By Chris Lotsbom
NEW YORK (14-Mar) -- Speaking with four-time Olympian Bernard Lagat here today, one would not sense that the half-marathon distance is something totally foreign to the 38-year-old who has won five world titles. With a smile across his face, Lagat reiterated that he is confident heading into Sunday's NYC Half, his debut at the 21.1 kilometer distance.
"I'm not nervous," said the father of two, speaking with reporters here this morning. "I'm looking forward to it."
Lagat's move to the roads comes a month after setting the American record for two miles at the Millrose Games. But, the Kenyan-born Lagat knew he wanted to take to the streets of Manhattan well before the indoor track season began.
In November of last year, Lagat wanted a challenge; he wanted to try something different. That's when an e-mail about the NYC Half appeared in his inbox. After getting the all-clear from coach James Li and manager James Templeton, Lagat decided to give it a go.
"It was so easy for me to decide," he said, smiling again.
This wasn't the first time Lagat had pondered the half-marathon distance. As far back as five years ago, Abdi Abdirahman --his training partner and best friend-- suggested that he may be good at the distance. Watching fellow track specialist Mo Farah win the 2011 NYC Half made him strongly consider the event.
"What made me want to really do this so bad was seeing Mo [Farah] and Galen [Rupp] run side-by-side [here in 2011]," admitted Lagat. "They managed to make it look so relaxing and so much fun."
Only racing once at over 5 kilometers since his collegiate days at Washington State, Lagat chose to get some tips from those who have succeeded at the distance, including Farah, who won the race in his debut half-marathon, timing 60:23. Before then, Farah was a track specialist just like Lagat.
"I wanted to hear from him how he felt, what he could tell me about that race," said Lagat.
Speaking to Farah before he won the Rock 'N' Roll New Orleans Half-Marathon, Lagat learned to relax and trust himself. The biggest piece of advice he took away from the conversation was that you must be prepared.
"In order for you to win you have to be prepared, mentally and physically. He was prepared before he came over here. I've tried to do that," he said. "I feel like I am prepared."
And about debuting at a distance you're unfamiliar with?
"He told me, basically, people read to much into it. Don't worry about that, just go out and run," described Lagat. "It gives me confidence that, you know what, on your first try you can actually win."
In training, Lagat has kept up with four-time Olympian Abdirahman, surprising the latter a bit.
"I thought I was going to be able to hammer him during long workouts," said Abdirahman, shaking his head showing that he had thought wrong. "He's just one tough cookie."
During long tempo runs, Abdirahman will sometimes begin sprinting, picking the pace up without telling Lagat in hopes of simulating a race.
"Abdi has been a good influence," said Lagat. "He told me to take it easy and not think too much."
Lagat explained that half-marathon training has opened him up to new workouts, such as mile repeats on the track (six at 4:30-pace with two minutes rest) and seven mile tempo runs.
"Sometimes he surprises me to be honest. I didn't expect him to run as fast as he does on those long runs," said Abdirahman.
Fellow American Dathan Ritzenhein didn't rule out Lagat as a threat on Sunday.
"After seeing him run 8:09 a couple weeks ago, I think it's just like any other race: if Bernard's there in the last 400 meters, then it's bad news for whoever he's with," he said. "Whether it's a half-marathon or two miles, it doesn't matter."
Lagat emphasized his focus after Sunday's half-marathon is still the 5000m on the track, with his eyes set on the World Championships this summer. Don't be surprised if Lagat runs a 10,000m during the spring, trying to clock an 'A' standard in the discipline just in case things don't work out in the 5000m.
But for now, his focus is totally on the half-marathon distance and trying to dip under 61 minutes.
"I'm ready to race," he said. "I feel like I am prepared."
PHOTO: Abdi Abdirahman, Dathan Ritzenhein and Bernard Lagat share a light moment before the 2013 NYC Half (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly).