Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
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Bernard Lagat in London July 2008

Bernard Lagat the 2007 World 1500 and 5000 Champion was the first runner to secure that same double victory in the American Championships in 2007. Amongst his many accolades one should include 3rd in the 1500 in the Sydney Olympics of 2000, 2nd in the World Championships 1500 of 2001 and 1st in the World Cup 1500 in 2003. Bernard Lagat is a really engaging personality who loves his running which came through with every point he made.
   Bernard Lagat was born on the 12th of December 1974 at Kapsabet Kenya. Except for running around with the other kids at primary school in his PE class it was not till he was in Form 2 in Capel Secondary school, 2 to 3 miles from his home, that he started running in earnest. He was running around barefoot, as all the Kenyans did and, his older sister Mary Chep-kemboi realised that he had an interest in running and gave him a pair of running shoes and that changed everything (Mary chep-kemboi competed in the Commonwealth Games and World Cross country and had been an African 3000m Champion. In 1982 she was 2nd in the All African 1500 and 3rd in the 800).
   'My sister said He! you could be a good runner! I did not need anybody to tell me anything after that' He added ' I would run barefoot in the countryside with other boys and I found it was good fun. My realisation that I could get something out of this was when I went to Jomo Kenyatta University, College of Technology in the Northern part of Nairobi. The coach there said ' Man you are so natural'  I felt it was easier for me to run than most of the kids that were in college. From then my life took a different turn and I got a scholarship to Washington State. I then continued all the way.'
   I pointed out that it seemed he was running well early on but it was not the case, as you will see from what he said about that. 'It was not early-Kids for example from Kenya who run at the age of 18 internationally--that was not for me. I wanted to finish my university course first. I wanted to get into the academics before running. (He got a degree in Business Management) That was something my sister and coach supported me with as that was what I wanted for myself.
   'I decided when I had finished my university I would turn PRO afterwards. I saw people who turned pro right after high school and they immediately became professional runners but I did not want to take that road but take a different route.
I went to America, not because I wanted to settle in America but the only thing was to get my F1 visa, get that scholarship and go to study in America to be able to come back to Kenya BUT, after that my life took a different direction.
He explained that in 1996 he and four friends tried for a Diversity Visa that had lottery funding attached to it. He was the only one who obtained it. He got his green card in 1998 and then became a resident of America living in Washington and later in Arizona.
   Quite frankly with the prolific and successful racing career of Bernard Lagat it was difficult to pinpoint a race that he had excelled or particularly satisfied with but he was quick to put that right
   'One of my most interesting races was in 2001 when it was nearing the end of the season. It was the VD Memorial meeting in Bruxsells. I said to the guys in the hotel I am going to run as though it was my last race, before the final Grand Prix. I am going so hard no question about it. Although I could not be confident of beating Hicham El Guerrouj I am going to spook him and follow him to the wire and I did that but had no idea I had run so fast.
(Hicham El Guerrouj 3:26.12; Bernard Lagat 3:26.34, William Chirchir 3:29.29. That race was on the 24th of August 2001 and at the time of writing it made Bernard Lagat the second fastest 1500m runner in history and the third fastest time ever run. The fastest being El Guerrouj 3:26.00 in 1998. In 2003 Bernard ran 1:46.00 for 800 which was a PB for the distance).
   I remarked that he had a very good 5000m in him too, if you looked at his record. 1997 (13:50.33), 1998 (13:42.73), 1999 (13:36.2), 2000 (13:23.46), 2002 (13:19.4); 2005 (12:59.29), AND 2006 (12:59.22).
   'That was almost my natural event in the first place. When I started running in High school it was not the 1500. We did 3000/5000 at cross-country not 10,000. The only thing I did not do was  the steeplechase or the 10,000 as they did not appeal to me.'
   'I never knew I could run 1500 till 1996 at the Kenyan Olympic trials, when I surprised myself by making the final, which was the first time for along time a University boy made the final for that.'
   It was always a memory for me that Bernard Lagat finished six times in second place to El Guerrouj in 2001 and I felt it must be hard since then without him and, he would have to learn new tactics in races?
   ' When El Guerrouj was running we used to have to run extremely fast from the gun right through to the finish but now El Guerrouj has gone with many races now the pace is slower so you have to learn to run slow and fast.We don't have those particular races as we did when El Guerrouj was in the field.'
   Bernard Lagat has won the American Championship 5000 three times, 1500 two times and been third once. He has also won the World Indoor 3000m as well as coming second in the World Championships outdoors in Edmonton in 2001.
   Will he then stick with the 5000?
   'I think I would love to do that. I use my speed towards the and, my strength which is built into my training as a 5000m runner, rather than as a 1500 runner--I do tempo runs and long runs.
The difference between the two events are that the 1500 runners don't to too many miles and tend to got to the track three times a week. For me it is the other way round. I like to do longer stuff. I can even do faster things not on the track. I can go to the track two times a week but mostly once a week. I do most of my training off the track. I leave the work on the track for competition only. I use races as training in the Summer. What I like about the races that I do in the early season like the indoor races.They make me prepare for the most important things, for example like the Olympic Games or the World Championships. ( World Championship wins last year 1500-3:34.77 and 5000 13:45.87).
He indicated that time trials by himself over 1500 help but he did not think he would run them as fast as 3:45 when at the time he could run 3:40 in competition.
   The one thing one feels about Bernard Lagat is that he loves all his running and that is born out by what he says:-
   ' I love it. That is something that I realised a long time ago. All my siblings 'All 10 of us' love to run. My Dad & Mum they love seeing me run but do encourage our education first. For my brother and two sisters and now another brother, 4 of us have gone through the  university system and still run. That is beautiful. I love doing it (Evelyne Jerotich Lagat has run 71:35 for a half marathon. William Cheseret has a marathon of 2:10:09 in 2004 and Robert Cheseret won the NCAA 5000 in 2004 and the 10000 in 2005.He has pb's of 13:13.23/28:20.11.)
                I love running still at 68 so did Bernard think at  68 he would still go for a run?
                        ' I will still be doing it. It has got to be fun."

Alastair Aitken

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