Edward Cheserek to Make Season Debut at Van Cortlandt Park
Eastern States Championioships Race Marks Return
Edward Cheserek is understandably anxious to make his eagerly anticipated and long awaited season debut on Saturday at venerable Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, but the No. 1 runner in the nation isn’t sure what to expect when he finally hits the trails in the Eastern States race at the 40th Manhattan Invitational. ``I can’t wait,’’ said Cheserek, a senior at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark. ``I’ve been waiting all season to start racing, and I am very excited to go out and do what I love the most. But I don’t know what to expect.’’
After his electrifying junior season when he burned up seven course records out of a possible eight last fall, and won the Foot Locker national cross-country championship, there were a lot of expectations on Cheserek heading into this season. But the start of his season was delayed when St. Benedict’s Prep coach Marty Hannon announced that Cheserek, the No. 1 distance runner in the nation, wouldn’t race for a least the first month. Hannon wanted to the Kenyan-born Cheserek to focus on preparing for the SAT, which created a huge stir in chat rooms across the country.
``I spent lot more time studying to prepare for that test,’’ said Cheserek, who took the SAT last Saturday. ``I knew the test would be hard. But it was also hard not racing.’’
Cheserek’s presence on race day always creates an extra buzz among the crowd, and it figures to be the same on Saturday as people will certainly be jammed around the finish line area along Broadway to catch a glimpse of a legend and possibly witness history as the 7-time national champion opens his campaign. The Eastern race is scheduled to 2:15 p.m.
One of the biggest questions surrounding Cheserek’s debut is whether he can break his own course record of 11:55.4 that he set on the legendary 2.5-mile layout at this meet a year ago, or will there be some rust to shake off? ``I really don’t know,’’ said Cheserek, who will be 19 in February. ``I would like to try and break my record, but I just don’t know how I will be feeling. That’s a fast time I ran last year. It may be tough, but I will run hard and see what I can do.’’
Besides being his first race, Cheserek’s uncertainty about how he’ll run also stems from his lack of summer training. ``When I went home to Kenya for the summer, I only ran the first week and then nothing after that because it rained so much,’’ ``But I have been running 40-50 miles a week since I came back to school. I get in shape very fast. We’ll see how it goes.’’
Doing well on the SAT is obviously vital for Cheserek’s future, which he said is up in the air at this point. ``I don’t know right now what colleges I will visit,’’ said Cheserek. ``That is something I have to talk to Doc (Hannon) about.’’
Another thing that Cheserek has to figure out is which national race he will run.
Will he defend his Foot Locker title in San Diego where he could try to take down the only course record that eluded him last year, or will Cheserek go to the Nike National Championships in Oregon, the site of his last cross-country loss when Cheserek was second to Lukas Verzbicas at the 2010 Nike Championships? ``I really want to run both,’’ said Cheserek. ``I would run both if I could, but the regional is on the same day. I would like it if I could run one and have the other race let me run also.’’
Cheserek said that whichever way he goes, Nike or Foot Locker, he’ll have the same approach. ``I would like to get the course record at whichever race I run,’’ said Cheserek, the national indoor 5-K record record holder (13:57.04) who also owns personal bests of 8:42.66 for two miles and 4:02.12 for a mile. ``That would perfect way to run my last high school cross-country race.’’
The course record at San Diego’s Balboa Park has been on the books since 1985 when Reuben Reina won the Foot Locker title in 14:36. Futsum Zeinasellassie, who Cheserek beat by one second to win the Foot Locker title, ran 15:03 to set the record at the Nike Nationals last year at Portland Meadows.
Breaking either of those records would also go a long way toward cementing Cheserek’s legacy as perhaps the greatest cross-country runner in U.S. high school history.
``That would be nice,’’ said Cheserek.
Time will tell.
Cover Photo: Edward Cheserek breaks HolmdelPk. (NJ) CR
By: Mike Dennis for NJRunners.com