There are a lot of things that go into a great marathon performance: training, nutrition, rest, peaking, mental focus. These are well known, and get much attention. However, there's at least one other that's less well known and probably more important: happiness. Studies have actually shown that happiness improves running economy. A happy, relaxed marathoner is an efficient one.
Elite athletes generally choose another path in their pre-marathon days. They stay isolated in their hotel rooms, the better to rest up and to evade the swirling germfest that accompanies every international marathon.
Meb didn't just take a different road. He seemed to be wearing a big smile on his face every moment.
The smile was still there after the race in which he set American and New York City Marathon masters records. As the last questioner at his post-marathon interview, I asked him how he had performed so well with such a rigorous race-week schedule. I also noted that he had seem more distant and tense a decade earlier in his career. What had changed?
"I'm blessed to be in the position I'm in-- to be the only person to have won New York and Boston, and have an Olympic medal," Meb replied. "Those are a part of my life forever. Anything more I can do, it’s frosting on the cake. I mean, I would love to represent our country in one more Olympics.
"But for me, now, going through this process is fun. I'm having a blast. I'm not pushing the envelope to where I have to win. I think in the past, maybe I went slightly overboard, and had numerous injuries. I love making the appearances. I love greeting people. I wish I could give even more time because we are a running family.
"And I always try to say thank you to the people who helped me, because I know I did not get here by myself. So many people helped me get to where I am. I want to give back to the sport that has done amazing things in my life."
I'd say the above statements came from a happy, mature athlete. Which may be one reason Meb ran another great race on Sunday.
As Meb ended his statement, Craig Leon asked to make a comment. He had warmed up with Meb, run much of the race with Meb, and finished a couple of minutes behind him in 2:15:16. "He was even taking pictures with people in the last minutes before the start," said Leon. "Here we are warming up, and runners are coming over to him while he's trying to do his drills and stuff. I'm thinking, 'Man, he needs his own personal security just to warm up.' But he took every single picture that anyone asked for, and with a big smile on his face. I mean, he is an amazing ambassador for the sport."