By Meb Keflezighi with Scott Douglas
256 pp. Rodale. $15.99.
The question occurred to me repeatedly throughout “26 MARATHONS”. How best to review a run-based book that consists of an introduction, then 26 chapters (reflecting every occasion Keflezighi raced the distance), and an epilogue? Ultimately, I’m going with mimicking the book’s style. First, some Keflezighi notables in running, writing, and life. He’s meticulous. The details he provides suggests a well maintained and detailed log book chronicling his race career. Also, he gets hurt. A lot. That said, I’m not going to declare Keflezighi injury-prone. Perhaps it more so sheds light on the destructive nature of marathon training at the professional level. Finally, he genuinely comes across as a smart, good human being. The term “altruism” comes to mind. Whether it be grooming his personal or professional relationships, or concern for the well being of strangers, Keflezighi cares. Without further ado:
1. 2002 New York City Marathon (9th). Keflezighi finishes his first marathon thinking, “I don’t ever want to do that again.” (We all know he had a change of heart, thank goodness.) After taking the lead, Keflezighi hits the Wall. Mentally, he struggled with the distance. In all, Keflezighi declares he needs to improve his pacing.
2. 2003 Chicago Marathon (7th). A trip to his native Eritrea re-energizes Keflezighi’s post NYC mindset. There, he witnesses people’s hardships to survive. Comparatively, Keflezighi decides complaining about his marathon experience to be poor form. On to Chicago. With the 2004 Olympic Marathon Trials in mind, Keflezighi decides his goal at Chicago would be to beat the Olympic “A” 2:12:00 standard. Nothing more. So, placing at Chicago was not a consideration. He avoids the Wall, finishing in 2:10, and decides marathoning can be fun.
3. 2004 Olympic Marathon Trials (2nd). Some people declare their goals aloud. That’s not how Keflezighi rolls. Instead: underpromise and overdeliver. Meanwhile, Keflezighi’s training for the Trials is hampered by tendinitis in his right knee. Then the flu. On race day he considers himself grossly undertrained. Still, into the race, Keflezighi finds good fortune, making (at the time) his second Olympic team.
4. 2004 Olympic Marathon (2nd). In order to avoid a charging dog while training, Keflezighi’s forced to maneuver in such a way that tweaks his right knee, resulting again in tendinitis. Fortunately on race day, the tendinitis never reared it’s head. In case you’re unfamiliar, the following episode made waves as at the ~22 mile mark. A defrocked Irish priest known for disrupting events, ran from the sidelines, and pushed the race leader (Brazil’s Vanderlei de Lima) into the crowd. While de Lima was able to resume, speculation exists if it cost him the gold. Stefano Baldini of Italy and Keflezighi then chased down de Lima, with Keflezighi finishing in 2nd.
5. 2004 New York City Marathon (2nd). Outside of another outstanding marathon finish, there’s few highs and lows for Keflezighi.
6. 2005 New York City Marathon (3rd). Marathon #6 was supposed to be in London of the past Spring. Instead, Keflezighi has another run-in with a dog, aggravating his Achilles. Then, he ruptures his right quad while racing at a 10K World Championship in Helinski, Finland. (See what I mean about getting hurt a lot?) Still, Keflezighi heals quickly in time for a strong NYC finish.
7. 2006 Boston Marathon (3rd). Keflezighi goes out too fast and hits the Wall in the Newton Hills.
8. 2006 New York City Marathon (20th). Think: Murphy’s Law. With the race approaching, Keflezighi deals with a hurt hamstring and the flu. Then his luggage gets lost on the trip to NYC. Then food poisoning.
9. 2007 London Marathon (DNF). The only DNF of Keflezighi’s marathon career. While training for London, he develops a massive blister on his left foot, requiring hospitalization (it burdened Keflezighi the rest of his career). During London the left foot wound throws off his run form, impacting Keflezighi’s Achilles. He calls it a day at mile 16.
10. 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials (8th). Calf and hip pain impact Keflezighi’s performance. More notably, his training partner Ryan Shay dies at the same race, leaving Keflezighi distraught.
