Heading into the ING New York City Marathon, four-time Olympian Abdi Abdirahman—who will turn 36 on New Year’s Day—is uttering the “R” word.
But don’t for a minute think it’s a done deal.
“You’d be cheating yourself,” said Abdirahman in an interview after fighting the 29-degree temperature and a tight hamstring in last weekend’s USA 10 Mile Championships in the Twin Cities, finishing a disappointing 14th. “We all know it’s not going to last forever. I can’t say I’m planning on retiring next year. [At the] same time, I don’t know what 2014 holds for me competition-wise, whereas before, when I was younger, I could say that ‘a couple years from now …’”
Known as “The Black Cactus,” Abdirahman struggled with injury for 18 months before rallying to finish a surprising third in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in January. In the London Games, however, he pulled out in the early going when he heard a “pop” in his knee that was later diagnosed as a strained tendon. The knee, he said, has not bothered him since he resumed training after taking two weeks off after London, but that the temperature at the start of last Sunday’s race was below freezing—less-than-ideal conditions for someone who lives and trains in Tucson, AZ, where it was recently 110 degrees—and that he was never able to completely warm up.
“My right hamstring tensed up in the cold,” he said. “It wasn’t related to the summer [Olympics injury].”
Abdirahman said he is looking forward to his third ING New York City Marathon—“the number one marathon in the world”—where he finished sixth in 2008 (2:14:17) and ninth in 2009 (2:14:00), including the chance to run yet again in the same race as longtime rival and occasional training partner Meb Keflezighi.
“It's always good to have him around me; it’s a mental thing,” said Abdirahman. “We help each other out. We've been running against each other since about 1997, so we have become really good friends.” Besides, he said, “I don’t want to be caught in no-man’s land by myself. In the marathon, you’ve got to compete, you’ve got to know what you’re capable of and go with the pack.”
But at this point in Abdirahman’s career, running has become about something more than just his own racing.
“I am taking a moment to enjoy the sport, to give it back, talk to the kids,” he said, citing the appearances he has made in NYC at the pre-Marathon “Run With Champions” even that features Young Runners and Mighty Milers from New York Road Runners youth programs. “I want to see one of these New York kids win the marathon some day. That’s one of my dreams.”
Photo: Kristine Smith
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg