Meb Marathon Moment Mondays: 2017
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 2017 race, the grand finale to his competitive marathon career.
In the Interim
After a seventh-place finish in the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon, Keflezighi stated that he intended on running four more competitive marathons: the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, the Rio 2016 Olympics, and the Boston and TCS New York City Marathons in 2017.
He had 104 days to prepare for the Trials in Los Angeles, and would place second there in 2:12:20, lowering his own American masters record. At 41, he would be the oldest marathoner to represent the United States in Olympic history.
In Rio, he began to experience stomach issues just beyond the half-marathon mark, but continued on to the finish. He slipped just before reaching the finish line, but he was quick to prop himself back up, do a push-up for the crowd, and stand up to cross in 2:16:46 for 33rd place.
After Rio, Keflezighi served as a Grand Marshal for the 2016 TCS New York City Marathon, riding in the lead vehicle alongside members of the United States’ Olympic Marathon team.
In April 2017, Keflezighi made his fifth and final run at the Boston Marathon, placing 13th in 2:17:00. With 25 marathons behind him, his 26th and final competitive 26.2-miler—as well as his last 42.2K at age 42—would take place November 5 at the TCS New York City Marathon. More than 30 members of his family traveled to the city to watch his last run in the Big Apple.
He would once again run the five boroughs as an NYRR Team for Kids Ambassador, and in the week leading up to the race, Keflezighi was honored by New York Road Runners with the Abebe Bikila Award; the award is given annually to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the sport of distance running, both on and off the course.
Like any year at the New York City Marathon, Keflezighi would face off with a host of Abbott World Marathon Majors event winners and global championships medalists.
Defending champion Ghirmay Ghebreslassie of Eritrea, whose 2:07:51 at age 20 made him the youngest men’s winner in event history and the fifth-fastest all-time in the five boroughs, would look to continue his winning ways.
Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa, the Boston champion in 2013 and 2015, was looking to climb one last step on the New York City podium, having taken second in 2014 and third in 2015. His countryman Lemi Berhanu, the 2016 Boston winner, brought a personal best of 2:04:33 to the men’s professional field.
Geoffrey Kamworor of Kenya also aimed to make that final step up on the podium, as he was second in his New York debut in 2015. As a runner who had proven his strength on all surfaces, entered the 2017 race as the reigning IAAF World Champion in the half-marathon and in cross country, adding to his silver medal from the Rio Olympics in the 10,000 meters on the track.
Also from Kenya, Wilson Kipsang was a late addition to the race, and looked to reclaim his crown after winning the 2014 five-borough race. The former marathon world record-holder won the Tokyo Marathon in February 2017, and he had now collected wins in four of the six Abbott World Marathon Majors cities.
While the race served as a curtain call of sorts for Keflezighi, he showed up on Staten Island with every intention of running with the leaders. This was not going to be a light and easy victory lap—he was in New York to compete. He set a pre-race goal of a top-three finish, and if not that, top 10; if neither of those were to work out, then he would take a step back and enjoy the experience of running the event.
Over the Verrazano, through Brooklyn, and into Queens, he ran steadily within the lead pack, calmly rolling along and covering any surges at the front.
At 10 kilometers, he split 31:56 at the front of a pack of 15 men. Nearing 15K, defending champion Ghirmay Ghebreslassie made an attack that narrowed the field to eight, but Keflezighi was still there. Keflezighi’s heart rate, tracked through TCS Performance Metrics, was averaging 150 beats per minute through 10 miles, showing that he was running well within himself.
Ghebreslassie surged again on the Pulaski Bridge, crossing the halfway point with three seconds on the field. He had won the race with a similar move on the Willis Avenue Bridge the year before, and now was aiming to take control of the race seven miles earlier.
In Long Island City, the pack caught back up to Ghebreslassie, although he still led, and the front group swelled to 12 on the Queensboro Bridge with Keflezighi still in tow.
At 30K, he was right alongside the likes of Kipsang, Kamworor, and Desisa, but he became separated from the leaders as they raced toward the Bronx. Late on First Avenue, Keflezighi fell off the lead group and stopped running for a moment.
"I knew there was going to be a big deciding factor at one point," he explained after the race. "Back in the days in my youth, I can respond. I can react, I can make moves, but now I know none of those work. But part of me in the front was trying to keep a consistent, even pace for as much as I can."
He would be forced to stop a number of times over the final 10 kilometers, but with each break, he collected himself and continued to push toward the finish line. He was going to complete this race no matter what.
Running around Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem, the lead group was down to nine, although Keflezighi continued to challenge for a top 10 spot. By the time they reached Central Park, it was a pack of four men, as Kamworor built a gap on Kipsang, Desisa, and Berhanu. Despite a late charge from Kipsang, Kamworor would hold on to win in 2:10:53.
As Keflezighi rounded Columbus Circle, he had less than half a mile remaining in his marathon racing career. He was in eleventh place—outside his pre-race goal—but kept grinding toward the finish. While he didn’t let up on his pace, he did take time to salute the crowd, waving and giving thumbs up as Tavern on the Green drew nearer.
Keflezighi completed the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon in 11th place, recording a time of 2:15:29. Just as he had done for his entire career, he had given the race his full effort, and he arrived at West 67th Street spent of energy. His wife, Yordanos, along with his three daughters and his parents joined him soon after he had crossed the finish line to support him through the finish area.
After 26 marathons—including 11 finishes at the New York City Marathon—Keflezighi had closed the competitive chapter of his marathon running career, but his legacy as an Olympic silver medalist, New York City Marathon champion, Boston Marathon champion, and 23-time national champion will live on to inspire runners well into the future.
As for what’s next for Meb?
What's next is to spend my time with my wife and kids. My parents just prayed for me to have a healthy life, to be able to enjoy time with the family because I missed out on a lot. I sacrificed a lot. But there's been so many people behind the scenes who made me be who I am, the man that I am, including my mentor Bob Larsen, my brother Hawi, and then my wife, she put her pause on life working to be able to help me be an athlete.
So now that has come to an end, and I always believe surround yourself with good people, God has a plan for me. Whatever that destination may be, I just hope to follow that path that he has laid in front of me.