Friday April 17th, 2015

A mid-day phone call to Meb Keflezighi just over two weeks ago found the reigning Boston Marathon champion sounding relaxed and happy at his training base in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. Meb, as he is universally known in running circles (and, now, on the streets of Boston), lives with his wife, Yordanos, and their three daughters in San Diego, but he puts in a few weeks of training at Mammoth’s 7,880-foot altitude during every marathon build-up. On this day he was in the final stages of preparation for this year’s marathon in Boston, which will go off at 10 a.m. ET on April 20.

And on this day the family had come up from San Diego for a quick visit. Meb was happy to take some time to play.

“The hay’s in the barn,” he says.

If so, the last wagon-full was a big one. Asked what he did for his morning’s workout on this family day, Meb answered cheerfully, “I ran 28 miles.”

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It was pretty much the same final long run he did last year before going on to become the first American man to win the Boston Marathon in 31 years. That feat—coming the year after the bombing that killed three spectators and injured more than 200 at the race’s finish line, threatening the very soul of the marathon and the city itself—seemed to have been arranged through some glorious aerobic collaboration between the running gods and the spirit of Paul Revere. The fact that Keflezighi pulled off the upset at age 38, with the fastest marathon of his life, made the story even more inspiring. And more fitting for an athlete who has crafted a career out of producing his finest efforts at the most important moments.

Keflezighi was born in Eritrea, one of 10 children in a family that fled the strife there, living as refugees in Italy before coming to the U.S. in 1987. Meb discovered running in junior high and went on to win three state titles (cross-country, 1600 and 3200) while at San Diego High before going to UCLA. There, he won four NCAA titles and, perhaps more important, formed a lifelong bond with Bruins coach Bob Larsen, who has continued to work with the runner throughout his career. Though Keflezighi would make the 2000 U.S. Olympic team in the 10,000 meters and set an American record at the distance, his career would really take off when he stretched out to the 26.2-mile distance. His long and distinguished résumé at the marathon includes wins at New York City (2009) and the Olympic Trials (2012) and the silver medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, as well as that storybook victory in Boston last year.

Meb crosses the finish line to win first place in the men's race of the 118th Boston Marathon.
John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

While Meb will once again go to the starting line in Hopkinton as an underdog, the fact that he will even be a contender, at an age when most elite runners have long since retired (Meb will turn 40 on May 5), is testimony to both his passion for running and his meticulous approach to training. For all us less-accomplished runners—and that’s pretty much anyone who’s ever laced on a pair of training shoes—Keflezighi has long been a true inspiration. Now, thanks to the release of his new book, Meb for Mortals (Rodale, $19.99), he can be a teacher and guide as well.

“Life is the best teacher you can have,” says Keflezighi. “I’ve been running for 25 years—I don’t like to say ‘a quarter century,’ it sounds too long—and I’ve been fortunate to learn from so many people over that time. I wanted to put all that together for the reader.”

With graceful help from coauthor Scott Douglas, he does just that. The book, subtitled “How to Run, Think, and Eat like a Champion Marathoner,” doesn’t get into the day-by-day, mile-by-mile training plans found in so many other running guides. Instead, it lays out in clearly written and attractively illustrated sections, what can best be described as Meb’s holistic approach to his sport.

Meb sitting in cold water while training for an upcoming marathon, Mammoth Lakes, CA.
Peter Read Miller for Sports Illustrated

“The beauty of running,” says Keflezighi, “is that no matter what age, size, weight, experience you have, the possibility is there. If you do all the things you need to do—from the miles to the cross-training, to the recovery—you will improve and you will enjoy your running. That’s what I wanted to get across.”

The true message of the book is that runners need to do more than just run. Meb presents the form drills, core-strengthening exercises, flexibility work, as well as the diet do’s and don’ts and the recovery procedures that have kept him on the road for so long. To runners all too familiar with the discouraging cycle of injury and recovery, the message is particularly welcome and inspiring.

Wherever Meb finishes on Monday in Boston, he has already made his mark in the sport. With this book, he should help countless other runners do the same at their own, “mortal” level.

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