By Jonathan Gault
February 9, 2018
BOSTON — Right now, Edward Cheserek is a trackman without a country. And, just as in the real world, that makes things a little difficult.
Trackmen are all about gearing up for that one big meet. USAs, Worlds, the Olympics. It’s all leading up to something. But there’s no path laid out for Cheserek. He wants to run for America, but he’s not a citizen yet. He can run for Kenya, but if he does that, he may not be able to run for America, ever, depending on what happens with the IAAF’s currently-frozen transfer of allegiance rules.
So instead of racing the world, Edward Cheserek decided to race the clock. Tonight, his opponent was three digits: 3:50. And it was fitting that, in the end, with a lap to go and a packed crowd of a thousand or so screaming their lungs out, Edward Cheserek was the only man running on the Boston University track. For that final lap, it truly was one man against the clock, and when the race was over, 3:49.44 after it began, Cheserek had become the second-fastest indoor miler in history, and just the fourth man under 3:50.
Tonight was the night Edward Cheserek raced the clock — and won.
The crowd was buzzing even before this one started, and as the PA announcer introduced the field over the loudspeaker, a hearty round of applause broke out after the words “17-time NCAA champion and collegiate record holder Edward Cheserek.” It was college runners and college coaches, and more than a few fans. As I headed to the track with Race Results Weekly’s David Monti, a woman stopped him and asked for directions to the track. As she followed along, we asked what her connection was to this meet, the David Hemery Valentine Invitational, and she responded that she wasn’t a parent or a friend of an athlete — by far the largest demographic of track “fans” at most college meets like this one. A friend at her running club had told her about the meet and she decided watching someone try to run really fast for eight laps would be a fun way to spend a Friday night.
The sense of anticipation in the air was palpable as the runners took the start line, but the image on the track was decidedly odd. There was Cheserek in his navy-and-neon-green Skechers singlet, and pacers Drew Piazza and Brannon Kidder to his inside. And that was it. Just three guys, only one of whom had any intention of finishing. The start list hadn’t even been listed on the meet website.
Yes, a race with one finisher isn’t a great look for the sport. But honestly, who could have kept up with him tonight anyway?
Kidder led Cheserek out, hitting 209 meters in 31 seconds and 409 in 59.x with Piazza behind him and Cheserek cruising in third. The crowd let out a roar when Cheserek crossed 809 in 1:56-low, signaling that the sub-3:50 was well and truly on. Kidder stepped aside after 850 meters, his duty done, and after Piazza led Cheserek through 1009 meters in 2:24, Cheserek began to get antsy on the backstretch. He could feel Piazza slowing, drifting to the outside in case Cheserek needed to pass him, and knew he couldn’t let the pace drop if he was to achieve his goal.
“Go faster! Go faster!” he yelled to Piazza, who responded by kicking around one more turn before stepping off as well, and at 1209m (2:53), Cheserek was all alone.
Cheserek ripped a 28-second penultimate lap to hit 3:21 at the bell, and now he was starting to hurt, throwing himself forward with every stride. As he rounded the final bend, arms flailing, the crowd was threatening to blow the roof off, and though it was close as to whether he broke 3:50, he had run fast enough to send an eruption through the arena, one that intensified once the scoreboard confirmed his 3:49.44 final time. Cheserek, after the initial shock of seeing that time pop up, smiled and paused for a second just past the finish line, looking to the scoreboard across the track to admire the fruits of his labor.
When Cheserek wakes up on Saturday morning, he’ll still be a man without a country, and he’ll need to find a new goal, something to drive him until his citizenship comes through. But he’ll have the memories of running faster indoors than all but one man in history, of flying around the track over the final 200 meters, of every person in the building screaming for him at the same time.
“This was amazing, man,” he said, of the atmosphere.
Tonight wasn’t a perfect moment, but for right now, it’s as close as Edward Cheserek could get to one.
3:49.44 mile by @KingCheserek.
