For a man who has made 5 U.S. Olympic groups, Abdihakem “Abdi” Abdirahman got here to distance operating comparatively late. He didn’t play sports activities in highschool in Tucson, Arizona—the town the place his household finally settled after being pressured to depart their native Somalia within the early ‘90s with the outbreak of civil struggle. It wasn’t till he was a 19-year-old freshman at Pima Group Faculty that Abdirahman determined to check out for the observe workforce. As he recounts in his new memoir, Abdi’s World, he confirmed up for his first follow sporting Rockport work boots and jorts and proceeded to drop nearly everybody on a five-mile run. (He made the workforce.) Two and a half years later, after transferring to the College of Arizona, Abdirahman completed second on the 1998 NCAA Cross Nation Championships. You would say that he had some expertise.
It’s been nearly 23 years (and lots of nationwide titles) since that NCAA race, however Abdirahman continues to be at it. At age 44, he would be the oldest American runner ever to compete for an Olympic workforce when he traces up for the lads’s marathon at this summer time’s Tokyo Video games. His longevity as an elite runner is maybe all of the extra outstanding when you think about that Abdirahman has by no means had the stainless operating type of somebody like his longtime buddy and coaching companion Bernard Lagat. A heel-striker with a peculiar, unorthodox stride, Abdirahman has nonetheless confirmed himself to be one of the crucial sturdy athletes within the historical past of American operating.
As he gears up for his ultimate weeks of coaching earlier than heading to Japan, I spoke to Abdirahman about his new e-book and the way he has managed to coach at an elite degree nicely into his fifth decade.
OUTSIDE: In your memoir, you point out that you simply didn’t begin operating till your freshman 12 months in faculty and that your first race was a observe 5K the place you ran 15:05, regardless of primarily operating the occasion like a fartlek exercise. I’m sorry, however that’s insane. Was that basically your first race?
ABDIRAHMAN: That 5,000 was undoubtedly my first-ever race. It was simply a kind of issues. I didn’t have any concept what I used to be doing. They only instructed me that I needed to run twelve and a half laps after the gun goes off. I’d simply run 200 meters quick after which 200 meters straightforward. I keep in mind in some unspecified time in the future I took my jersey off and put it on prime of my head simply to chill myself off—I didn’t know what the rule was. That was the beginning of my operating profession.
Do you ever ponder whether getting a relatively late begin as a runner has been one of many the explanation why you’ve been in a position to have such an extended profession and keep away from burnout, each bodily and mentally?
I feel there’s a connection there, however on the finish of the day it’s a must to give credit score to my coach, Dave Murray, for constructing me up from the faculty to the skilled degree. I used to be by no means a excessive mileage man. The primary ten years after I bought out of school, I used to be solely operating 60 to 70 miles per week as a result of I used to be operating 5Ks and 10Ks on the observe. And, sure, for those who have a look at a number of the different guys I’ve been operating towards, they’ve been operating since junior excessive. So after I began in faculty, they had been eight years forward of me. I didn’t actually begin doing mileage of over 100 miles per week till my mid- to late-thirties. Earlier than that, I’d by no means even go to 90 miles in every week.
Distance runners aren’t typically identified for his or her flamboyant celebrations. So I wish to thanks for the way in which you celebrated after successful the 10,000-meters on the 2008 Olympic Trials, once you took an impromptu bathtub within the steeplechase water pit in your victory lap. Of the 5 Olympic groups that you simply made which one was probably the most emotionally gratifying?
Every one was superb, since you at all times have to return by way of harm and doubt. If somebody instructed you that they had an ideal build-up for 4 straight years, they’d be mendacity to you. Nothing’s good for 4 years. However, for me, probably the most gratifying one and my favourite must be the 2020 Olympic Trials in Atlanta as a result of that’s the one the place lots of people by no means thought I used to be going to make it and thought I used to be simply trying to take part within the Trials. For me, simply to return on the market, show them fallacious, and present them I nonetheless bought it, that was probably the most gratifying. I don’t understand how the Olympics goes to go, however that was my favourite Trials as a result of I had so much to show and I did what I had promised to myself: I labored actually laborious. Even when I had not made that workforce, I’d not even have been upset as a result of I knew how laborious I labored. However thank god issues didn’t occur that manner.
