ONCE A GREAT MILER, CAN CHESEREK MASTER THE MARATHON?
By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2023 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved, used with permission.
NEW YORK (03-Nov) — On a cold night in Boston in February 2018, 17-time NCAA champion Edward Cheserek ran what was then the second-fastest indoor mile of all time: 3:49.44. Only one man, two-time Olympic gold medalist Hicham El Geurrouj of Morocco, had run faster indoors (3:48.45). Improbably, Cheserek said he had no intention of racing the distance again.
“You know, probably this is my last mile,” he told Race Results Weekly that night. “But, you never know.”
While Cheserek did end up running three more track miles and a few on the roads (his last was in 2020, just before the pandemic shutdown), that race in Boston represented an inflection point for the now 29-year-old’s career. He was looking ahead to longer distances and had just begun his journey to testing himself at the marathon distance, which he will do for the first time at Sunday’s TCS New York City Marathon here.
“I’ve been working hard for the last couple of months in Kenya,” Cheserek told reporters at a press conference here yesterday. He continued: “I’ll test myself really well.”
Cheserek –who rode in a lead vehicle here last year ahead of the men’s race while his partner Sharon Lokedi was winning the women’s race– has taken a cautious route to the marathon. He ran his first half-marathon in 2021, making a solid debut at the Great North Run in 1:01:31. Last year, he ran three good half-marathons, including a 1:00:37 at the hilly and cold United Airlines NYC Half here (good for second place) and 1:00:13 at the flat and fast Medio Maratón Valencia Trinidad Alfonso Zurich in Spain. This year, he has put three more halves under his belt, most recently a personal best of 59:11 at the Copenhagen Half-Marathon, where he put himself in contention early and came away with the win.
“Heading to Copenhagen, I was ready, and I was prepared,” Cheserek said. “And I was like, you know what? I’m just going to go with the leaders. Whatever happens, I had already tried my best.”
Cheserek’s run in Denmark moved him to the contender category for Sunday’s marathon here, especially since the men’s field has been somewhat depleted due to withdrawals, including reigning champion Evans Chebet. Three powerful runners –Ethiopia’s Tamirat Tola and Shura Kitata and the Netherlands’ Abdi Nageeye– have the best chance for the win, but New York’s notoriously hilly course and championship format (the race does not use pacemakers) make the race particularly fraught. Cheserek isn’t intimidated.
“It’s very challenging,” Cheserek said about the course. “Last year, I was here myself in the leading car, so I think I’m kind of a little bit familiar with it. I was in the car, but running on it is going to be tough.” He added: “I’m always prepared for whatever happens.”
Unlike most of the world’s top marathoners, Cheserek is not part of a formal training group backed by a shoe company or another corporate sponsor, like two-time Olympic gold medalist and former world record holder Eliud Kipchoge. Instead, the Skechers-sponsored athlete runs with a loose group of training partners in Kenya, including the new world record holder Kelvin Kiptum. He is coached remotely by his college coach, Andy Powell, who worked with Cheserek at the University of Oregon but who now works at the University of Washington. Like Kiptum, Cheserek has been piling on the miles.
“I’ve been running about 150 miles a week, roughly from 120 to 150,” said Cheserek, who explained that he started his marathon preparations in June. “I’m training in Kaptagat. It’s a lot of people there, so I have a lot of friends, schoolmates, and my group of boys who train together there.” He continued: “We just overlap with each other. We train with different outside people, not staying at a camp, just staying outside, training with a lot of people.”
“I started loading my training in June when I went back to Kenya, and I’ve been training from June all the way to September.
Cheserek went to high school in nearby Newark, New Jersey, attending St. Benedict’s Preparatory School. He ran in local cross country races like the Manhattan Invite, Essex County Championships, and the New Jersey Meet of Champions, and even jumped into a New York City road race once (he finished second to New Zealand Olympian John Henwood in a five-mile race in Central Park when he was 16). At the 2011 Essex County Track & Field Championships, he won the 800m, 1600m, and 3200m, the same year that he began to take an interest in the New York City Marathon.
Ed Cheserek, Edward Cheserek in advance of the 2023 TCS New York City Marathon (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
“New York City looks like home to me because I went to school across the street from here,” Cheserek said. “That was my dream when I was in high school in New Jersey. I was like, yeah, someday I will have to do the New York City Marathon. Back in 2011, I used to come here every single year to watch the New York City Marathon.”
The New York City Marathon has had some exciting sprint finishes, but none more famous than Rod Dixon’s triumph over Geoff Smith 40 years ago. Dixon, an Olympic bronze medalist at 1500m from New Zealand who was making his marathon debut, ran well behind the leaders for most of the race, sticking with his race plan. He picked up his pace in the 37th kilometer and saw the tiring Smith just a few meters ahead of him when he entered Central Park. Using his superior sprint speed, he blew past the Englishman to win in 2:08:59. He later said that used the mantra, “A miler’s kick will do the trick.”
Cheserek isn’t the fastest miler to ever enter the elite division of the New York City Marathon (that would be Bernard Lagat, 3:47.28), but he is likely the second-fastest. If the race comes down to a sprint finish, Cheserek said he would be ready.
“If my legs is not tired, you know,” he said, choosing his words carefully. “Running 42 kilometers is not easy. But, when it comes to the final stages, and I still have that energy, I think I can just sneak in.”