Lagat on Sambu: “He’s going to go really, really far”
Bernard Lagat is plotting an assault on the world outdoor masters records this summer but prior to his 10km debut last Sunday, the 40-year-old was seeking advice from a protege who has only just joined the professional ranks, and had never competed in Europe prior to his debut win in the Great Manchester Run.
“You always have to look for the experienced people and ask them what they think about what I’m about to do and how they do it. He gave me really good advice,” said Lagat, alluding to his training partner and friend Stephen Sambu, who ran out an impressive winner in a world-leading 27:30.
Lagat fell back after Sambu covered the ninth kilometre in 2:41 but the American ran strongly to finish third in a world over-40 record of 27:48. Some of the kudos for that record has to go to Sambu, who reassured Lagat that he had the endurance to stick with the fast early pace.
Bernard Lagat, US indoor 2014, photo by PhotoRun.net
“When I saw Stephen looking back before the second kilometre, it was as if he was telling me you know what, this is comfortable, make your way over,” said Lagat, who was worried about overcommitting in the early stages.
It says something about Sambu’s ability and racing savvy that Lagat, a world champion at 1500m and 5000m, was deferring to a relative newcomer but his win in Manchester consolidated his status as one of the world’s best road racers.
Last year, Sambu defeated Leonard Komon and Geoffrey Mutai respectively in big races in New York and Boston, setting a lifetime best of 27:25 in the latter. He also dusted off his track spikes for the first time in nearly two years for the Prefontaine Classic 10,000m where he lowered his lifetime best from 27:28.64 to 26:54.61.
As noted by Lagat, Sambu has tonnes of untapped potential on the track, and particularly on the roads. He has thrived under the tutelage of James Li, who has guided Lagat to countless accolades over the years. Sambu joined Li’s training group five years ago after enrolling at the University of Arizona where he studied economics.
This coaching relationship has lasted into Sambu’s professional days where he is eschewing the shrewd training approach which has kept Lagat at the top of the sport for the best part of two decades.
“This guy, he’s been doing exactly what I’ve been able to do. I’m 40, he’s 26, he’s got a long way to go,” said Lagat, who emphasises that discipline and consistency are the buzzwords in practice.
“We do good training but we make sure we’re not competing. The only problem I’ve seen with people who train differently is you find someone who is young and so energetic and they train every day almost like as a race but we are so disciplined.
“Coach Li would say ‘I want you guys to do mile repeats today at 4:45’ and in the end we do 4:40, so we exceed it a little bit. If we really wanted to go hard, we’d just go in the 4:30s but it doesn’t help because we want to be back the following day and the day after that and be able to train consistently for a race,” said Lagat.
Lagat will be turning his attention back to the track in preparation for the Prefontaine Classic 5000m at the end of the month. Sambu will be mixing up the track and the roads this summer with an eye on making the Kenyan team for the IAAF World Championships in Beijing over 10,000m.
But it is at the marathon where many onlookers, including Lagat himself, believe Sambu might really excel one day.
“He’s going to go really, really far,” said Lagat on Sambu’s potential. “I can see him doing amazing stuff when he graduates from the 10km and half marathon. He’s going to be like Kipsang.
“Kipsang is the man but he’s going to have his name close to him.”