Second fastest all-time indoors only behind @ElguerroujHicha 3:48.45.
— Chris Lotsbom (@ChrisLotsbom) February 10, 2018
Here’s the crowd’s reaction to seeing 3:49.44 pop up on the screen after Edward Cheserek’s mile at BU tonight. 4th man ever under 3:50 Indoors. pic.twitter.com/5Qco74iOUf
— Jonathan Gault (@jgault13) February 10, 2018
Quick Take #1: What a performance
Cheserek said he knew he was capable of sub-3:50 after running 3:54 at altitude and 3:53 on a flat track in consecutive weeks, but it’s one thing to project a performance based on conversions and quite another to actually do it. But Cheserek absolutely delivered, and now he sits behind only the legendary Hicham El Guerrouj (3:48.45) on the all-time indoor mile list.
3:49.44 is flying no matter how you look at it. Cheserek now has a faster mile PR than all three 2016 Olympic medalists — Matthew Centrowitz, Nick Willis, and Taoufik Makhloufi. That’s some running.
With that said, Cheserek had a lot of things working in his favor tonight. Though he wasn’t as fresh as he possibly could have been, with two hard mile races the last two weeks, he had terrific pacing in a “race” that was geared completely around him. He had the benefit of running on what many consider to be the fastest indoor track in the country (if not the world) with perfect weather and no wind. With no championship to peak for (or worry about burning out before), he had the luxury of being able to put all of his energies into running as fast as he could on a date that suited him. And with no one else in the race, he never had to battle for position or run any extra distance than was absolutely necessary.
The point of this analysis is not to degrade what Cheserek has done — again, this was a fantastic performance — but to provide context. When we speculate about what athletes could run for a certain distance with perfect pacing under perfect conditions, usually it’s just that — speculation. Tonight, Cheserek actually got to find out, and the answer was 3:49.44.
Quick Take #2: This wasn’t really a race, but it was still totally awesome
Last year I came to BU to watch Cheserek try to break the collegiate record feeling a bit skeptical. He was racing some fast guys from NJ*NY Track Club (Kyle Merber and Johnny Gregorek), but I couldn’t help but think that no one would really care who won the race as long as it was fast. That proved to be somewhat true (Gregorek, more than anything, only wanted to know if he had hit the World Championship standard), but it turned into a great race in the final straight as Cheserek had to dig deep to hold off Merber (and Cheserek got the collegiate record, too). It was a lot of fun to watch.
I was also a bit skeptical tonight when I found out Cheserek would be the only racer in the field. But I told myself that, 1) No one in this meet would be able to hang with him anyway; and 2) The crowd seems into it, and this place can get really loud when that happens.
So yeah, there was no drama as to who was going to win this “race,” but the crowd was the loudest I’ve ever heard in this building (and I’ve been coming to meets at BU for years, including Galen Rupp‘s 3:50 mile in 2013). It’s an off year, and with the Wanamaker Mile in the background, there’s no other race this indoor season that Cheserek can win and have it truly matter. Sometimes, it’s okay for the sport to be about the spectacle, and for anyone lucky enough to be among the crowd tonight, they witnessed some spectacle.
Quick Take #3: Cheserek has enjoyed his first altitude stint, but still doesn’t consider himself a miler
Cheserek ran 3:52.01 on this track in his collegiate record attempt in 2017, and for him to come back a year later and slice more than two and a half seconds off that time is ridiculous; it’s almost unheard of for a 3:52 miler to PR by that much. But Cheserek said that being able to focus in on one race (as opposed for a double or triple at NCAAs) and his response to altitude training in Flagstaff has helped him reach a new level in 2018.
“The training, it’s really going well right now because I’m out of college and just focused on training,” Cheserek said. “I haven’t run at altitude in my life [before this year] — I was born at altitude but I never [trained seriously] when I was there.”
Cheserek was asked after the race if he now thinks of himself as a miler.
