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Meb Keflezighi Looking to Start Season Strong in 2007 at US Half Marathon Champs at Aramco Houston Half
By David Monti
(c) 2007 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
January 10, 2007


Reigning Olympic Marathon silver medalist Meb Keflezighi is looking for a strong season opener on Sunday when he lines up for the Aramco Houston Half-Marathon, host of the U.S. Half-Marathon Championships for men and women.

The 31 year-old athlete, who divides his time between his high altitude training base in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., and his family home in San Diego, will be making his first competitive appearance since enduring a terrible day at the ING New York City Marathon last November where he finished 21st in 2:22:02.  A bad case of food poisoning from a tainted dish of chicken fettuccine eaten three days before the race made it impossible for him to eat adequately prior to the event, leaving his body depleted even before the start of the race.

"I didn't have any energy left after 17 or 18 miles," said Keflezighi in a telephone interview yesterday from San Diego.  "I was starving."

In New York Keflezighi was at the head of an enormous lead pack of 28 runners at the half-way point, and was still within striking distance of the leaders through 30-K (18.6 miles).  But between 30-K and 35-K, his pace slid to 3:25 per km (5:30 per mile), and fell even further to 4:21 per km (7:00 per mile) in the next 5-K.  By the time he reached the finish line, he was barely jogging.  The slow pace changed his running form and actually put more wear and tear on his legs than had he been running at his usual marathon pace of 3:05 per km (4:58 per mile).

"My body was not moving mechanically in the right direction," Keflezighi recalled.  "It's a lot more punishing when your body is going 8-minute, 9-minute pace.  For me, my body got beat up pretty good.  It was kind of awkward and not right."

Under the continued guidance of Bob Larsen, the man who began coaching Keflezighi as a collegiate runner at UCLA, Keflezighi has recovered thoroughly, both mentally and physically, from his disappointment at New York. He's been building up his mileage base slowly, knowing that 2007 will be a long year, capped by the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in New York City in November.

"I don't think he did anything that was lingering, except for maybe a sore knee problem," said Larsen when reached on his mobile phone yesterday.  "He took a little bit of time off and trained very conservatively.  For quite some time how he's been 100%."

But what can the athlete and coach expect from such an early season effort at Houston?  It's all part of their larger plan to peak for a spring marathon and then peak again in November at the Trials.

"He's at a point in his career where he can concentrate on major events," Larsen said.  "A spring marathon and making the Olympic Games are his biggest goals in 2007.  Other races are used to supplement training, to test benchmarks for where his training is, and help sharpen him up for big events."

Keflezighi agrees.  "Things are coming along really well.  It's a checkpoint for me, a reference point, on what I have to do for a spring marathon.  I'm also doing the cross country nationals.  We start with a big goal and fill in the puzzle to get there."

In Houston Keflezighi will face a strong field, led by the defending champion, Brian Sell; U.S. 20-K record holder, Ryan Hall; and 2004 Olympian, Dan Browne, who is coming back after a difficult year.  Keflezighi has the fastest personal best over the distance --61:28 to Sell's 62:39-- but Hall's 20-K U.S. record of 57:54 is equivalent to a 61:18 half-marathon.  And, as Keflezighi points out, Browne (63:09 PB) has a sub-four minute mile to his credit, and would be tough to beat over the final few meters.

"I've done a fair amount of training with Dan Browne," said Keflezighi who was an Olympic Marathon teammate with him in 2004.  "He has a very good kick, also. You don't want it to come down to the last 800 with him."

Larsen pointed out that even when Keflezighi is in a build-up phase, he is still a formidable competitor.  "He should be able to sustain a competitive effort," said the coach.  "It's a great distance for him.  It fits into his training extremely well.  It's a little bit of a stepping stone for a spring marathon."

Keflezighi would not say where that marathon would be.  He ran Boston last year, and contended for victory before fading in the second half to finish third in 2:09:56.  In 2005 he agreed to run the Flora London Marathon, the other World Marathon Majors event held in the spring, but had to withdraw because of an injury.

But for now, his focus is on Houston where the organzers have substantially increased their prize money over last year.  The winner will receive $12,000, with $6,500 and $4,000 going to the second and third place finishers, respectively.  That could come in handy for Keflezighi who became a father last March to daughter, Sara.

"[It] hasn't changed the way I look at sports," said Keflezighi of fatherhood, "but life is bigger than sports."  He added: "It's a huge change, but very rewarding."

  PHOTO: Keflezighi with wife, Yordanos, and daughter, Sara, at the 2006 Honolulu Marathon (Photo by David Monti)


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