Meet Joyciline Jepkosgei, the distance runner who eats world records for breakfast. The 24-year-old athlete from Kenya is relatively new to the professional running world (her breakthrough race came in 2015, when she placed fifth at the Nairobi Half Marathon) but in the last two years, this running phenom has changed it significantly. Her career started gaining speed when she placed third in the 10K at the 2016 African Championships in Athletics, but 2017 is the year that transformed her professional career entirely–starting with her third-place finish at the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon. In April, Jepkosgei raced the Prague Half Marathon, placing first for women and setting a new world record with a time of 1:04:52 (the previous world record time of 1:05:06 was set earlier in 2017 by Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya). Jepkosgei was running so fast during that race that she also set world records for the 10K, 15K and 20K along the way.
Six months later, Jepkosgei returned to the 13.1-mile distance to run the Trinidad Alfonso Valencia Half Marathon in Spain. Again she won, this time besting her own PR by one second.
This year, Jepkosgei plans to continue racing half marathons (including the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships on March 24), challenging course and world records along the way with the goal of eventually stepping up to the marathon distance. We touched base with Jepkosgei (who also happens to be a Kenya Defence Forces officer) to learn more about her journey to becoming a world record-setting runner and her Olympic aspirations for the years ahead.
In what ways has your daily life changed since you began having this professional success?
Life changed in many ways. At the same time, life remains the same. Success comes and goes, and to me, everything remains about my faith, training, recovery and [my] relationship with the community. Of course, I now get more invitations for functions, more responsibilities. This is normal and expected, and I am doing my best to balance sports life and everything else that comes with success.
What are your goals for 2018?
None of us know how long our bodies and minds can do what we are doing today. I approach training, competition and living with that in mind. My goal is to maximize today, as tomorrow is not guaranteed. At the same time, my goal is to remain reasonable and not race too much.
In practical terms, it would be good if I can be in shape to try to run half-marathon and 10K world records in 2018. I would like to challenge one or two course records. My coach and management are looking at some events I’ve never run before. Competition is about God, time, distance and me, and I want to preserve this and not allow anything else to disrupt this approach.
With your sights set on the 2020 Olympics, what would you like to achieve in Tokyo?
I will probably debut over the marathon distance in 2019. If successful, I hope to race the Olympic marathon. I hope to be able to compete in the 2024 and 2028 Olympics [as well], but one never knows, so I want to try my best in Tokyo if I get there.
How do you handle mental roadblocks during races?
Competition and racing are just a continuation of training. If the training program, training itself, recovery and injuries are taken care of well, then competition is just an extension of training.
What’s the most difficult thing that you face as an athlete?
Sometimes you have this shape; you feel it, you know it is there but for some reason you can’t express that shape. I was blessed not to have this issue in 2017, but I dealt with it as recently as the 2016 season. It is like you are there at the top, but you are not really there–something small is slowing you down.
What advice would you offer young runners aspiring to become professional athletes?
It takes years; it takes many failures and small victories to become successful. Giving up, not being disciplined with training, recovery and nutrition as a result of struggle and adversity are big issues all of us face. For all upcoming athletes, I wish perseverance and patience, and good preparation and planning.
One of Jepkosgei’s most influential role models is Edna Kiplagat, the 2017 Boston Marathon champion who will return to Boston in April to defend her title. In addition to Boston, Kiplagat has won the Los Angeles and New York City marathons in the last decade. She got her professional start during the 1990s when she won silver and bronze medals at the 1996 and 1998 World Junior Championships, and went on to win gold medals at the 2011 and 2013 World Championships in the marathon. A mother of five, Kiplagat clocked her marathon PR at the 2012 London Marathon with a time of 2:19:50.