There are three days every year when Lopez Lomong does not run: Christmas, Easter and the Fourth of July. This year, the two-time Olympian is making an exception. He will run his first The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peacthree Road Race tomorrow.
Fresh off a first-place finish in the 10,000 meters at the U.S.A. Track and Field Outdoor Championships, Lomong feels ready to contend for the title and celebrate Independence Day on the iconic road course.
“It’s extra special,” he said about running on the Fourth. “It’s maybe equivalent to the Olympics. The Olympics is where the country comes together. We all wear the same uniform. We live in the same building together. Everybody supports each other. Here, it’s a melting pot of track athletes, marathoners, Olympians, road racers. We all go at it. … It’s a test of what our sport is all about.”
Lomong feels the Peachtree is like a jambalaya, a quintessential American mix of runners doing what they love on the holiday celebrating their country.
“It’s what the Fourth of July is all about,” he said. “The celebration, eating food, fireworks. Everybody is together.”
But before he can enjoy the food and fireworks, Lomong will wake at 5 a.m., down a cup of coffee and “maybe a little bagel” and try to stay on pace with some of the veterans. He has his eye on Bernard Lagat, the fifth-place finisher last year who set a Master’s course record at 28:25, and Tyler Pennel, a favorite to make the 2020 Olympic marathon team who finished fourth at the Boston Marathon.
The Peachtree is Lomong’s third 10K, and he’s trying to learn as much as possible while enjoying the company of the 60,000 “amazing people” running.
Of course, the former Olympic flag bearer has a few more miles on his running shoes than most of the other participants, but he pointed out that his spikes – which he plans to swap for more asphalt-friendly kicks tomorrow – might not be the most useful on the road course.
“Experience is very important, but most of the time I run track,” he said. “You’ve got to run lane one — the shortest distance possible. But here there is no lane one. People like Bernard, they know where that lane one is.”
Lomong hinted that if he can find that sweet spot and beat the tough competition, he may return next year with the goal of setting a course record. For now, he’s locked in on what he can do in the homestretch.
“I trust my kick so much right now that if they let me in front (with) 400 meters to go, it’s my race,” he said with the confidence and smile of a runner who already had broken the finish-line ribbon.
Even if the reigning USATF champion flies through the finish before fans or competitors can catch him, he’ll be easy to spot afterwards. Just look for the racer most proudly wearing his first Peachtree Road Race T-shirt and point him in the direction of some “good, Southern barbecue.”