11. 2009 London Marathon (9th). An MRI reveals the hip pain Keflezighi endured during the 2008 Trials to be a pelvic stress fracture. While rebuilding his body, and attempting to again race, Keflezighi then injures his hip extensor muscle. With extensive therapy, training resumes. Ultimately, Keflezighi PRs in London (2:09:21).
12. 2009 New York City Marathon (1st). A perfect training season produces a perfect race result.
13. 2010 Boston Marathon (5th). Patellar tendinitis impacts training for Boston (Keflezighi slips and lands on his knee while clearing snow off his car). While the knee comes around by race day, he ruptures his quad during the race.
14. 2010 New York City Marathon (6th). Pre-race, a solid training season. Still, his body doesn’t fully execute on race day. Keflezighi’s age now 35.
15. 2011 New York City Marathon (6th). Keflezighi mistakenly races with a Breathe Right strip lodged in his left shoe. He doesn’t stop to rectify the issue out of concern for lost time. Then, stomach issues (vomiting) start at mile 20. Still, while he PRs in 2:09:13, his left foot (to be precise, toe) is now an infected mess.
16. 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials (1st). Coming off NYC, his left foot injury results in an abbreviated training window. Nonetheless, the injury heals as is indicated by this finish.
17. 2012 Olympic Marathon (4th). During the race, Keflezighi’s given the wrong water bottle. Then stomach cramping. His now regular left foot problem comes calling as well.
18. 2013 New York City Marathon (23rd). While training, a tear of the left soleus. Also, a hard fall deeply gashes his knee. Keflezighi feels beat up going into the race. Then, hip-flexor issues at mile 19.2 force a stop-and-go pace the rest of the race.
19. 2014 Boston Marathon (1st). We all know about this result, right?
20. 2014 New York City Marathon (4th). 40 mile per hour winds happen on race day. Keflezighi arrives healthy but short on fitness (his usual left foot issue required healing coming out of Boston). At the race, when the leader surges, Keflezighi “…wasn’t able to change gears quickly enough.” Keflezighi’s age now 39.
21. 2015 Boston Marathon (8th). In the 2nd half of the race, Keflezighi repeatedly vomits, resulting in brief stops.
22. 2015 New York City Marathon (7th). With 10K to go, aggressors start pushing the pace to a sub-4:30 mile. Quickly stressed, Keflezighi backs off. Ultimately he finishes in 2:13:32, setting the U.S. masters record.
23. 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials (2nd). After a conservative 15 miles for the lead pack, Tyler Pennel increases the pace to 4:52. Only Keflezighi and Galen Rupp keep up. At mile 20, Pennel falters. Rupp and Keflezighi pull away (finishing in that order).
24. 2016 Olympic Marathon (33rd). Acknowledging it’s his last Olympics, Keflezighi and family soak up the experience (although still arriving on race day in what he considered to be peak performance). Halfway into the race, Keflezighi’s starts throwing up due to hard running in the Brazilian heat. More vomiting occurs, again and again. Finally reaching the finish, which was slippery, Keflezighi falls, and does a few push-ups to the crowd’s delight.
25. 2017 Boston Marathon (13th). At the 12 mile mark, the lead pack, which Keflezighi had been a part of, starts pushing the pace. Keflezighi’s unable to cover the move. Physically, he’s just wiped out.
26. 2017 New York City Marathon (11th). Before the race, a repeat trip to Eritrea gooses Keflezighi to race a final time. At age 42, he feels good at the start. Then at mile 21, Keflezighi again has heat-related troubles and feels the urge to vomit. He acknowledges his “…body was more affected by adversity once I was in my forties.” Keflezighi treats the final miles as a celebration of his career.
Constructive criticism? Nothing, really. Just be aware, some may consider the book’s writing style to be unique. It’s not so much the more familiar… coming-of-age delivery that gradually runs it’s course. Instead, it’s specifically about “26 MARATHONS”.
#DidYouKnow courtesy “26 MARATHONS”: During his professional career, immediately prior to a race, Keflezighi would typically toe the line weighing in at 121 lbs.