You are getting a very close view of Meb Keflezighi, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist in the marathon and the 2009 champion of the ING NYCM. He is one of eleven children, whose family, like 90 percent of the people in this country, moved from one country to a country with more promise, the United States. Meb Keflezighi is living the American dream, and he knows it.
Meb took his first running steps here, in the United States, in junior high. He has never stopped running. Under the watchful eye of Bob Larsen, one of the greatest distance coaches in this country, Meb and Bob formed a pair that has last longer than most marriages do in this country.
Meb Keflezighi is one tough distance runner. Behind that smile is a focused, highly trained distance runner who has won cross country, track and road championships. His American record for the 10,000 meters (27:13.81), lasted for nine years. Meb is the link between Bob Kennedy and the current generation of distance runners. Remember, it was Meb and his friend, Deena Kastor that gave us two Olympic medals in the marathon in one Olympics, when we had not seen one since 1984.
Meb won’t tell you, but he knows that his storied career is coming to a climax. He will run the 2011 ING NYCM in November 2011 and in January 2012, he will run the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials for the marathon.
This will be Meb’s third Olympic Marathon Trials. More than anyone out there, Meb knows the players and the pretenders. He also knows, like very few, what it takes to make an Olympic team. We reached out to Meb just after his victory in the RNR San Jose Half Marathon, as he prepares for racing in the Big Apple.
Here is what one of America’s most important distance runners has to say about the sport, his beginnings, his challenges, and his present.
After editing the interview, I was struck by Meb’s appreciation for the challenges in his life. He understands that there are good days and bad days as we live our lives. He also is a man of immense conviction and an appreciation for his storied life. Meb loves his family, his friends, his running, his country and the crazy world he lives in.
Meb Keflezighi, 2011 RNR San Jose, photo by PhotoRun.net
RBR, # 1. When did you begin running?
come from a family of 11 siblings. My parents brought us to the USA to
take advantage of the educational opportunities. So they taught us to
give it our best efforts and expected straight A’s, whether it was Math,
English, History, Science, Art or PE. As I result of that parenting, I
always do my best in everything I try. I started to run in 7th grade
PE class. The Physical Education (PE) teacher said if we put in the
effort & run hard he will give us an “A.” If we slack off he would
give us a “D” or “F”. The result was 5:20 for the mile. Plus, you
get a cool t-shirt if you break “6:15” for the mile. Well, I went way
beyond that & I became the fastest 7th grader. At the time, I didn’t
speak English, so that helped me break the language barrier. Running
was my ice breaker to making friends and becoming accepted.
RBR, # 2. Who was your high school coach?
Ramos at San Diego High. He is one of the few High School cross
country coaches to have coached two Olympians in high school (myself and
RBR, # 3. What was training like in high school?
MEB: I ran very low mileage in high school.
9th grade 20-30 wk
10th grade 25-35 wk
11th grade 35-40 wk
12th grade 40-55 wk
low mileage in high school kept my potential for college and beyond
very high. One of the reasons I have had such a long running career is
because I didn’t exhaust my body in high school and college. Now-a-days
there are high school kids running close to 100 miles a week. I didn’t
do that much mileage until I turned professional.
Meb Keflezighi, 2011 RNR San Jose, photo by PhotoRun.net
RBR, # 4. How different was running in college compared to high school?
I ran very good in high school, it wasn’t until my senior year that I
started to dominate. I decided to go to UCLA because of its academic
and athletic balance and excellence. UCLA wasn’t known as a distance
running school, but it did have a great distance running coach in Bob
Larsen. I was the #1 distance runner at UCLA from the very beginning,
but my goal was to become the best in the nation and also do well in
school. I can say that although I had a lot of athletic success in high
school and college, my main focus during these years was my academics.
I didn’t make my running my first priority until I graduated from UCLA.
RBR, # 5. When did you first want to compete in the Olympics?
1997 when I won 4 NCAA titles, the Olympics came to mind as a
possibility for me. The first Olympics that I paid attention to were
the 1992 Games in Barcelona and the 1996 Games in Atlanta.
RBR, # 6. How has your relationship with Bob Larsen changed over the years?
Larsen has been a great coach and mentor for me. We have been working
together since 1994 (17 years). I used to ask him what I should do, now
he asks me what I feel like doing. He knows I work very hard & I am
not going to take short cuts. A lot of the success I have had in my
career is because Coach Larsen was patient with my development. He
realized I had the potential to do great things for American distance
running and focused on accomplishing those goals instead of me peaking
at UCLA. This was very unselfish of Coach Larsen.
RBR, # 7. In Athens, when did you know you were going to medal?
mile 21, all I had remaining to do was beat 1 out of 4 competitors and I
was going to be on the podium. One of these was world record holder
Paul Tergat whose personal best was almost 6 minutes faster than mine.
My goal for Athens, which I set before I left the stadium in the 2000
Olympic Games in Sydney, was to get an Olympic Medal. I didn’t care
what color the medal was. In the last mile, after I felt I had secured
the Silver Medal, I went after the Gold, but Stefano Baldini was just a
little stronger than I was on that day. I was about 30 seconds away
from a Gold Medal, but I was grateful to break the USA Medal drought in
the Olympic Games Marathon.
Meb Keflezighi, 2009 ING NYCM, photo by PhotoRun.net
RBR, # 8. In NYC, when did you sense you would win the marathon?
had a lot of close-calls in the New York City prior to my win in 2009.
