Book Review: Meb for Mortals

I enjoy reading about running. You can only run so much. You can only talk about running so much (especially with people who don’t want to hear anymore about your running). You can only track progress and make training plans so much. So sometimes, it’s nice just to read about running.

Besides the enjoyment that comes from reading about something you’re interested in (running in this case), reading about running can also lead to better running. This is where Meb for Mortals comes in.

Meb for Mortals was written by Meb Keflezighi (with Scott Douglas), who’s fame really soared when he won the 2014 Boston Marathon — the first American runner to win it since 1983. He also won the 2009 New York Marathon, placed 4th at the 2012 Summer Olympics, and won Silver at the 2004 Summer Olympics. Of course he has many other running accomplishments as well.

Meb for Mortals was obviously written to cash in on his fame after his Boston Marathon win and to reward his sponsors. Some readers may be turned off by Meb’s transparent references to his sponsors throughout the book, but it didn’t bother me for two reasons: (1) Meb’s sponsors enable him to run professionally — he must be grateful for each of them and this is a good way to reward them. (2) Meb really uses the products that he mentions in Meb for Mortals, so it’s fair that he mention them. An example of this is the Ellipti-go, which Meb uses regularly for cross training and was using during his training before his Boston win.

That brings me to what I loved about Meb for Mortals: The book is essentially all of Meb’s thoughts and many details on how he trains and why he trains the way he does. Here is a world class marathoner, one of the best ever, who has given any person willing to read his book significant insight into how a professional trains.

I’ve read dozens, perhaps hundreds, of articles about running, not to mention a few books. Many of them have conflicting advice:

  • Run Less Run Faster says you can train with just 3 runs and 2 cross training workouts per week. Others say you should have 50+ miles per week for marathons.
  • Some say you should do long runs in a carbohydrate-deficient state so your body learns to burn fat. Others say to carbo-load before long training runs.
  • Some say long runs over 20 miles aren’t necessary. Others say you should do 22-24 miles. Other say 15-18 miles.

The list could go on, but I knew as I was reading Meb for Mortals that this is how Meb Keflezighi trains, so it can’t be far off the mark. That knowledge is great context for the book. Note the dates in Meb’s accomplishments that I listed above. He was one of the best marathoners in the world in 2004 and in 2014. Meb was just two weeks shy of his 39th birthday when he won Boston. When I heard that a 38-year-old won Boston, I was inspired. That means there’s hope for me (not to win Boston, but at least to continue improving)!

Here are some great pieces of advice I took from Meb for Mortals:

  • Cross training when you’re injured can maintain fitness to a high degree. When I started the book, I was actually taking several days off running due to some knee issues. Meb’s advice to cross-train in a way to mimic my running training was very helpful. His counsel and personal examples that you can maintain running fitness while cross-training gave me hope.
  • Static stretching is not the devil. Meb does static and dynamic stretching before and after workouts. A lot of running literature says that stretching before a workout is bad. Meb doesn’t think so, and he credits his longevity in running partially to his stretching.
  • Meb for Mortals includes several pages with pictures of the stretching and strengthening he does on a regular basis.
  • Setting goals is important, and it’s also important to set them in the right way. Goals should have personal meaning, be specific, be challenging, be realistic, and be communicated to “a few people close to you.” I’ve set some goals based on this advice.
  • Meb also talks about what to do when you don’t meet your goals. He gives some very useful advice of having backup goals: if you realize on Mile 15 of a marathon that your primary goal is not achievable, you should have plan B, C, D, etc. goals so that you don’t fall through the floor and disappoint yourself.
  • Meb gives some good eating advice, although it’s pretty much what you’d expect. What was helpful for me was reading about how an elite marathoner is still tempted and how he focuses and prioritizes his goals.

There are a couple things about Meb for Mortals that I didn’t love. First: Some of Meb’s advice is difficult to employ since most of us non-professional runners can’t be as committed as Meb. For example, he says that stretching and strengthening is more important than running an extra mile. This may be true when you’re running 120 miles per week, but when you’re running 30 miles per week ever mile is much more important. That said, Meb points out that you should try and just implement what you can. You don’t have to do it all. Try stretching a couple times per week as a start.

The other thing that I missed from Meb for Mortals was that there’s no training regime I can follow. Run Less Run Faster is full of different 16-week training schedules that anyone can apply. These are useful to have. Since Meb is an elite, it doesn’t really make sense for him to detail out his 16-week programs. He gives some detail on what he does before his races, but it’s so beyond my abilities that it’s rendered mostly irrelevant to me.

That said, I still loved Meb for Mortals. In fact, I need to re-read it. I loved Meb’s frank advice. I loved his tips and opinions about everything from vegetarianism (he doesn’t recommend it) to GPS units (he uses one). Meb and his book are inspiring to me and I hope to put much of Meb’s advice into practice.