Run To Win
The Olympic stage is set for the world-class athletes to perform at their very best. The athletes and fans expect the athlete’s best during the Olympics. But without adequate training you cannot deliver, no matter how big the stage or the desire. As excited as I was to be on the Olympic team again, I didn’t train any different for this race than my other 26.2 races. The only difference is that it only comes every 4 years and the whole world is watching. But the distance is the same, and thus the preparation should be the same.
Although I had a good game plan going into my Olympic Marathon training, my preparation was not ideal because I had a couple of unexpected setbacks in April and June. In April, I woke up after a solid week of training and I could not walk normally the next day. My glutes would not allow me to stand up without support. I took it day by day, but I ended up having to take three weeks off from April 6 through April 27. This was supposed to be the base mileage part of the training cycle, so I just had to get healthy and pay attention to my body to make up the lost time. During these few weeks of injury, I was also traveling a lot for my sponsors and as a guest of races, including the Grand Marshal of the Boston Marathon.
With so much time off from training, my goal for the Olympics started to shift from winning a medal to getting to the starting line healthy. I ran my first 5K at the King Estate Wine Country Run near Eugene, Oregon. I won, but it was just a fun run with friends the week before I attended the Eugene Marathon as the official starter. The travel continued and my running started making progress…I did my first tempo at the Healthy Kidney 10K on May 12. My goal was to break 30 minutes as my first tempo, but to my pleasant surprise I ran 29:08. Eight days later, I ran Bay to Breakers for the second year in a row. I ran 18 seconds faster than I did the year before without any interval training and being sick. Trust me, if it was a marathon, I would have not started the race. But for a 7.5 mile race, I toughened it out, especially because I thought it would help with my turnover and speed come the Olympics. That was the goal behind racing a lot of shorter races before the Olympic Games, push my body in ways I could not in training. Unfortunately, the hard effort while under the weather put me over the edge and I was sick for another week after the race. I don’t get sick much, but when I do… it hits me pretty hard.
In early June, came the opportunity to run the San Diego Rock n Roll Half Marathon. This was great because it gave me a chance to run at home and defend my title. At that point, I hadn’t done much intense training. With the exception of the two short races mentioned above I only had one other workout (5 times 1K and 9 times 300m repeats). The race result was incredible considering the training (or lack thereof). I won the race in 63:17.
Unfortunately, my glutes got irritated during that race and I could only manage a 4 mile run the next day, instead of my typical 10 mile recovery run. In June, my new goal became to get to the starting line of the Olympic Marathon healthy. I took another week off from running, but did 2 days of biking with my buddy Rich Levy.
I then traveled to Eugene for the Track and Field Trials and it was then that I was able to get back into my routine. Thanks to my good friend Jim Jaqua, I was able to train, enjoy the Trials and still have time to take a nap for the necessary recovery. Many of the distractions were getting minimized. As soon as I attended the mandatory “Olympic Ambassador Program” in Eugene, I returned to Mammoth for some serious training. In fact, I left before the Trials were over. It would have been fun to enjoy the Trials with friends and see my Olympic teammates qualify, but I sacrificed that to start visualizing my Olympic race while training in the Eastern Sierra Mountains.
My friend Rich Levy came to Mammoth to assist me by pacing me on the bike. I started with a six mile tempo. It was not promising, but I kept working hard to prepare for the big race on August 12. Everyone knew August 12 was going to be the Marathon day and we all trained to peak on that day. Therefore, I did what I had to do be healthy by that day. It was not an easy task. I almost had to starve myself to keep my weight down. I love to eat and my body was craving more food. I told my close friends and pace makers like Dirk Addis that I needed another 2-5 more weeks and you will see a fit Meb doing something special. Unfortunately, I could not buy more time as I watched the Olympic Opening Ceremony from my living room on July 27th with family and friends. Part of me wished I had participated in the Opening Ceremonies like I did in my previous two Olympic Games, but my wife and I reminded each other it was a necessary sacrifice for the best odds of success on race day. Well, after only 4 weeks of training 100 plus miles, the day finally arrived. It was finally time for the 2012 Olympics Marathon. I was healthy but not 100% fit, because due to the setbacks, I was behind in my training.
As I review the race, I was up in the front feeling comfortable for about 5 miles. In fact, I was in the
lead trying to control the race from being too fast. Since high school I loved being in the lead if I am
healthy. However, on the first fluid station there was confusion. At the USA fluid station, I was handed Ryan Hall’s drink. I was upset I did not get handed my special fluid. I turned and looked back to find Ryan and he was a little behind. I decided to slow down for him to catch up and hand him his drink. Unfortunately, he could not grab my drink. He drank his drink and he offered me the rest of his drink. Usually, I don’t try something new on race day, but since it was over 70 degrees and 77 % humidity, I drank his drink. Unfortunately, Ryan’s drink didn’t settle well with my stomach, because I got a painful stitch in my stomach a couple of miles later. This pain caused me to fall back from the lead.
Some people may criticize my decision to fall back and give my teammate his drink, but if I had to do it again I would do the same all over again. It was the right thing to do and I am proud of my decision.
