The Olympic countdown clock is ticking. For some, like today’s Rock `n` Roll San Diego Half Marathon winner Meb Keflizighi, the Olympic Games are right on schedule, 10 weeks out with all his tickets punched, ready for the final big training push toward the medal stand in London. For others, like second place finisher Ryan Hall, August 12th is approaching like a runaway freight train as he finds himself still lashed to the rails of injury wriggling to get free in time.
“I felt good out front,” said Hall after his 65:38 time put him 2:26 behind Meb’s 63:12 win. “I was faster through 10K than at Healthy Kidney (the 10K in New York City in May.) But I was a little flat in the second half.”
In what was their final race before the August 12th Olympic Marathon in London, hometown hero Meb Keflizighi and 2008 Olympic Marathon 10th place finisher Ryan Hall established themselves early with a 4:40 opening mile on an overcast day with the temperature holding at 61 degrees Fahrenheit. But by two miles(9:14) Meb had already opened an eleven second advantage that did nothing but grow through the next 11+ miles.
Coming on the heels of Ryan’s 30:15, 15th place performance at New York’s Healthy Kidney 10k, where Meb ran 29:08 for seventh place, today’s half marathon result begged for an explanation. While the sweet-natured Hall generally holds his inner thoughts to himself, begging off any rivalry with Meb, or caring much about his times at events other than in the marathon, a man with 4:46 per mile pedigree over the 26.2 mile marathon distance built atop a 3:42 1500 meter high school chassis can’t average 4:50 per mile over 10K and 5:00 pace in the half marathon without raising some red flags. And today Ryan copped to the issue at hand, or should I say foot?
“I’m not going to lie. When I was first looking at doing this race, right after starting back training after the trials, I was thinking about trying to come here and run 61 minutes or something good. But as things progressed, my body didn’t quite come around like I was hoping. I’m still battling this plantar fasciitis. It’s really lingering, and giving me some problems. I need to get rid of that. I’ve run 65 minutes the month before a marathon before (Boston in 2011 after the NY Half), so I look at that and know these races are always tough for me. So just go back to training, get back in shape, and get things figured out with my foot.”
However, it’s one thing to be flat due to high mileage a month out from a major marathon, and quite another to deal with a nagging injury that won’t go away with one of the two or three biggest races of your life coming on fast.
“It (left foot plantar problem) cropped up in November,” explained the tousled-haired bleach blond with the boy-next-door demeanor. “I took three weeks off, and I thought doing therapy on it it would be gone, but it’s worse than before. It’s one of those things where your foot is bothering you, and you’re favoring one leg. Now my right hamstring is bothering me. So it’s one thing leads to another. But I have great people around me, and I believe it’s going to get better before the Games.”
One of the people in Ryan’s corner is long-time friend and hero, American mile legend Jim Ryun. Jim and wife Anne were on hand in San Diego as their daughter Catherine works for event manager The Competitor Group.
Last fall when he was in Philadelphia for the RnR Half Marathon, a friend took Jim to a shoe repair shop after noticing that the owner had a picture of Jim displayed prominently on the wall of his shop.
“We surprised him with a visit, and had a great time,” Jim told me. “And in the course of walking through the store I noticed he had some sandals with a metatarsal lift. I asked what those were for, and he said, ‘plantar fasciitis. Do you know anyone who has that?’ Well, I do.”
So the cobbler sat Jim down, began to work on the area – to the point of tears - and then gave the former congressman from Kansas some inserts to put in his shoes that had a lift under the metatarsal heads.
“That and a couple of exercises he gave me, and in a week I was cleared up. And I’d had a plantar problem for a month or more. I shared some of that with Ryan, and we’re hoping that will help him, too, because I’d like to see him run healthy in London because I think he’s a medal possibility.”
America’s running fans are starved for running heroes, and have invested a lot in all three of the 2012 male Olympic marathoners, Meb, Ryan, and Abdi Abdirahman. It’s a small fraternity, one that is both self-motivated, and fraternally inspired.
“It’s always an honor to run with Meb,” said Ryan at the VIP area following the race finish at Sea World. “Going through moments like this for myself, I look to how Meb dealt with the disappointment of not making the team in 2008 with his hip problem. I saw him go through a year of just junk, and he went through it with such grace. I think that’s what really shows the heart of a champion, you know. Anyone can shine when they are running really well, but it’s what you do when you’re not running well that shows your character. And Meb inspires me in that way. Man, I hope he gets a medal (in London). And I hope to take a run at one, too. But having seen him go through those tough moments, how he had such character through that, inspires me to go through tough moments like I’m going through at the moment.”
The Olympic countdown clock is ticking, and as with all clocks, it waits for no man, no matter the depth of his character.