact, that’s the first of the 12 steps that Bill Wilson conceived in his Alcoholics Anonymous program that has helped millions of addicts quit alcohol. You have to be honest with yourself and accept the situation as it is.

What does acceptance mean?

When a teenage girl gets pregnant in a small Japanese town and is questioned who the father is, she points the finger to her neighbour: the zen master Hakuin Ekaku. When her parents go and angrily confront him with their daughter’s accusation, he simply replies “Is that so?” – without disputing or putting forth his side of the story. His reputation takes a nosedive and his students leave him. As soon as the baby is born, the parents give him to Ekaku to be taken care of. And Ekaku takes care of the child as if it were his own.

After a year, filled with remorse and guilt, the girl confesses that Ekaku is not the father, but the butcher’s son is. Her parents go back and apologize to Ekaku. When they tell him about their daughter’s confession, all he replies is “Is that so?” – and gives the son back without question.

That is the extremes of acceptance.  Acceptance means leaving aside your pride and your ego. And looking at things objectively without passion. 

You have to accept the pain. You’ve got to stop being a victim and stop making excuses. You’ve to learn how to look at the situation objectively without being clouded with emotions. Only with acceptance can you move on to the next step of changing your mindset.

2. Employing empathy

It had been a year since George Clooney came to Los Angeles to become an actor. He was the epitome of struggling actors: he was dirt poor and literally lived in a closet. Went to auditions after auditions, but failed every time. And after every failure, he just blamed everyone. The studios. The producers. The casting agents. The corrupt system. 

One day, he was travelling by bus to yet another audition when a switch flipped in his brain. He saw that just as auditioning was frustrating for him, it was frustrating for the producers too. They had to audition a hundred people to find one actor! He changed his perspective. Instead of working for his benefit, he would work for the producers benefit!

Instead of thinking that the studios would be doing him a favour by giving him a role, he started thinking that it was his job to solve the studio’s frustrating problem! His whole body language changed. And he started landing acting jobs! Small ones at first, that soon led to leading roles!

After accepting the situation and looking at it objectively, you have to look at it again with empathy. You’ve got to elect a position from where you can be of help to the situation, instead of the situation being of help to you.

That’s the reason so much emphasis is given to asking for forgiveness in the Alcoholics Anonymous program! Step 8 of the 12 step program is to make a list of everyone one may have harmed. And step 9 is making direct amends.

3. Choosing your reaction

Do you know how Eluid Kipchoge makes himself smile amidst pain? He thinks back on all the hours of training he has put in. He runs because it’s his choice. He puts in the training and the effort because it’s his choice. And so, while other runners frown, Kipchoge chooses to smile when pain sets in.

When his insoles came off and his feet began to bleed, Kipchoge chose to smile. When he was tired and thirsty because of running a marathon in scorching heat, Kipchoge chose to smile.

Things may go wrong. But how you react to it is always your choice.

Here is the thing to understand: Kipchoge decided that he will force himself to smile when the pain sets in – before any pain had set in! Before he had even started running the marathon!

Successful people choose in advance. 

Social psychologist and author Heidi Grant calls it the “if-then” planning. In a group of people who wanted to become more fit, half of them were asked to mention in advance when they would exercise. “If it’s Monday, Wednesday, or Friday – then I’ll hit the gym!”

People who had set their goals in the if-then format… 91% of them ended up going to the gym regularly! Compare that to only 39% of nonplanners who ended up going to the gym regularly.

You have to choose how you will react before you have to react. Because that will increase the probability of doing the right thing in the moment!

“If a client shouts at me, I’ll smile back at him.”

“If I am called for an audition, I will ask myself what the casting agent is looking for before I enter the room.”

Action Summary:

  • The way to build a diamond mindset is: accept the situation and be objective. Change your perspective and be empathetic towards others. And then choose your reaction.
  • Choose your course of action beforehand. List the obstacles that occur frequently. And use if-then planning to decide how you will react to it.