Meb Marathon Moment Mondays: 2013
As the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon will mark Meb Keflezighi's 26th and final competitive marathon—his 11th in New York City—The Run On looks back at his previous runs through the five boroughs. This week, we're recapping his 2013 race, where, despite a number of setbacks in training, he put his “Run to Win” mentality into action and lined up to give his best effort.
Like in 2011, Keflezighi ran his only marathon of 2013 in New York City, in what would be his eighth time racing through the five boroughs.
In the Interim
Less than 70 days after his fifth-place 2:09:13 at the 2011 New York City Marathon, Keflezighi ran a personal-best 2:09:08, to win the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in Houston. The win earned him a place on his third Olympic team, and provided redemption after an injury had relegated him to a seventh-place run in the 2008 Trials race.
In London, he further proved his expertise with racing tactics, as he finished just one place out of the medals in 2:11:06. After crossing the halfway point in 17th place, he moved up 13 places over the second 13.1 miles to finish fourth at age 37.
Prior to its cancellation in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, Keflezighi was scheduled to compete in the 2012 New York City Marathon. In the spring of 2013, a torn soleus muscle in his calf forced him to withdraw from the Boston Marathon, but he traveled to Boston that April to congratulate runners at the finish line. He left the area only minutes before the two explosions occurred on Boylston Street.
He lined up to race that November determined to honor the people of New York and of Boston, two cities that had supported him throughout his career.
Geoffrey Mutai, two years removed from his record-setting 2:05:06 win in New York City, was back in pursuit of his second five-borough title. The Kenyan won the 2012 BMW Berlin Marathon in 2:04:15, and lowered his half-marathon best to 58:58 earlier in 2013.
Also representing Kenya was Wesley Korir, the 2012 Boston Marathon champion, who had been elected to the Kenyan Parliament in March of 2013.
Stephen Kiprotich, the 2012 Olympic champion and 2013 IAAF World Champion from Uganda, looked to add a third gold medal to his collection on his first run in New York.
Tsegaye Kebede, the Beijing 2008 Olympic Marathon bronze medalist from Ethiopia, was a late addition to the race. Also the winner of the 2012 Bank of America Chicago Marathon and the 2013 Virgin Money London Marathon, he returned to New York hoping to improve upon his third-place run from 2011.
By his own admission, Keflezighi was less than 100-percent fit for the 2013 New York City Marathon. He had missed sections of training over the summer after a calf injury from earlier in the year flared up again. Three weeks before the race, he fell on a training run, leaving him with a deep cut on his knee. At his pre-race press availability, he commented on dealing with one injury, and then suddenly facing another:
Training hasn't gone as ideal as I would like to have done, just because I had a partial tear on my soleus for a long time. That's one of those things where things will turn around, healing from the soleus, and then now the fall's like—my first run, I'm excited, and kind of visualize in my mind. And then boom. Can I get a break here?
Despite the setbacks, this year’s race had greater meaning to Keflezighi, even if it meant lining up less than race fit. He had been in New York in the days after Superstorm Sandy, and was at the Boston Marathon that spring when a bombing attack took place in the finish area.
“New York comes once a year, and I want to be here for the support of what happened last year, not just for me, but New York Road Runners, what they went through last year and especially what happened in Boston,” he said before the race.
Although he questioned whether his calf would hold up over 26.2 miles, he affirmed, “I'm here to make a presence and hopefully give it a shot.”
Through the halfway point of the race, Keflezighi made his presence felt, switching in and out of the lead in the early miles. He reached the half-marathon mark on the Pulaski Bridge in 1:05:08, situated well within the front pack.
Into Queens and over the Queensboro Bridge, the pace began to pick up, and Keflezighi began to slide back. The lead group had splintered to nine runners by the 30-kilometer mark, while Keflezighi was on the outside looking in, trying to hang on for a top-15 placing.
Just beyond the 19-mile mark, Keflezighi’s pace slowed further, reaching the point where he had to stop and walk. He recorded a 9:53 split on mile 20, and ten runners passed him between 30K and 35K, but he refused to quit the race.
In a post-race interview, he spoke of how he processed that moment: “My body could not go at 19.3 miles—shut down, I could not go anymore.” He went on, “I stopped, took a three-minute break, walked it off, and I said, ‘You know, I’m doing it for Boston, I’m doing it for New York . . . I’m doing it for America.’”
By 35K, Geoffrey Mutai had broken away from nearly everyone in the lead pack, and ran through Central Park unchallenged. He would win his second New York City Marathon title in 2:08:24, 51 seconds ahead of his nearest competitor.
Farther back, on Fifth Avenue, local runner Michael Cassidy had caught up to Keflezighi. The native Staten Islander started the day aiming to hit the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon standard of 2:18:00, but had fallen behind the pace early. Instead of passing the three-time Olympian, the two began to run together, and they encouraged one another to keep going on a tough day.
They crossed the finish line hand-in-hand, with Cassidy placing 22nd and Keflezighi 23rd. Days after the race, Cassidy wrote about his experience running alongside one of his heroes, likening it to playing basketball with Michael Jordan in the NBA Finals.
Keflezighi’s time of 2:23:47 was his slowest on the course to date, but it did not take away from his experience in the race. “I knew my body was going to give at some point,” he commented, “I didn’t know where.” He later gave his narrative of how the race played out:
For me, even just getting to the four miles, three miles, would’ve been a success. But I felt good, I took the lead, and whenever it was windy I tucked behind. I was within myself until about 15 miles, 16 miles, but then the turnover came up the hills. Past 13 miles, they picked it up, and, guess what, I can’t do it.
While discussing his interrupted training schedule, he explained why he showed up to race rather than dropping out beforehand. “I started because of New York. If it was any other race, I wouldn’t. This is the place that grew me to be who I am. In terms of running, this is where I started, and they’ve been very loyal.”
Noting that he had only dropped out of one marathon in his career, the 2007 London Marathon, he refused to make New York his second, especially given what he had experienced over the past year.
“The U.S. has had tough marathons, with what happened last year [in New York], what happened with Boston. We can’t get those lives back,” he said. “Every day reminds us that we cannot stop, but I’m able to [get] to the finish line, whether it’s walking, whether it’s running, and that’s what I did.”
Keflezighi believed he still had good races left in him, choosing to be inspired by his fourth-place finish from the London Olympics rather than brought down by a single off-day performance in New York.
“I’ll say it again, I think I still got a PR in me, and it’s just gonna happen when it’s gonna happen,” he noted in his post-race interview.
In between running the 2013 and 2014 New York City Marathons, he would once again prove his talent for predicting the future.
Check back next week as we recap Meb's run at the 2014 New York City Marathon, where he used his experience with the course to manage tough conditions.