Meb Marathon Moment Mondays: 2014
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 2014 race, where he used his experience with the course to handle challenging weather conditions, and ran his first race as an NYRR Team for Kids Ambassador.
In the Interim
In January, Keflezighi won the USA Half-Marathon Championships in Houston, running 1:01:23 for his second national title in that event. His first half-marathon national title had come in 2009, and he had followed that race with a win at the New York City Marathon ten months later.
He followed up his half-marathon win in 2014 with another memorable marathon performance, this time only three months later.
Seven miles in to the Boston Marathon, Keflezighi slowly began to pull away from the front pack. By mile 8, he was 10 seconds ahead, and by mile 10, his lead grew to nearly 30 seconds. His advantage on the main field grew to one minute and 21 seconds by the 30-kilometer mark, and although it would slip to eight seconds with 2.2 kilometers to go, he maintained enough of a lead to win the Boston Marathon.
In doing so, he became the first American man to win the race since Greg Meyer in 1983, and Keflezighi’s win in Boston came a year after he had been in the finish area minutes before a bombing attack took place there. On his bib, he had written the names of the four individuals who had lost their lives in the attack and in the aftermath.
After a down race at the 2013 New York City Marathon, Keflezighi stated he felt he still had a personal best left in him. His run in Boston just five-and-a-half months later had proven him correct: He broke the finish tape in 2:08:37, a new lifetime best by 31 seconds.
Racing in New York as the reigning Boston Marathon champion, Keflezighi would face a host of other Abbott World Marathon Majors title-holders.
Fastest in the field was Wilson Kipsang of Kenya, who had set a world record at the time a year earlier with a 2:03:23 to win the BMW Berlin Marathon. In the spring, he became a two-time champion at the London Marathon, following his 2:04:44 win in 2012 with a 2:04:29 in 2014.
Fellow Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai, whose 2:03:02 from Boston in 2011 was unofficially the world’s fastest time, was back looking for a fourth-straight victory in New York City. He had won the 2011 and 2013 New York City Marathons, and added a win at the NYC Half in March 2014.
Lelisa Desisa, the 2013 Boston Marathon winner from Ethiopia, was making his debut in the five boroughs. His compatriot Gebre Gebremariam was looking to reclaim the New York City title after winning his debut in 2010.
Stephen Kiprotich from Uganda, the gold medalist from the 2012 Olympic Marathon and the 2013 IAAF World Championships Marathon, looked for a stronger performance after finishing 12th in the 2013 New York City Marathon.
Keflezighi would also be racing alongside Stephan Shay of the United States. Shay’s brother, Ryan, had trained with Keflezighi in Mammoth Lakes, CA, but passed away while competing in the 2007 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in New York City.
While the New York City Marathon course presents several challenges on its own—for example, the ups-and-downs of the five bridge crossings, including the uphill first mile on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge—the 2014 race compounded the difficulty with unfavorable weather conditions.
Race-day temperatures stayed in the low 40s throughout, but the wind chill factor dipped to a near-freezing point with sustained winds of 20-plus miles per hour and gusts of up to 40. As much of the course runs south to north, the leaders would face a headwind until the 20-mile mark in the Bronx. The winds were significant enough that the professional wheelchair athlete start was moved to the Brooklyn side of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge out of concern for safety.
With the wind hindering most efforts for a fast time, the pack stayed together, with each runner conserving his energy. Yuki Kawauchi, a 2:09 marathoner from Japan competing in his 13th marathon of 2014, opened a small gap in Brooklyn but was reeled in before the race moved into Queens.
Keflezighi split 1:06:56 leading at the halfway point—his slowest time at that checkpoint to date by one minute and 21 seconds—but he had a group of 15 runners following closely in his wake. Unlike his run in Boston, this race was not going to be won with an early breakaway.
On the 27th kilometer, Masato Imai of Japan used the downhill on First Avenue to surge ahead of the field. Kipsang, Desisa, and South Africa’s Lusapho April closed the gap within minutes, and the pack would reform soon after that, but the first few runners began to trickle away from the lead group.
Running into the Bronx on the Willis Avenue Bridge, ten men were left in contention, but on the Madison Avenue Bridge back into Manhattan, Kipsang, Desisa, Mutai, and Gebremariam had pulled a few seconds ahead of the rest.
At 35K, Keflezighi was in a chase pack 15 seconds back of the leaders, running with Kiprotich and 2012 NYC Half winner Peter Kirui of Kenya.
By 40K, the race up front had come down to Kipsang versus Desisa, while Keflezighi and Kiprotich were chasing down the two-time champion Mutai for fourth place.
Along Central Park South, around Columbus Circle, and back into the park, Kipsang led with Desisa hanging on a stride behind. After Desisa attempted to take the lead with 200 meters to go, Kipsang fired back on the final uphill and would break the finish tape seven seconds ahead in 2:10:59.
Keflezighi had caught Mutai and dropped Kiprotich, and was sitting in fourth gaining ground on a podium spot. After crossing the 40-kilometer mark 53 seconds behind Gebremariam, he would end up just five seconds behind the Ethiopian at the finish, running 2:13:18 for fourth place.
After his slowest time and lowest placing in the event a year earlier, Keflezighi had returned to the top ranks in New York at age 39. The performance was his highest placing since he had won the race in 2009, and it marked his fifth top-five finish in nine appearances.
Post-race, he commented on his strong finish, and how he made up ground on some fellow New York City Marathon past champions: “They had quite a bit of gap on me, and to be able to get Geoffrey Mutai at the end, it was just—as we all do, we fight for every spot and every time we can, and that's what I did.”
Check back next week as we recap Meb's run at the 2015 New York City Marathon, his tenth time on the five-borough course and his first as a masters athlete.