Somewhere north of a million people watched the 2014 New York City Marathon. There were supporters of family and friends. There were those looking for an excuse to day drink. And those holding “worst parade ever” or “I’d rather eat cake” signs.
But as 50,000 souls trundled by with their polyester garments, runny noses, and I-don’t-want-to-know-where chaffing, a few of those spectators probably paused, listened to the running shoes puttering against the asphalt, and thought “hell, maybe I could do this.”
At 39, Meb Keflezighi’s had a productive running year, taking fourth in NYC and first in Boston – the first American to do so since 1983. If you lined the streets on November 2, you probably saw a flash of his orange singlet gliding by with the lead pack. You may have even been part of the noise gauntlet that welcomed him to First Avenue near mile 16. It’s hard to connect with his gazelle-like stride or fathom his 12 miles-per-hour speed. But maybe the mass of 49,996 people behind him inspired you to try for your own 26.2. If that’s the case, read on, because we spoke with Meb about why you should run a marathon and the best way to get started.
Men’s Fitness: Well first, congratulations. I know those winds made for less than ideal conditions.
Meb Keflezighi: The conditions were not ideal and it's tough for everybody. 26.2 miles is challenging in itself, but the wind added another element to it.
MF: There are people out there that have to wonder, why run 26.2 miles? As an elite, it’s your profession, but why do you think the people who are out there for five or six hours do it, too?
MK: The three big running events are the 100 meters, mile, and the marathon because everybody knows the distances. The reason people want to run the marathon is because the challenge, physically, is you. The distance – how you get there – is all up to you and how hard you work. That's why people want to do it.
MF: Your first marathon was in NYC 12 years ago. Do you remember how you felt or what you were thinking when you crossed the finish line?
MK: This year I was talking to a girl and she told me that this is her first marathon and her last marathon, and I said, “well let me tell you, a few years ago I said the same exact words.” Never again. It's painful; I never wanted to do it again. But I said afterwards that I got my Ph.D. because I learned so much of what to do and what not to do.
MF: What happened that year?
MK: I hit the wall. I went for the win; I was leading at First Avenue. All of a sudden, it was a cold day and I threw my beanie away and my gloves away and put water over my head and it was freezing. I shut my engine off; I hit the wall. Instead of doing a nice glide I was just stomping and stomping.
MF: Marathons are one of the only sports where amateurs get to experience the crowds just the same as the elites. So can you describe what it’s like turning onto First Avenue, the most crowded section of the race?
MK: The experience is just amazing. You just hear the roar sound, just as loud as it can be. People have bells. You can’t even hear yourself breath. It's that energy that makes you want to run fast.
MF: For the people who were maybe part of making that noise and now want to run a marathon themselves, how can they stay motivated?
MK: Running is a very therapeutic thing. It's very simple and to get motivation you just need to get out of the door. If you can get out of the door, that's the hardest step. Once you do that you can go and make it your office for the next hour.
MF: Through the thousands of miles you put into training, when do you love running the most?
MK: For me, it's more during the race. When I finished at NYC I was glad it was over but it wasn’t the best thing. I just enjoy the endorphins that kick in in the middle of the race. During the race I would not want to be anywhere else, challenging the best of the best in the world.
MF: So for the non-runner – the guy who thinks it’s crazy to move 26.2 miles for fun – what’s the pitch? Why do you love running so much?
MK: Running is simple. It is the simplest thing you can do and the most inexpensive – just your shoes and shirt. But it’s the most rewarding to say “You know what? I ran four miles today before work, or five miles or ten miles.” It's such a gratifying moment.