By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
October 30, 2014
NEW YORK — Entering Sunday’s TCS New York City Marathon, Meb Keflezighi is calm and relaxed. Speaking to a throng of media members less than 72 hours before he toes the line for the race’s 44th running, Keflezighi appeared cool and confident, pleased to be back in a city that is close to his heart.
“This is such a great moment to be in New York,” said Keflezighi, 39, sporting a Skechers sweatshirt. “I started here and I had my ups and downs… but now to be at this year’s New York City Marathon 12 years later, you’ve seen my career unfold through the ups and downs.”
To call New York City Keflezighi’s second home may be an understatement. In 2002, Keflezighi made his marathon debut here, finishing ninth in 2:12:35, struggling the last few miles. In 2009, the father of three became the first American champion since Alberto Salazar in 1982 to cross the finish line first in Central Park, breaking the tape with a time of 2:09:15. In his nine previous marathons in New York City (including the Olympic Trials Marathon), Keflezighi has placed in the top ten seven times. He has established himself as one of the most consistent Americans ever to traverse the city’s five boroughs (Bill Rodgers won four times, of course).
With all his successes, Keflezighi has experienced his share of significant lows in the Big Apple. A 20th place showing in 2006 (food poisoning) and a devastating eighth place finish at the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials instantly come to mind, the latter achieved with a pelvic stress fracture. In that same race his good friend, Ryan Shay, died.
Here in New York a year ago, Keflezighi had a sub-par race that turned into an inspiration. Falling off the lead pack and suffering through the middle miles, Keflezighi eventually found himself alongside New York City’s own Michael Cassidy, an elite amateur runner.
With Keflezighi fading, Cassidy helped rejuvenate and motivate the three-time Olympian, helping him through the final miles in Central Park. In an emotional moment that was captured in a PhotoRun.net photograph, the pair crossed the finish arm in arm together as one, working as a team to make it to the finish together.
Finishing in 2:23:47, Keflezighi took 23rd place overall. His time was only a minute and 20 seconds faster than women’s winner Priscah Jeptoo. Speaking to reporters with tears streaming down his face, members of the media pondered whether Keflezighi’s competitive career was over.
“For me, today wasn’t about me. I could not go after 19.3 miles. It [my body] shut down and I could not go anymore. I stopped, I took a three minute break, walked it off and I said, ‘You know I’m doing for Boston and for what happened and I’m doing it for America,” Keflezighi said then. That determination and motivation would come in handy over the next five months, as Keflezighi would rebound and rejuvenate his career.
In the year since last year’s TCS New York City Marathon, Keflezighi has defied all of the critics and made history by becoming the first American man to win the Boston Marathon since Greg Meyer in 1983. While he looks at the Boston victory as the most meaningful of his career, helping to heal a city torn apart by the bombings of 2013, Keflezighi points to his 2013 New York City performance as a blessing in disguise, one that has put his career in perspective.
“I was in St. Louis and somebody asked me what was the highest career –this was after Boston– my highest career achievement. [The person] said it was New York last year. People have different perspective of that, and it connected me to the amateur athletes or the mass runners just because at one point my body was shut down and I couldn’t go,” said Keflezighi. “I was going to get to that finish line… It meant a lot to me.”
Keflezighi will return to the streets of New York hoping for a faster finish and higher placing on Sunday. While he has said multiple times that he’s achieved all he’s wanted to over the course of his career, Keflezighi isn’t about to lay off the gas and settle for second best. Fitness wise, he said he is ready to compete with those towards the front.
“Going into the race before Boston, I was not in the greatest shape, but I feel the same way right now,” he said. “In 2007 and 2004, the Trials that is, that was probably the best shape I’ve ever been. But as long as I am consistent and strong and I’m healthy, when I am healthy I can compete. I feel my strength is there, speed may not be there but it is a marathon. I feel strong, my stamina is there.”
Having done long workouts of over 26 miles twice, Keflezighi is confident that Sunday will be a positive day, just like 2004 (2nd), 2005 (3rd), 2009 (1st). And, alas, 2013.
“Whether I win, awesome, if I don’t win, you know what, I’m still going to be Meb,” he said.