By Jonathan Gault
February 8, 2018
On Friday night, Edward Cheserek will try to become the fourth man to break 3:50 in the mile indoors at the David Hemery Valentine Invitational at Boston University. LetsRun.com will be on-site providing coverage and on Wednesday we had the opportunity to speak with Stephen Haas, who has been coaching Cheserek in Flagstaff leading up to the attempt. Haas, 34, was a strong runner himself (PRs of 13:33/28:21) before joining Total Sports US (Cheserek’s agency), where he now works as Client Services Coordinator; he also serves as the pro director at Team Run Flagstaff.
Cheserek, 24 years old and sponsored by Skechers, has raced twice so far in 2018, and both results were incredible, the first a 3:54.73 mile at 5,300 feet in Albuquerque and, most recently, a world-leading 3:53.85 mile on a flat track at the Camel City Elite Races last week. After Camel City, Cheserek spent a couple of days at Total Sports HQ in Johnson City, TN, before arriving in Boston on Wednesday where he has a busy weekend on tap: he’ll be running the mile at BU on Friday followed by the 3,000 at the New Balance Grand Prix on Saturday, against a field that includes Olympic medalists Hagos Gebrhiwet and Dejen Gebremeskel.
LetsRun.com caught up with Haas over the phone on Wednesday evening, where he marveled at Cheserek’s capacity to handle work, shared information about Cheserek’s plans moving forward, and Cheserek’s desire to compete for the U.S.
LRC: I was interested how the Skechers contract came about, because I know a lot of people were surprised that he didn’t sign with Nike. I think people were assuming that [based on] the Oregon connection. How did it come to be that he signed with Skechers?
SH: As we always do with any athlete that signs with Total Sports, we shop around to all the shoe companies. I think we have deals with pretty much every major shoe company out there and try to negotiate the best deal for our clients.
Skechers really wanted Ed, so that’s kind of how it came about. Nike, they wanted Ed too, and we just couldn’t come to terms and Skechers was willing to do a lot for him and because of that, I think we’re in a great situation.
I know he’s been training with you out in Flagstaff recently. Is that where he’s going to be based long-term?
This was the first time that he’s ever actually trained at altitude so we wanted to give it a try and see how it worked and obviously we have a lot of Total Sports athletes that come to Flag. And we’ve been really fortunate we’ve had great weather this winter. He’s just had a really good camp. He’s been out there about six weeks now and, again, we just wanted to give it a try and see how it worked and see if he was comfortable with Flagstaff. We visited other places as well. We visited Mammoth earlier in the fall and I just felt Flag was a good spot with the connections I have there and he’s had a great camp. I think he really likes it. I think the plan going forward is to be out there most of the time now.
You’ve been serving as his main coach right now.
I am, yeah.
And do you imagine that arrangement will continue going forward?
Yeah, for sure, that’s the plan. Andy [Powell, Cheserek’s college coach] has been amazing, I’ve used Andy as a resource a lot but Andy does have a full-time job coaching college athletes that he needs to focus on and that’s kind of how this got going.
And with wanting to have Ed in Flagstaff, it was just a lot of things that made sense. And Andy was very supportive of it. I think it’s gone really well, so far it’s going really well. Me and Ed get along really well and we’ve had a great relationship. I think I see it moving forward and going to the outdoor season that we’ve already started planning out and on to bigger and better things in the future.
As far as training partners are concerned, do you envision trying to build a group around him? Or is this going to be a one-on-one thing? How do you see that, moving forward?
That’s a tough question. Flagstaff is a place that so many people are at. [During the] main times of the year when Ed’s going to be getting ready for races, just like this indoor season, there’s gonna be a lot of people there and we have a great setup. I moved to Flagstaff three years ago to manage Total Sports athletes on the ground there. We have a lot of athletes that go in and out of there all year and we also have permanent residents in Flagstaff as well. So there’s always great people to match up with. He’s living in a house right now with Hassan Mead and Pat Casey and Mac Fleet, which has been really good. Hassan is a guy, especially, I think he’s definitely taken some lessons from. Even [though] Hassan’s not racing right now, he’s still a guy that he looks up to and that he can relate to. Just to see how professionals live, I think it’s been a great experience for him. And as we go forward, there’s always going to be people in Flag to train with.
