Genzebe Dibaba Shoots for World Record (14:46) at Carlsbad 5000; Dejen Gebremeskel Goes for 5 Straight vs. Bernard Lagat & Diego Estrada

By Jonathan Gault
March 28, 2015

CARLSBAD, Calif. — With World XC in the books, the running world’s attention will shift to the West Coast of the United States for the 30th running of the Carlsbad 5000 road race on Sunday. Traditionally, the race has been the world’s fastest road 5K as it has played host to 45 of the 50 fastest men’s times ever (17 of the 30 fastest women’s) and is the site for both current world records (Sammy Kipketer 13:00 in 2000; Meseret Defar 14:46 in 2006).

Sunday’s race has some major star power as Ethiopian studs Dejen Gebremeskel (Olympic silver medalist at 5,000) and Genzebe Dibaba (fresh off a 14:18.86 indoor 5,000 world record in Stockholm last month) headline the field. Gebremeskel will be going for his fifth straight win at Carlsbad while Dibaba has her eyes on Defar’s world record of 14:46. There will also be an American record attempt on the men’s side as Bernard Lagat and Diego Estrada will both be shooting to break Marc Davis‘s time of 13:24, set here 19 years ago. Other pros in the field include Kenyans Lawi Lalang and Betsy Saina and Americans Deena Kastor and Brenda Martinez.

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Race details below, followed by eight things to watch for on Sunday.

What: 30th annual Carlsbad 5000

When: Women’s elite race at 2:56 p.m. ET; men’s elite race at 3:24 p.m. ET

How to watch: Portions of the race will be streamed via the Meerkat app by the Times of San Diego. Details here. Competitor Group, Inc., which operates the race, will also have video of the races online by Sunday evening.

Full elite fields at the bottom of the article.

Dibaba cruised to World Indoor gold at 3000.

Dibaba cruised to World Indoor gold at 3000 last year.

1) Will Genzebe Dibaba get the world record?

Dibaba has run just one road race in her life (a 4:28 road mile victory at last year’s Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games in London) but given her astounding 14:18 last month in Stockholm, a world record on Sunday seems not just possible but probable. The Carlsbad course is very fast and Dibaba said yesterday that she’s aiming to run 14:40. That’s very fast, but Dibaba has the speed to back it up. When Defar set the world record on this course nine years ago, she was coming off a 14:28 PR on the track the previous summer — the exact same time Dibaba ran to set her PR in Monaco last year. But Dibaba went on to run 14:18 indoors on top of that, suggesting that she is well-positioned to run around 14:40 on Sunday.

Dibaba’s focus this outdoor season will be on the 5,000 meters. Her coach Jama Aden said that after she ran 8:16 indoors for 3,000 last year, he knew she’d be capable of a fast 5,000 (her 14:28 in Monaco was the world’s fastest time in 2014) and that right now they feel that event suits her better than the 1500. Aden does feel that Dibaba is still capable of a fast 1500 and also mentioned that she may even move up to the 10,000 in the years to come.

In years past, Dibaba has started out very quickly either indoors or early in the outdoor season but hasn’t lived up to that success at the major outdoor championships (she did win World Indoor gold at 3,000 last year). In 2012, Dibaba ran 3:57 in May but didn’t make it out of the first round in the 1500 at the Olympics. In 2013, she again ran 3:57 in May (and 8:26 indoors) but was just eighth at Worlds in the 1500. I asked Aden why she wasn’t able to time her peak for Worlds, and his answer was interesting.

“I think it’s not about peaking,” Aden said. “She probably would have been the winner in the 1500 in Moscow but they have to hold a camp with the [Ethiopian] national team and she has to train with the national team. It wasn’t my program.”

He went on to explain that he felt changing away from his training program prior to Worlds hurt Dibaba and that’s why she underperformed, rather than running too fast early in the season.

One fun fact: Dibaba’s older sister, Tirunesh, owns the track 5,000 world record (14:11.15) and Genzebe already has the indoor record. It would be cool if two sisters owned three different world records at the same distance.

2) Bernard Lagat has one goal: run 13:20

Lagat said he isn’t worried about whether Gebremeskel breaks away up front as his goal tomorrow is to run 13:20. Last year, Lagat ran 13:19, which at the time appeared to be a new U.S. road record over 5K. However, the course was later revealed to be 13.5 feet short, nullifying Lagat’s record and restoring it to Marc Davis (13:24). Lagat, whose last race was a 7:37 indoor 3,000 in France on February 25, will be looking to make sure the record is his permanently this time. With an accurately-measured course, he should be capable of bettering the mark on Sunday.

