Lagat Sees New York Mile as Bridge to 5000m Success
Back at home in Tucson, Ariz., the license plate on Bernard Lagat's Mercedes reads "5000M," a hint to where his thoughts might be when he competes in the mile at the U.S. Open in New York at Madison Square Garden.
Lagat, 37, the two-time Olympic medalist who won a record eight Wanamaker Miles when the Millrose Games were held in the Garden, has geared his recent training toward the 5000-meters, the distance at which he won the silver medal at the IAAF World Championships last summer in Daegu, Korea, and where he hopes for gold at the London Olympics this year.
"I'm excited to run the 5000-meters," Lagat said in an interview. "I've been training differently. Like I said, I've been trying to get the speed, to work on the speed... but to also have the strength, working on the long distance stuff."
Under his longtime coach James Li, Lagat has surrounded himself with athletes who compete at the 5-K and longer distances, instead of middle distance runners. That group includes the reigning NCAA cross country champion, Lawi Lalang; Mexico's best 5000m and 10,000m runner, Juan Luis Barrios; and four-time Olympian, Abdi Abdirahman, who just finished third at the USA Olympic Marathon Trials. Lagat, who only trains once a day but at a high intensity, said he's been doing more long runs and endurance work which he hopes will pay dividends in the summer.
"If I keep doing the best training ever, in terms of gaining that strength that I need by doing the volume, and also faster stuff on the track and the roads, I feel like I will be very comfortable when the outdoor season comes to do the 5000-meters."
Lagat won't have to wait that long. In two weeks time, he'll challenge the USA record for 5000m at the Millrose Games in the Armory in Upper Manhattan. He said today that he'll be ready for that race.
"I'm really excited about it," said Lagat, who hopes to break Galen Rupp's national indoor mark of 13:11.44. He continued: "I have a really good training group right now in Tucson, so this is the perfect time. I feel that by the time I come back to New York to do that 5000-meter race, I'll be ready for it."
In the mile, Lagat will face Kenyan Silas Kiplagat, last summer's World Championships silver medalist, a man who is 15 years his junior and who was the second-fastest in the world last year at both 1500m (3:30.47) and the mile (3:49.39). But Lagat has at least one big advantage over Kiplagat: his unrivaled experience on the the quirky 145.5-meter track in The Garden. Kiplagat has never touched it.
"People think you always have to go slow (on the tight turns), but you have to power through on the curves then work on your strides, but not going all-out in the straightaways," Lagat explained. "Just basically running fast on the curve, and making sure that nobody is going to overtake you on the straightaway."
Despite the endurance tilt to his recent training (Lagat spent two weeks running alone at high altitude in Kenya last December), Lagat said he has enough speed --and experience-- to beat Kiplagat.
"This mile is very important," Lagat concluded. "It's going to make me know exactly where I am in terms of fitness."
By David Monti (c) 2012 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved; Used with permission