“I don’t think so,” Cheserek said. “Probably this is my last mile, but you never know.” (It wasn’t clear if he meant this season or ever, though I’m guessing the former).
While at first glance it may seem crazy to think that Cheserek isn’t a miler given that only El Guerrouj is faster indoors, it’s actually not. Remember, last year he ran a 3:52 collegiate record mile on this very same track and then proceeded to get beat by more than 2 seconds at NCAAs by Josh Kerr (it was their first race of the day but Cheserek had run the 5k the night before).
Plus over 40 men have run faster than Cheserek outdoors, most in conditions (wind, weather, navigating past other runners, etc.) not as conducive to running fast as the ones Cheserek had tonight. Galen Rupp and Eliud Kipchoge have both run 3:50, but no one would ever call them milers.
Lastly, remember we are talking about Cheserek being the #2 miler all time indoors. Most of the rest of the world hardly ever runs the mile and many never run indoors. That being said, if you convert Cheserek’s time to a 1500 – it’s still quite high on the all-time list. It converts to 3:32.41 using the 1.0802 conversion which would make him the fourth fastest metric indoor 1500 man of all time.
The 3 Fastest Indoor 1500 Men of All Time
1. 3:31.18 Hicham El Guerrouj (Morocco) 02/02/97
2. 3:31.76 Haile Gebrselassie (Ethiopia) 02/01/98
3. 3:32.11 Laban Rotich (Kenya) 02/01/98
That’s some nice very company to be with.
But outdoors, which we don’t think is much faster than indoors particularly for a mile which features a turn 9 meters after the start, plenty of men run 3:32 each year – 12 each of the last 2 years and 17 in 2015 including Evan Jager whom no one would call a miler.
What Cheserek is is a rare talent with a rare skill set. He has both terrific natural speed and an incredible ability to handle endurance training (his coach Stephen Haas told LetsRun he hasn’t run fewer than 100 miles in a week during his Flagstaff altitude stint). And that’s exactly what you need to win medals in the 5,000 and 10,000 on the global stage.
Elinor Purrier moves to #2 NCAA all-time
The undercard at BU tonight was pretty good as well: New Hampshire’s Elinor Purrier won the women’s mile in 4:26.55, the #2 time ever by a collegian (Colorado’s Jenny Barringer — now Simpson — still holds the NCAA record at 4:25.91).
I caught up with Purrier below, who said she knew she was capable of more than the 4:31.85 she ran at Millrose last week.
Section 1 1 Purrier, Elinor New Hampshire 4:26.55 2 Stafford, Gabriela Brooks/CAN 4:27.44 3 Freitas, Marta Portugal 4:29.65 4 Sifuentes, Nicole Saucony 4:30.03 5 Paladino, Millie Providence 4:31.98 6 Schlachtenhaufen, Helen Saucony Freedom TC 4:32.17 7 Cleirigh Buttner, Siofra Villanova 4:36.62 8 Kelly, Mariah New Balance Canada 4:36.95 9 Duca, Paige Boston College 4:37.55 10 MacLean, Heather Umass Amherst 4:42.45 11 Johnson, Lauren Baa/Adidas 4:49.80 -- Cote, Laurence Caul DNF
Talk about these races on our messageboard.
- Edward Cheserek Runs 3:49.44 Mile At Bu – #2 Indoor Time Ever
- Elinor Purrier Runs 4:26.55 Mile at BU – #2 NCAA Indoor Time Ever
Or talk about the other great races held elsewhere tonight:
- Olympic Triathlon Champ Gwen Jorgensen Makes Her Bowerman Track Club Birth 6 Months After Giving Birth, Runs 37 Second Pb of 15:15 She finished just behind Emily Infeld. Very impressive.
- Grant MF Holloway- Holloway beat Omar McLeod and runs 7.42 collegiate record (great video)
- Keni Harrison ties LoLo Jones AR with 7.72 at Clemson