This coming Sunday the ING New York City Marathon, the world’s largest single day sporting event, will again take over the five boroughs of new York City. Unlike other years, the race will have more of a distinct American flavor this year, as defending champion Meb Keflezighi, the first American in 27 years to conquer the streets of New York, will return to defend his title.
Meb will have a full week from when he arrives, launching his book “Run To Overcome,” and his foundation “Team Meb” which will assist young people both here in his country of choice and in his native Africa with health, education and the value of a balanced life. We caught up with Meb as he hit New York for a few questions about running and even hoops.
NYSD: How is running in NY different from other marathons?
MK: Its amazing when one of the busiest cities in the world shuts down for a marathon. The ING New York City Marathon is the biggest marathon in the world in every sense of the word. From the number of participants, spectators, and the professional field always consists of the best of the best in the world. It provides the biggest stage for us runners to perform and experience. This year will be my sixth NYC Marathon, so I love it. Its not just how fast you run in New York, its can you come out first. I am fortunate to have done that, after several close calls and heartbreaks.
NYSD: Is training for NY different than say, Boston, and if so, how?
MK: At the end of the day, each marathon is the same 26.2 mile distance. So the primary goal should be to train for the distance. But to enhance your preparation it is good to simulate your training for the specific race. In New York, the toughest part of the race is the end, when you deal with the hills of central park, whereas in Boston, if you can make it past the heartbreak hills in one piece, the last part of the marathon is a net downhill. My coach, Bob Larsen and our Mammoth Track Club focus on preparing ourselves for the distance first and then polish for the specifics of the race.
NYSD: What has been the biggest difference in your life since winning NY?
MK: There have been so many amazing opportunities since winning the ING New York City Marathon, including the Letterman Show, courtside seats at Knicks game, joining Miss America on the Statue of Liberty float, having Generation UCAN and Sony become additional sponsors in addition to my long time relationships with Nike and PowerBar. But the opportunity to write my book “Run To Overcome,” is probably the best. My desire in writing the book was to share my story of overcoming obstacles to encourage others. I hope to achieve this goal, but the process also allowed me to reflect on my family’s journey. Through book promotion and sponsor appearances, I’ve come to realize just how much I enjoy interacting with other runners. I’m looking forward to more of these inspiring and flattering interactions on my book tour after the New York City Marathon.
NYSD: Have u gotten any advice from other NYC Marathon winners on how to defend your title?
MK: Bill Rodgers said you already know what it takes to get to the finish line first. Some of the greatest American marathoners have been very supportive of me throughout my career, including Alberto Salazar, Joan Benoit Samuelson and Frank Shorter.
NYSD: I have heard you are a fan of other sports, especially basketball. Did you ever play any other sports?
MK: I grew up playing soccer in Eritrea and in Italy, as you can imagine. I played soccer when my family first came to the United States, and throughout junior high. My teammates called me Pele, so I was pretty good and had dreams of becoming a professional soccer player.
The first time I saw a running competition was actually while I was playing soccer in Balboa Park in 1987, a few months after my family arrived in the United States (San Diego). My brothers and I saw a bunch of people running as a group at the park. We thought they were crazy. What were they chasing? What kind of sport is this? Where is the ball? I later came to find out that race was the Footlocker Cross Country High School Championships. By 1993, I was one of those crazy guys in the race.
I love running. You get out of it, what you put into it. You start at the same place and finish at the same place. You have no one to blame about playing time or not getting the ball. It was tough to stop playing soccer because I truly love the sport, but I realized that I had to focus on one sport to get the most out of myself.
NYSD: You were at UCLA during a great time for athletics. What were some of your favorite memories?
MK: Well for me it was winning four NCAA titles in 1997. That year, UCLA was recognized as the number 1 University for athletics, and a bunch of the top athletes for every sport at UCLA were featured on Sports Illustrated, and I was one of those athletes. During my years at UCLA, the biggest Bruin achievement was when we won the NCAA Men’s basketball championship in 1995. There were some great celebrations in Westwood. That is probably the only time I partied in Westwood, and all my friends could not believe I was there. My friends were more used to seeing me in the study lounge, on the run and in the dining hall.
NYSD: Why do you think Steve Lavin can succeed at St. John’s?
MK: First of all, Coach Lavin is a great communicator. Between his years at UCLA and ESPN, Coach Lavin has so much experience in the sport now. I think his experience as a commentator has given him a unique insight into how teams prepare and execute. I wish him the best and hope to catch some of his games in New York or maybe when St. John’s plays UCLA this season.