After talking to Ajee Wilson earlier in the week, we're back with another interview. It's not often that running enters the public consciousness and it's even rarer that a particular runner becomes a recognizable cultural figure. But, after winning the 2014 Boston Marathon--a year after the tragic bombings--Meb Keflezighi did just that. Since that time, he's become ubiquitous both on your TV advertising for Sketchers or at seemingly every major marathon's press conference.
As Meb gears up for his fourth Olympics this summer in Rio, he was generous enough--with a hat tip to his sponsors at KT Tape--to respond to some of our questions over email. We asked a lot of questions about a lot of topics and, to be completely honest, didn't expect him to respond to all of them. Meb was kind enough to not only respond to all our silly questions, but to respond in detail to them.
What follows is an unedited record of that email conversation with some bold face type on what I arbitrarily decided were the highlights of the correspondence.
Training and Rio
You've said that you originally planned to retire in 2013 but decided to extend your career after the Boston Marathon bombings. Nearly three years later, you're still racing. When did you decide to extend your career past the 2014 Boston Marathon? How much longer can we expect to see you running professionally?
Yes, I really thought the 2012 Olympic Games in London would be my last Olympics. I had 50 family members and friends join me in London to celebrate my last Olympics. Though I finished fourth in the race, I came back from 21st place, so I was satisfied with my performance. I was in great shape and ready to race the 2012 NYC Marathon, but it was canceled because of Super Storm Sandy. I still expected 2013 to be my last year of marathoning. But after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, I dedicated myself to coming back and racing in Boston in 2014. Running a PR in Boston and winning the most significant race of my life encouraged me to pursue the 2016 Olympics. Fortunately, I was able to make my 4th Olympic team. I want to help people learn not to put limitations on themselves.
What do you still hope to accomplish in your running career? Beyond Rio, are there any particular races you're targeting?
The marathon during the 2016 Olympics will be the 24th of my career. I would like to run two more competitive marathons, before I retire in 2017. I am a numbers person, so it will be cool to retire after racing in 26 marathons, and at the age of 42.
You've been racing professionally for nearly two decades now. How has your training evolved over that time? What did your typical week of training look like leading into the 2004 Olympics? What does it look like in this Olympic cycle?
I've had to adjust my training throughout the years. Now, I need more recovery time. So I have a 9 day training cycle instead of 7. My body now needs more recovery time between hard workouts. I now have 3 hard workouts in a 9 day window, whereas I used to have 3 in 7 days when I was younger. I've learned it is very important to to listen to my body.
What's your favorite workout in marathon training and what do you like about it?
I like the tempo runs. They range from 6 miles to 16 miles. These are the workouts that show me I am ready to race.
How are you preparing for the potential race conditions in Rio, both the weather and the course? Do you structure your training to prepare for heat? How do you prepare for the specifics of a course?
Yes, the marathon in Rio will be hot and humid. I will train in the hottest times of the day. I'll train with layers of workout clothes. The most important thing is to be fit, but you also have to prepare for the conditions.
What running products or gear can't you live without?
There are so many! Over the years, I've found through trial and error what works for me. I only endorse products that I use, so for a list of all my running products and gear, please checkout: http://www.marathonmeb.com/sponsors
You're sponsored by KT Tape. Why did you start using KT Tape? How do you use it to help prevent injury?
I am very excited about my partnership with KT Tape. I've used KT tape for pain relief and to keep a small injury from getting worse. For example, in the training for the Olympic Trials this year, I used KT Tape to relieve some pain and issues on my shin.
You've been known to wear headphones on some training runs. How often do you run with headphones? What do you listen to?
I love running with people. But it is hard to find people that can keep up with my training on a regular basis. So when I am not running with people, I like to run with music. I like to listen to R&B, hip hop and some Eritrean music. I like music with a fast beat, so I can feel the energy.
Who has been the biggest influence in your life and/or running?
I've been very fortunate to have amazing people around me throughout my life, from mentors, coaches, and teachers. But my parents are the most influential people in my life. They sacrificed their lives to create better opportunities for their children. None of what I have accomplished or the great people I have met would be possible if my parents didn't take a leap of faith.
Running professionally requires more than quality training. What does your typical day look like? What is your sleep routine? Eating routine? What non-running activities do you do to build fitness?
Yes, as Coach John Wooden used to say, it is not only the two hours of practice that is important, but how you take care of your body for the other 22 hours in the day. The running aspect of my training is very important, but I am constantly stretching and doing core exercises during the day. This keeps me flexible and strong. I try to sleep at least 7 hours a day, and when I'm in heavy training I try to take naps. In terms of meals, I try to eat small portions and snack throughout the day. Training at this level is more of a lifestyle than a two hour commitment.
Do you have a specific ritual in the 24 hours leading up to a marathon? A meal you eat the night before or morning of? A song you listen to before a big race?
The night before a big race, I usually like to eat spaghetti with meatballs. This has been my routine since high school, whenever I can get it. The morning of the race, I like to have a bagel or Himbasha (Eritrean bread) with almond butter and honey, and half a banana. Before a race, I love listening to Eminem's "Lose Yourself." By coincidence this song was playing in the loudspeakers right before the start of the Olympic Trails earlier this year.
Aside from running, what do you do for fun? How do you balance the intensity of a professional running career with the rest of your life?
Running has given me so much. I've met thousands of people and made great friends. I like spending time with my family and friends. Balance is very important. I am almost consumed by trying to get the best out of myself, so sometimes, it is good to take a step back and appreciate all that has come as a result of the hard work.
Thank you to Meb and KT Tape for setting up this interview.