“It was absolutely our fault,” elite athlete coordinator Matt Turnbull said of last year’s mistake. “There’s no doubt about it…We have a new elite course for the first time in the event’s history, and I guarantee we’ll be making sure the course is measured properly this year.”

Lagat may have one cause for concern: Diego Estrada. Estrada told Competitor that his goal is to break 13:20 on Sunday and he’s run some scary-good races and workouts to back it up. In January, Estrada ran 60:51 to easily win the U.S. Half Marathon Champs and he mentioned to Competitor that he’s recently run 7 x 1000m averaging 2:36 and 4 x 1 mile averaging 4:16, closing with a 4:11 (he said he averaged 4:25 for the same workout last year; presumably all of these workouts are at altitude considering he’s based in Flagstaff). Estrada ran 13:31 here last year, so a 13:20 clocking wouldn’t be a total surprise. Outkicking Lagat will be tough though; if Estrada wants the American record, he’s probably going to have to drop Lagat before the final 400.

I caught up with Lagat on Friday night, and he shared his thoughts on Carlsbad and World XC (he predicted Chris Derrick would medal). He also spoke about why his coach, James Li, has attracted so many Kenyan athletes who came through the NCAA system (in addition to Lagat — who’s obviously an American citizen now — Stephen SambuLawi LalangLeonard Korir and Sam Chelanga all train under Li in Tucson). Lagat explained that Li is great about tailoring a program to fit the individual and that he felt a kinship with Li dating back to college. Like Lagat, Li was born overseas before coming to the U.S. for college and eventually becoming an American citizen. Li was therefore able to relate to Lagat’s situation in a manner few other coaches could, which only strengthened their bond as coach and athlete.

3) Andy Vernon said that his relationship with Mo Farah is “a bit rocky” right now but that he’s hoping they can put their Twitter war behind them

Vernon, who was second (10,000) and third (5,000) at the European Championships last summer, has been battling a hamstring injury since last June. He was able to control it well enough over the summer but by January it had become too much and he was forced to take some time off. He’s got a few months of training under his belt now and is running around the same mileage he would normally be doing this time of the year, but doesn’t know what to expect on Sunday.

Ideally, he’d like to have a good race and go on and run the 10,000 at Payton Jordan on May 2 where he can attack the Worlds standard (27:45; his PR is 27:53) but if he doesn’t think he can run that time by then, he’s going to shift his focus to the 5,000 this year as there really aren’t any other opportunities for him to get the standard. It says a lot about the state of the 10,000 that a guy like Vernon has basically one shot at getting a qualifier. (Yes, there’s also a 10,000 at Prefontaine but Vernon said that race wouldn’t really help him as the top guys are all trying to break 27:00 so he’d have no one to work with).

Vernon was the source of some controversy last month after he engaged in a Twitter war with Mo Farah. Vernon said the two were able to speak in person a few weeks ago in London, and clear the air and that he hopes they can get along better in the future, especially if they are to be teammates at Worlds later this year.

“I thought [our relationship] was all right,” Vernon said. “That initial tweet I sent out was more aimed at the organizers, I suppose. But he took it very personally and I think kind of twisted another story to get the negativity off him and put it back onto me. I actually spoke to him nine or ten days ago. He was doing a run in Bushy Park (in London) and I kind of stopped him and spoke to him. He was a bit reluctant to speak to me at first but I think we cleared the air a little bit and I think that’s good. I gave my side of the story and shook his hand and left it at that, really. I hope we can build a good relationship again because it’s not good to have animosity in the team.”

Vernon did stand by his original point, however, and said that, speaking as a fan, he’d simply like to see the sport’s best runner take on the world’s best competition on a more frequent basis.

“There is this kind of ‘Mo Farah brand’ now and he will only race when he’s 100 percent and he’s almost guaranteed to win or the races are a little bit lacking in strong competition. Whether that’s business or the way they like to operate, I don’t know. I was kind of coming across as not just an athlete but a spectator as well. I do race in these races but I love to watch them if I’m not racing. For myself, despite him running a world record — that was great –he’s only ever done that once. He’s had plenty of races where he’s just raced weaker fields and it’s just been a bit boring really to watch. You know what’s going to happen. No matter how fast he can run on the last lap, it’s still not a race. I would rather just see good racing, really. That’s kind of where I was coming from.”

Finally, we asked Vernon about his thoughts on World XC (he ran for Great Britain there from 2009-11) and why Europeans take their own XC championships so seriously but don’t bother to send their best to World XC. Vernon said that for him, the timing of European XC (mid-December) is perfect as that’s generally a dead spot on the running calendar so it gives him something to gear his fall training around. He mentioned that he’s heard rumors Europeans might go to an every-other-year format and switch to March instead of December (Euro XC would run in even years, World XC in odd) but said he’d rather that didn’t happen as the timing wouldn’t be as good for him or other runners who may be forced to choose between World XC and an indoor season/outdoor preparations.

Gebremeskel made it four straight wins at Carlsbad last year. Can he get #5 on Sunday?

Gebremeskel made it four straight wins at Carlsbad last year. Can he get #5 on Sunday?

4) Dejen Gebremeskel owns Carlsbad

Gebremeskel was inducted into the Carlsbad 5000 Hall of Fame on Friday night as the only four-time winner in the race’s history, and he’s got a great chance to make it five in a row on Sunday. Lagat could make it interesting as Gebremeskel narrowly prevailed when they raced each other at 3,000 in Boston in February. Lagat also beat Gebremeskel at World Indoors last year before losing at Carlsbad.

If Gebremeskel attacks a fast time from the front, it’s hard to imagine him losing. Lagat can still close with the best of them, but Gebremeskel, at 25, is far better-suited hammering away at a fast time than Lagat is and the Ethiopian’s winning times (13:11, 13:11, 13:20 and 13:13) suggest that he won’t be making it tactical on Sunday. When I spoke to Lagat at Millrose last month, I asked him about the 5,000 at Worlds this year and he said he thinks he can be a factor if the race is in the 13:10s or slower since he can close well off that pace. Anything faster would make it difficult to kick off of. The same is true at Carlsbad, though the time may have to be slower than 13:10s for Lagat to kick off of given that it’s still March and the race is on the roads.

5) Will the new course have an impact?

The old Carlsbad layout was the fastest road 5K around, but executive race director Tracy Sundlun decided to change up the course this time to make the event better for spectators. In the past, athletes would start on Grand Avenue, run one long loop on Carlsbad Boulevard and finish on Carlsbad Village Drive. The new course will see the pros start and finish at the same spot on Carlsbad Village Drive and run two shorter loops on Carlsbad Boulevard. The benefits: a couple of small hills were eliminated and fans get to see the pros more frequently (the non-elite races will still run the old course). The drawbacks: four 180-degree turns instead of two. Lagat said he feels they’ll have room to maneuver rather than making a tight turn, but it’s inevitable the pros will lose some speed when they have to reverse direction. How much the extra turns affect the finishing times is a question that won’t truly be answered until Sunday.

6) T-Mobile CEO John Legere strikes again

Two weeks ago at the NYC Half, Legere — a big running fan — offered to donate $25,000 to charity if Meb Keflezighi was leading the race as the runners exited Central Park (he was, and he did). Legere is interested in Carlsbad too:

That means that an American record will now be worth $10,000 (the same as what Gebremeskel or Dibaba would receive for a world record) and the top American will receive $5,000. Kudos to Legere.

MB: Some love for John Legere, CEO of T Mobile US

7) Here are all the records in jeopardy on Sunday

World record (women): 14:46.    Who could break it: Genzebe Dibaba
American record (men): 13:24.    Who could break it: Bernard Lagat/Diego Estrada
World record (masters women): 15:48   Who could break it: Deena Kastor
World record (masters men): 13:55   Who could break it: Bernard Lagat

8) Betsy Saina is focusing on the 10,000 this year

Saina, the 2012 NCAA XC champ at Iowa State, said that it will be tough to win the women’s race with Dibaba in the field and that she’d be happy with a time under 15:00. She didn’t rule out going with Dibaba (who is trying to run 14:40) but said that whether she goes with Dibaba will be up to how she feels during the race rather than what pace she is running. She also said that she is going to be trying to make the Kenyan team at 10,000 meters this summer, not 5,000.

