Abdirahman Confident Heading Into U.S. 20K Championships

Abdi Abdirahman, who made his fourth Olympic team last January in Houston, hopes to add a third U.S. 20K title to his resume on Monday. Photo: PhotoRun.net

The four-time Olympian hopes to add another U.S. title to his resume.

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Abdi Abdirahman described the last two years of his road racing career as a roller coaster. There’s been highs –placing third at the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon, earning a spot on the starting line for the 2012 London Olympics– and lows: a leg injury which forced him to withdraw from the Olympic Marathon just over ten miles into the race, and having to miss the 2013 Boston Marathon because of illness and injury.

Entering Monday’s Stratton Faxon New Haven Road Race, site of the U.S. 20K Championships, Abdirahman is riding a high, with injury problems far in the past.

“I’m healthy, training is going great,” Abdirahman, a two-time race champion, told reporters in a conference call Thursday, a tone of happiness in his voice. “I’m fit as I can be and I’m healthy, the most important thing.”

Since withdrawing from the Boston Marathon in April, Abdirahman has recovered from a hamstring injury and has gradually returned to his usual spot up near the front of road contests. In June he was sixth at the U.S. Half Marathon Championships in Minnesota, then less than two weeks later placed eighth overall at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race (also the U.S. 10K Road Championships), finishing as the second American.

The University of Arizona alum knew things were going in the right direction when he took fourth at the New Balance Falmouth Road Race on August 11, timing 32:28.4, the fastest he’s ever run on the hilly, seven mile course on Cape Cod.

“I knew I was in good shape and was gunning for the win but I got fourth to three great athletes and was happy with my performance,” he said.

Since then, training for Abdirahman has been going so great that his long time coach, Dave Murray, has even compared him to his early days on the U.S. road racing circuit, saying he looks like the 2005-version of the “Black Cactus,” as he is called by many.

“For someone who’s been coaching me for almost 15 years, when he tells me I look as good as ever it’s motivation,” he said. “I feel like I’m 21 again.”

When asked what’s different from the Abdi of old, the 36-year-old, four-time Olympian immediately said nothing in particular, but soon described subtle changes to his training regime.

“A bit older and I’m just wiser and train smarter,” he said. “Before I was able to do hard workouts day in and day out, but now I take my recovery seriously and rest more.

“That’s the mistake I made last year, I over-trained right after the Olympics because I was so disappointed and when I came back I just trained too hard.”

Abdirahman’s ability to recover from setbacks and injuries has drawn the respect of Matt Tegenkamp, the reigning U.S. 20-K champion who aims to retain his title on Monday.

“His marks, stats are impeccable and I think what it really shows is that he’s a clutch, game time performer. When he steps onto the big stage you know that he is there and ready to go, and you need to take him as a real serious challenge. This weekend, Monday, Labor Day, it’s going to be no different,” he said.

On Monday, Abdirahman is aiming to become the third man in Stratton Faxon New Haven Road Race history to earn three race titles over the span of their career. Bill Reifsnyder earned five crowns in the 1980’s, while Dan Browne won three times between 2001 and 2007.

“It would mean a lot to tie with my friend Dan,” said a confident Abdirahman. “We used to compete and you always want to surpass your friends.”

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