Training had its risks -- and rewards

BOSTON -- For top American marathoners Meb Keflezighi and Ryan Hall, the benefits of high-altitude training in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., are counterbalanced by the risk of navigating slippery snow and ice.

Coming off the first New York City Marathon victory by an American since 1982, Keflezighi was clearing snow off his car in late January when he slipped and fell on black ice, tweaking his left knee and derailing his training for several weeks.

"I was like, 'I hope nobody saw that,'" said Keflezighi, whose injury forced him to miss last month's New York half-marathon -- a tune-up race for Monday's 114th Boston Marathon.

"That's the thing about training in Mammoth," Hall said at the Fairmont Copley Plaza on Thursday. "It's so crazy up there. It's a great place to ski, but I'm always up there in the winter time thinking. "What are we doing up there?

"You just have to be extra careful. It's a lot of work. Meb is shoveling his porch when there's 4 feet of snow on it. I just let my porch go."

Even though Keflezighi isn't 100 percent healthy, he and Hall represent the best chance for an American victory on Boston's legendary 26.2-mile course since Greg Meyer performed that feat in 1983.

Alberto Salazar was the previous American to win the New York Marathon (in 1982) before Keflezighi did it this past fall in 2 hours, 9:15 minutes.

And while their high-altitude training ground in California proved dangerous, it also proved fertile for prognostication. During a training run four months before the New York Marathon, Hall predicted Keflezighi would win. In the same breath, Hall predicted his own win in New England this year.

Hall chocked his bravado up to being "over-caffeinated." But neither Hall nor Keflezighi shy away from the pressure that comes along with being Americaï's Great Marathon Hopes.

"We both badly want to win, not for our individual goals but for the USA," Keflezighi said. "I ran very well in New York and he saw that it can happen. By me winning New York, it was an example that it can happen."

They certainly have the credentials. Keflezighi, a two-time Olympian and American record holder in the 20 Kilometers and 10,000 meters, finished third in Boston in 2006. Hall collected his own third-place finish here last year, recording a time of 2:09:40. Hall, the American record holder in the half marathon, is also the second-fastest American marathoner of all time with a 2:06:17 personal best. He shattered the event record at the 2007 U.S. Olympic Trials before finishing 10th at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Marathon.

Last year, Hall took an aggressive early lead in Boston but ultimately fell off pace as Deriba Merga of Ethiopia won in 2:08:42 to take the $150,000 prize. His only recollection is that his body started hurting at around 15 miles and didn't stop.

Last year he had minimal exposure to the course beforehand. He trained on it for a week this winter while his wife, Sara, participated in the Boston Indoor Games. The last three weeks they hid out in Waltham while he learned how to dole out energy on the course, especially Newton's hills.

Hall said he was recognized only once, by a FedEx man. "Once you come into the city, it feels like 'Here's the race!' and there's no putting it out of your mind," said, Sara, who will run Sunday's Women's Elite Mile. "I definitely noticed a change in his demeanor once we got here to the hotel."

"Ryan does love to interact with people when he's running out there and it does add to his excitement, but to have that 27/7 every time you're getting on the T is a little overwhelming. He loves the city and every time he comes back he gets so excited. He was going through a rough patch in February in his training and then we came here for the Boston Indoor Games and he trained on the course and he just came alive."

"He's also taken to Boston's indigenous music, training to the Drop Kick Murphy's "Shipping Up to Boston."

Hall doesn't train with Keflezighi regularly, but said he can't wait to run with another American on Monday, especially since Hall was the lone America frontrunner last year.

"I like to look at it as we're competing alongside each other, we're helping to push each other," Hall said. "Meb is such a great guy. We live 400 meters away from each other. I love his family. They're just great people. For Meb to win [New York] was like my brother winning.

"Meb definitely broke down the wall a little bit when he won the New York City Marathon. But still, Boston is America's race, it's been going on forever, it's on Patriots Day. There's nothing more American than the Boston Marathon."


* Last year's female field took heat for starting so slowly, and Boston Marathon legend Joan Benoit Samuelson thinks organizers learned their lesson.

"It will be a good, honest effort right from the start," she said yesterday. "The weather could be very conducive to fast times on Monday, so I think they'll go out a little bit more aggressively, but they know what the course holds in store for them.

"It will be a good, strong race, it's a strong field," she added. "Nobody really stands out to me. It will make for a good race because a win in Boston is a big deal. So there will be a lot of hungry women out there."

Defending champion Salina Kosgei agreed with Samuelson and said the women are sensitive to last year's criticisms.

"I think we'll run faster this year," said Kosgei, who won in 2:32.16 last year.

* Boston Athletic Association officials say hundreds of runners traveling from Europe might miss or be late for Monday's race due to a massive ash cloud spewed from an Icelandic volcano that's caused hundreds of flight cancellations.

Runners unable to make the race will be allowed to defer until next year.

"When I got the news about the volcano I thought it was a lot like marrying the girl you dreamed about all your life only to find out you make each other miserable," a BAA official said, reading an e-mail from a stranded runner who qualified for Boston after nine tries in 13 years.

"Oh well. If I can't make it in, I will just defer and hope for better luck next year."