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Lagat ready for challenge of NYC Half

Former Washington State star Bernard Lagat races in New York today. (Associated Press)
Former Washington State star Bernard Lagat races in New York today. (Associated Press)

NEW YORK – Running outdoors. Cold weather. St. Patrick’s Day in New York City.

That’s the unusual racing scenario for Bernard Lagat, who will make his half-marathon debut in the NYC Half today. The former Washington State star regained the U.S. indoor record in the 2-mile last month, but he’ll be running the longest race – 13.1 miles – of his storied career outdoors. He’s upped his training to withstand at least 60 minutes in temperatures expected in the high 30s for the 7:30 a.m. event.

It’s only the eighth road race for the 38-year-old Lagat, who will be joined by 15,000 runners. They’ll start in Central Park, move through Times Square and finish in lower Manhattan. It’s the biggest New York Road Runners race since Hurricane Sandy forced the cancellation of the NYC Marathon last fall.

So why not start with a 10K race instead of the half-marathon? Lagat says he’s been training since November and wanted “a bit of a challenge” after just missing a bronze medal in the 5,000 meters at the London Olympics.

His friend and training partner Abdi Abdirahman, the runner-up in the 2007 Half, kept encouraging him during runs in Flagstaff, Ariz. He’ll be in the field along with American Dathan Ritzenhein, the 2009 worlds half-marathon bronze medalist. Ritzenhein said of Lagat, “If you come to the last 400 meters and he is there, that is bad news.”

Lagat last ran on the streets of New York as the defending champ in the Fifth Avenue Mile in September, when he finished second.

For all his American records and medals at the world championships, Lagat hasn’t been lucky lately at the Olympics.

An Achilles tendon injury hampered him at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where he didn’t medal, and he missed the bronze in London by 0.63 seconds after tangling with another runner.

With five U.S. records, is there anything left to prove in his career? Yes, he said laughing, one more 3,000 win at the 2014 world indoors in Poland. “So I can have four wins. I’d like to defend that title and that’s the end of it.”

He said he doesn’t want to commit to competing at the 2016 Rio Olympics at age 41, but “wants to be involved. I may not be a runner, but I’m going to be in Rio.”

Lagat plans to compete in the New York City Marathon one day. “To do 26 miles would be great. I’d do it in New York.” He said it would be for charity and basically “just for fun.”

This year, NYRR has dubbed today’s half marathon “More than a Run” and expects the event will raise $4 million for charities.

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