When Meb Keflezighi became the first American man in 31 years to win the Boston Marathon on Patriots' Day in April, fans around the country wept in joy. He represented an American triumph a year after Bostonians experienced one of the most tragic days in their city's history.
But Keflezighi's remarkable story only kept getting more remarkable. At two week’s shy of his 39th birthday, he was the oldest runner in the pro ranks by three years. And he won the marathon in a personal record of 2:08:37. (Just so you know, pro runners just don't run their fastest times at 39 years of age.)
Given these statistics, it's no surprise that within the running world Keflezighi is known as an ageless wonder. Indeed, after he failed to make his third Olympic team in 2008 due to a severely injured hip, many assumed he would simply fade away into the master's ranks. But in 2009 he became the first American man to win the New York City Marathon since 1982, and in 2012 he won the Olympic trials marathon and then placed fourth in London—eight years after he won a silver medal in Athens.
Now, Meb Keflezighi intends to make the 2016 Olympic team, making him a bona fide running legend who is single-handedly demonstrating that age is just a number.
"One of the reasons I’m going to try to make the 2016 Olympic team is because I realize how much it means to people my age to see someone our age performing at a world-class level," Keflezighi says. "I’ve had an opportunity to meet some of the greatest runners in different eras, and yet I am still competing in each of the eras from the late '90s to late 2010s."
We caught up with Keflezighi to find out his secrets to aging gracefully while still staying at the top of his game.
How did you win Boston at almost 39 years old?
The first step to winning a marathon is getting to the starting line healthy. I was a little bit under-trained going into the Boston Marathon, but I prefer this to being over-trained and not making it to the starting line. On race day, it's 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical.
As you deal with the physical realities of aging, how important does the mental aspect of sports become?
The mental aspect is very important at every age. I believe my mentality gives me an advantage over my much younger competition. Sometimes, this wisdom says less is more. Through years of experience it is easier to listen to your body rather than forcing your body to do something it is not ready for.
What would you consider your top three tips for getting fitter with age?
1. Listen to your body and know when you need to take a day off.
2. Consistent training is the key to improving fitness, but a day off in a span of weeks and months of training won’t hurt.
3. Give your body the right fuel.
As you get older, how important is your diet to successful training/racing? What kinds of things do you eat to support long-term health?
After the age of 35, I have been more focused on my diet. It’s not just what you eat, but when and how much you eat. I try to consume as much protein as possible right after a hard workout to help recovery. Products like PowerBar and Generation UCAN are my ways of having protein within 15 to 30 minutes after a hard workout, until I can get a proper meal.
How has your approach to recovery changed at this age?
I now realize that rest and recovery is just as important as executing a hard workout. I sometimes take naps, and this is part of the recovery process in my profession.
Do you focus more on cross-training now?
To protect my joints, I always try to run on soft surfaces. In terms of cross-training, I am a fan of the ElliptiGO. An ElliptiGO ride has practically replaced my afternoon run. I also do a lot of core exercises to strengthen my muscles and add flexibility. I stretch extensively several times throughout the day.
If you could leave everyday athletes with one message about "agelessness," what would it be?
Age is just a number. Your body will perform based on what you feed it and how you treat it. In the marathon, you get better with age, just like wine!
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