Meb Marathon Moment Mondays: 2006
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 2006 race, the third-consecutive year he competed at the New York City Marathon.
The 2006 New York City Marathon marked Keflezighi's third-consecutive year running the event, making New York the site of four of his eight marathons to date. Building on the momentum of podium finishes in 2004 and 2005, he appeared to have put himself in prime position to become the first American man to win the race since Alberto Salazar in 1982. A number of pre-race challenges set him back from an ideal preparation, but they couldn't stop Keflezighi from competing for the win.
In the Interim
After a third-place run in New York in November 2005, Keflezighi raced his first Boston Marathon the following April. There, he ran 2:09:56 to take third, coincidentally matching his finishing place and time from the 2005 New York City Marathon. During his 2006 marathon buildup, Keflezighi also placed second in the inaugural NYC Half, running 1:01:28 on August 27.
Keflezighi would line up against familiar faces, as previous champions Paul Tergat of Kenya (2005), Hendrick Ramaala of South Africa (2004), and Rodgers Rop of Kenya (2002) were looking to win a second Rudin Trophy. Keflezighi would also reunite with the Italian Stefano Baldini, the only man to finish ahead of him in the Athens 2004 Olympic Marathon. Among his American challengers was 23-year-old Dathan Ritzenhein, a 2004 Olympian making his highly-anticipated marathon debut.
Keflezighi's preparation for the 2005 New York City Marathon was hindered by a torn quadriceps muscle at the IAAF World Championships that summer. Still, he finished third that November, challenging the eventual 1-2 of Tergat and Ramaala well into Central Park. In his book, Run to Overcome, he notes how his coach, Bob Larsen, told him, "If we can just get you to stay healthy and train, you can win this thing."
His 2006 preparation went more smoothly than the year before, with no injuries to report beyond a hamstring cramp in a half-marathon during his buildup. Once Keflezighi got down to race week, however, the tide turned.
On his way to New York, the airline lost his luggage, which contained his racing flats. He would have to race in new shoes. On Thursday of race week, he went out to dinner with seven friends and came back the only one with food poisoning. "I was the chosen one," he writes in his book.
Although his stomach had not returned to normal by race morning, he lined up nonetheless, making his best effort to compete despite suboptimal circumstances.
Passing the halfway point, he was still side-by-side with the likes of Tergat and Baldini, but between 25 and 30 kilometers, his stomach issues would begin to take their toll.
While Keflezighi had to step to the sidelines for a pit stop, Brazilian runner Marilson Gomes dos Santos was making his move to the front unchallenged. Climbing the Willis Avenue Bridge into the Bronx, he put a gap on the field, which seemed content to let him go, believing they would catch him later.
"I'll be honest, I didn't know who he was," Tergat said of Gomes post-race. Gomes had solid, if not well-known, credentials: He had run 2:08:48 at the 2004 Chicago Marathon, and was sixth in the marathon at the IAAF World Championships the following year.
By 35K, Gomes had gained 38 seconds on Tergat and his fellow Kenyan Stephen Kiogora. Although the pair narrowed the gap to 15 seconds by 40K, Gomes had too much of an advantage to make up by that point. The Brazilian would become the first South American champion in event history.
Keflezighi, in contrast, had to make several pit stops over the final 10 kilometers, and would finish 20th in 2:22:02.
Seeing Gomes’ winning time of 2:09:58—seconds behind his own times from 2004 and 2005—gave Keflezighi the belief that winning was still possible. Expressing confidence in himself, as well as respect for his competitors, he wrote in his book, "Had I been healthy, that should have been an easy time for me to run. It could have been my race, but it wasn't. Marilson won on the day."
Keflezighi would have to wait three years for his next opportunity to win the New York City Marathon, but the knowledge he gained in his first four five-borough races—and the motivation that developed from coming so close to victory—would prove invaluable upon his return in 2009.
Check back next week as we recap Meb's run at the 2009 New York City Marathon, a race where...well, we think you know what happens.