How Shadrack Kipchirchir Returned To Victory After a Torn Calf Ended Olympic Hopes

By Chris Chavez

January 11, 2022

Two big things happened in the San Diego area this past weekend. 1) Our very own Mac Fleet got married so congrats to him and Sam Murphy on their nuptials. 2) The USATF Cross Country Championships took place at Mission Bay Park and the first national titles of 2022 were awarded.

2021 Olympian Alicia Monson of the On Athletics Club took the win on the women’s side as she pulled away from Dark Sky Distance’s Weini Kelati on the final lap of the course to win by 17 seconds in 34:01. It marked the first national title of Monson’s career. (Monson will be a guest on the podcast soon as OAC heads to Florida for training camp.)

The men’s race wasn’t decided until the final few meters, where 2016 Olympian Shadrack Kipchirchir timed his kick perfectly to pass Sam Chelanga and Dillon Maggard for the win in 30:32. This marked the second U.S. cross country national title of Kipchirchir’s career. He missed all of the 2021 season due to a torn calf…More on that below.

You can find full results from the race here. | You can watch the race replay on USATF.TV

Shadrack Kipchirchir’s Total Reset Due to A Torn Calf And His Road Back

It had been 294 days since Shadrack Kipchirchir last competed when he lined up for this past Saturday’s USATF cross country championships. Since switching allegiances from Kenya to the United States in 2014, Kipchirchir had not failed to make a U.S. national team for a global championship until he was handed the bad news last spring that a torn calf ended his hopes of competing for a second Olympic team.

For the latest episode of The CITIUS MAG Podcast, I chatted with Kipchirchcir about his comeback from the injury, plans for 2022, looking for a sponsor and much more.

The following excerpts from the interview have been lightly edited for clarity. Catch the latest episode of the podcast on Apple Podcasts. We are also on Stitcher, Google Play and Spotify.

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 crosstraining. 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 since 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.”

For more from Shadrack, including hearing about his upbringing in Kenya and his commitment to his education at Western Kentucky and Oklahoma State, listen to the full episode.

Here’s What Else Is Happening In Track And Field

🙏 Three-time Olympian and former Texas A&M sprints star Deon Lendore was killed in a car accident in Texas. Coach Pat Henry told KBTX3, the local CBS affiliate, that Lendore was on his way home from practice when the crash took place on Highway 6. He was 29 years old.

In addition to anchoring Trinidad and Tobago to the 4x400m relay bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics and four other world championship medals, many in the U.S. remember Lendore from his excellent 2014 season where went undefeated in the 400 meters while winning the NCAA indoor and outdoor titles in the event. At the 2014 SEC Championships, he ran his personal best of 44.36 and broke a Texas A&M record that had stood for 45 years. He was awarded the 2014 Bowerman Award over Oregon’s Edward Cheserek and Arizona’s Lawi Lalang.

He shared this gem of wisdom at the 2014 ceremony while speaking with Ryan Fenton.

“Being a good athlete, you bring a lot of pressure onto yourself,” Lendore said. “That’s what comes with being great. There’s a lot of challenges. There’s a lot of people that want to take you out. It’s fun. It gives you a little extra something to work with when you’re at practice. You’ve got to remember that if I don’t train hard today and I don’t hit the time, somebody is that much closer to beating me or if I hit the time, I can get that much away from somebody who is trying to beat me. It’s all about having the mental strength.”

🎥 Tracksmith released its mini-documentary on Nick Willis’ New Year’s Day sub-four minute mile attempt to keep his 20-year streak alive. I won’t spoil it for you here, in case you haven’t had a chance to watch it yet. Fantastic work by Emily Maye and the Tracksmith creative team.

❤️ Northern Arizona Elite’s Stephanie Bruce wrote a blog post announcing that 2022 will be her final year of professional running after she was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition called bicuspid aortic valve disease. She’s calling this year The Grit Finale. The farewell tour made its first stop at the USATF Cross Country Championships on Saturday with a fifth place finish.

📈 If you’re not following Keira D’Amato on Strava yet, what are you waiting for? She’s been posting some impressive workouts ahead of this weekend’s Houston Marathon. When she announced she was racing on the More Than Running Podcast, she said she believed she was in better shape than when she ran 2:22 at The Marathon Project in December 2020. In the CITIUS MAG Slack channel, Scott Olberding said: “As a man who was training for 2:21, I think she can def run 2:20 low.”

🔥 The Armory and race organizers are still announcing some of the high-caliber fields for the Millrose Games on Jan. 29. Last week, they unveiled the women’s Wanamaker mile field, which is headlined by Elle Purrier St. Pierre returning to defend her 2020 title against 2019 champion Konstanze Klosterhalfen. The United States’ Olympic 1,500m core of Cory McGee and Heather MacLean will also be in the race.

That’s it from me today. As always, thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this, learned something new or have any questions or commentary on anything featured in this issue, feel free to hit my inbox by replying or writing to chris@citiusmag.com

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Chris Chavez

Chris Chavez launched CITIUS MAG in 2016 as a passion project while working full-time for Sports Illustrated. He covered the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and grew his humble blog into a multi-pronged media company. He completed all six World Marathon Majors and is an aspiring sub-five-minute miler.