What do the last two winners of the Boston Marathon have in common? Sure, they're both fast. Dig deeper, and you'll find that Meb Keflezighi (the 2014 winner) and Lelisa Desisa (the 2015 winner) have something else in common: an injury history. 

Desisa, 25, was unable to complete the 2014 race, which Keflezighi won, because of an ankle injury. Keflezighi, 39, was unable to start the 2013 race, which Desisa won, because of a calf injury that prevented him from training properly. This year, both runners cracked the top 10. Desisa won with a 2:09:17 time; Keflezighi came in eighth in 2:12:42.

Both runners have learned that rest and recovery are crucial, even in the midst of intense training. In fact, their training routines hold a few tips on how to manage an intense-yet-healthy lifestyle--something any entrepreneur or business leader can appreciate.

The Art of Underdoing

My colleague Jeff Bercovici mined Keflezighi's training tips for three rules for success in the long run. One of Keflezighi's rules was to "Just Underdo It." The idea is that you need to stay healthy and peak at the right time. Overtraining can sabotage both of those goals. "You'd rather be healthy at the starting line and undertrained than feeling like you left it all on the practice field," he says.

Desisa, too, has learned to err on the side of caution. Having injured his ankle prior to the 2014 Boston marathon, he nonetheless tried to start to race. But he couldn't finish. 

"Because Boston is hilly, I found it hard to maintain my balance, and so I dropped out. I couldn't manage. After Boston, I was in treatment," he told Sabrina Yohannes on RunBlogRun.com. 

Four months after dropping out of the 2014 Boston marathon, Desisa was running again. By January of 2015, he was back in form, clocking 2:05:52 to finish second in the Dubai marathon. 

How does all of this pertain to the entrepreneurial lifestyle? The chief crossover, simple as it sounds, is avoiding the temptation to work too hard. "One of the hardest things to do for elite athletes is take a day off," Keflezighi says. 

The marathon victories of Desisa and Keflezighi attest to the vital relationship between rest and success. In the startup world, too, you can find plenty of testimonials about the benefits of avoiding burnout.

Hoping to learn more about the subject, I spoke to Keflezighi two days before this year's marathon. One of his longtime sponsors, a sports nutrition company called Generation UCAN, had organized a marketing event in a hotel convention room on Boylston Street, not far from the finish line.

Hundreds of runners and running fans filled the room to meet Keflezighi and get signed copies of his book, "Meb for Mortals: How to Run, Think, and Eat Like a Champion Marathoner." It was a memorable day for Generation UCAN, which had launched with Keflezighi in the selfsame room five years earlier. 

On that day, there were fewer than 50 people in attendance. Keflezighi's relationship to Generation UCAN is strong. They were with him before he was ultra-famous. He was with them before they were selling products. He recalls in 2009 trying the company's flagship product, a superstarch drink-mix powder, "before it even had labels on it."

While addressing the gathered runners and fans, Keflezighi turned a cliche on its head. "I always say, Don't go the extra mile," he said. "Rest, stretch, and hydrate instead." 

Training for the 2014 Boston marathon, which he won, Keflezighi intentionally did not go the extra mile. He was recovering from a hamstring injury, so he purposely did not run on hills. That may seem like a common-sense shortcut, but the Boston marathon is notoriously hilly. Still, even without the hill training, Keflezighi won the race.

I asked whether he was running on hills to prepare for the 2015 race. I imagined he'd be tempted not to do it, given his 2014 success and his general position on not overtraining. 

"This year I have done hills," he said. "Just because I'm healthy."

Published on: Apr 21, 2015