So I don’t know that we look at it as building a group. I already manage a group of professional runners up there as well called Team Run Flagstaff and it’s more of a developmental thing, but we do have permanent residents there so there’s always people that Ed’s going to have the ability to train with. It’s a good situation.
Have you made any changes or any adjustments from the training he was doing under Andy?
As we kind of transitioned in, I was talking to Andy a lot about workouts they’ve done in the past and things they’ve done before. We had a lot of conversations and I think we see pretty much eye-to-eye on training philosophy really, but the one thing that I have to have my own spin on is, obviously, training at altitude. I think that because we’re at 7,000 feet and we drop down for harder workouts — even our hard workouts we’re still doing at 5,300 feet, or even if we go down to Cottonwood, maybe we’re a little bit lower than that, around 3,500 feet — everything has to be adjusted and you kind of have to know what [you’re] doing. And Ed’s been super coachable and easy to work with and he’s put a lot of trust into me. And I think we’ve had a really good camp so far and things are going really well but I wouldn’t say that me and Andy have a different philosophy at all. I think Ed’s a very, very talented guy and we just need to make sure he’s healthy and happy and can put together back-to-back weeks of really, really, really solid training and that’s why he’s running the way he’s running right now.
I’ve heard that he’s been ripping some pretty impressive workouts out in Flagstaff. Can you share any recent sessions he did, is there anything in particular that really caught your eye?
Honestly, if I gave you the workouts, I don’t think there’s anything you would be amazed by. Honestly, the biggest thing is that he’s been up there about six weeks now, I think the lowest mileage might be about 100 miles in a week. And he’s just been super consistent and everything has been very, very good. He hasn’t even had one workout that I thought was, Oh, he must be tired or maybe sick or something. It’s just been a lot of really good things that have just gone together but really hasn’t been anything crazy. I’ve seen workouts Hassan Mead’s done up there, Mo Farah’s done up there, other people have done up there that have been super impressive and brag-worthy, I would say. But Ed’s just been super consistent and that’s the thing that he’s done really well.
I will say, we tested ourselves a little bit in the quarter the other day after a big workout, just to see where we are from a speed standpoint, and he did run 49 at the end of a workout for a quarter and that gave me a lot of confidence, knowing that, okay, [even with] the strength that he’s shown in these workouts, to still have that sort of leg speed at the end of a pretty long session was pretty awesome.
So it gave me a lot of confidence. Hey, why don’t we try to do this mile [at BU]? And that’s kind of how it came about. We had already scheduled a couple early-season miles, we were going to do, obviously, the rustbuster in Albuquerque that did go really well. And then Camel City, we wanted to do Camel City. And this [one at BU] kind of came about as a last option. And we didn’t want to chase a lot of races indoors. We had already signed up to run the 3k as well [at NBIGP] but Ed really likes this track (he set the collegiate record of 3:52.01 at BU last year) and he obviously feels really good right now over a mile and he wanted to give this a try so I’m all for it. I think he’s in great shape and he can do it.
Looking at the times he ran — 3:54 at altitude, 3:53 on a flat track — they both kind of come with qualifiers. What do you think those performances are worth on a track like BU’s?
Well, I would hope sub-3:50 and that’s why we’re going for it. I think that’s what kind of fitness he’s shown over workouts the last couple weeks. Obviously a sub-3:50 race, you’re starting to flirt with the world record (3:48.45) but my philosophy here is hey, let’s take steps along the way and that’s a huge thing. I mean sub-3:50, I think only three people have ever done it [indoors]. (Note: Haas is right — Hicham El Guerrouj, Eamonn Coghlan, Bernard Lagat) So obviously that’s a big milestone, let’s focus on that right now instead of trying to look further past that. And you never know what could happen, so that’s kind of why the times and chasing 3:50 came about because the two performances he’s already had this year indicate that’s where we are. We’re close to that.
Do you know what the status is of his citizenship?
Still a work in progress. I can’t really give you too much of an update on that right now but he does not have his citizenship yet, I’ll say that much.
