American Strong: The Untold Story of American Teamwork and How Ryan Hall Helped Meb Keflezighi Win Boston
A Year After The Bombings, There Was No Way An American Could Win Boston Alone – He Needed The Support Of Others
by Robert Johnson, LetsRun.com
April 22, 2014
Boston, MA – By now you know that American Meb Keflezighi did it. He broke the 30-year-curse and became the first American man to win the Boston Marathon since Greg Meyer in 1983. On Patriots’ Day, the soon to be 39-year-old (birthday on May 5) pulled an absolute stunner and ran a pb of 2:08:37 to win.
Meb pulled off something that we estimated on Thursday was likely to happen between .005 % of the time – that’s once every 19,137 years – and 3.7% of the time. For such an unlucky event to happen, clearly everything had to pretty much go perfectly.
That’s exactly what happened. What you don’t know however is the role that the Ryan Hall and the other elite American men in the race had in helping Meb walk off Boylston Street with the laurel wreath on his head.
This is the untold story of how Ryan Hall and the other elite Americans helped Meb Keflezighi win in Boston.
Catching Up With The Americans Not Named Meb
After the race, tracking down anyone who wasn’t in the top 3 in Boston is less than easy. Because the LRC audience is comprised of hard-core American fans, I scoured the hotel lobby for any and all elite American men not named Meb that I could find.
Once I found them and talked to them, I learned of a story that is beyond touching.
Not that too many people noticed, but many of the elite American men behind Meb had a good day. Five other Americans were in the top 13 and either set a pb or came within 36 seconds of one as Nick Arciniaga, who was hoping for top 10, was seventh in 2:11:47 (pb 2:11:30), Jeffrey Eggelston was 8th in a new pb of 2:11:57 (previous pb of 2:12:03), Josphat Boit was 11th in a new pb of 2:12:52 (previous pb of 2:13:14), Craig Leon was 12th in 2:14:28 (pb 2:13:52), and Mike Morgan was 13th in 2:14:40 (pb 2:14:22).
One American who didn’t have a good day results-wise, however, was the fastest marathoner in American history, Ryan Hall. In his first marathon since the 2012 Olympics, Hall, who ran 2:04:58 in Boston in 2011, faded to a 20th place showing of 2:17:50.
The 20th place showing and 2:17:50 clocking are only part of the story for Hall. From an American perspective, Hall may have had the best showing of any American not named Meb. In a race where Meb won by just 11 seconds and everything had to go nearly perfectly for Meb to win, Hall played a key role in helping his long-time friend (and rival) Meb win.
How you say?
Well during the race, Meb and fellow American Josphat Boit got clear of the main pack at a water station before 15k as the top runners were content to let Meb go as Meb had just the 15th best personal best coming into the field. As Meb kept churning out a steady 2:08 pace, his lead gradually grew as the top African entrants, eight of whom had personal bests under 2:07, failed to mount a challenge until after 30k.
As race runner-up Wilson Chebet explained after the race, the leading Africans just assumed that once they started to race for glory themselves and picked up the pace, they’d catch Meb as people out alone in marathons nearly always fade. Anyone remember last fall’s New York City women’s race where Buzunesh Deba built up a three-plus minute lead only to be gunned down late?
For much of the race, the leading entrants were enjoying a beautiful sunny day in Massachusetts. Their pace was so slow by their lofty standards that the slew of Americans behind Meb were able to stay with the chasers and then later regain contact with them much longer than they possibly could have hoped.
As Nick Arciniaga said, “They were just super relaxed and would go to the front and make some fake moves, surges and then just spread out across the whole road and just relax. I felt myself going from like 4:55 pace to like 5:20s in a couple of steps. I was like, ‘Ok these guys are just playing games.'”
The leading entrants were letting the pace sag so much and were so unfocused on going after Meb that the top Americans behind Meb and Boit started to get antsy. The Americans were running a more consistent pace and as they approached the leading African runners near halfway, a few of the Americans considered maintaining their steady pace and pushing ahead of the Africans, a move that almost certainly would be matched by the Africans who would use the Americans as rabbits.
Had this happened, Meb almost certainly would have been caught later in the race. Meb only had a narrow 11-second lead when he crossed the finish line and nearly everything had to go perfectly for him to keep that lead which at one point had been 1:21. If the lead Meb built up had been just a tad bit smaller, Wilson Chebet, not Meb Keflezighi, likely would be your 2014 Boston Marathon champion.
Many of the top Americans, including Craig Leon, Nick Arciniaga, and Jason Hartmann were poised to go ahead of the African group except for one thing – Ryan Hall wouldn’t let them.
