Meb Keflezighi
Keflezighi greets the Richards family at the end of the 2017 Boston Marathon. Photo: Michael Doyle.

This Sunday morning two of the sports greatest marathoners will take to the start line at the New York City Marathon. For one of them, Meb Keflezighi, it will be his last competitive marathon. For the other, Shalane Flanagan, there’s a very real possibility of New York being her last.

Combined, these two American distance runners not only have countless titles, championships and medals to their names, but their careers also exemplify what it takes to be the best runner you’re capable of being. I’ve done my fair share of reading about these two athletes, listened to many interviews, and watched all the documentary-type pieces on them that I’ve been able to get my hands on.

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With both Flanagan, and Keflezighi racing on Saturday in New York, it seems timely to reflect on some of what I’ve taken away from these two greats.

If Flanagan and Keflezighi have one thing in common, it’s a relentless work ethic. In interviews with training partners from the past and present, Flanagan’s willingness to push her limits, and stay tough but smart through training, often defines her.

Kara Goucher, a former training partner of Flanagan’s has said in several interviews that she respects Shalane’s work ethic. The two trained together with the Bowerman Track Club in Portland, Oregon, before Goucher moved back to Colorado to join back up with her former Colorado University coaches.

In 2012, Flanagan spoke about her time training with Goucher leading into the US Olympic Trials for the London Games. Her words at that time articulate her attitude towards hard work.

“I get excited to go to practice. It’s not work to me at all. I get giddy getting in my car every day to go to practice and see my training partners . . . It’s work in the sense that we put each other through the grinder. We suffer together. We push each other to get the most out of ourselves.”

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Flanagan’s work ethic is also heralded by her present-day training partner, Amy Cragg. She had this to say about Flanagan in a post-race interview after the 2016 US Olympic Trials in Los Angeles, where Flanagan overheated and just managed to hold on to qualify for the Rio Games.

“We worked really, really hard to get here,” said Cragg. “She put everything out there today . . . she worked so incredibly hard . . . it was one of the most bravest, most courageous runs I’ve ever seen.”

It’s this kind of relentless fpcus I also see in the soon-to-be-retired Keflezighi. When I think of Keflezighi’s work ethic, I think of his commitment to the small things. He’s dedicated to his daily routine of 30 minutes of pre-run rolling, stretching, and muscle activation exercises, as well as all the post-run recovery efforts he puts in. On more than one occasion watching, or listening to interviews with Keflezighi, I’ve heard him talk about the amount of time he puts into his training.

“It’s literally a 24-hour job,” Keflezighi told CBS News in a 2016 interview. “When you’re resting, when you’re eating, when you’re recovering, when you’re training, when you’re cross-training, all those things are taking a toll on your body. Your mind never shuts down, I mean, unless you’re asleep.”

Keflezighi says the small things are what make the big difference. And he’s proven this to be correct, having succeeded in the sport as long as he has. In 2016 he became the oldest athlete in history to make a US Olympic Marathon Team, when he qualified for Olympic Games in Rio at the age of 40. When he raced in Rio he was 41-years-old.

Together, Flanagan and Keflezighi are bringing more wisdom, passion, and knowledge of the sport of running to New York City than I could possibly cover in this piece of writing. However, with actions speaking louder than words, I encourage you to watch on Sunday morning as these two race the through the streets of New York their way. You’ll likely find yourself overwhelmed by the number of lessons you’ll learn.

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