Found on RunnersWorld.com and written by Greg McMillan
Keys to his success that all runners can implement.
The Monday after the 2014 New York City Marathon, I was invited to join Meb Keflezighi on two discussion panels, a morning session in New York City and an evening session at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Meb had finished fourth the day before, and many in the audience also endured the tough conditions in this year’s race.
As you would imagine, both events were standing room only, as runners were eager to hear from and get a photo with the greatest U.S. marathoner of this generation. I was too, and I had the best seat in the house up on stage with him. Here’s what we learned from Meb.
Lesson #1: No Pity Parties
Marathons are filled with pity parties. When the going gets tough (as it always does in the marathon), many of us dwell on the pain. We dwell on the suffering.
Not Meb. As he spoke, it was quickly evident that he is a master at refocusing his attention. He suffers just like the rest of us, but he doesn’t live in that suffering. He quickly redirects his thoughts to things, often external, that can be beneficial and get him back on track.
Meb said he often thinks about his father, who, in Eritrea in the 1980s, walked more than 200 miles to escape imprisonment or death for a chance at freedom for himself and his family. In the 2013 New York City Marathon, when his calf seized up in the 20th mile, he thought of the thousands of us who would be finishing minutes and hours behind him. He said he thought, “They are doing it so I must find a way to keep going too.”
And in his Boston Marathon victory when it got tough and Wilson Chebet was gaining on him late in the race, he thought about the victims of the previous year’s bombing (whose names he had written on his bib number), and he found just a little more energy to stay away and race to victory down Boylston Street.
Over and over, it became clear that his ability to refocus from the negative mindset to a positive mindset is a key part of his consistent success in running and life. As he says, “I run to win but winning doesn’t always mean getting first place. It means getting the best of yourself in each race.”
Lesson #2: Relentlessness
The second lesson that came through is relentlessness, not only in racing but also in training. Meb has had his share of injuries and he’s been written off time and time again. But he keeps coming back.
His secret is relentless hope. He thinks, “If it can’t be today, maybe tomorrow. If it can’t be tomorrow, maybe next week. If not next week, then maybe next month.” There simply is no give in the man. He’s always looking ahead. He always has hope.
The same goes for his races. In New York this year, he had three goals: win, top 3 or PR. It was clear the weather conditions weren’t set up for a PR, so he set his sights on the win or top 3. He ran in the lead pack but couldn’t match the surges late in the race and fell back to eighth at one point. Up ahead was the reigning Olympic and world champion, Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda. Meb thought, “Well, that’s not too bad to finish behind the Olympic champion.”
But as soon as he thought it, his relentlessness kicked in. He decided that he he’d give it one more try, one more push. It worked! He soon caught Kiprotich; they set their sights on the next runner ahead, defending champion and course record holder Geoffrey Mutai. Meb told himself, “This might be my only chance to beat Mutai.” He kept pushing. Just like that, he was in fourth, thinking, “Maybe one of the top three will fade and I can achieve my goal.” Ever hopeful, ever relentless, that’s what comes through as he talks about his training and racing.
Lesson #3: Hard Work Pays Off
Meb mentioned that, after his first marathon, he thought the distance was too hard for him. Then he went to his native Eritrea for a visit. He was reminded of what “hard” really is. He came back rejuvenated. What he thought was hard was no longer hard. It was opportunity and the work required (while running and outside of running) to seize that opportunity was nothing like what many others experience every day.
So Meb works hard both while running and in all of his non-running activities (nutrition, mobility, massage, crosstraining, etc.). I think of him as the “king of the little things” – videos and articles always describe him doing as much non-run training as run training. He says that, at age 39, he has to work even harder on these elements than ten years ago.
He says, “When I think something is hard, I just think back to stories of my family’s journey to get the USA. The sacrifice and hard work for my running is nothing compared to that.” Meb knows hard work pays off in running, and his long and consistent career is testament to that.
That evening, we parted with a handshake and a promise to get together when we each got back to San Diego. I left with these lessons buzzing in my head. I was thinking about the runners I coach, those at the front of the pack trying to win like Meb does, those in the middle of the pack balancing family, work and training, and those at the back whose efforts on marathon day are some of the most inspiring of them all. I was thinking how Meb’s lessons aren’t just for the pros but for every runner who pins on a bib number.
Meb is the only person in history to win an Olympic Marathon medal, the New York City Marathon and the Boston Marathon. How lucky we are to share the roads with him.