FULL MEN’S ELITE FIELD (from press release)

1. Dejen Gebremeskel, Ethiopia, Defending champion has won the last 4 editions of the race, 11/24/1989

2. Bernard Lagat, USA, Four-time Olympian and holder of five American middle-distance records, 12/04/1974

3. Lawi Lalang, Kenya, An 8 time NCAA Champion competing for the University of Arizona, 06/15/1991

4. Wilson Too, Kenya, Has a best of 13:47 for 5000m and ran 27:36 for 10k on the roads last year, 03/14/1991

5. Andy Vernon, Great Britain, European silver medalist over 10,000m, 08/07/1986

6. Joseph Kitur, Kenya, Finished fourth over 5000m at last summers Commonwealth games, 07/20/1988

7. James Leakos, Canada, Has a personal best over 5000m of 13.44.57 on the track, 05/13/198

8. Dan Lowry, USA, Finished 6th at the National Indoor Championships last month, 10/30/1989

9. Diego Estrada, USA, 2015 U.S. Half Marathon Champion, 12/12/1989

10. Ben St Lawrence, Australia, Australian record holder for 10,000m with a time of 27.24.95, 11/07/1981

11. Luke Caldwell, Great Britain, Luke has a personal best of 13.29 for 5000m, 09/02/1991

12. Mikael Ekvall, Sweden, Has represented Sweden at both the European and World Championships, 06/18/1989

13. Sam Chelanga, Kenya, Won NCAA titles at 5000m (2011) and 10,000m (2010), 02/23/1985

14. Haron Lagat, Kenya, Finished at Carlsbad in 2008 with his personal best time of 13:36,08/15/1983

15. Steve Mangan, USA, Ran 3.58.24 for the mile indoors this year, 04/14/1992

16. Ethan Shaw, USA, Has set PR’s this year 3000m and 2 miles indoors, 03/12/1990

17. Ben Bruce, USA, Incredibly won five Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathons in 2014, 09/10/1982

18. Andrew Springer, USA, PACER, 03/10/1991

FULL WOMEN’S ELITE FIELD (from press release)

F1, Genzebe Dibaba, Ethiopia, Road race debut but she set 5000m indoor world record last month, 02/08/1991

F2, Deena Kastor, USA, Set the U.S. record at Carlsbad in 2002 posting 14.54 which still stands, 02/14/1973

F3, Betsy Saina, Kenya, 2012 African 10000m bronze medalist, 05/30/1988

F4, Brenda Martinez, USA, Won the Bronze medal at the 2013 World Championships over 800m, 09/08/1987

F5, Wude Yimer, Ethiopia,  Bronze medalist over 10000m at the 2009 World Championships in, 07/04/1987

F6, Morgan Uceny, USA, One of the top middle distance runners in the United States, 03/10/1985

F7, Margaret Chelimo, Kenya, Road race debut having predominately on track over 800m and 1500m, 02/09/1993

F8, Gelete Burka, Ethiopia, 2013 Carlsbad 5000 champion running a PR of 15.26, 03/18/1985

F9, Jessica O’Connell, Canada, Has set PR’s indoors over 1500m and 3000m this year, 02/10/1989

F10, Susan Kuijken, Netherlands, Won bronze medal at 2014 European Championships over 5000m, 07/08/1986

F11, Sarah Brown, USA, Former NCAA Indoor Champion for the mile runner her first road 5K race, 10/15/1986

F12, Miyuki Uehara, Japan, Asian Junior Cross Champion in 2012 making her road race debut, 11/22/1995

F13, Violah Lagat, Kenya, Bernard’s younger sister has a 15:35 best for 5000m, 03/01/1989

F14, D’Ann Arthur, USA, An accomplished triathlete with several titles to her name, 06/22/1987

F15, Katie Matthews, USA, BAA athlete has run 5K on the roads on three occasions, 11/19/1990

F16, Juliet Bottorffm, USA, 2011 NCAA Champion over 10000m running for the BAA, 01/21/1991

F17, Stephanie Bruce, USA, Has has a 5000m best time on the roads of 15:59, 01/14/1984

F18, Sarah Pagano, USA, BAA athlete has a best road 5000m time of 15:54, 07/23/1991

F19, Annie Beck, USA, Ran 16.18 for her personal best 5k last year, 11/08/1987

Full disclosure: Competitor Group, which operates the Carlsbad 5000, paid for the author’s travel and lodging for the race.