As Nick Arciniaga explained:
Meb got ahead early on – before 15k even – him and JB (Josphat Boit) took off. I was in the lead pack with all of the other Americans and all of the Africans and about 15k to 20k, Ryan Hall and I were running side by side, in front of the lead pack but not really pushing it, and Ryan just kept turning over to me, talking (to me and saying), ‘Hey don’t push the pace. If they want to let those guys go, they are going to have work to catch back up to them. We are not going to help them out with that at all. If we want an American to win, this is how it’s going to be done.’
From then on, the game plan between myself and Ryan and we told Abdi and few of the other guys as well , ‘We’re trying to get an American to win this race. That’s one of the biggest goals for today.’ Basically the Africans would have to do all the work to to catch them.’
And it turned out perfectly, obviously.
It’s a small (impact) but it was just enough (for Meb to get the win).
Craig Leon told a similar story.
I remember at one point it was kind of yo-yoing and I was falling off the lead pack and then they’d come back. I think it was maybe halfway or a little past halfway and it had slowed kind of considerably and Jason (Hartmann) and I were kind of moving our way through the pack and were just going to maintain pace (and keep moving up), and at one point, Ryan he looked at both of us, and he was like, ‘Let’s give Meb a little bit of distance. I think he’s up there with JB. (Josphat Boit).’
So we kept it slow. I don’t know if that did anything to help. But those guys had to work to catch Meb. I think Ryan was really smart to (think to) be able to say that (in the middle of the race).
Hey maybe it was us working together against some of the Africans. It feels good to have that.
I think it’s a real testament to Ryan. I don’t (even) know how he finished up today. He knew maybe he wasn’t going to have it there over the second half and I think he was looking out (for Meb), ‘Hey let’s do this.’ It’s great team work.
That’s what I love to see – (especially since) Boston puts such an emphasis on Americans.
Hall, the fastest American runner in US history, has the stature with the other American runners that a team leader in the Tour de France has.
Runners technically may be independent contractors, but on this special Patriots’ Day in Boston, one year after the nation was terrorized, the US runners were clearly working together as a team. The country with the best team tactics on this day was the US of A led by Hall.
The rest was up to the 38-year old Meb. Meb took care of the hard part. He ran a negative split pb on the difficult Boston course for the historic win.
The tragedy of last year’s bombings brought us Boston Strong. The triumph of Meb this year showed us American Strong. On this Patriots’ Day, Meb got a key assist from Ryan Hall and the other American
competitors compatriots patriots.
Comments or questions. Email me.
PS. I tried to get a comment from Ryan Hall after learning of this story. His agent Ray Flynn said a disappointed Hall had already left for the airport, just hours after the race, but did have Hall confirm that it took place.
Update Tuesday 2:37 pm ET. Today Ryan Hall has commented about Meb’s win and Hall’s role in getting the other Americans to hold back. At 9:33 am Pacific, the deeply devout Christian sent out the following tweet which linked back to this story:
Though yesterday was not how I had envisioned my race, I believe I fulfilled the purpose God had for me in it: http://t.co/XoGThj4zjA
— Ryan Hall (@ryanhall3) April 22, 2014
“It’s true. First it was Nick Arciniaga, then different American guys would go to the front [of the chase pack, after Meb and Josephat Boit had pulled away] and start pushing. I kept telling them not to, that we needed to give Meb as much space as possible. If the African guys were going to try to catch him, we weren’t going to do the work to help them. It wasn’t my day to win, as much as I wanted to. Meb winning was the next best thing and what the US needed.” Hall said he hadn’t talked to Meb about the tactic after the race. `I haven’t seen him since the race. I flew home right after the race. I don’t want to take anything away from his victory.””
PPS. Our interviews with many of the American finishers in Boston not named Meb appear below.
Editor’s note: Did you enjoy this story? Check out another story on Meb Keflezighi’s win by Dick Patrick, who co-wrote Meb’s autobiography: Dick Patrick – Meb Strong: How Meb Worked His Magic Once Again.
Or this story about Meb that went viral last fall with 12,000+ facebook likes: LRC The Time of My Life: Staten Island Native Mike Cassidy Shares His Experience Finishing The NYC Marathon Hand-In-Hand With His Hero Meb Keflezighi
Or be a fan and discuss it in our world famous messageboard.
Recommended Read: Dick Patrick – Meb Strong: How Meb Worked His Magic Once Again Dick is the co-author of Meb’s autobiography.