Abdi Abdirahman en route to the 10,000 title in Eugene (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News 30 October 2008 – New York, USA

Abdirahman looking for Marathon breakthrough in New York

New York, USAWith just three days to go before the start of the ING New York City Marathon, Abdi Abdirahman has never felt better – especially about the Marathon.

“This is my year!” he said at a press conference here on Wednesday.

Abdi, 31, was born in Somalia, came to the United States as a teenager with no running history, and became an American citizen in January 2000. He has been the No. 1 American 10,000-metres runner for the past several years, winning U.S. national championships in 2005, 2007 and 2008. 

But his pursuit of the Marathon has so far brought him only moderate success, e.g., a 2:11:24 fifth place here in 2005, a 2:08:56 personal best finishing fourth in Chicago in 2006 and an injury-related dnf a year ago in the U.S. Olympic Trials.

For that matter, Abdi’s 15th place in the Olympic 10,000 metres (in 27:52.53) was nothing to write home about. “I wasn’t clicking as a runner in Beijing, and I was kind of disappointed, but I came out good.”

Driven by passion for the Marathon

Good!? Yes, he explains. He came away from Beijing with none of the chronic injuries that have plagued him over the years. “No problems. My left hip, my sore back, none of that – so I can enjoy running! And now I have confidence in my training, and I have PASSION. You’ve got to enjoy the Marathon. You’ve got to have a passion for it. And I do.”

After the Olympics, Abdi stayed in Beijing for a week of relaxing and sightseeing. And when he got back to Tucson, he went right back to heavy training: 120 miles (200 km) per week, focused entirely on New York.

Dave Murray, the former University of Arizona coach who has trained Abdi for the past decade, fed him a steady diet of long, hard runs:10-mile tempo runs at a 4:45-per-mile pace; two-hour runs covering about 22 miles, once or twice a week, or sometimes 90-minute fast run three times a week; bunches of two-mile repeats at a 4:40-per-mile pace with a two-minute recovery; and just last week, an 8-mile run at 4:40 mile pace. “But I only did 90 miles for the week,” Abdi is quick to point out.

The intensity of his two-month build-up, Abdi says, reflects the way marathons are run today. “The race has changed. It’s getting to be like a 10k.”

His only race leading up to New York was Newcastle’s Great North Run on October 2, where he finished third in 1:01.33, behind Tsegaye Kebede’s 59:45. Kebede was there to run fast and win the race; Abdi was there for what in horse-racing is called a tightener.

“It was a good race for me,” says Abdi.  “I was planning to run 60-something, but we went out very fast. The splits were 4:16 for the first mile, 8:40 for two miles, 13:44 at 5k and 28:07 at 10k. He (Kebede) was pushing the pace from the gun.

“It was too fast, and I eased up. I said to myself, ‘You have to remember what you’re here for,’ and I was there for a tune-up.’” It may not have been the tune-up he came for, but the first 10 kilometres were run at a 4:31 mile pace, an experience which could well prove useful to Abdi during Sunday’s race, when he’ll be facing ten runners with marathon PBs faster than his.

So, one might ask Abdi, where does all this optimism come from? He may be the fastest American in the race, but no American, male or female, has won New York since Alberto Salazar scored the last of his three consecutive victories in 1982.

Responds, Abdi, “My coach, Dave Murray, says I’m ready to run a really fast marathon, and that’s why I’m here. If I didn’t think I had a chance to win this race, I’d stay home and watch it on TV.”

James Dunaway for the IAAF