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Shadrack Kipchirchir’s Resilient Career Path To Success From Kenya To Winning U.S. National Titles

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“I was planning to go to the marathon last year but this injury came up. I still have unfinished business on the track so after world champs, I’m going to try to debut at a fall marathon. Hopefully New York or something. That was my main thing. Once I switch my focus and I’m doing the marathon, I’m going to do some damage there.”

Shadrack Kipchirchir is the newly-crowned 2022 USATF cross country champion. He is a 2016 Olympian and has not missed a U.S. world outdoor championship team since he switched allegiances from Kenya to America in 2014. After he kicked to the win on Saturday, I tried doing a little bit of research into his upbringing and his career path and honestly couldn’t find much. This is someone who has the 4th-fastest U.S. 10,000 meter time and has won six U.S. titles. So I reached out to him and invited him onto the show. This is his first-ever podcast interview and we went through his early days in Kenya growing up as one of nine kids, why he came to America to run for Western Kentucky and then Oklahoma State, why he enlisted in the Army before even thinking of the opportunity of being able to run for Team USA and how he’s found success. Last year, he suffered the first major injury of his career with a torn calf that knocked him out of making his second Olympic team. He cross-trained his butt off and roared back with the cross country victory in his first race in 294 days.

Catch the latest episode of the podcast on Apple Podcasts. We are also on Stitcher, Google Play and Spotify.

SHOW NOTES AND NOTABLE QUOTES

Where have you been this entire time?

I was feeling some kind of pain at the beginning of the year while I was in Africa training. I was feeling pain in my left calf. (In Kenya), there’s no medical personnel who can see what’s going on. I came with the pain to the Gate River Run. I ran Gate River Run and I remember I fell down about a mile into the race and I had my right hip and my left leg overworked. I remember at the beginning of that race I had been feeling my calf really hard. I fought really hard. After that pain, I came home and made an appointment at the Olympic Training Center. They checked it and it was a tear. I had been training through it in Africa and I thought it was just normal soreness. I had never been injured since I started running in 2010.This was all new to me. When I went to the Olympic Training Center, they said I had to rest up for six weeks. I said, “English, please? What are you talking about? Six weeks?! Are you crazy?!” I remember sitting there crying. It was really tough for me. We started the rehab process. I was fortunate to get all the support from the Olympic Training Center – the doctors there, the sports medicine team, the strength team, sports science team and even the psychology team were focused on me.

They wanted me to come back to training in early May. That was the timeline. We did everything we could with the rehab process. Early May, they put me on the Alter G and it went well for the first week. Then, they went back to reassess it and the tear was filled up with blood.

I was like, “Yeah, Shadrack. Let’s call it off.”

I remember texting Nike, my coach, my manager and they stood behind me and supported me through the rehab process by constantly checking on me. 

When they told me that, I remember telling myself that I wasn’t going to cry this time. I drove home and on my way I bought an ice cream. I just Googled “best ice cream.” I normally don’t eat ice cream. I went to Walmart and bought this vanilla flavor.I got into my car and realized there’s no spoon. I opened it and squeezed the bottom of it and ate it. I said, “I’m not going to cry because if I cry I’m going to get frustrated.” I have to find a way to cope with this. This is a new thing for me. Everything went from 100 miles a week to zero. Shadrack, go to your couch and relax. 

I told my wife and she said everything would be OK. Health is important and all of this stuff will come later. Then I said, “The Olympics are gone!” But the Olympics is not everything. I can keep on training, I may end up losing my leg and I won’t run for the rest of my life. So I made no timeline. I spoke with my coach, my manager and my close circle that I will come back when my leg is ready. 

So how was I going to cope with this? The Olympic Training Center Sports Medicine team helped me a lot. I live 30 minutes away from the training center and I went there every day from May to New Year’s Eve. There were times I’d go two times in a day for rehab and strength and conditioning. I wanted to keep myself busy. I didn’t want to sit home and cry. No one would come over and tell me to go train. They gave me a program for Monday to Friday and I was not tired of it.

Could you bring yourself to watch The Olympic Trials or The Olympics even though you had teammates competing in it? Or would it be too sad?

The funny thing is that I showed up to training. I was the waterboy. I remember giving Paul (Chelimo) and a lot of those guys water. Most of those guys had not gone to the Olympic Trials. I would give them tips. I showed up to training and it didn’t affect me. After I got injured, I told myself that I needed to find something to do.

Sometimes people will have sleepless nights and think a lot because they’re not tired. I told myself, “I need to hit the pool.” So I signed up for Lifetime Fitness. I have one near my house and my goal was to go crosstrain myself to sleep. I wanted to make myself really, really tired. I would go to the pool for three hours. Remember…I can’t swim. I used a life vest. At first I felt embarrassed because I’d see these kids and they’d just float or swim. I was a big old man with a life vest just cross training. By the time I came home, I was really, really tired. That got me going. 

I would wake up at 4 a.m. and go there. I didn’t want to wake up and sit there to start thinking. I’d get in my car, go to Lifetime, crosstrain for three hours or sometimes two hours. By the time I get home, I’m just tired and don’t think about anything. I kept myself busy.

There’s that doubt where you think, ‘Will I ever get back?’ Right now, after winning this past weekend, how much doubt do you still have?

I think this was the best build-up I’ve ever done from October. Normally, I’ll take a break and start hammering but this one we were starting from ground zero…I was nervous. I had not raced in almost a year so how was that going to be. That’s why in the race, I stayed behind at the start. What helped was I was running with my training partners. I was kind of scared. What I do in training doesn’t mean I’ll do really good in the race because a race is totally different. I was nervous but I trusted my training again. I doubted myself but I trusted in my training so it was kind of 50/50.

When the calendar flipped from Dec. 31 to Jan. 1, your contract with Nike expired. You’re a free agent right now. You’re still training with Scott Simmons in Colorado Springs so not too much has changed but why should a sponsor sign you? 

My contract was a four-year contract with Nike, which is a really good company. They supported me even when I was injured. My contact person at Nike was in contact with me all the time to check-in on me. They were really helpful. My time is now over. Another thing that changed was that I had to change my management from Global Sports in the Netherlands to Hawi Management. That was the first thing I did a week ago. From there, he will take it to see the best company that will be able to support me going forward.

I was planning to go to the marathon last year but this injury came up. I still have unfinished business on the track so after world champs, I’m going to try to debut at a fall marathon. Hopefully New York or something. That was my main thing. Once I switch my focus and I’m doing the marathon, I’m going to do some damage there.

I’m looking at your 10,000 meter personal best of 27:07.55 and that’s No. 4 all-time. Galen Rupp’s American record is 26:44.36. You’ve got Lopez Lomong and pretty close to you on the all-time list. Are you hoping to get a chance to run a fast 10,000m this year? Any time you chase a PR, it’s getting pretty close to that American record. 

I still have unfinished business on the track. I’m going to give it all I have before I hang up those spikes. I’m going to go to the track right before the season ends and I’m going to give it all I have. Once I go to the marathon this fall, I don’t have to regret anything. I want to just go all-out this spring and go forward toward the world championships. Hopefully, it comes with lowering my standard and going under 27, if possible. You never know. Anything can happen…I believe I can still do that before I go to the marathon this fall. 

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