On Sunday, September 25, 2022, Eliud Kipchoge won his fourth consecutive Berlin Marathon, setting a new World Record in the process. While the legendary marathoner let the world know he might just be the greatest of all time, another person also won the hearts of many fans worldwide, Claus-Henning Schulke, Kipchoge’s bottle handler.
A lot goes into winning a marathon, and for the legendary Kipchoge, hydration is a key component when it comes to his success. Across the entire stretch of the track, Eliud hydrates at specific points, and on each of them, Schulke was there to hand him a water bottle on Sunday.
Aside from being on time, and strategically placed to hand over the water bottle, the thing that got most people excited, was the fist bumps, and momentary celebrations from Schulke after a successful hand-off.
The two first knew each other when Schulke volunteered to be Kipchoge’s water passer in 2018 at the Berlin Marathon. He was instrumental in Kipchoge’s world record performance at the event.
When Kipchoge arrived at Berlin Brandenburg Airport on Tuesday, September 20 ahead of the marathon on Sunday, September 25, Schulke surprised his dear friend and they discussed their bottle-passing strategy for the event. Schulke’s technique is to wear a Kipchoge nameplate on his forearm, which allows Kipchoge to know where his water is and therefore he does not have to break stride or lose focus.
Schulke, 56, is an amateur triathlete and works as a project manager for a Berlin-based construction company. He was a marathoner himself but switched to triathlon in his twenties. He, however, remained a fan of the long-distance event for years. He has been volunteering at the Berlin Marathon since 1998.
Due to his experience, the 56-year-old is now the senior member of the 30-person crew mandated with ensuring elite athletes get their fluids during the race. These fluids – full of a blend of water, carbohydrates, and often energy bars, are critical to the success of these elite athletes. They are strategically located within the race track and ensure the athletes refuel as they run at a high pace.
In September 2018, Schulke was approached by the director of the Berlin Marathon and asked to personally handle Kipchoge. Due to his experience, the director asked him to personally ensure that the world record holder was well served with fluids during the race. On the eve of the event, he met with Eliud and his manager Patrick Sang and together they came up with a system that allows Kipchoge to run with maximum efficiency while ensuring he is well hydrated.
As the race starts, their plan is to have Kipchoge collect a drink at 13 different locations on the course. Schulke must cycle to each station, wait for Kipchoge, hand him the bottle, then hop back on his bike and beat Kipchoge to the next station. At some stations, Schulke arrived earlier than Kipchoge and waited for him. Both of them have to be at the top of their game, moving with maximum speed.
Since Kipchoge was running at an average speed of about 20 kilometres per hour, Claus has to cycle at that pace, beat Kipchoge to a station, wait for him, hand him a water bottle and beat him to the next. Theoretically, this might sound easy, but peddling at that pace for 42 kilometres is not an easy task.
To run a world record marathon time of 2 hours 1 minute 9 seconds, Kipchoge had to run a robust 2 minute 52 second – 2:55 kilometre pace for 42 kilometres, in short, every second counts.
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