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Lagat Going After U.S. Indoor 5,000m Record

He'll have his hands full with training partner Lawi Lalang.

He’ll have his hands full with training partner Lawi Lalang.

(c) 2012 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

NEW YORK — In keeping with American distance runner Steve Prefontaine’s famous “STOP PRE” shirt that he wore at the 1972 U.S. Olympic Trials, U.S. outdoor 5,000m record-holder Bernard Lagat was wearing his own version at the Millrose Games press conference here today. Sitting before a group of reporters in the wood-paneled and trophy-lined Hall of Fame room at the storied New York Athletic Club, the 37-year-old Lagat, who had won a record eight Wanamaker Miles at the meet, sported a one-of-a-kind white tee shirt that read, in all-capital letters, “MARKED MAN.”

Lagat isn’t going after the mile this year and is instead taking on the 5,000m in the 105th edition of America’s oldest indoor track meet with one goal in mind: break the American indoor record. It was a record that he previously held before his rival, former University of Oregon standout Galen Rupp, broke it by 6/100ths of a second in Birmingham, England in February of last year, clocking 13:11.44.

Elsewhere this weekend, Rupp is on the hunt to take down Lagat’s indoor two-mile record (8:10.07) on Saturday at the USA Track & Field Classic in Fayetteville, Ark. This is why Lagat calls himself a marked man. But Lagat has more than Rupp to worry about on Saturday.

In the 5,000m race at the New Balance Track and Field Center at the Armory in Upper Manhattan, Lagat will be competing against NCAA standout Lawi Lalang. A freshman at the University of Arizona, Lalang is arguably the best collegiate distance runner in the United States. The Kenyan citizen won the NCAA Cross Country individual title in Terre Haute, Indiana last November, and clocked a 3:55.09 mile in Fayetteville, on January 28.

Lagat joked that Lalang, who will be there on Saturday to try for the collegiate record of 13:18.12 set by Rupp in 2009, may very well beat him. Lagat and Lalang train together in Arizona under Coach James Li.

“Behind the joke, there is an element of seriousness,” Lagat admitted. “I’ve trained with this kid for a while now. I’ve had two runs in the last two weeks with him. He is running with a lot of ease. We had a tempo run and I struggled. He was just striding along nicely. He is definitely the guy that could take it. He could win the race. And it’s funny, because I may get the record and that would be great, but I want my little guy to get more confidence with this race.”

Rivalries aside, Lagat is happy with the state of the sport presently in the United States. “It’s going to be great, trying for this record again,” he said. “Change is great. Having Galen going for my record and me going for his on the same day is a very good thing for American track and field.”

Lagat contends that his interval training has gone well for this recent indoor record attempt. He’s been doing 1K repeats and going down to as short as 500-meter repeats with “very little rest” between repetitions. “These are the hardest things,” he admits.

Still, Lagat is a realist about his chances at the Armory. “You can’t be too confident. Things have to go really well,” he says. “My body has to feel well and the race itself has to go well. At the same time, the guys we have asked to help us are really going to push that pace. If we hit that pace and my body feels good, and we hit the 2000m and 3000m, marks in a good time, then I will be in a different mindset. If these pacemakers have done a good job, then we are going to go for it.”