Edward Cheserek estimates that he's run at least a thousand laps around the track at the New Balance Track & Field Center at the Armory in northern Manhattan, but on Saturday he may be in for the fastest eight of his career. The 25-year-old University of Oregon grad is returning to the Big Apple to run in the featured event of the iconic Millrose Games, the concluding Wanamaker Mile.
Ethiopia's Yomif Kejelcha threw down the proverbial gauntlet last week by announcing that he'll be coming to New York to take aim at the venerable world indoor record of 3:48.45 set by Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj way back in 1997. Coming off a string of impressive early season indoor races, Kejelcha's ambition would appear to predict a blazing fast time. The rabbit, Columbia grad Rob Napolitano of the Hoka New Jersey-New York Track Club, has been tasked with an opening half mile in 1:53.
Cheserek, of course, is no stranger to quick times. A year ago in Boston he clocked 3:49.44, the second-fastest indoor time in history. Is he in shape to keep up with that pace?
"I'm OK with being in the race with him tomorrow to see what we're going to get," Cheserek told Race Results Weekly on Friday. "I just want to get into a rhythm and try to push. It'll be fun." The meet record of 3:50.63 was set by American Matthew Centrowitz in 2016 and is history's sixth-fastest indoor clocking.
Kejelcha, the two-time defending IAAF world indoor champion in the 3000 meters, is in his second season training under Alberto Salazar with the Nike Oregon Project in Portland, Oregon. He won the mile at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston on January 26, in a national indoor record 3:51.70, a sign that his world record goal is more than just bluster.
In addition to Kejelcha and Cheserek, the field also includes two-time Olympic medalist Nick Willis of New Zealand, American Clayton Murphy, the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist in the 800, and Josh Kerr of Scotland, who finished second at Millrose last year before winning the NCAA Indoor title for the University of New Mexico. (Defending champ Chris O'Hare is not in the race this year because the British Indoor Championships are the same weekend).
"I'm excited that it is going to be blazing fast," says Willis, three times a runner-up in the Wanamaker. "This track has really tight turns but it's really steep banks so you can handle those tight turns really well and there's a nice long straightaway. So if you get into a rhythm the laps tick off so much faster here and the crowd goes nuts."
Cheserek's familiarity with the banked 200-meter oval will definitely be an asset. In high school at St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, N.J., he raced there frequently, including the 2012 and 2013 Millrose Games, where he set national high school records in the 5000 meters and 2-miles, respectively, while competing in the professional races. "I love the environment, the crowd, everything," he says. "I'm excited to just run with the guys."
He built an impressive resume at Oregon, winning a record 17 individual NCAA titles in cross county and indoor and outdoor track before graduating in 2017. He's current coached by Stephen Haas in Flagstaff, Arizona, often training with other athletes who've flocked to the high-altitude haven, including Americans Pat Casey and Hassan Mead and Andy Butchart of Scotland. He does a fair amount of his training solo, however. "Sometimes I like it, sometimes I hate it, because if you're out there grinding on the road or the track and it's cold, you feel like you need someone," Cheserek says, adding that he misses the team dynamic he enjoyed as part of the Ducks' collegiate program.
Following a bout with plantar fasciitis last fall, Cheserek has shown signs of his 2018 form, winning the mile at the Camel City Invitational in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, last week, clocking 3:55.74 in a solo effort. "I know that last year I ran much faster [in Boston]," he says, "but I think that's a good opening for the mile."
A Kenyan native, he declined to discuss the details of his pursuit of U.S. citizenship and the potential to eventually switch his allegiance competitively. (A story in Friday's New York Times reported that Cheserek is currently facing challenges in his case with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.)
Regardless of what country he may race for, he plans to do it at a variety of distances. Following Millrose, Cheserek hinted that he might try an 800-meter race for the first time since high school at some point during the remainder of the indoor season. He'll then switch gears to focus on the 10,000 meters for the outdoor campaign. "It's February, we're just trying to see where we are right now with the training," he says. "And we have to go back up [to Flagstaff] to work because this is going to be a long year for me."