CAPE ELIZABETH, Me. (31-Jul) -- What was supposed to be a routine 25 minute tempo run on a familiar dirt road became a frightening nightmare for elite road racer Haron Lagat. Just a mile and a half into the run a week ago Thursday in Lubbock, Tex., the tall Kenyan was attacked so viciously by two pit bulls that he was bitten in four places and all of his clothes were ripped off.
"I ended up going to the emergency room," said Lagat as he calmly recounted the incident after today's pre-race press conference here for the TD Banknorth Beach to Beacon 10-K. "I was naked."
Lagat, who was running alone in a rural area near Texas Tech where he competed in the NCAA ranks and now coaches, said that the two dogs rushed him from a farm property he had run past many times without incident. Using an embankment to keep the dogs in front of him, Lagat slipped and fell backwards on the rain-soaked ground allowing the dogs to get on top of him. He estimated that he fought them for about ten minutes after which he became completely exhausted and was unable to fight any longer.
"The wife of the owner came out," he said. "One dog was sitting on top of me."
The dogs retreated at the woman's command, said Lagat, who thought that she seemed more intent on keeping the incident quiet than on helping him. He had to bargain with her to use her cell phone to get help, and she was reluctant to provide the address of her property. When police eventually came they had the dogs taken away.
Lagat, 25, who was bitten on his back, knee, shoulder and thigh, said that the incident left him shaken. "I couldn't sleep for two days," he said. "Mentally, it was very tough. It's the worst think I have encountered. I told my sister, but not my mom."
A versatile athlete whose warm personality makes him a favorite of event organizers, Lagat has had a busy and successful year in 2009. He set personal bests for 3000m (7:50.69+), 5000m (13:38.80), 10,000m (28:05.23) and 10-K on the road (28:43), and won an unusual, uphill winner-take-all road mile in Vancouver where he won CND 20,000. He also did several important pacemaking jobs both indoors and outdoors.
When he lines up for tomorrow's road race against a very strong international field, Lagat realizes that he needs to be completely focused on the race. That's easier said than done. He said he's having a hard time putting the attack behind him.
"I don't know," he said when a reporter asked if he would still be thinking about the dog attack. "I'm trying to get out of it."
Haraon Lagat before the 2009 TD Banknorth Beach to Becon 10-K; Lagat shows one of the bite areas on his left knee (Photos by Jane Monti)