The prayers for Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge to run a marathon in under two hours

Eliud Kipchoge runs in a 2008 marathon in the Netherlands, exactly 11 years ago on Oct. 12. Photo by Michiel Jelijs.

Eliud Kipchoge runs in a 2008 marathon in the Netherlands, exactly 11 years ago on Oct. 12. Photo by Michiel Jelijs.

NAIROBI — Instead of their usual uniform, the choir at Saint Paul’s Chapel at the University of Nairobi donned black and yellow polo shirts emblazoned with “INEOS 1:59,” hoping and praying for one of Kenya’s top athletes Eliud Kipchoge to be the world’s first man known to run a marathon in under two hours. The race starts Oct. 12 in Vienna.

The challenge has gripped not just the nation, but runners and fans everywhere. British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe sponsored the race through his energy giant INEOS. On the eve of the run, Kipchoge’s technical team had assembled 41 pacemakers from Kenya, Ethiopia, Norway and the U.S.

At the St. Paul’s special prayer meeting, athletic enthusiast and corporate communications guru Victoria Kaigai told the media that the church would be part of the pacemakers.

“This will push his body and his mind to unknown levels and if he ever needed God, and Mother Mary and all the Saints, this is the time — that is why we are here, praying hard,” Kaigai said.  “As Eliud also famously said, ‘You cannot train alone and expect to make a fast time… 100 percent of me is nothing compared to one percent of the team.’ We are, therefore, going to be Eliud’s pacemakers in prayer.”

Father Stephen Mbugua invited the congregation to pray for Kipchoge and in his homily read, from among others, Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4 and 2 Timothy 1:6-8 and Luke 17:5-10.

Kipchoge’s head coach Patrick Sang, himself a silver medal winner in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in the 1991 World Athletics Championships, 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics and 1993 World Athletics Championships, thanked all those who took their time to pray for Kipchoge.

The excitement extends way beyond the chapel. In Kipchoge’s home town of Eldoret, the “INEOS 1:59” insignia has become a badge of honor being displayed on shop windows, private cars and public service vehicles.

Eliud’s first name has different meanings. “God is my praise” is one of them. “Religion plays a very important role in my life. It keeps me from doing things that could keep me from my goals. On Sundays I go to church with my family and I pray regularly, even in the mornings before a race,” he told one running blog.

Kipchoge has said he reads motivational books as part of his training regime. “If you want to actualise your dreams, just be with the right people and read good books. For me, books are very loyal friends,” he told Kenyan news outlet The Standard. He talked about how he was reading the book Shoe Dog, by Phil Knight, co-founder of America’s sports apparel Nike, and how it was causing him to think about his role as an entrepreneur. “As a Christian, I believe that whatever investments I accumulate must trickle down to at least my grandchildren,” he told the Standard.

Deputy President William Ruto as well as Governors Jackson Mandago (from Kipchoge’s training place) and Stephen Sang (from Kipchoge’s birth county) said they plan to attend the race. For the first time in his professional running career, Kipchoge has allowed his wife and two children to be at the ringside in Vienna on the big day. Observers say this was a testimony of his confidence in attaining his dream.

Nearly every Kenyan, both home and abroad, have set aside Saturday morning to watch. Several Kenyans living in Austria and central Europe are also gathering to make some noise for Kipchoge Saturday, Kenyan sports journalist Elias Makori said from Vienna. The London-based athletics super fan Jack Waiyaki has tailored a special Kenyan flag with the inscriptions “Eliud You Can Do It” on one side and “We Have Done It” on another.

In probably the most publicized one-man sporting event in the history of athletics, the race organizers have gone the extra mile, sparing no penny in this quest. Early in the week, Ratcliffe dispatched his private jet from London to pick up Kipchoge from his high altitude training camp in Kenya’s Rift Valley.

As of Wednesday, when Team INEOS 1:59 weather experts gave the go-ahead, Kipchige was put on a special diet. The technical team has physiotherapists, doctors, and other professionals attending to the athlete on a 24-hour basis.

So what is at stake here? Because of the technical gizmos employed by the organizers, the world’s premier athletics body, the IAAF, will not recognize any record made during this race.

Kipchoge has been victorious in 11 of the 12 marathons he has taken part in and some of his detractors claim that this latest endeavor is nothing more than hubris at play. Kipchoge, who is going to run in his special self-designed shoes from his sponsor Nike, says that the race is special to him.

His first attempt two years ago did not achieve the desired results, missing the set target by 25 seconds. This time round, a confident Kipchoge believes it is going to happen.

"This is about history," he told the AFP. "It's about leaving a legacy. It's about inspiring people. My main message to the 7.5 billion people in the world is that no human is limited. Breaking the two-hour marathon barrier would be like man landing on the moon.”

Tom Osanjo is a Nairobi-based journalist writing for Kenya’s Daily Nation, All Africa, Christianity Today, and other outlets.