In my debut in 2002, I was in the top 5 with about 5 miles to go… and
then I hit the wall. I ended up finishing 9th in 2:12:35, though I was
on pace to run 2:08 until I hit the wall. In 2004, I placed 2nd in the
NYC Marathon just 70 days after getting second place in the Olympics.
The athlete that beat me, Hendrick Ramaala, had dropped out of the
Olympic marathon (70 days earlier) and was only added to the NYC field
two weeks before the race. Then in 2005, after only training for about 8
weeks after recovering from a ruptured quad injury I sustained during
the world championships, I placed third in the NYC marathon, behind the
world record holder, Paul Tergat and the defending champion Hendrick
Ramaala. That 2005 race gave Coach Larsen and I a lot of confidence.
If I could perform so well on such little training, maybe I could win
the race with the ideal training time and cycle. We thought this would
happen in 2006, but I got food poisoning a few days before the race.
When I got injured in 2007 & 2008, a lot of people counted me out.
But knowing my history and training getting ready for the NYC Marathon, I
knew deep down that I could win the race.
Meb Keflezighi, 2011 RNR San Jose , photo by PhotoRun.net
September 20th, in 2009 I had a dream I won the NYC marathon. 40 days
later, my dream came true. With 3.5 miles left I had to beat Robert
Cheruiyot to win the elusive New York City Marathon victory. With 2
miles left I was leading and on my way to victory.
RBR, # 9. Why do you love the Boston Marathon?
to NYC, I’ve come close to winning the Boston Marathon. I’ve been 3rd
(in 2006) and 4th (in 2010). It’s a prestigious and the oldest
consecutively run marathon in the world. I would love to have an
opportunity to win this race.
RBR, #10. Why do you love running?
is therapeutic. I will always run for this therapeutic purpose. But I
run at this level because God has given me a special talent. I want to
maximize the talent He has given me and achieve all that He wants me
Meb Keflezighi, 2011 San Jose RNR, photo by PhotoRun.net
RBR, # 11. What music do you listen to when you run?
like hip hop and Eritrean traditional songs. Both have fast beats.
Sony just launched a MEB edition SONY walkman. It is a wireless and
cordless mp3 player. I use it in my training and while I am
stretching. Music just adds another element of fun to my training.
RBR, #12. Tell us about your training shoes, and what are you racing in?
MEB: I am wearing & training in SKECHERS. For training I use the SRR ProSpeed on the long and easy days. I use the SKECHERS GOrun shoes for racing and my intense training sessions. I recently won the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose Half Marathon in SKECHERS GOrun racing shoes.
RBR, # 13. How is training coming along this year?
is coming along fine now. The early part of the year was a struggle to
stay healthy. Now, I am looking forward to the NYC Marathon in 2011
& the 2012 Olympic Trials and hopefully, the 2012 Olympic Games in
RBR, #14. What would you tell high school and college distance runners about your journey in running?
patient & make small progress. The key is to stay healthy &
have fun. Consistent training will lead to progress, so don’t panic if
you don’t see progress overnight. If you are running consistently, it
is just a matter of time before you have a break-through.
RBR, #15. What’s your favorite workout?
runs are my favorite workouts. In my tempo runs ranging from 6 miles
to 16 miles, I run close to race pace. The workouts are my indication
to see if I am ready to compete or not. Based on my training log, I
know what it takes for me to be ready to race well.
Meb Keflezighi, 2011 San Jose RNR, photo by PhotoRun.net
RBR, #16. What’s your least favorite workout?
least favorite workout is cross training. If I am injured, I don’t like
to go & do water workouts. But I do them anyways, because that is
the only way to maintain your fitness when you cannot run. Though I
don’t like cross-training, this was a big part of the reason I was able
to come back very strong and win the NYC Marathon after being injured
for more than a year.
RBR, #17. Do you have days when you just do not want to work out?
when the weather is very bad working out doesn’t seem appealing. But I
put on the appropriate apparel to battle the weather and make sure I do
my workout. I believe in consistent training, so it’s not about having
great days, but have consistent training days. It’s also hard to
workout when you have to miss a family gathering and everyone else is
having a good time. I usually do my workouts very early on such days so
that I can participate in the family gathering and not feel guilty for
not working out. Though I love my sport, there are still many
sacrifices I must make to get the best out of myself.
Meb Keflezighi and daughter, 2011 RNR San Jose, photo by PhotoRun.net
RBR, #18. What have you experienced competing in the Olympic Trials?
trials are tough, but they are the only way to get to the Olympics. If
you are not on that day, or if you don’t place in the top 3, you don’t
go to the Olympics. In 2004, I almost didn’t compete in the Olympic
Trials Marathon. I was sick with a cold and training wasn’t going
well. But I decided to see my chances, and participated in the Olympic
Trials. I placed 2nd in that race and that summer, I placed 2nd in the
Olympic Games. In the 2008 Olympic Trials Marathon, I came in ready to
win the race. But instead I didn’t even make the team and suffered a
stress fracture. Anything can happen in the Olympic Trials, especially
in the Marathon.
RBR, #19. Do you still like to race on the track?
MEB: I think I am done with racing on the track.
RBR, # 20. What has been your favorite race experience?
favorite racing experience has been the New York City Marathon. I set
the goal of winning the race in 2002, when I debuted in the marathon.
In 2009, after many attempts, many trials and tribulations, I was able
to achieve my goal. It felt great to win the race I had been dreaming
of winning for so long. It was extra special to win the race after
overcoming such a big injury. I hope people can learn from my
experience in the NYC Marathon: Not all goals come true on your first
try… but it does not mean give up your dream either. Keep trying and
keep finding ways to improve, and you will definitely make progress.