Exclusive: Bernard Lagat wants to run 2'12 in first marathon

The 43-year-old two-time Olympic medallist reveals his plans for the New York Marathon and Tokyo 2020.

At 43, most athletes would be long retired or at least contemplating the end of their careers.

Not Bernard Lagat who, after competing at five Olympic Games, is stepping up in distance.

The double world champion is putting the finishing touches to his preparation for his marathon debut on 4 November.

After more than two decades of top level competition, this is a new chapter for the Kenyan-born American runner.

And he plans to turn his "crazy" dream into reality by conquering the New York course.

Incredibly, the Olympic medallist at both 1500m and 5000m, says he could keep on running right through to Tokyo 2020.

That would be an outstanding achievement for Lagat who made his Olympic debut aged 25 and ran what is still third-fastest .

He knows his main challenge for now will be mental rather than physical.

Lagat, who competed for Kenya, before becoming a U.S. citizen gave an exclusive interview to Olympic Channel at his training base in Flagstaff, Arizona.

The following is a selection of excerpts from the interview on his marathon debut, world record holder Eliud Kipchoge’s limit, and why he thinks a sub 2-hour marathon is possible.

Bernard Lagat is ready for his marathon debut in New York.
Bernard Lagat is ready for his marathon debut in New York.Bernard Lagat is ready for his marathon debut in New York.

The switch

This season you have been fully focused on the road. How is the training going?

"I thought to myself, let me give 100 percent and see what happens. I ran my PB in Houston in the Aramco half marathon (an American-over 40 record of 62 minutes flat) that qualified me to run at the World Half in Valencia, last march."

"That training set me up to train, run and win a 10km in Atlanta (28.45) two months ago. At the same time, I’m surrounding myself with young guys who are very good."

"They are still young and they are running hard, so for me being in there putting myself in their training and that’s the training my coach (James Li) is setting up to train with the young guys, that’s helping tremendously."

How much have you had to adjust your training for the road?

"My coach knows me very well. I’ve been with him for 20 years now and he knows exactly when to adjust the training, when to make sure that we pick it up a little bit."

"Then at the same time we have to listen to the body. My body is not a 25-year-old body anymore."

"There are always some problems at the same time that if I commit too, too much, I might actually break, and so we are adjusting the training.

And the quality training I used to do is actually like double the quality and double the distance compared to what I used to do as a 5000m runner and a 1500m runner."

Happily crazy

After the world half marathon, most people thought you would retire but here you are at 43 switching to the marathon. How crazy are you?

"That’s a good one, you know I just heard recently that using the word "crazy" is not an insult but a compliment."

So I take it seriously that that’s a good compliment. I have had a lot of people tell me, "You must be crazy to be running at 43!"

But here is the thing - as long as you still have that passion and enjoy what you are doing, there is nothing that can hold you back."

Bernard Lagat is preparing for his marathon debut in New York.
Bernard Lagat is preparing for his marathon debut in New York.Bernard Lagat is preparing for his marathon debut in New York.

Why are you still running competitively?

"These are new challenges. I have challenged enough in the 1500m, 5000m. I thought, "Well, let me try something new." It is that quest to achieve something, do something."

"I want to see, if I can run under 2:12 in my first marathon. It’s possible because the training is going well, and my mind is set to a point I know what to expect. It’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be painful."

"There is going to be a time that I will feel like "Why on earth did I even sign up for this thing?"

But I will be ready by the time November comes to do that marathon."

The secret

What’s your secret to longevity and such a successful athletics career?

"There’s no secret really, but I always tell people that if there’s one thing I could call a secret is, basically having goals, training really well, taking care of your body and having amazing luck in terms of not getting injuries.

"We have so many athletes who are really good, the best in the world, and if they train hard and if they get injuries, it sets them back so much."

NY Target

What will you be out to achieve in New York?

"I want to run at least three marathons in my life. The first one I want to run under 2:12."

"My expectations and my goals for New York is top five would be amazing and run 2:12.20 that would be an American masters record."

"Then the following year I would like to run a 2:08."

What is your limit?

"If I train so well and perform to the best of my ability, I think my limit will be 2:08, and that’s keeping it real."

The future

What are your plans post New York?

"I am thinking what could happen if I keep pushing it until I go to the US trials in Atlanta? That is in my plans but at the same time I just want to hold off the long-term plans and run New York first, and see how it feels."

How long do you see yourself running?

"I see myself running competitively until 2021. Because that is when I think I would be really happy to say, "It has been a great career". I mean, I would be like running for almost 30 years. And so I feel like I have been blessed. I have had no injuries, I have a good coach, good system, my agent James Templeton has been great, my family has been great. I think I can keep going till that time."

Marathon limit

What do you think is the limit in the marathon?

"It is a tough one really. Even looking at Eliud (Kipchoge) pushing as hard as he could and he missed it by 25 seconds, that to me was something I had never seen, I didn’t know anyone can actually get it. Even when I was going into the Breaking2, as one of the pacemakers and also the captain for the pacemakers, I was thinking to myself if this guy was to really run 2:01, at the back of my head."

"But then when you see him the day before the calmness, determination and the way he’s so jovial and I’m thinking to myself, ‘that guy is a relaxed athlete and he could actually get 1:59’."

"There is no limit."

"I go by what he said at the end of it all, no human is limited."

"As he said Kipchoge himself it may not be him, it might be somebody else, but I see that happening."

Mo's marathon tilt

Mo Farah is also training in Flagstaff ahead of Chicago marathon. How easy do you think the switch has been for him?

"What goes for Mo Farah is his ability to train in long distances. He is the guy who feels so comfortable running long distances in training. I have seen him run 25 miles, that is 40k - not easy, not everyone can go and run 40km in training."

"His transition was a little bit easier as he was a 10k guy, a half marathon guy running 60 minutes, he’s been comfortable and so when he retired from track basically he put that aside and then continued doing the marathon."!

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