Marathon men count down to London
It would be hard to find a more congenial trio of competitors than Meb Keflezighi, Ryan Hall and Abdi Abdirahman, who will represent the United States in the Olympic men's marathon in London on Aug. 12. All three are Olympic veterans and their mutual respect and affection was evident when they sat down with us last week in Manhattan before running in Saturday's Healthy Kidney 10K in Central Park, organized by the New York Road Runners.
Question from Bonnie D. Ford: You all attended a U.S. "marathon summit" recently in California. Did you learn anything about the London course that surprised you?
Abdirahman: It's kind of hard to learn the course until you run it, but we can have an idea. There are a lot of turns and you can lose people within 400-600 meters. In Houston [site of January's Olympic trials], you could see the people in front of you. It's one of those courses that you just have to pace yourself and maintain contact with the people in front of you.
Hall: We've been hearing so much about how many turns there are and how hard the course is, and it's kind of like Beijing all over again, except in Beijing, they were talking about heat and humidity. It was a breath of fresh air for me to hear from the Hansons [the Hanson-Brooks Distance Project, whose standout Desiree Davila will run in London], who were there and previewed the course; this course is not that bad. It's getting blown way out of proportion. Desi, she has run the course and said it's going to run pretty comparable to Olympic trials and that Houston did a really good job of simulating the course.
Keflezighi: There's no U-turn like we had to do at the trials. And also the weather, they said there's a 50 percent chance it's going to be about 70 degrees. I think it can be fairly fast. It helps knowing where the cobblestones are, and there are a couple of marble areas that might be slippery.
Hall: I think this is going to be one of the most exciting races I've ever run in. I picture bike racing, fans right on top of you going crazy. We're zigging and zagging through these narrow alleys and I don't think there's going to be a ton of room for spectators, but the ones who are there are going to be right on top of us.
Q: When will you get to London?
Keflezighi: I won't be at the Opening Ceremony. I'll probably go at the last minute, maybe four or five days before. We'll probably drive the course. It'll be too crazy to run on it because of the traffic, but at least take a taxi and kind of see it, I guess.
Q: That'll be quite a cab fare.
Keflezighi: Just one lap!
Hall: I'm kind of waiting to see how things shake out with my wife [Sara]. I'm really believing that she's going to make the team [in the steeplechase event] and it would be a dream come true to go into the Opening Ceremony together. It would be awesome. It would be a life memory, forever. I wouldn't miss that. Plus, I missed Opening in Beijing and I really regret that. I feel like I get a ton out of the energy and the atmosphere and the people around me. In Beijing, I was not into that at all. I didn't go to any events, I was way far away from Beijing, and came in right before and didn't get any of that energy of what the Olympics is. I've been a huge fan of the Olympics since I was a little kid, so I really missed out. I'm going to do things a little differently this time.
Abdirahman: I don't know if I'm going to go to the Opening Ceremony. I might, I might not, I haven't decided. I'll go to the [U.S. Track and Field] Birmingham [England] training camp and come into the Olympic Village three or four days before my race. I might go to Opening, just depends on how far the walk is.
Hall: Two miles and two miles back.
Abdirahman: That's four miles, workout for the day. [Everyone laughs.]
Q: Ryan and Meb, you both had some issues at the trials. Meb, you aggravated that bad blister that forced you to take time off before the trials. And Ryan, you were struggling with plantar fasciitis and the anti-inflammatories you took for it bothered your stomach.
Keflezighi: I was thinking, 'Can this blister make it 26.2 miles?' It got a blood blister underneath. The whole thing came off and I have normal skin there now. It was tough, it was really tough. Sometimes [between the New York City Marathon in November and trials in January], I couldn't put any weight on it, I had to just crawl or hop on one foot. It worked out for the best. I just wanted to be part of the team, and I am, and I'm delighted.
Hall: Plantar fasciitis is nasty. It's just persistent. I took three weeks off after the trials and it came back worse than before. Time off did not help it at all. I've seen a ton of therapists, but the thing that seems to be helping is shock-wave therapy, which is super painful. It shoots light waves out. It looks like a big pen and it sounds like a jackhammer. He puts it right on my heel and it feels like my foot is going to break in half. I do it once a week, and it's definitely going in the right direction. I haven't missed any training. I ran the trials on it when it was much worse than it is now ... I learned a big lesson about taking [anti-inflammatories] before a race. I would much rather have had this thing on fire and been running through pain than the stomach issues I had. Mile 23, when it was just Meb and I, I was starting to have out-of-body experiences. I didn't know if I was going to make it to the finish line.
Q: You guys are good actors, because I couldn't tell that at all.
Hall: People were praying for me, that's what got me to the finish line. I was out of it. My stomach was jacked, so I couldn't get in my fluids as normal, so I was dehydrated and I couldn't get in the calories I typically do during a race. Not a fun day, but mission accomplished.
Q: You guys have such a camaraderie -- will that translate to working together on the road?
Abdirahman: Running is not like basketball where you're going to pass the ball or set up for a pick, but we're going to feed from each other's energy. Seeing your team, seeing someone wearing the same uniform you're wearing, representing the same country, gives you extra energy and makes you work harder. If we finish top 10 or top five, it's good for the country and good for the sport.
Hall: A lot of it is atmosphere and presence. To be with people you're comfortable with and you know are for you is such a big deal. I ran my first marathon with Meb in London [in 2007] and it was such a calming thing for me. We didn't even have to say anything. I was kind of like his wingman; we were just going at this together and it was like practice. I could put myself back in practice and just visualize. It brought this familiarity and comfort to the race, which is so huge in the marathon, where you're going so hard for so long.
Keflezighi: We can communicate. If I have my A-game, if Ryan has his A-game, if Abdi has his A-game, anybody can beat anybody here. If one of us can do that for our country, everybody wins. Everybody's putting in 100 miles-plus a week to give the best show that day. ... I think [the Kenyans and Ethiopians] are going to work as teams. But experience is going to play a role. It's racing. They also have to show up on that day with their-A game. Their C-game is not going to win it. Half of the field is going to psych themselves out because it's the Olympics. Others will have some kind of problem or injury like we had at the trials. We just have to beat one third or half of them. It's rare that everybody comes 100 percent fit. We want to be.