I’ve heard you say that you simply desire to not self-identify as an “older runner.” I can see how that angle could be advantageous, however I’m certain your coaching is totally different now than once you had been youthful. How do you discover a steadiness between not seeing your age as an impediment, whereas additionally not having unrealistic expectations of what your physique can deal with in comparison with what you will have been doing 15 years in the past?
Nicely, the actual fact is that I’m 44 years previous and I can’t deny that. However do I really feel like a 44-year-old? No. Do I run like one? No. So, what do I take into account myself? I take into account myself an elite athlete and on the finish of the day I prepare like an elite marathoner and do all the pieces that they do. However do I really feel able to what I used to do after I was youthful, in my mid-twenties or thirties? No. And that’s the reality. However I’m not racing the identical distances that I used to be operating at that age. I’m operating marathons now. The truth is that I’m not as quick as I was, however I’m quick sufficient to compete on the distance that I’m operating.
In your e-book, you repeatedly point out the connection you’ve with Meb Keflezighi and Bernard Lagat—two different African expatriates out of your era who grew to become star runners and had been aggressive into their forties. Do you guys have a particular secret? I do know Lagat takes like a month off yearly. Appears to have served him nicely.
I did the identical factor as Kip (Lagat) once we had been each operating observe, as a result of we had been each coaching in Tucson. We’d take 4 weeks of no operating and simply letting the physique recuperate. I feel that served us nicely, me and Bernard, and I feel Meb used to do the identical factor, too. Lots of people don’t perceive you can’t simply preserve coaching, coaching, coaching. Lots of people will run a race and as an alternative of taking time without work they may take a pair days straightforward after which, they’re already again to totally coaching. So, yeah, I feel a part of what served us nicely to have had lengthy careers is that restoration.
Just a few instances in your e-book, you point out particular exercises that you simply did and the paces that you simply had been operating. For instance, you point out that earlier than the 2012 London Olympics, you probably did 12 x 1K with one minute relaxation in 2:45 and a 20-mile development run beginning at 5:10 and dealing all the way down to miles within the 4:40s. Followers of the game actually respect that degree of element. With the Olympic marathon one month away, would you be keen to disclose any huge exercises that you simply nonetheless have deliberate? Or is that an Abdi secret till after the race?
No secrets and techniques! I don’t thoughts telling folks what I do. I simply don’t like placing it on social media and speaking about it, or tweeting about it. That’s simply me. Look, the bread and butter exercise for a marathon build-up must be the long term. 12 x 1K can also be nice, however an important factor for a marathon build-up will at all times be your lengthy runs. Since I’ve executed loads of these, all that is still at this level is simply sharpening up: numerous Ks and brief intervals. Final week, I did seven instances three minutes, seven instances two minutes, and 7 instances one minute—every set somewhat sooner. I began with 4:50 per-mile tempo and bought all the way down to, like, 4:25 per-mile for the one-minute reps.
What paces do you do the long term at?
Nicely, we do them at altitude and the course is somewhat bit difficult, however we begin at like six-minute per mile tempo and get down to five:20 to five:00 tempo.
Remaining query on technique. You may have a status as a shrewd racer, so championships model races swimsuit you nicely. And though the Olympic marathon has been moved from Tokyo to Sapporo, it may nonetheless be fairly heat. Are you hoping for a sizzling day?
I’m simply hoping for an excellent race and I’m going to organize myself in addition to I can. As you say, I’ve executed nicely in championship-style races, like New York or Boston. Any race the place there’s no pacer. It’d get sizzling, however the extra folks complain concerning the circumstances and the climate, the higher it’s for me as a result of I see the climate as the nice equalizer. So, let the most effective man win the race.