Three-time U.S. Olympian Meb Keflezighi has become something of an ageless wonder. After a disappointing 2007 season, he admits he could have walked away from the sport at age 32. At the time, he already had a silver medal from the 2004 Olympic marathon and the American record for 10,000m. But knowing he had plenty of good races left in him, he persevered through injuries and has reached some of the highest points in his career, including victories at the 2009 New York City Marathon and 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.
The native of Eritrea and longtime resident of San Diego and Mammoth Lakes, Calif., lowered his marathon PR to 2:09:08 at last January’s Trials and then went on to finish fourth in the Olympic marathon last summer in London. Now 37, Keflezighi, who is in his 19th year working with the same guy who coached him in college, Bob Larsen, is focused on trying to win the Boston Marathon on April 15.
How excited are you to have the chance to run the Boston Marathon after missing out earlier in your career?
It’s the one thing missing on my résumé. And my goal is not just to run Boston, but to win Boston. I’m glad to have the opportunity to do it because I didn’t have that opportunity a couple of years ago. That’s life, though. You never know what is going to come at you. To have this opportunity is huge. It’s probably my last chance, so I want to put all of my eggs into that basket. I’ll give it everything I have, and if I can win it, that would be awesome. If I can’t, then I want to finish as high as I can run a personal best. If I can run a 2:07 or 2:08 and not win it, then I can’t complain.
You had planned to run the New York City Marathon last fall, but decided not to race elsewhere after the race was canceled. Why not?
It was a disappointment the New York City Marathon didn’t happen, but it was the right call to cancel it. I had better training than I did for the Olympic Games and even better training than I did for the Olympic Trials. I was ready to go. That’s why, mentally, I couldn’t go to any other race. Coach Larsen said, “You can take a month off with how hard you’ve been training.” My goal was to run four PRs in one year: New York in 2011, Olympic Trials, Olympic Games and New York in 2012. Some people said it was impossible, but people have said I can’t do other things and I have. Unfortunately, we didn’t see the verdict in New York. Maybe there was a 2:08 race that I’ve always wanted. It was a good field and I’m a competitor, but we’ll never know. Now I’m focused on 2013.
Have you changed your training at all as you’ve gotten older?
I think the two things I have changed a little are my nutrition and my recovery. I work with a nutritionist and am very careful with what I eat. I tease my wife and tell her to stay lean I have to tell her a false weight so she won’t put more food on my plate. With recovery, I’m probably recovering the same way I always have. I might not be running as hard on my easy days. We all get injured, and it’s hard to recover from injuries. Other than that, I still go out and put the work in. I have a routine I stick with for my drills, my weight training, my stretching. But I did take a day off recently. I only had an hour and a half to run the other day and I needed an hour and 45 minutes to go through my stretching and drills before and after the run, so I’d rather not cut it short. A lot of people will say, “Go the extra mile,” but sometimes it’s good to take a step back and take a day off. And when was the last time I took a day off?
Are you considering racing until the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon?
My goal is to run well in 2013. After that, I’ll play it by ear. But if I’m still running PRs in the marathon, I’ll keep going. If I don’t run the marathon, I’ll still run half marathons and shorter events. For the marathon, it takes a lot of dedication, a lot of commitment, a lot of time, as well as staying healthy in between. It’s not just about putting one foot in front of the other, there is a lot that goes into it. I’ve been very dedicated to it and have put my heart and soul into it and I’ve gotten a lot out of it, but at the same time we’ll have to see how it goes in 2013. This year it’s Boston, New York and maybe one marathon a year after that. Or maybe 2013 will be my last marathon. We’ll have to see.
Can you envision yourself being competitive for three and a half more years?
I’ll be 41 in 2016. People want me to keep going. They’re curious to see what I can do. I know people use me as an inspiration to keep going. Bear in mind a lot of the 30,000 or 40,000 runners in big marathons and half marathons, what’s the average age? It’s not 23. It’s closer to 37 or 38. I use that as a motivation. I want to be able to represent them, whether they’re running a half marathon or 10K or whatever. The connection is that your best effort is not always about getting a medal. Once you hit the wall and fall back, it’s hard to push and gain, but that’s what I did in London, and that’s the beauty of running at any level. You fight for every spot, every second. It might be a few seconds for me or it might be 15 minutes for someone wanting to qualify for Boston. You earn it. You have to fight for not. It’s never given to you.