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Prague, May 12, 2014 -- From his position in the lead vehicle, coach Renato Canova almost couldn't believe his eyes watching Moses Mosop's early fade from the 20th Volkswagen Prague International Marathon last Sunday.
"I saw him after one kilometer at the start and I didn’t like him from the beginning," the renowned coach told Race Results Weekly in an interview. "It was very mechanical, not easy. Immediately I said, 'It's worse than I supposed.'"
Canova, who has guided Mosop since 2002, was well aware of his pupil's injury problems and wasn't deluding himself into thinking he would be anywhere near his personal-best form of 2011, but he never envisioned seeing the second-fastest marathoner in history unable to maintain a modest early pace before slogging to a 12th place finish in 2:20:34, the worst time of his career by nearly nine minutes.
"I have to think that the real value here, which is estimated, is not 2:20," Canova said. "In normal competition circumstances, the real value is probably 2:14, which is still ridiculous because you are talking about 10 minutes over his PR."
Channeling his Italian Bill Parcells, who famously uttered, "You are what your record says you are," Canova said that the reality of Mosop's situation is that he is at this moment essentially a 2:14 marathoner and pointed to a confluence of circumstances that has led to the 28-year-old's precipitous fall from running 2:03:06 in Boston three years ago.
Foremost, of course, is the string of injuries that have sapped Mosop of his once-world-class speed. His problems first began in 2012, when a leg issue knocked him off the Kenyan Olympic team. Then in January 2013, while training on unpaved road in Eldoret, he tweaked his right knee rounding a hairpin turn onto a downhill, a minor injury he exacerbated by continuing to train on it. More recently, a left calf issue has arisen, Canova believes from Mosop's body being out of balance.
The effect of these injuries, Canova believes, has had a wide-ranging impact.
First, he says, it has kept Mosop out of any semblance of fast competition. In 2012, he went to Rotterdam looking to break the world record, was psyched out by the terribly windy conditions, and didn’t even win the race despite running 2:05:03. After missing the London Olympics, he was slated to run the New York City Marathon --at 80 percent fitness-- but the race was canceled by Superstorm Sandy. In 2013, he scratched from Boston in April due to the knee injury and ran Chicago, again not at full strength, and finished eighth in 2:11:19.
"In two years he has run two marathons and nothing shorter for speed," Canova said. "Never a half-marathon, never trained for something shorter due to his problems. After two and a half years of no speed, what aerobic capacity you have, you lose."
Canova said that his sub-par performance here was beyond just missing three weeks of training but was more indicative of a man who has not only lacked speed work in his training, but has trained improperly.
"I didn’t give him any plan before this race," Canova said. "The only plan was to build endurance. Normally, in the past, I was never worried about the quality of the endurance because he was always able to run fast. This time, he didn’t run fast, long only and slowly. I was surprised, really. When you are not able, after two kilometers, to stay at the pace of 3 minutes per kilometer, in training you only went one time for three minutes, in fartlek, in something."
Part of this, according to Canova, is due to the comparatively feeble level of the athletes Mosop trained with. "There was absolutely no quality [in the training group]," Canova said. "The group is very weak."
But, all has not been lost in one bad marathon.
"Maybe the situation is not so negative," Canova said. "Sometimes these athletes need also to beat their nose against the reality because in their mind can they suppose, 'If I am training, there is no way I can run slower than 2:10 or something like this.' To them, this is a time without any value because it is easy. It's ridiculous even because in training they have gone faster. But the Moses of 2:03 and the Moses of now in training is a different situation. Maybe this can give him a real focus of the situation."
Canova firmly believes Mosop still "has the engine for running fast," but indicated it will take a detailed rebuilding process to get him back to prime racing condition.
That Mosop did not appear to further injure himself in this race is a positive. Canova said he will monitor the situation with Mosop's calf (he was limping a bit in the hotel hours after the race) but provided there are no health concerns, he plans to put in place a program designed primarily around building back his lost speed starting with that base value of 2:14.
"One thing is clear. He needs, of course, 100 percent, to rebuild the speed," Canova said. "But it's not high speed, ridiculous speed, to start where we talk about 400 meters in 70 (seconds) or 2:55 per kilometer. We need to start with 400 and then maybe after one session 400 becomes 600 and then maybe 1K. But his world record of 25 kilometers is 2:53 average. He needs to get this back."
Another part of the plan, according to Canova is to strengthen Mosop's training situation by pairing him with Peter Kirui, who will be preparing for a full marathon of his own after several stellar half-marathon and pacing performances.
"Peter is a guy with a lot of talent, who is clever, well educated," Canova said. "He can be very useful for Moses and Moses coming back could be useful for Peter."
Canova indicated that his originally stated plan of having Mosop compete in shorter U.S. road races over the summer is likely out the window based on where the runner is at right now.
"The Moses of today is not able to be competitive in a competition over 15 kilometers if he cannot run 45 minutes," Canova said. "Otherwise, you are not Moses Mosop. You are one of the 1000 other runners out there. I don’t want this. We need to wait a little bit but he needs to find some competition, some stimulus. He needs to go at a medium level where he can be competitive. He can't go to Peachtree or Boilermaker at 50 percent."
Although there are many aspects to shore up, Canova does not believe that Mosop is necessarily years away from peak form, provided he can remain healthy.
"I am not so much worried [about the calendar]," he said. "In five months, to move maybe two minutes per month when you have talent, are motivated and fit, is not a big problem. The real problem is if the body is not able to sustain the increase by quality and by volume of improvement it needs today.
"But when you are running 2:14 and you want to run 2:05 by the end of the year, it's not one thing you need to improve. You need improvement everywhere."
Photo: Moses Mosop on his way to finishing second at the 2011 Boston Marathon in a personal best 2:03:06. Photo by Victor Sailer/PhotoRun and provided courtesy of the Boston Marathon.