Furthermore, the turns and the cobble stone roads were beating up my foot pretty bad, where I was
developing blood blister on my foot. I think a part of my foot is still sensitive to blisters, especially
after the Breathe Right strip issue in November 2011. I was struggling and went through the halfway
point in 1:04:28 (about 1 minute and 13 second behind the leader). At this point, I was thinking can Istill run a Personal best? I assumed there were about 20 runners ahead of me and that I was definitely
out of medal contention. How many people are going to come from behind and pass me? I kept going
for another 4 miles and struggled. At this point I was in such excruciating pain, that I thought about
dropping out. I started playing mind games: I already have an Olympic Silver Medal. I had already signed
a contract to run the 2012 ING New York City Marathon in the fall before coming into the Olympics, so
do I push to finish the race, but risk not starting the NYC Marathon? Do I want to take that option? But
then I remembered, what I usually said all year long, to go to the Olympics and represent “Our Country
the Best Way I can”. So the option to drop out faded away and my new goal became to finish the race.
I prayed to God for the strength to allow me to catch up to the pack. Eventually, I caught up to the
second pack of nine runners. At this point I had no idea what place I was in and how far ahead the lead
I started to work hard and hold on to the group as much as possible. I started to think, if I beat one of
these guys I will be okay. The group started to filter and fall apart. I then set a new goal. This is a race
within a race. I wanted to win the race within this group.
By about mile 21, my stitch was finally gone and the group I was a part of started to get down to two
guys. The Japanese runner, Kentaro Nakamoto, was determined to drop me. I kept on his heel and
thought to let him do the work and out kick him in the last 400m. Well, that changed as we started
to pass people who were dropping from the lead group. At about 5K from the finish I saw coach Bob
Larsen, who I had been spotting each lap. This time he says “6th place.” If I can beat the Japanese
runner, that would put me in 5th place, which is a huge accomplishment considering all the obstacles
overcome to get this far in the race.
Then about a mile later, I spotted a green jersey about 35 seconds ahead. It was my friend Marilson Dos
Santos of Brazil. I noticed him looking back. I know the feeling of hitting the wall in a marathon and so
I wanted to capitalize on this opportunity and try to solidify a 4th place finish. I started working toward
a new goal, I think I can get him. I first needed to drop the Japanese runner who has been running with
me most of the way. I felt it was possible to catch Dos Santos. I was going to be satisfied with my fifth
place finish, but then something came to mind; drugs. If any of the top three get caught down the road
with a positive drug test, then the 4th place guy gets promoted to Bronze. In that case, I definitely want
to be that guy who finished 4th. You never know now-a-days. This is not an accusation against those
that medaled in the marathon, it was just my motivation for digging deep to get that 4 th spot. My words
for the medalists today are the same as my interview after the race: “As a Silver Medalist in 2004, I know
how that feels, so I congratulate those people who finished first, second, and third.” Congratulations
Stephen Kiprotich, Abel Kirui, and Wilson Kipsang!
Getting 4th at the Olympic Games is a huge accomplishment. My goals during the race ranged from
thinking about dropping out, to just finishing the race to finishing 4th place. The result is a huge
accomplishment for me, my family, friends, the sponsors who stuck with me, and our county. It
is another milestone in the resurgence of USA distance running, along with the strong Olympic
performances by Galen Rupp, Leo Manzano, Bernard Lagat and Matt Centrowitz and Duane Solomon.
I did not have to keep going once I was out of the medal contention but to represent the USA the best
way I can meant to keep on going. I was so happy to finish 4th place and grab the USA flag before I
crossed the finish line. It was a huge comeback from behind race for me. In a marathon, once you fall
behind it is hard to make a come back. I guess God heard my prayers as I was pushed by the cheers of
the close to 50 family and friends, plus the great crowd that surrounded the criterium course and the
people back in the USA watching me on TV. It made all the difference in the world.
On Wednesday after the race I had to be on a wheelchair at Heathrow Airport because I could not walk
due to the blisters on my feet. Even now, two weeks later, I am still dealing with the wound on my feet
brought on by the hard impact of my feet on the warm cobble stones and gravel. It gives me great pride
to not give up and that I kept fighting mile by mile, one competitor at a time. It gives me great joy to
represent our country to the best of my ability. I guess this is where the quote “Pain is temporary and
Pride is forever” is applicable.
Finally, I had no idea all the pressure was on me as I did not know my marathon teammates Ryan Hall
and Abdi Abdirahman had dropped out until I crossed the finish line and went into the media zone.
Well, that puts in perspective how a difficult a day it was for everyone. It is not always a race for the
medals, sometimes it’s a struggle just to get to the finish line, and as my good friend Desi Davila showed,
sometimes it’s a challenge just to get to the starting line. That is what I mean by Running to Win, doing
the best you are capable of doing under the circumstances. For me, 4th place at the Olympics was a
gold medal effort.
With that…I would like to announce my next Run To Win effort will be the 2012 ING New York City
Marathon. This year will mark the 10th anniversary of my marathon debut (at the 2002 New York City
Marathon). After that race, I told Coach Bob Larsen that it was “my first and last marathon.” Now, 10
years later, I am preparing for my 17th marathon. I want to thank the NYRR for introducing me to the
marathon and supporting me every step of the way. I am proud of what we have achieved together.
I would also like to give special thanks to my sponsors: Skechers, Sony, Generation UCAN, CEP
Compression, PowerBar, Citibank, Garmin, Oakley, USANA and NYAC for believing in me. I am proud to
represent you and have you as partners. Thanks to you for your support.
Run To Win,