Bernard Lagat’s elite running career has spanned two decades and included five Olympic Games – two for his native Kenya and three for the United States – but during that time, he has been focused on more than just life on the track. Here, he reveals the importance of getting an education and balancing family life alongside his athletics ambitions.
A family first
Getting an education was something I always wanted. My dad and mother said to my siblings and me: “I want you guys to get a good education, better than what we got.” I took that to mean: “Be the best I can be in my academics, and at the same time in my sports.” Nobody in my family had graduated from college, so I wanted to be the first.
Something to fall back on
I went to Washington State University in 1996, the year I turned 22. Every time I see athletes who are running, I say, “It’s very important to pursue education, because that is really the key in life. If you get an opportunity, take it and go to college and study something that is also going to help you down the road.” I wanted to study information technology because that was what was hot back then.
When we travelled [to compete in] cross country, I would miss classes. The grades were not reflecting my effort, because I was working extra hard to try to catch up. But then I decided I would use the tutors who were provided. I would get to my professors so quickly when I came back, but playing catch-up in computers was not fun.
I thought my career would be finished at 30, maybe 32. I used to say: “Oh, when I’m done, I’m going to go back to Seattle and work for Bill Gates at Microsoft.” I’ve worked so hard, but I’ve also been lucky to have a healthy life. [After the Olympic Games Rio 2016] it was easy to make the transition into a road racer, rather than retiring. My coach, James Li, said: “You’re still doing great, just continue.” So to have that person who believes in you and wants to coach you all the way has made me the athlete that I am.
Balancing family life
I’ve been lucky because of my support system. My wife, Gladys, has been the best support. If she didn’t understand my job, that I need to travel, it would be really hard, especially as a young man with a young family. When the kids’ school is out, we all pack at the same time and go. We’re together, and that helps me do the best I can in my sport.
Desire to compete
I’m racing against 19-year-olds. I’m 23 years older than them, so that drives me. Now it is almost like every race is a challenge. When I’m training I know that I have to be prepared for these guys — they’re young, fast and energetic.
Setting an example
I want my kids to know that if you put your mind to something you can achieve it. There’s no age limit as long as you believe in what has worked well for you. My approach is training, taking care of my body and just having goals.