26 Marathons, A Book Review

Is Meb Keflezighi just another retired professional athlete wrapping up his career with an autobiography? We’ve seen many athletes attempt to bring closure and meaning to their careers by publishing their stories. To be honest, I find many these books, poorly written, though I’m sure quite a few are ghostwritten, hard to follow, and entirely self-indulgent. I certainly do not fault them for the effort. Even their one book is one more published than I have.

By way of full disclosure, I did not read 26 Marathons: What I Learned About Faith, Identity, Running, and Life from My Marathon Career. For another week or so, I work in Downtown Chicago and I do a lot of walking. So I listened to the audio version of the book. I often have a hard time listening to audio books. My mind wanders and I completely lose track of the stories. So, in a way, my experience with any particular audio book is somewhat representative of just how engaging some books are.

Meb dedicated a chapter of his to each of his marathons. Meb ran 26 marathons in his professional career. Can a professional runner have a more perfect number of marathons? Each chapter told the story of one of those marathons and started off by letting the reader, or listener, in my case, know which marathon, the finishing time and place, and the lessons learned.

Meb’s story commuted with me on busy trains, weaved in and out of Chicago sidewalk traffic, and waited with me in line at more than a few coffee shops. And through it all, Meb never lost me. I followed his story with anticipation, even finding myself sitting in my driveway, waiting for a chapter to end before shutting off my car.

Meb is not just another runner, and his book did not strike me as just another athlete’s cliche story. To ordinary athletes, Meb and others who have accomplished greatness in their sports appear almost superhuman. But Meb humanized himself. In many ways, I could relate to Meb and I felt close to him. At one point, Meb shared that he “thought about dropping out during every marathon” he ran. Having experienced those same thoughts, having actually dropped out of multiple races over the years, I felt instantly connected. I often say that I prefer running marathons to 5Ks because it takes me 15-20 miles of a marathon before I start wondering why I’m participating, whereas I question why I put myself through such pain almost immediately in a 5K. The admission was emblematic of his great confidence and strength as both a runner and a man. How wonderful to be able to see our sports stars in all their vulnerability. It is an admission that I will take with me to my future races and hopefully it will inspire me when I am in that frame of mind.

26 Marathons did not strike me as a boastful story, though it detailed many of Meb’s remarkable athletic accomplishments. I saw Meb Keflezighi as a modest Eritrean-American man who is grateful for his gift and who is deeply proud of both his Eritrean heritage and his American identity. Meb’s humanity comes out when he shared about crossing himself and pointing towards the heavens when he passed the place where Ryan Shay collapsed to his death. His humility becomes real when he shares the meaning of the moment when he grabbed Mike Cassidy’s hand and they crossed the finish line together after a difficult New York City Marathon.

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Accomplishing greatness on the athletic field is not enough to make any woman or man a hero to men. Use the fame and attention that comes with that greatness to teach lessons of kindness and to model acts of humanity, and I start to may more attention. I obviously do not know Meb Keflezighi personally, but I would like to, and I believe he would be a man of whom I would be proud to introduce to my children for the genuine humility I believe he exemplifies. Thank you Meb for sharing, not only your story, but a big part of yourself in the process.