Larsen: “His training in this last month has been really good … When he’s been healthy for several weeks, like he is now, he usually comes up with a real good performance.”
October 29, 2015
Meb Keflezighi‘s bucket list is complete. He’s won New York, he’s won Boston and he’s earned an Olympic silver medal. Yet Keflezighi, who turned 40 in May, keeps showing up to marathons, and for good reason: even as a quadragenarian, he remains one of the United States’ top athletes over the 26.2-mile distance.
And while Keflezighi embraces his role as American legend and masters runner extraordinaire, one of his greatest joys is lining up at the start of a major marathon and knowing that he remains a factor: someone the top pros will have to account for.
“I think he enjoys the fact that he will be going to the starting line as a threat to some of the really good athletes but he’s he’s also age 40 and they’re 10 years younger,” said Bob Larsen, Meb’s longtime coach. “But he’s still a presence when he goes to that starting line. [Some of the other elites] are more than 10 years younger. Just like with Deena [Kastor] too, I think they’re savoring these moments. This is like a gift, in a way. They’ve earned it, they do all those things to keep themselves going this late in their careers.”
Keflezighi’s buildup has gone well, according to Larsen. Though the core workouts of Meb’s program remain the same as always under Larsen, Keflezighi will tinker with the schedule as necessary. One day, he may substitute a tempo run for an interval workout. Sometimes, he may decide to do the majority of his running on the ElliptiGo or take the day off entirely. Meb no longer logs every mile — he and Larsen work more in terms of time — but makes sure to get in the quality workouts he needs to prepare for the grueling 26.2-mile race. It’s all a response to Meb’s advancing age.
Meb said he doesn’t hit “home runs” in workouts any more but realizes he doesn’t need to hit home runs in practice to be successful. He might be 3-5 seconds per mile behind what he was in his prime in practice but he’s got a lifetime of base in his legs that makes the workouts less important.
“I have run over 100,000 miles [in my life],” Keflezighi said. “I can’t imagine doing the workout that I did in 2004, but if I get close to it, confidence should be high.”
One other thing about Meb’s training at age 40. He said he stresses recovery on his easy days much more. In his 20s, Meb said he pretty much ran everything at 6:00-6:15 pace on his easy days. Now, he might start at 7:15 pace or even 8:00 pace on his easy days and then work it down to 6:15 once he’s warmed up.
Though he’s not running as fast — or as far — as he was in his prime, Meb said he did have a 130-mile week in his buildup and his accumulation of lifetime miles mean that Keflezighi’s base-level aerobic fitness is high to begin with. Though Meb had brief bout with illness over the summer, he’s been healthy this fall and is coming off a month-long stint at altitude in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. It’s important for Keflezighi to escape to the mountains, not only for the boost that altitude provides, but to eliminate some of the distractions that inevitably arise from a loaded endorsement and appearance schedule and being a father of three.
“Sometimes he makes a good performance out of nothing, but there’s a little bit more substance there this year,” Larsen said.
With the top two men from last year’s race — Wilson Kipsang and Lelisa Desisa — leading a formidable men’s elite field, Keflezighi will have his work cut out for him. But even if he can’t match his fourth-place finish from last year, Meb has another target that he hopes to hit: Mbarak Hussein‘s U.S. masters record of 2:13:52. Even on New York that should be attainable: Keflezighi ran 2:13:18 here last year on a cold, windy day and recorded a 2:12:42 in Boston this spring despite stopping to throw up five times in the final miles. With the forecast calling for a high of 64 degrees and some wind (11 mph), it won’t be ideal marathoning weather on Sunday, but should be good enough for the record to fall with a solid run.
“Would he like to do a lot more [than the Masters record] and be among the top few guys in the race and see what he can do at the end?” Larsen said. “I’m sure. But [the American masters] record would be kind of the backup if things aren’t going really well.”
First and foremost, though, Keflezighi will be focused on the leaders. Larsen said that Meb doesn’t necessarily enter marathons with a set gameplan these days but that he trusts his athlete to make the right moves on race day.
“Meb makes great decisions during the race,” Larsen said. “What’s great about Meb is, you don’t want to put too much into his mind…He has to be free to concentrate on whatever he sees, like he made a great decision in 2014 in Boston. We talked a little bit about it [before the race], but he was ready to do whatever it took and took advantage of the situation that presented itself.”
Keflezighi will look to do the same in New York on Sunday.
After Sunday, Meb says he’ll barely be able to move until Thursday but then he’ll start getting ready for the 2016 US Olympic Men’s Marathon Trials to be held in 15 weeks on February 13. Meb said he had no hesitation at all about doing NY as he isn’t worried about it interfering with his Trials buildup. He said New York will provide him a “good base” for the Trials and he want to have to start all over again on a marathon cycle.
— Jonathan Gault (@jgault13) October 29, 2015