Several guys have come over to the NCAA, had success and then they’ve gone the WCAP route to get citizenship. Why isn’t that something that Edward decided to do?
Tough question. Honestly I don’t want to speak for him on that. I think Ed talked to multiple people about different training environments and things like that and we went around to different places and visited different places and all I can speak of is, he wanted to give Flag a try and he did. I guess I’m speaking more from a training environment type of thing. The citizenship, and going down that route, you’re really going to have to ask him about that. I think we’re confident that at some point he’s going to get his citizenship and I think right now we’re just trusting the process and the lawyers we have working on it that it’s going to come through and that he will represent the U.S. like he wants to.
I’m sorry to harp on it, but I do think it’s an interesting variable: I’m wondering, do you know if he’s ever thought about competing for Kenya? Just because their 5,000 squad the last two major championships has been pretty weak, by their standards.
Again, great question to ask him. We’ve spoke on it before and his desire is to run for the U.S. He’s been here a long time and really wants to represent the U.S. I know I can say that because he’s told me that, but in terms of representing Kenya and speaking on that, you’re just going to have to ask him. I don’t want to speak for him.
As a coach, how do you approach his career, both this season and the next few years, in terms of what meets to peak for and what to emphasize, given that, at the moment, running a major international championship isn’t an option?
I think we have to have goals and one of the things that we wanted to do and we talked a couple times now when we talk about training and we talk about setting up races and we talk about what the schedule is going to be is we do have some big-time goals and we want to do some good stuff.
I think in terms of making the schedule, we have to set some big-time goals and some big things we want to go after, to keep going after big things. Obviously we can’t run major championships right now, but we can do some really special things in the process of getting there. Like this, this attempt to run the mile, I think if he does this, this would be a very special thing. And those are goals we’re going to have to focus on right now and not stress over the fact that we can’t be at some championships that I think he’s obviously talented enough to be at. He gets motivated to do big things, and ever since Albuquerque and talking about, hey, maybe we can try to run sub-3:50, he’s been, I think, even extra motivated. So it’s been nice to see and those are the things we’re going to have to focus on as we build our seasons over the next few years.
Has he mentioned any other big goals? Obviously sub-3:50 is one of them.
I think we’re going to have some really good goals outdoors. Before the mile in Albuquerque, my thing was I thought he was better over distance. I was thinking, hell if there was an elite 5k indoors this year, we have to run it because I thought he could break 13:00 for 5k and I think that’s obviously going to be a goal. There’s going to be things like that and races that he’s gonna want to run that we can focus on and continue to beat some high-level races when he races them. We’re gonna have some big goals, for sure.
You sort of hinted at my next question. What do you think his best event is going to be as a professional?
It’s hard to tell right now. He definitely has some really good speed, but strength-wise, he’s a beast. What he can handle at altitude, I haven’t seen things like that for a while. Some of the strength stuff that he can do is what high-level marathon guys are doing who have trained at altitude before. The paces he can run, whether it be long runs, or whether it be thresholds or fartleks, he has incredible strength. So I think that’s actually what’s been propelling this. He has a lot of natural speed; we haven’t done a ton of track workouts specifically but he’s feeling good and feeling quick.
So, yet to see. I think 5k/10k, if I had to guess right now. But he’s certainly running pretty well over the mile, so I know it kind of sounds ridiculous. But I think he can run very well over 5k as well.
You and Total Sports manage a lot of athletes, you’ve coached athletes before, how does his potential compare to the other distance runners you’ve come across in your career?
I’ve seen a lot of very talented guys. I think one of the best things about Ed is he has a very positive attitude, he’s very upbeat, and he’s very coachable. And very humble too, and I think those are things that, just from a coach’s perspective, you see those and think okay, as long as we do some really good training and do some really good things, he’s got all the tools. And from a physiological standpoint, he’s uber-talented and built extremely well. All these things combined are things that make you think, yeah, he’s going to run really, really well.
That paired with, he is just a winner. He finds ways to win races. Those are the things that stand out to me for sure.
Some LetsRun.com visitors are excited about Cheserek’s race this weekend as no fewer than four separate threads were started on his sub-3:50 attempt alone. We’ve merged them all into one. Check them all out below: