By Brian Fadem, Boston.com Staff
Meb Keflezighi is the reigning New York City Marathon winner and the first American to win the event since Alberto Salazar in 1982. Born in Asmara, Eritrea, Keflezighi was a refugee who came to the United States when he was 12 years old. He was a cross-country standout in high school and at UCLA.
At the 2004 Olympics in Greece, Keflezighi won a silver medal in the marathon, but suffered running setbacks in 2007 and 2008 when he broke his hip. He's back, as evidenced by his win in New York in November, and has set his sights on Boston on April 19.
He works with nutrition and performance coach Dr. Krista Austin, the head coach of Infinite Running and Performance & Nutrition Coaching. Austin has worked with Keflezighi for years, and she took some time to talk about his preparation and training for marathon running.
Can you describe the routine and regiment that you put Meb on?
You have to view an athleteís lifespan in a sport from the time you start with him. The regiment Meb was put on started back in his college days. We began to collect data and information about how fast he was and how much did he fatigue at certain paces. Weíve tracked this over the years and how his body has adapted and how far it can move forward. Thatís feeding back into him of whatís going right.
Even his nutrition Ė this was a regiment. We have to be at a certain body weight.
He has a regiment, but it has flexibility. Within the training plan thereís about two days each week that can and do get manipulated to get him faster and stronger and those two days that get switched impact all the other days.
What is Meb's running schedule like each week while he's training?
In an average week Meb will run 100 to 130 miles. Four weeks before any race, heíll start dropping off from that mark.
Starting with Sunday, heíll do a longer run day, 28 miles maybe. Monday is an easier day of six to 10 miles. Then Tuesday is more of an interval day, no more than six miles. Wednesday is a long slow distance day of anywhere from 12 miles to 20. Thursday is another easy day of six to 10 miles. Tempo day is Friday and thatís anywhere from six to 15. Saturday is an easy day of six to 10 miles, and then the cycle restarts on Sunday with another longer run. He knows to keep track of totals over the week and he knows he needs to run a certain amount of miles in each hour.
What is Mebís daily diet like?
In the morning his wife makes him himbasha. Itís traditional bread, and he will eat that with some all-natural honey on it, and they also have a tea that they make. Sometimes heíll dip the bread in the tea. Heís an endurance athlete, so he needs carbohydrates and the himbasha is a very good source of that.Heíll run after breakfast and then when he gets back heíll have his recovery beverage Generation UCAN. We searched for one for a long time for a recovery beverage and Generation UCAN is ideal for an athlete. Itís a carb beverage with protein in it.
For lunch heíll have a balanced meal of carbs, proteins, and fats. His wife will sometimes make him a turkey sandwich or egg sandwich with salad and piece of fruit. Nothing out of the ordinary. Heíll have continuous nibbling throughout the day Ė fruits, yogurt sometimes until he gets to dinner.
Dinner is the same type of plate of lunch with more fruits and vegetables. Meb is very good at understanding his body. He knows when heís hungry and needs to eat more, and knows when he doesnít need to eat any more. People should only take energy in at the rate itís being expended. Meb intuitively knows how much he needs.
Before he goes to bed heíll have a warm glass of milk and sometimes some more himbasha. Only sometimes on nights before a long run heíll treat himself with a piece of cheesecake that will give him added carbohydrates and energy.
As the race approaches how does the training and eating schedule change?
The schedule of when he does his stuff doesnít really change, but the volume definitely changes. The training goes down and so does the food intake. He starts taking in extra carbohydrates the week of the race.
What is the day of the race like for you and for Meb?
Meb is so well prepared for it. The nice thing is that weíll set up when we want to meet, when he wants to get to the race and everything days before. He just wants coach Bob Larson and his brother to take him to the race. He knows he has done the work, so psychologically heís very stable. Even if he had a bad race, he knows that heís prepared as much and as well as he could.
It's probably more nerve-wracking for me because I donít know how his body feels. Sitting there, you feel kind of nervous because youíre thinking everything should happen one way. When it plays out how you want it youíre so happy. You can prepare all you want but in the race, really anything could happen. Before the New York City Marathon, I told Meb, ďYouíre the best prepared American.Ē I didnít say that he would win, but I knew he was the most prepared.
It really helps to have a very stable athlete to work with. Iíve seen a lot of guys with tremendous amounts of talent, but the mental side can destroy training and race strategy. On a race day a runner is prepared, but at that point itís 90 percent mental. With Meb heís just sound and relaxed and calm in his head.
How important is the Boston Marathon for Meb?
Every race is of particular importance for him. Thereís always some purpose for him running, but also in terms of American distance running Ė he chose to run in Boston to promote American distance running. To get another win in a marathon and on U.S. soil would be phenomenal.
How is the Boston Marathon different and more difficult than other marathons?
Mebís a really good hill runner and he enjoys it. I donít think it will be more difficult for him. There were hills in New York, but itís also about the distribution of the miles. Physically the hills might be tough, but we have set courses up with similar miles distributed to hills.
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