Lagat Takes Down American 2-Mile Record at Millrose

Bernard Lagat runs ahead of Evan Jager in the 2-mile race on Saturday night at the Millrose Games in New York City. Photo: AP

Edward Cheserek breaks boys high school mark in the same race. 

Bernard Lagat was a man on a mission at the New Balance Track & Field Center on Saturday night. Arguably one of the best American distance runners in history, the 38-year-old former Kenyan had just one thing in his mind: setting an American record in the indoor 2-mile event at the 106th edition of the Millrose Games.

Talking to the press a few days before the games, Lagat said that he was gunning for running faster than 8 minutes, 9.72 seconds, a mark that had been set by reigning Olympic 10,000m silver medalist Galen Rupp during last year’s indoor season. It was a big mark for Lagat to go after since he already owns U.S. records at 1,500m, 1 mile, 3,000m and 5,000m.

With a determined look on his face and a pair of flashy cheetah-spotted racing flats on his feet, Lagat lined up at the start on the Armory’s elevated mondo track. Once the gun went off, he quickly settled in behind Duke University’s James Kostelnik, who led the field around the oval for the first few laps at a breakneck pace. Kostelnik eventually pulled out and it came down to a footrace between Lagat, Oregon Track Club’s Evan Jager, Canada’s Cam Levins, and former Georgetown University standout Andrew Bumbalough.

The group of four runner clocked 4:06 for the first mile—well off the desired split that Lagat and his coach, James Li, had planned to run before the race.

But with each passing lap, Lagat ratcheted down the pace and began to distance himself from the rest of the field. Jager, who was wearing a white headband, tried to hang on but couldn’t. Once the bell lap sounded Lagat unleashed his trademark closing kick with the capacity crowd cheering him on. Lagat ended up breaking the tape in 8:09.49. Usually a composed runner after his races, Lagat dropped to the ground and heaved in the air with a pained look on his face—a testament to how hard he had just worked to set the new record.

“I didn’t hit my splits and knew I really had to run hard in the last two laps,” Lagat admitted afterwards with his son Miika at his side. “I didn’t get what I wanted on paper, but hey, a record his a record,” he said with a smile.

Lagat says the record came thanks to hard tempo runs prescribed by his Li, his longtime coach. “It’s all in the magic of training,” he admitted.

Second place in the 2-mile race went to the 25-year-old Andrew Bumbalough, who finished well behind Lagat in 8:13.02. Canada’s Cam Levins, was third in 8:14.69, and Evan Jager, the current American-record holder in the steeplechase who had been pushing Lagat in the final laps of the race, was fourth in 8:14.95.

Futher down in the results — and nearly lapped by Lagat — was Edward Cheserek, who finished eighth in 8:39.15. A Kenyan who attends St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, N.J, Cheserek ended up shattering Gerry Lindgren’s U.S. high school record of 8:40.0—a record that had stood for 49 years. Cheserek is a two-time Foot Locker Cross Country Champion and owns the American 5,000-meter record of 13:57.04.

“I knew that I had to run my own race,” a composed and soft-spoken Cheserek told the press afterwards. “I had to run well and run smart.”

The Millrose Games date back to 1908. Until 2012, they took place on the first Friday evening in February at Madison Square Garden. That tradition changed last year when the event moved to the Armory in Upper Manhattan.

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