Bernard Lagat doesn’t much care for running hills. Either up or down.
“Mmm, not much,” said the five-time Olympian. “I like flat.”
There’s the long sloping Highland Street hill, with a prize for the first male and female to reach the top near the two-mile mark at Highland Park Market. The road continues to go up a little after that. Then there’s the left turn onto the screaming Porter Street downhill, which flattens out for a bit until runners turn onto Main Street toward the finish, where it goes down before it goes up slightly before the finish line.
Lagat, one of the most highly decorated track runners and still highly competitive at age 42, will run his first Manchester Road Race Thursday morning. He will be challenged by fellow Olympians Paul Chelimo and Hassan Mead, 2015 winner Will Geoghegan, Olympic steeplechaser Donn Cabral and last year’s third-place finisher Chris Thompson, a British Olympian, among others.
On the women’s side, Olympic 10,000-meter runner Molly Huddle, British Olympian Eilish McColgan and Olympic marathoner Desi Linden are expected to lead the pack.
The race starts at 10 a.m. on Main Street. About 15,000 runners and walkers are expected.
Lagat grew up in Kenya and competed in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics for his home country, winning a bronze medal in 2000 in the 1,500 meters and a silver medal in the same event in Athens. He became a U.S. citizen in 2004, competed in the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and holds several American distance records. He has won five gold medals in the world championships, both indoor and outdoor, and his 1,500 meter time of 3:26.34 is the second-fastest ever at the distance.
Most of his time has been spent on the track and he hasn’t run too many road races, except for multiple appearances at the Fifth Avenue Mile in New York, which he won in 2011.
“When you are focusing on track, you don’t want to do anything that can hurt that path,” said Lagat, who lives in Tucson, Ariz., with his wife and two children. “You could be running on the roads, you could trip on the pavement and you hurt yourself and that’s it.”
But he has started to focus on longer distances. He ran a half marathon in England in September and will run another in the next few months. He plans on running a marathon, most likely in New York, Chicago or Boston, in the future.
Only one of those – Chicago – is flat, which is Lagat’s preference.
“I’m using this race as a hard tempo run for a half marathon coming up soon,” he said of Manchester. “We haven’t announced [which half marathon] yet. I ran one in September and it did not go well because of the hills.
“I want to run a marathon to say I’ve run it. Not to make money, not to run a good time, just to say ‘Check.’ It’s not going to be next year, it will be in 2019. I need to start preparing, learn how to train for it, what to do inside the race, how to mix my drinks.”
When he was asked to run at Manchester, he looked at the list of Manchester winners and recognized many runners he had competed against in the past.
He was only a bit hesitant because he has run a local Thanksgiving race with his 11-year-old son Miika the last few years.
“That’s a tradition for us now,” he said. “We run together and we finish together. That is going to be a tough one because he had school and I had to come early here. So I told him, ‘You have to run by yourself’ and he said, ‘No problem.’ ”