Rea takes the ride of her life
I arrived at the back side of Lake Mary in Mammoth Lakes at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, August 3, determined not to be late for my coolest interview ever: A bike-along with Olympic marathon champion Mebrahtom “Meb” Keflezighi, and his pacer, Mammoth’s Sara Chavez, not to mention a lakeside chat with National Track and Field Hall of Fame Coach Bob Larsen and some amateur fishing with Meb’s daughter, 8-year-old Fiyori.
“This was my first interview from a bike,” Meb told me after I rode about eight miles in the Lakes Basin with he and Chavez, holding my iPhone and trying not too breathe too heavily while I attempted to keep up with one of the world’s fastest runners. Meb was running at an “easy” 6:45 minute per mile pace on Wednesday—when he’s running to win, it’s more like a 4:30. For 26 miles.
“It always amazes me that I’m so much slower on a bike than he is running,” said Chavez as we chased Meb around the tricky sections of the trail on the backside of Horseshoe. I was having the same thoughts as my heart jackhammered in my chest while I pedaled uphill. Meb, however, chatted throughout the whole thing while he listened to music on his headphones. His playlist includes “a lot of hip hop, R&B, drums, and songs in my native tongue, Tigrinya” said Meb, who moved to the United States from Eritrea in 1987. He became a naturalized American citizen in 1998, the same year he graduated from UCLA.
I lucked into this unique interview because The Sheet’s own June Simpkins got knee rehab from Chavez (“She was the only one tough enough to handle me,” said Simpkins). Chavez’s day job is working as a physical therapist at Mammoth Hospital. Her moonlighting gig has been as Meb’s “good luck charm,” ever since she helped him train for the 2014 Boston Marathon, which he was the first American to win since 1983. “So now I’m stuck with him,” she said with a laugh. She’s since helped him train for a second Boston Marathon (2015), the 2015 New York Marathon, and the trials for the upcoming Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in which he placed second out of the American contenders. Meb, who at 41 is the oldest U.S. Olympic runner to ever compete in the Games, heads to Rio on August 16, and will be running every day until his plane takes off, said Coach Larsen. He competes on August 21.