Two years ago, Bernard Lagat sat at home in Tucson, AZ, watching fellow track stars Mo Farah and Galen Rupp make their half-marathon debuts.
“They were moving,” Lagat recalled yesterday at a luncheon, “and I’m thinking to myself, ‘You know what, every time I do my tempo run I just feel like I’m putting it all out there and still making maybe 4:50-something [-minute miles]. But these guys are going faster than that, and they look comfortable.’ So that gave me motivation: Basically, it’s the training that makes you feel like that.”
Lagat, a two-time Olympic medalist at 1500 meters and the double World Champion in 2007 at 1500 and 5000 meters, is now deep into training that’s making him feel like that. On March 17, he will follow in the footsteps—perhaps literally—of Farah and Rupp when he makes his 13.1-mile debut at the NYC Half.
Farah won that race, in 1:00.23, with Rupp finishing third in 1:00:30.
“We all know that Kip steps up in races,” said Lagat’s manager, James Templeton, referring to Lagat by his nickname. “Coach [James] Li is pretty confident that Kip is going to come up with something solid at the distance. I would think Coach Li is thinking the level of Mo and Galen, running under 61.”
If Lagat does finish in under 61 minutes, he would join only three other American men who have done so: U.S record-holder Ryan Hall (59:43), Dathan Ritzenhein (1:00:00 and 1:00:57), and Mark Curp (1:00:55).
On Monday, less than 24 hours after breaking the U.S. indoor record for two miles as the Millrose Games, the 38-year-old Lagat went for a 14-mile run in Central Park. His weekly mileage, which throughout his career has topped out at around 65 miles, will reach 80 as he prepares to tackle the half marathon.
The mileage is going up, he said, but not all of the intensity is going down.
“We always want to make sure we maintain the speed at the end [of a race],” said Lagat, long known for his closing kick. “I do the eight-mile tempo runs now at the same intensity as my five-mile tempo runs. The way I can handle the longer stuff now in training, it feels like I made the right decision” to step up to 13.1 miles.
“When you think about it, I’ve been holding back for a long time, so I am basically getting to where I should have been maybe in real life four years ago.”
Other than curiosity about whether he would need to take fluids during the race, Lagat expressed no nervousness about the upcoming challenge, and said he is very much looking forward to applying what he has learned in his long training runs to a race situation. He said he plans to learn “inside the race,” watching the distance veterans alongside him and then making adjustments as required.
“My expectation is high,” Lagat said. “Any time I commit to a race, I want to go and do the best possible job I can. I don’t want to just show up. Of course, this is something new and everyone knows that. I could come in second or third and run a great time, and I won’t be disappointed.”
Lagat said that his children—7-year-old Miika and 4-year-old Gianna—will be at the finish line. It will be a much longer wait than usual.
“I can’t imagine what GiGi is going to be saying,” Lagat mused. “‘When is Daddy finishing?’”
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg