Posts Tagged ‘bernard lagat’

As I sulked my way to the subway, I thought, this feels eerily familiar. Then an uptick: that means it will end well.

With no speed training and nary a week over 20 miles this month, I decided I’d be happy to end up a few seconds south of seven minutes in today’s Fifth Avenue Mile. I was okay with that, because I’d also get to see friends today, run 6 with ET, gawk at the elites, and be outside on a gorgeous day.

My race is nothing to brag about. I ran the first quarter mile stupid fast, in 1:25 (or 5:50 pace). Then I hit the hill, and had my slowest split at 1:45. I barely managed to pick it up for the last two quarters. My legs and even my arms were heavy and burning, I could not believe how quickly my body rebelled. 1:42 and 1:41, yes, that seems about right. Once again I was struck with how the shortest distance on paper feels like the longest to my mind. My watch and the mats clocked me at 6:37, just one second slower than my PR of two years ago. Crappity crap–what if I had actually trained? (Thanks to all my Twitter buddies who quickly looked up my PR on my blog for me, since my publishing person’s brain finds numbers too slippery to hold onto.)

Afterwards though I could not stop coughing from the effort. There was a clutch of us sitting at the base of the golden statue, there, at the southeast corner of Central Park, all coughing as if we were some sort of avant-garde musical quartet. One of us quipped, “This must be the smoker’s lounge.”

Once I’d caught my breath, ET and I slowly trotted off to do a loop of the park. It was a seriously perfect day for running, and I was grateful for her company. ET is a Galloway runner, so in a decadent twist of my normal workout, we walked up Cat Hill, Harlem Hill, and that really annoying little hill on the west side.* All in all it took us over an hour to run 6.24 miles, but who’s counting. We were just icing the cake, we’d done the work earlier when we deliberately forced all our bodily functions to go into the red zone for six to nine minutes.

Then we got a quick snack, and watched the elite races with a few other friends. Wow, Erin Donohue really worked hard for that third place finish. She is audacious. And the men’s race, I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be Lagat’s day but I do admire his cheer on the podium. Were Manzano, Webb and Willis even in the field, because I didn’t notice if they zoomed by or not from my vantage point on the sidelines. It’s interesting listening to the little speeches the top athletes give, because they are all so gracious. Truly, runners have to be among the most articulate, friendly and humble athletes out there. But, we couldn’t help but joke about what they would really say if they could be babies about it…

Shannon Rowbury
What she said: The competition in this field makes her a better athlete.
What she wanted to say: Look at my abs! I have fabulous abs!

Sarah Hall
What she said: it was inspiring to run by members of the Steps Foundation and hear them cheer us on at 400 meters.
What she wanted to say: Don’t you people know who my husband is?!

Erin Donohue
What she said: There is no shame in placing behind Rowbury & Hall.
What she wanted to say: Next time I’m using elbows, and grabbing pony tails. This race is mine, bitches!

Amine Laalou
What he said: This city is so beautiful, and I’d love to come back and race here again.
What he wanted to say: I won! I won! I beat you all!

Bernard Lagat
What he said: I’m going to keep competing in the Fifth Avenue Mile until I win.
What he wanted to say: Maybe I came in second place, but the fans love me the best.

Andy Baddeley
What he said: I definitely wanted to come back and defend my title this year.
What he wanted to say: I know you all forgot who I was but see? I’m back on the podium.

*You know the one, when you’re running south down the west side, you think the worst is over after Harlem HIll but then there’s that little guy. Does that hill have a name? If not, let’s just call it Ralh Hill, as in “Really Annoying Little Hill” Hill.

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I started writing this post in September 2008 and never returned to it. Meeting Bernard Lagat, and then watching him win the Wanamaker Mile last month reminded me I had this half-composed in my drafts. I am posting it now, five months later, because I think the photos are cool. If you’d like some context, first read about my Fifth Avenue Mile, then about the professional Women’s Fifth Avenue Mile.


Soon after the women, the professional men stepped up to run in what would be the most exciting race of the day. The New York Road Runners gathered an amazing group of competitors for this event, truly outdoing themselves. Olympian Bernard Lagat finally accepting Mary’s invitation (after ten years of her asking!) to run his first-ever race off the track. Olympian Nick Symmonds, New Zealand Olympian (bronze medalist in the 1500 meters) and U of Michigan alumn Nick Willis, Canadian Olympian Nate Brannen, and track star Chris Solinsky were also all in the mix.

I felt a little bit like a lurking papparazzi before their heat, as I hung around behind the start line to watch them warm up and stretch out.  I took a few quick snapshots, but then went back to the fences to grab my spot to watch the start.  I got a picture of Symmonds stretching, Lagat striding regally through the staging area with Nate Brannen behind him, and (awkwardly and inadvertently) Solinsky doing a farmer’s blow (trust me, I was not trying for that photo).

(This part of the post is being written now, in February 2009.) Most spectators understandably want to be at the finish line, to see who wins. I get it; I always regert not seeing the final push towards glory. But, when you watch from the starting line, you get to spend more time observing the elites, noticing their quirks, how they stay relaxed and focused. I like that part of the race, when it’s just maximum potential and a giant question mark. Because we all know, that even though the gun hasn’t yet fired, the line up and the wait for “Go” is very much part of the race. The press corps swirls around for a little bit (even Flotrack gets access), but then it’s just the racers, left to toe the line across Fifth Avenue, between the runner’s paradise of Central Park and the classic mansions of the Upper East Side.

And then there they are, at the “Set,” crouched, poised, ready to burst out with arms swinging and chests up. How quickly they disappeared down the avenue!  All of us on the sidelines whipped our heads around, hoping to see who had the lead at the outset. But really, who could tell, and what would it matter in a little less than four minutes? It all could change within inches of the tape.

If ever there was a race when I should have opted to wait at the finish line, this was it. By now it’s been well documented, and you all know the outcome (Willis beat Lagat by one-tenth of a second, in what was Lagat’s first-ever road race), including the Epilogue, where Lagat beats Willis at the Milrose Games. Mary Wittenberg said it was the best Men’s Fifth Avenue Mile the New York Road Runners have ever hosted. I was there, but I wasn’t an eyewitness.

I walked down to the finish line, where I stuck around for the awards ceremony. That’s when I learned for the first time what a happy and humble guy Bernard Lagat is, and when the cute Nate Brannen, third-place finisher, hit my radar. Finally, I tore myself away–I remember what a warm and sunny day it was, and how healing it felt for me to be soaking it up–and headed home on the N train from the southeast corner of Central Park.

(Nate Brannen is the last guy on the right. He trains with Nick Willis, but runs for Canada. His website is cool (especially when you consider that most pro runners don’t even have one), and he blogs every now and then. Check out his post on the Fifth Avenue Mile and his most recent update, in which he discusses how he trains during recovery from plantar fasciitis, including a tempo run on the Alter G treadmill.)

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Work was intense last week, and left me feeling razed to the ground by the time Friday afternoon finally deigned to show up. I pushed through one more project, hammering it out until 7 PM, my self-imposed pumpkin hour, at which point I shut everything down, grabbed my laptop and fled as if I were running for my life. 

I took the E train downtown to Madison Square Garden, got my ticket at Will Call, and finally allowed myself to thrill at the prospect of my first-ever track meet. I’ve watched meets on TV, but I’ve never seen racers compete live on the boards, or around an outdoor oval. So I was interested in the peripheral stuff (the pole vaulters doing their warm-ups; the relayers waiting off to the side, the way they break down and reconstruct the boards to create the course for the sprint and hurdle events) as well as simply seeing Kara, Shayne, Bernard and Nick do their thing live at the Millrose Games.

Decathlete Dan O’Brien was the emcee, and he seemed to do a good job. I enjoyed watching the boys’ mile, and the relay events. In both races the winner broke away into a wicked sprint for the last quarter mile. It looked like fun, flying around the banked track to break the tape. 

Then it was the NYRR Women’s Mile. The ladies took the field, springing around for a warm up lap. There she was, my girl Kara, with her long ponytail and her massive diamond engagement and wedding rings (I swear I could see them glint from where I sat). As far as races go, it was pretty boring. Kara defended her title by a large lead, finishing nearly 4 seconds ahead of Marina Muncan–no one really gave her any competition. I liked how, once she was done, she gave a high-five to her student escort–it was the same kid who escorted her to the start line at the marathon in November from the NYRR youth development program. 

Soon after this, the guy in the row in front of me struck up a conversation with me, and before I knew it he’d moved next to me and we were knee-deep in a debate about Alan Webb (Really Great, or Not So Great?) and yammering on and on about favorite elites, running websites, and pet peeves (why don’t the women self-tan their upper thighs if they are going to race in bumhuggers? Why do sprinters wear speed suits when Haile Gebrselassie can set world records in shorts and a singlet?). JPM’s track knowledge was greater than mine (he’d raced in college) but we were equally matched as far as enthusiasm. I’d expected to spend the evening watching the meet by myself, but ended up having a blast with a talkative, opinionated stranger. Cool! 

We watched Jenn Stuczynski win the pole vault; we watched the three shot putters who had won the crowds and the medals in Beijing last year (they pumped us up again, busting out song after song by AC/DC). I thought it looked like a blast to be one of the sprinters who got to smash into the padded wall at the end of the starting-linedashes, boof! They trotted out the oldies, including Eamonn Coghlan, who was on hand to see if Lagat would tie his record seven Wanamaker wins. JPM rattled off athlete PR’s and world records; it was like having a personal factotum, a direct feed of track trivia. 

Finally it was time for the Wanamaker. I was divided; I couldn’t decide if I should root for Bernard or Nick. Mostly I wanted Bernard to defend his title, win his seventh Wanamaker, and redeem his second-place finish at the Fifth Avenue Mile against Willis; but a smaller, slightly mean part of me wanted Willis to win again, to become Lagat’s unbeatable rival. As they raced around the track, I got the chills. These men were beautiful runners, so smooth. Willis in particular–even though Lagat was in the lead, Willis’s movement looked especially effortless. Ah, it was gorgeous. With two laps to go (it was eight laps to the mile), Willis made his move and took the lead, only to be smacked down by Lagat in the final lap. It was almost as if he was racing a child, the way he just turned on the jets and put Nickie right back in his place (second, that is). After all my waffling, I was glad Lagat won (by a little less than one second). It was an historic win, and besides, how could I root against a man who had shook my hand?

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Yesterday evening I took advantage of Nike’s generous offer to listen to and meet Olympians Kara Goucher and Bernard Lagat. How could I not? Kara is not only my favorite female elite, and my girl crush, but she’s also my running muse. I conjure up images of her zooming around the track at the Trials when I need a boost in my own workouts. (I hope I haven’t just freaked any of you out. Or you Kara, if you’re reading.) And Bernard, well, he’s the sweetest–I remember how down-to-earth he was on the podium at the Fifth Avenue Mile last September, what a classy second place. 

Coach Ramon (it was excellent to catch up with him) led us on a 40-minute run from the New York Running Company store (at Third Avenue and 63rd Street; this new location is gorgeous) over the Queensborough Bridge and back. It was strange to be there with a massive group, but not unpleasant. I was scheduled to run 3 for recovery (after Tuesday’s hills and Wednesday’s tempo my legs were feeling a bit battered), so I turned around before the rest of the gang. 

Once I was back at the store and headed to bag check, I caught a glimpse of Kara. She was wearing jeans, black books, and a cropped, olive green satin bomber jacket over a drapey scarf and a bright blue Nike track jacket. I kid you not: my ears started to ring. Then I saw Bernard, who was already chatting with one of us regular runners. And then–bonus!–I noticed Alberto Salazar, hovering in the background. Wow, that man is a legend (and Kara’s coach).

I stood around nervously. I am embarrassed (and disappointed) to admit that despite the gentle prodding of both my TNT buddy SA and Ramon, I could not work up the guts to go say hello to Kara or Bernard. My mind went completely blank–I couldn’t think of a single possible thing to say to them besides “I’m a fan,” which would have been tragic for everyone involved. 

So instead I sat and listened to the Q&A, as rapt as a 5-year old at story time in the library. What they eat, how they train, what events they’ve got coming up, long-term goals, all the standard questions. At one point Kara took a teeny jab at Bernard when she pointed out that her husband Adam was a much stronger runner when the two men competed against each other in college (we all laughed, even Bernard). Then they opened it up for questions, and once again I froze. I’m starting to reconsider if it’s such a good idea to keep her on my dinner date list (you know the game, “If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?”), since probably I’d get her across the table from me at Del Posto and have nothing to say. (Actually I don’t think that’s true; I’m much better one on one than speaking in front of a group.) 

Much of what she told us about her training for the NYRR Women’s Mile and the Boston Marathon she’d said just a day earlier to Runner’s World. But it was still cool to hear this chick casually throw out that she’s running 95 miles a week now and is going to boost that volume to 105 for several weeks leading into the marathon. Then, she said something that was reassuring to me, a mere mortal: her longest run in her marathon training will be no more than 23 miles. I’ve got a 22-miler scheduled for four weeks out from London. She wrapped up with another encouraging tidbit: no matter how fast you are, or how talented you are, running hurts. Whether you’re having a difficult training run or the race of your life, it hurts because you push yourself, period. Those are words I can fall back on during my pace runs, Nike Speed workouts, and Mile 25 of London. Thanks, KG!

Then we all cued up to get 8 ½ x 11″ photos (provided by Nike) signed by the athletes. I met Bernard first, and he obliged me with a quick photo. I wished him luck at the Wannamaker, told him I’d seen him at the Fifth Avenue Mile last year. He was super-cool, he gives off a great vibe. Then, there I was standing in front of Kara. I moved fast–I introduced myself, asked her for a photo, and then told her how the image of her running at the Trials occassionally motivates me during my workouts. In that moment, any cool credentials I may have earned over the years were immediately revoked. Star-struck: so not cool. But to her credit, Kara looked me in the eye, smiled and said, “That means so much to me to hear.” Who knows if she meant it; SA thinks she did. Chances are good, maybe. (How’s that for an equivocation?)

I walked to Second Avenue and 60th Street to get the Q60 bus home, replaying the evening over in my head. Nice! And I still have the Millrose Games tomorrow! Seated on the bus, I pulled my signed photos out of my bag, where I’d placed them carefully in a hard plastic folder. “To TK, Always Believe! Kara Goucher.” Surely that’s what she wrote for everyone, but I don’t care. I’ll believe anyway.

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That’s right. Kara will be here this week to defend her title for the Women’s Mile at the Millrose Games on Friday Night. You know I’m going to be there, cheering at Madison Square Garden.

Also making an appearance: the humble Bernard Lagat for the Wannamaker Mile, revisiting his duel from last Fall’s Fifth Avenue Mile with Olympian Nick Willis of New Zealand, and trying for his seventh win in the event. (An aside: I like Nick Willis’s attitude an awful lot, but the third-place finisher of the Fifth Avenue Mile, Nate Brannen, I think is kind of cute.)

Also, a BIG FAT THANK YOU to LW, who forwarded me an announcement from Facebook that Kara and Bernard are going to be present at a Q&A after a group run out of New York Running Company’s Upper East Side location on Thursday evening (January 29th). You know I’m going to be there, trying not to make a total dork of myself by blurting out a marriage proposal to either/both of them.

Here are the details:

Learn from the best after getting in your own 3- or 5-mile training run with RUN NYC. Training run will depart NY Running Co.’s Upper East Side location (1059 Third Avenue between 62nd & 63rd Streets) promptly at 6:30pm; athlete Q&A will follow.  RSVP now to news@runnyc.org.

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Some of my girlfriends (and some of my guy friends, too) are as psyched as I am by the phrase “Fifth Avenue Mile,” but with one key difference: they’re thinking shopping, and I’m thinking elite runners. Some people get a lot of mileage dropping names of famous celebrities they’ve seen in restaurants, on airplanes, or in Bergdorff’s. I get a lot of mileage remembering (for my own inspiration) stunning performances by the elite runners I’ve seen in races.

First thrill of the day: spotting Ryan Hall casually leaning against a bus stop post on Fifth Avenue, watching his wife Sara Hall warm up before her race. I wanted to go shake his hand so badly but he really looked like he was just trying to chill out and let his wife be the star. I couldn’t resist though grabbing him with my digital camera, that’s him yawning in the gray shirt all the way on the left side of this photo. Sorry, it’s the only one I could get before he disappeared!

Also of note in this picture, the woman in brown taking off her shirt is the third-place finisher who ran out in front for much of the race, Rose Kosgei from Kenya (she normally runs longer-distance races). I’d also like to point out Amy Mortimer (black tank top), as she was the only female runner sporting pigtails. Ultimately she came in 7th (out of 11 runners), but she wins first place for style.

The women in this race were social and chatty pre-race, but their easy way with each other was dropped (as expected) once they toed the line. Below, Olympian Shannon Rowbury, Kosgei and Hall all look very focused. Hall has won this race in the past.

Next are the women all lined up at the start; UK Olympian Lisa Dobrisky is all the way to the left. Also of note in the line up is Olympian Erin Donohue (who I watched compete in the Women’s Invitational 8K this winter); after the race, I saw her hanging out with her mom (she’s from South Jersey), introduced myself and got a photo with Erin. Cool. (No, you can’t see it.)

This is the one photo I was able to snap before the competitors were passed, their ponytails waving at us all as they tore towards the finish line. Cool, right? Am glad I got a closer shot of Dobrisky.  I was able to get right up against the barrier fences, truly no one had stuck around to watch the race at the start; there was a crowd at the finish but I wanted to get candids of the elites and there isn’t as much of a chance once they’re done running.

The final results are pretty amazing, with the top finishers getting close to course records and really racing shoulder-to-shoulder through the final meters. 1-2-3 went to Dobrisky, Rowbury and Kosgei, with Erin finishing fourth and Sara eighth.  Media coverage up at this point includes the Associated Press on USAToday.com, NYRR.org including photos, and FloTrak.org. FloTrak video includes interviews with Dobrisky (this was her first time in New York) and with Rowbury (who shows off her plexiglass plaque), as well as a full tape of the race, with commentary.

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I’ve been waiting for these track and field trials since November, when I watched Hall, Ritz and Sell win their tickets to Beijing as they steamed around Central Park. Even though not every event provided for surprises, there were enough dramatics at the finish lines to make me happy. As you could guess, I’m  not so interested in the sprint events (all that work and training for less than a minute’s worth of running? I just don’t get it), and the filed events fascinate me the same way the giraffes do at the zoo. But the middle- and long-distance events are what get me cheering and on the edge of my seat. Herewith, snippets with links to my favorite moments of the trials.

6/27 Galen Rupp owning his home track in his heat of the men’s 5000m semifinal… Shalane and Kara living up to expectations in the women’s 10,000m final (kudos to the organizers for kicking off the meet with an exciting final on day 1)… and Amy Begley leaving it all on the track as she pushed herself to not only come in third, right behind her training partner Kara, but also to make the A-Standard time for the event in the same go. I admit it, I got a little choked up on her behalf. And I loved how she and Kara jumped up and down together like excited high schoolers who were going to the prom with the football star.

6/30 The decatahlon is insane. I never truly realized the endurance and versatility that is needed for this two-day event. All I know is if those athletes ever decided to pull a Scarlet O’Hara, I’m leaving the scene…. Both Kara and Shalane won their semifinal heats for the 5000m… and Bernard Lagat, Matt Tegenkamp, and Ian Dobson comprise the men’s 5000m team (I root for Tegenkamp, who Runner Matt calls the “Brian Sell of the 5000m”); Mr. Kara Goucher dropped out as he was off the “A Standard” time…. but really, what beats this dramatic finish, that sends three Oregon Ducks to the Olympics in the 800m? How can you not love these guys? Nick Symmonds, with his dramatic move to get out of how he was boxed in, moving like greased lightening to the finish, and Andrew “It’s All You Guys” Wheating too kicking like mad, propelled by the crowds, plus Christian Smith literally diving across the finish to take third and simultaneously make the “A Standard.”  Fabulous craziness! Sportsmanship and showmanship, it’s what the Olympics are all about. I’ve watched the clip on NBC’s Olympic website like five times, and each time I have to cheer. 

7/4 Feeling patriotic? Yeah, me neither… In the 1500, despite my doubts, Alan Webb pulled it out to advance to the finals (what, no food poisoning??); Gabe Jennings runs like a determined hippe; Leo Manzano shines; Shannon Rowbury gets a lot of attention; Sara Hall moves to the finals, too; and my dad was rooting for the high schooler who broke the HS AR (Jordan Hasay)… My crush on Kara turns into full-blown unrequited love as she powers through like a warrior woman to beat Shalane in the 5000m. The Olympic team for the event is Kara, Jen Rhines, and Shalane. Notables: the face of victory Kara makes as she wins, and the pigtails Jen styles as she flies through the race. Adorable and fast — see, they are compatible!…. The evening warpped up close to 1 AM (if you were watching the TV coverage on the East Coast) with the men’s 10,000m final. I didn’t know who exactly to root for; I so wanted Mr. Kara Goucher to make it, but I couldn’t help but root for Mr. Personality (Abdi Abdirahman), Senor He’s Not Heavy He’s My Brother (Jorge Torres) and Kid Rupp (Galen, duh).  It’s always fun to cheer for Ritz, and I was still pining for Andrew Carlson, wishing he’d made it to the finals. I wonder how cold the steeplechase water pit was…

7/5 Three afternoon Sierra Nevadas had me snoozing through this afternoon’s OT’s, but I did go back and watch the men’s steeplechase finals on NBCOlympics.com. Love how Fam told Ed Eyestone that he was hoping to emulate Ryan Shay, and give the spirit of Shay’s performance to the crowd…

7/6 The final day of the trials left the men’s and women’s 1500 to be determined.  In the women’s, I was rooting for Sara Hall, but it ended up Rowbury, Erin Donohue and Christin Worth-Thomas.  Rowbury and Donohue train with Shalane (sounds like a workout video: “Train with Shalane”), so it’s cool they’re all going to Beijing together. I saw Erin Donohue at the Women’s Invitational 8k earlier this year…. and, in the event everyone’s been talking about for the past two weeks, the men’s 1500 held little surprises as Lagat won it, Leo Manzano (they kept calling him “the little guy“) and Lopez Lomong coming in 2-3 to also make the team. No Alan Webb, no Gabe Jennings.

I’m sad it’s over, but at least the Olympics are right around the corner.

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First, Five

Art gallery show party thing after work tonight, so no possibility for a jiggity-jig. However, I did get up at the crack, to run over the bridge and back, for a fab five-miler.  Took me 51:16, this congestion is still solid as a rock in my chest and nose and man does it slow me down. The pretty early-morning sunlight glinting off the dirty East River, off the buildings on both sides of the river nearly made up for the exceptionally pungent exhaust fumes.  Trail run, anyone?

The Kenyans. Will we ever slacken our fascination for their inate speed, grace, and winningness? Probably not. In the meantime, slake some of your curiosity by reading this New York Times article about the matriarch of one of Kenya’s most successful running families, who live in Eldoret, the epicenter of the talent pool, if you will. Mary Chepkemboi descends from two athletes, and has sired a whole running brood of her own, including Bernard Lagat, Olympic medalist in the 1,500 meters. (Thanks, JMW, for the link.)

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