Sharon Lokedi — NYC Marathon

Sharon Lokedi's win at the 2022 New York City Marathon — her first attempt at the distance — was unencumbered by the baggage of expectation. It was carefree. But repeating success presents a greater challenge — a winner can only go unnoticed once. Returning as defending champion is different. Commitments, pressure, the attention of media, and the eyes of the competition. In the absence of mental preparation, heat from the spotlight can wilt the strongest athletes.

”Deep down I'm very nervous, but I have to be confident. I have to put that confidence first.”

What was it like going to New York last year, as your first marathon experience? I was just very keen to get into the marathon — to get into the feel of it. I had expectations. You know, I was just going to be me and just get the feel of the race. But then the outcome was different. So, it was like, 'Oh, ok — so I can actually do this'. But everything about it was my first. Like, my first long run workouts. Everything was different. It felt like getting something new.

Did you expect to be so competitive in your first marathon? Not really. Even just talking to my coach, we just wanted to be in the race. If I'm top-5 I will be so grateful. So long as I'm in, I finish, I get the experience, and I know how it flows — I will then be ready for the next time. But sometimes you never really know, or you don't plan for the outcome of something, so all the way to the end I was very surprised. Thinking to myself, 'I'm still hanging on, even at this point'.

How does it feel coming back to New York this year, knowing that people will be taking you more seriously and that, perhaps, you have more of a target on your back? It's really exciting. I like competition and this year's field is very competitive, so I'm very excited to be in it and to compete with them. But I've had so much help and support from the team and my training partners here too. So I've also started to mentally prepare. I feel like it is more mental for me, going back, than anything else. I guess fitness is important too, but this is going to be only my second marathon. I think it's going to be fun to be in it and important to try and not overthink it too much. To just put myself in it and to go with the pace.

You said at the start that you were feeling a little nervous. Is it a different type of nerves to last year? Yes, very different. Everyone I talk to mentions me being the defending champion. And how I'm going back to defend my title. Deep down I'm very nervous, but I have to be confident. I have to put that confidence first. I know that it will be different, so we've done a few things that will help me mentally.

Are there any tricks or things that your team have been working on to be mentally prepared as much as, or even more so, than being physically ready? It has been about knowing and being present in the moment. To avoid all the outside noises and try to focus on just one thing. And I think that has been helpful, to just try and put my mind into running when it matters but also to bring in some of my outside hobbies. So I'm not just thinking about running all the time. That has been one key element that we have tried to use this season.

Does it help now that you know the course? And can you visualise the points where breaks might happen or where people might surge a little bit? I don't think I remember most of the course. Last year was just watching, watching, and watching. And I feel like this year will be the same thing. Wait and see what people do. If, towards the end, I feel strong enough to go then I will, but I think I will just go with it. It's a long way — you don't want to be too excited too early.

Sharon finished in third place — 10 seconds behind winner, Hellen Obiri — to complete back-to-back podiums in New York.

Words by Ross Lovell, Photos by Dan King.