Meb Marathon Moment Mondays: 2015
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 2015 race, his 10th time through the five boroughs and his first as a masters athlete.
In the Interim
After a 2014 season that included a win in the Boston Marathon and a fourth-place finish at the TCS New York City Marathon, Keflezighi returned to Boston in April 2015 as the defending champion. He kept within the lead group through 23 miles, but his drink from an earlier aid station hadn’t settled properly in his stomach, and he would have to stop to be sick five times in the last three miles. After falling back to ninth place, he pushed to regain one spot and finished eighth in 2:12:42.
In his build-up to Boston, he raced the United Airlines NYC Half in March. He placed eighth there, as well, running 1:02:17. He would run one more event in New York City before competing in the five boroughs in November. In September, he ran the Fifth Avenue Mile for the first time in his career, serving as a pacer in the men’s age 40 to 44 division.
He had raced down Fifth Avenue before, albeit in the New York City Marathon, on a segment that covers from the Madison Avenue Bridge at 138th Street to Central Park’s Engineers’ Gate at East 90th Street. This time out, he would move 10 blocks south to run from the Metropolitan Museum of Art at 80th Street to Grand Army Plaza at 60th Street.
After his run, he announced that he would be participating in the TCS New York City Marathon that fall while continuing his role as an NYRR Team for Kids Ambassador.
As with virtually every year at the New York City Marathon, Keflezighi would be facing a host of runners with world-class personal bests and previous Abbott World Marathon Majors titles to their names.
First among them was Wilson Kipsang of Kenya, the defending champion in New York, a former world record-holder in the marathon, and a two-time London Marathon champion who had placed second there in the spring.
London’s 2014 runner-up Stanley Biwott, also from Kenya, was back in New York after a fifth-place run in 2013. He had been the last runner to challenge eventual champion Geoffrey Mutai that year, but faded just before entering Central Park.
Fellow Kenyan Geoffrey Kamworor was making his five-borough debut as the reigning IAAF World Half-Marathon champion and IAAF World Cross Country champion; he also added a silver medal in the 10,000 meters at the IAAF World Championships that summer.
Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa, whose 2013 and 2015 Boston Marathon victories bookended Keflezighi’s win from 2014, returned to New York looking to take the final step onto the top of the podium. He had battled Kipsang nearly down to the finish a year before, with the Kenyan prevailing in a sprint over the final 200 meters.
The 2015 TCS New York City Marathon marked Keflezighi’s 10th time running through the five boroughs, and as he celebrated his 40th birthday that May, it would mark his first marathon as a masters athlete.
He set out to compete with the lead pack, just as he had done nine times before, but also entered the race with the secondary goal of setting a few age-group records. It would take him a 2:14:34 to break John Campbell of New Zealand’s masters event record from 1990, and anything faster than 2:13:52 would surpass Mbarak Hussein’s American masters record from 2006.
On Thursday of race week, he discussed how he had modified his workouts later in his career:
“Training in terms of recovery is important. Before, I was doing a 6:00 pace. 6:00, 6:15 every run. Now I start at 7:15 and sometimes 8:00 and work my way up to 6:10. Same miles, just two minutes faster. You have to loosen up as you get older and then, boom, gone.”
He alluded to the successes of fellow 40-plus runner Deena Kastor, who had earned bronze in the Athens 2004 Olympic Marathon and was 10th in New York ten years later. Comparing the marathon world at the start of his career with the present day, he spoke of the more recent trend of world-class runners racing marathons at younger ages; specifically, he referenced how Ghirmay Ghebreslassie of Eritrea had won the 2015 IAAF World Championships Marathon at only 19 years old. (In 2016, Ghebreslassie would become the youngest New York City Marathon men’s winner in history at age 20.)
After noting that throughout his career, he had logged more than 100,000 miles, he commented, “It’s the amount of miles that you have under your belt,” adding later, “I can't imagine doing the workout that I did in 2004, but if I get close to it, confidence should be high.”
As the men’s race began with light winds and temperatures around 60 degrees, a marked improvement from the high 30s temperatures and 40 mile-per-hour gusts from the year prior. Despite the more favorable conditions, the lead pack ran nearly identical splits through the first half of the race.
Sitting well within the lead pack, Keflezighi hit the 10-kilometer mark in 31:32, just one second behind his split from 2014. He reached halfway in 1:06:51—five seconds ahead of his 2014 time—as the pack had narrowed from nearly 20 runners to 13.
In his pre-race interview, Keflezighi was also asked about what sections of the five-borough course were his favorite. He replied, “First Avenue, and then Central Park, because you have to be in the game at First Avenue.”
With nine years of experience on the course, he knew the ins and outs and the ups and downs of the New York City Marathon, and at 40, he still knew how to get the best out of himself on the first Sunday in November.
On his tenth time up First Avenue, he stuck with the lead group, which had narrowed to only eight runners as they reached the Willis Avenue Bridge. On mile 20, Kamworor made a move to the front, leading a pack of five through the Bronx. Keflezighi began to slip back from the leaders, but remained at the front of the chase pack.
As Kamworor continued his attack, Yemane Tsegay of Ethiopia dropped off the pace. Soon after, the defending champion Kipsang would begin to lose ground. On Fifth Avenue, the 2014 runner-up Desisa fell back to third place, and as the race entered Central Park, Biwott surged ahead of Kamworor. Biwott would build his advantage over the final five kilometers and win the race by 14 seconds in 2:10:34.
Further into the pack, Keflezighi was in a two-man race for sixth place with Yuki Kawauchi of Japan. The two were maintaining a strong position in the race, not pulling closer to the runners ahead of them, but also not losing any time to the runners behind them.
They would match each other stride for stride through Central Park down to the homestretch on West Drive, where Kawauchi would prevail in a sprint over the final 200 meters.
Keflezighi would cross the finish line seventh in 2:13:32—just three seconds behind Kawauchi—but 20 seconds ahead of the standing American masters record and more than a minute faster than the previous New York City Marathon masters record. He covered the second half of the race with a 10-second negative split, opening in 1:06:51 and closing in 1:06:41.
At 40, he had proven he was still a strong competitor in championship-style races, and that skill set would soon come in handy. The 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon were to be held in Los Angeles on February 13, giving Keflezighi 104 days to prepare.
He aimed to make his fourth Olympic team and represent the U.S. in Rio, but he was aware his place on the team was not a given. In his post-race interview, he spoke about his run in New York and about where his career headed next: “It was nice to get the record, but if I'm going to make the Olympic team, I'd better run a lot faster. It's going to be very interesting.”
As this series of stories has shown, Keflezighi has a penchant for predicting the future with remarkable accuracy.
He would line up in Los Angeles with the intention of racing only three more marathons after that: Rio at the Olympics, one last time in Boston, and then taking on his 26th and final competitive 26.2-miler in New York City.
Check back next week as we recap Meb's run at the 2017 New York City Marathon, his eleventh time in the race and his 26th and final competitive marathon.