QA₂ Max Interview: NCAA 800 Meter Champ Edward Kemboi of Iowa State

QA₂ Max Interview: NCAA 800 Meter Champ Edward Kemboi of Iowa State

Way back in 2011, Edward Kemboi marked himself as the Next Big Thing in the college 800 when he ran 1:46 and finished fifth at outdoor nationals in the 800.  Since then, it’s been a mixed bag for the Iowa State Cyclone—from 2012 to 2014 he made indoor and outdoor nationals four times, taking second and fifth and missing the final twice.  He ran 1:46 ten times and missed an outdoor season with a stress fracture.

It has all come together for Kemboi in 2015.  He knocked off defending champ Brandon McBride and won the 800 at indoor NCAAs in Fayetteville, and ran a stellar leadoff leg on Iowa State’s third-place DMR at nationals.  We talked on the phone about his season and career, a protest system that would give American coaches an aneurysm, and, of course, professional wrestling.

QA2Max : You had a pretty great weekend at nationals.                                            

Edward Kemboi: Man.  I’ve been looking forward to nationals since last year. Last year, I lost to McBride, and I didn’t expect to lose. Being in the championships, you don’t know what’s going to happen. For a long time after that meet, I went to bed every night thinking, “what did I do wrong, how did I screw that up.”

This year, I was like OK—I think I’m ready. This is my time, I need to trust myself.  I usually have the mentality where I’m not going to take the race [from the front], but this time, I’m going to take it out.  Last year, I let McBride take it out, and I lost.

QA: You used that same phrase—not trusting yourself—in an interview after the DMR.  Were you talking specifically about being nervous about a longer race, or your general approach at past nationals?

EK: There were four or five sub-four milers on that leg of the DMR. Going in, I thought, this is going to be really fast for me.  My best mile is like 4:05 and I’m going against all these sub-four milers. So, I didn’t know what I could do, but I wanted to give my all. I wanted my team to finish top five, or at least be All-American.

After 400 meters, I was like “What? Nobody’s going to take it out?!” and after I realized that nobody was going to take it, I just needed to trust myself.

It’s really good for me to stay in front, that’s where my confidence comes from.  After the DMR, I thought that if I could take down a couple sub-four milers, no one was going to take me down in the eight.

QA: How have you been celebrating and recovering since winning that national title?

EK: I am a big wrestling fan—WWE.  We got home from Fayetteville on Sunday morning, and then on Monday there was a WWE event in Des Moines, and I went to that for three hours.  So going to see the WWE in person for the first time was my big celebration.

I don’t do a lot of celebration, but it was nice to get a little entertainment.

QA: It seems like doubling helps you at big meets.  Obviously, you did the DM/8 double at nationals, and you also won the 800 and 1k at Big 12s even though they were just twenty minutes apart.  Are you considering a 1500/800 double at outdoor NCAAs?

EK: Good question. I want to try doubling at our conference and see how it goes. I’m not ready to double at nationals, but running a good 1500 is my first goal, even before the 8.  Maybe I will double at the NCAA first round.

Though, I’m not opening up with an 8 or a 15. I am opening up with a 400.

QA: How much do you run in a typical week? And do you have a bread-and-butter track workout?

EK: Well, we don’t measure our runs in miles. We do minutes.

Every night before I go to bed, coach [Jeremy Sudbury] tells me the workout for the next day.

I take one day off every seven days. I usually take Sundays off—I’m supposed to take Saturdays off, but we usually race then.

So, Monday I’ll usually do like 45 minutes.  On Tuesday, an hour and forty five minutes plus some core.  Last year, I lifted too much. That was my major problem.  I got really big, my upper body was huge. I went to my coach and he agreed that we needed to switch to core.  So I lost a lot of weight—I was like 145 pounds last year, now I’m racing at 135.

In late January, I ran 1:46 high, and I wasn’t even expecting it.  That’s when I started to think that our [new] schedule was working.

So, we usually do workouts twice a week.  On Wednesday, I usually do four to five sets of 60s without spikes, just flats. And on Saturdays, I’ll do longer stuff, like 600s or 1ks.  I won’t do 150s or 250s until the last two weeks before a big race.

QA: You’ve run 1:46 ten times.  Is it comforting to know that you can deliver that level of performance consistently, or is there any frustration in wanting to run 1:45 or 1:44?

EK: First, I should point out I did run 1:45.98 last year.  Breaking 1:46 consistently would be great for me, though.  I did it once last year, and I’m going to do it again. I thought I was going to break 1:46 at the Iowa State Classic [where he ran 1:46.09], where a rabbit was supposed to bring me through 500 in 64, 63 high and it just didn’t happen.

I can run much better than 1:46.  If I were in a really good race, I am ready for it.

I don’t know, maybe I’m a 1:44 guy, maybe I’m a 1:46 guy. I don’t know what will happen!

QA: Obviously, the biggest goal for outdoors is winning NCAAs, but have you thought beyond that? It’s a world championship year, and you’re a senior.

EK: Sometimes, they don’t follow a schedule in Kenya, and anything can happen. And winning NCAAs is my first goal. But a big goal this year to make the world championships team, and if I don’t make that, I want to make the team for the African championships. 

I was fourth in the semis at the Kenyan trials one year, but it seemed like some funny stuff happened with the timing.  I thought I was third in the semi race with a 1:45, but then they told me I was fourth in 1:46.

As soon as the results come out, they say “official and final.” You can’t protest.