RW Interviews... Haile Gebrselassie

We caught up with the happiest man in running, Haile Gebrselassie days before he makes his New York City Marathon debut


Posted: 5 November 2010
by Alison Hamlett

In New York City for the annual Runner's World Shoe Conference, Alison Hamlett enjoys some quality time with running legend Haile Gebrselassie ahead of his 'big apple' debut.

Q. You're 37. Why has it taken you this long to run the NYCM?

A. After I stopped running 5Ks and 10Ks, I was running marathons for a fast time. You can't break the world record in New York so I concentrated on running marathons like Berlin. They're at the same time of year so I couldn't run New York until now. Running here is a dream come true.

Q. Can you beat the NYC Marathon course record of 2:07:43?

A. Yes, it's possible but it depends on the weather.  I have driven parts of the course and it's not that bad. Central Park is quite hilly but it doesn't worry me. I train on much bigger hills, and on worse surfaces.

Q. Do you have time to enjoy the atmosphere?

A. Mostly I'm concentrating on the running. And I have been racing for a long time so I'm used to the crowds.

Q. What kind of shape are you in?

A. I feel good. My preparation has been very good. When you run a marathon you cannot predict what will happen. It's 42K. All sorts of things could become a problem.

Q. Is it possible to run a marathon under two hours?

A. Yes. 20 years ago the marathon world record was around 2:07. Now it's four minutes faster so maybe in another 20 years someone will run under two hours. It's not only the performance of the athlete that's important, it's the performance of technology too.

Q. How many miles do you run every week in training?

A. I run 210 to 220K every week, averaging about 30K a day. I run twice every day except Sunday when I only run once. The longest run I would do is three and a half hours. I don't know how far I go, I just get in the forest and run. Training for this marathon I have been doing two, two and a half, three hour runs, but not fast. [When pressed, he admitted that his 'not fast' was actually around 3:45 per kilometre!]

Q. Are you planning to run the London 2012 Olympic Marathon?

A. I'm thinking about it but it's going to be difficult to qualify. There are many strong young Ethiopians coming through.

Q. You've said that your career would not be complete until you'd run the NYC Marathon, so after this will you feel it's complete?

A. There are many other marathons I would like to run: Boston, Chicago, Rome, Tokyo. I would like to run Rome because of Bikila. [Legendary Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila won the 1960 Olympic Marathon in Rome running barefoot.] Bikila means a lot to me. His example has taught strength and endurance. To finish a marathon without shoes is amazing. I used to do some training in barefoot but I don't any more.

Q. What does running mean to you?

A. It's like eating food. It is a necessity for me. I need, food, clothes, shelter and to run. A day without running is not easy for me.

Q. Do you train alone?

A. I used to train with friends but since I started running marathons I run alone more.

Q. What will you do when you retire from running?

A. I'm already doing lots of business in Ethiopia. I want to do something for my country;  whatever is most useful and important for Ethiopia. Maybe that will mean politics in the future but for now I am trying to help the people who supported me for many years. My company employs more than 600 people, who are involved in real estate, construction, a hotel and a school. I'm busy but running is still a priority. And running helps a lot if I'm feeling stressed about work: I go for a run and everything's back to normal.

Q. What do you eat before and during a marathon?

A. Two hours before the race I have bread, jam and tea for breakfast. I have sports drinks during the race every 5K. The night before I avoid anything heavy because I don't sleep well if my body's digesting food. I might have some pasta.

Q. Do you think any of your four children will become runners?

A. One of my daughters could become a good singer! I do encourage them to run too.

Q. How do you feel about losing? [Haile has won his last six marathons.]

A. If I don't win, there is always another marathon. If you always push yourself it's not good. I just try to enjoy every race.

Q. How many times do you race in a pair of shoes?

A. I run two marathons then throw them away. My favourite shoes are adizero. They're really good shoes.

Q. How do you feel for Sunday?
A. I feel good and I'm ready. I can't predict what I'm going to do but I will be a good competitor.

Q. What kind of race do you expect it to be?

A. I hope it's going to be a fast race.

Q. You met the Chilean miner Edison Pena at the airport today, what was that like?

A. To spend months underground, to be between life and death, is unique. To live with the possibility that you might not survive would be very difficult but they made it. I don't know how he trained, how big the tunnel was he could run in. It's amazing. I was excited to meet him. I hope that he will come to Ethiopia to run the Great Ethiopian Run.

Q. How do you handle the pressure before a big race?

A. I don't feel pressure. I've been running for many years so I'm used to it. There's always the NYCM 2011.

Your first marathon was 2:48 when you were 15 years old.

A. That year I wasn't training for a marathon. I went to Addis Ababa to run a 10K but they cancelled it and that only left the marathon. I didn't want to go home without running. I was nowhere near the front but it still wasn't a bad time.

Q. What advice do you have for other runners?

A. Commitment is everything. If you are committed you can do whatever you want.


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Discuss this article

Interesting reading now that he actually has retired.............

Leaves a chance for the rest of us!


Posted: 07/11/2010 at 19:09

2:48 marathon at 15 with no proper training
Posted: 07/11/2010 at 22:27

Such an amazing guy - one of my favourite runners.
Posted: 08/11/2010 at 19:37

He is a legend.

On hearing his retirement announcement I was inspired to write a tribute of my own from a lifelong fan and (average) club athlete’s perspective.

http://runinbrum.wordpress.com/2010/11/09/haile/


Posted: 09/11/2010 at 17:22

I have explored whether Haile or anyone else could run under 2 hours, my findings are located on the website link below and make for some interesting reading! 

http://engineeringsport.co.uk/2010/11/24/is-it-possible-for-haile-gebrselassie-to-break-the-2-hour-barrier/


Posted: 09/12/2010 at 11:17

Direct link here regarding the previous reply (not sure if it will work!):

 <a href="http://engineeringsport.co.uk/2010/11/24/is-it-possible-for-haile-gebrselassie-to-break-the-2-hour-barrier/">Hyperlink Code</a> 


Posted: 09/12/2010 at 11:34

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