Five-time U.S. Olympian Bernard Lagat will make his long-awaited marathon debut at this year’s New York City Marathon. At 43 years old, Lagat is remarkably still one of the top U.S. distance runners. He most recently represented the United States at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in March and claimed the U.S. 10K title in July. If he continues racing at the elite level, there may be a chance for Lagat to try and make a sixth U.S. Olympic team in 2020. For now, he’s solely focused on his 26.2-mile debut and possibly making a run at Meb Keflezighi’s U.S. Masters record of 2:12:20.
The women’s field for the New York City Marathon is absolutely loaded with the defending champion Shalane Flanagan, Boston Marathon champion Des Linden, London Marathon champion Vivian Cheruiyot and three-time New York champion Mary Keitany. The men’s field already includes last year’s champion 25-year-old Geoffrey Kamworor of Kenya.
Lagat spoke with Sports Illustrated about the decision to run the marathon on Nov. 4th.
Sports Illustrated: Why the marathon and why now?
Bernard Lagat: I’ve been in the sport for a long time. I was a track guy for a long, long time. I’d occasionally run on the roads with the 5th Avenue Mile here in New York and a 5K in Carlsbad but that wasn’t really my thing because I was such a track athlete. I finished my track career in 2016 and told myself to learn a few things about longer distance running and road racing in particular. How can I maximize what I’ve been able to do on the track and put it toward road racing? I’ve spent the past two years talking to the best road racers and reading a few things about it. I wanted a new challenge. I think I’ve been successful in my own way from a very good 1,500 meter runner to now a 62-minute half marathoner. I’ve waited this long and I’ve been able to make good preparation. Having now run a few half marathons and 10Ks, my interest was sparked. Now it’s ‘What can I do in a full marathon?’ I figured that now is the right time to try it.
SI: You keep saying that you’re ‘trying’ it. Incredibly, you’re still competing among the top elite runners.
BL: For me, I’m taking it one at a time. When I started road racing, I told myself that I’d give it about one or two years before I jumped into a marathon. I used to downplay the marathon so much. I wanted to just do it to say that I’ve done it and then check a box for my career. Things change as you go. I’m still running at the highest level. It’s not just trying it now. I am going to put myself 100% into it. When I told my agent that I wanted to do a marathon, I couldn’t think of a better place to do it than New York. This is something new and a great challenge. With the training that I’ve been doing, maybe this is the right time to go all-out. With all seriousness, I want to show up and run a really good marathon in New York.
SI: You’re just thinking for November or has your mind already started wandering toward the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials?
BL: No. My mind isn’t going that far yet. I’m just going to take this one at a time. My training partners have asked me, ‘If you are successful in New York, will you run the marathon for 2020?’ and I say, ‘I don’t know.’ I want to do things one at a time and not jump the boat on the distance. This is something new. I’ve never had this type of challenge. I’m only focused on one for now. This will set me up and if I feel that I had a good day, then that would be the next chapter. 2020 in Atlanta? Why not go and try to run with the best marathoners in the country, if it all goes well. Those are things that I will think about and discuss with coach James Li and my agent James Templeton later on. I want to get ready for New York City first and whatever happens there will determine 2020.