Meb Marathon Moment Mondays: 2010

Meb Marathon Moment Mondays: 2010

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 2010 race, where he returned to New York as the defending champion.

Having won the 2009 New York City Marathon—becoming the first American man to win the race since 1982—Keflezighi was given bib number one for the 2010 race. He looked to become the first man to successfully defend his title since John Kagwe of Kenya did so in 1998.

In the Interim

Much of what Keflezighi did between the 2009 and 2010 New York City Marathons took place off the course.

In the week after his win, he appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman, reading out the “Top Ten Thoughts That Go Through Your Mind When Running the New York City Marathon.” On Thanksgiving, he rode on a float in New York City’s parade, standing alongside Miss America and a model of the Statue of Liberty.

He was back racing 26.2 in Boston in April, where he finished fifth in 2:09:26, his fastest time to date on the course to that point. After the race, he traveled to New York City to announce the start of the MEB Foundation (Maintaining Excellent Balance), which promotes youth health, education, and fitness.

Early in the summer, he was diagnosed with a two-inch tear in his left quadriceps muscle, but was able to recuperate without surgery and resumed training in July. In October, he won a half-marathon in San Jose for the second-consecutive year, but finished in 1:01:45, 45 seconds slower than the year before.

The week before the New York City Marathon, he released his autobiography, Run to Overcome: The Inspiring Story of an American Champion’s Long-Distance Quest to Achieve a Big Dream. The book recounts his journey to America from Eritrea, to his silver medal at the Athens Olympics, and to his victory in New York.

His Competitors

Another stacked field looked to dethrone Keflezighi, led by the two-time Olympic 10,000-meter gold medalist Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia. Gebrselassie entered his first New York City Marathon as the reigning marathon world record-holder, having run 2:03:59 in Berlin in 2008. Gebrselassie had won four Berlin Marathons, in addition to three wins in Dubai and one in Fukuoka, Japan.

Just as Keflezighi looked to add another title, so too did Marilson Gomes dos Santos of Brazil, who had won in 2006 and 2008 and looked to continue the pattern of victories in even-numbered years. Hendrick Ramaala, the 2004 winner and 2005 runner-up, was poised be a threat once again with his surges up First Avenue.

Kenya’s James Kwambai, one of Keflezighi’s last challengers in 2009, was back in the five boroughs still sporting a blazing 2:04:27 personal best. Fellow Kenyan Emmanuel Mutai, the silver medalist at the 2009 IAAF World Championships and the runner-up at the 2010 London Marathon, aimed to take the final step to the top of the podium in New York.

Making his first steps onto any marathon course was Gebre Gebremariam of Ethiopia, who had finished fourth in the 5000 meters at the Athens 2004 Olympics at age 20, and had won the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in 2009.

Among his American competitors was Dathan Ritzenhein, who had placed ninth in the Beijing Olympic Marathon in 2008, and looked to improve upon his 11th-place finish in New York from 2006.

The Race

In a pre-race press conference, Keflezighi was asked if there was additional pressure that came with being the defending champion in New York. He replied:

“I don't know if it's pressure. But for me everything that I do from here on is crossing the finish line. I have a wonderful career to win a major in my first and only marathon so far. And if I don't win anymore, I'll be satisfied because this is the race that I really wanted to win.

It happened to me, and great things have happened. But I can dream again. I'll reach for the title again on Sunday. I can only concentrate on what I can do. And Coach Larsen and my team have worked very hard to get us here and to give it the best shot.”

Donning bib number one and the same USA jersey that he wore for his 2009 victory, Keflezighi lined up to take on his 14th marathon overall, and his sixth through the five boroughs.

At the front of the pack during the first few miles in Brooklyn

Through the first 13.1, the race played out in a similar fashion to the year before. Keflezighi stayed near the front, not making any dramatic move but carefully covering any surges from his competitors. At the race’s halfway point on the Pulaski Bridge, he was side-by-side with the leaders in 1:05:19, eight seconds behind his split from 2009.

But like many New York City Marathons before it, the race broke open once the field turned off the Queensboro Bridge onto First Avenue. Notably missing from the lead pack as it entered Manhattan was Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia, who dropped out of the race with a knee injury on the bridge, near the 16-mile mark.

Keflezighi taking his mile 15 split on the Queensboro Bridge, with Gebrselassie to his right at the front of the pack.

On mile 17, Emmanuel Mutai of Kenya and Abderrahime Bouramdane of Morocco formed a gap on the main field with a 4:26 split. Gebre Gebremariam followed closely in their wake, hoping to produce a strong result for Ethiopia in Gebrselassie’s absence.

The breakaway begins on First Avenue, with Keflezighi visible in the background.

Keflezighi, who had fallen victim to the fast First Avenue miles in the past, stayed within himself. Post-race, he commented on that stage of the race: “I was 4:37 on First Avenue, and 4:46, I think, again. So that was the difference. They wanted to get away from Haile, and three guys survived and the others didn't.”

Keflezighi and Ritzenhein in 2006...

...and again in 2010.

Heading up toward the Bronx, he worked alongside fellow American Dathan Ritzenhein, just as they had done in 2006. Like the 2006 race, Keflezighi had fallen back from the lead on the first trip through Manhattan, but this time, he pulled back some ground late in the race.

Up front, Gebremariam and Mutai were the last remaining runners from the breakaway as they reached the Bronx. By 40K, Gebremariam had a four-second advantage on Mutai, and would put another minute on him over the last 2.2 kilometers. He broke the tape in 2:08:14, splitting a remarkable 1:02:54 for the second half of the race.

As the lead group splintered, Keflezighi began to catch runners who were paying the price for the mid-race surge. Between 35K and 40K, he moved up from tenth place to sixth, and would hold that position through the finish line, crossing in 2:11:38.

The 2009 champion congratulates the 2010 champion.

At the post-race press conference, he spoke of how the race played out from his view.

“The make-or-break decision was on First Avenue. They were really sprinting full out, and I tried to be patient, but the gap was so big that that was it for me to be able to.”

On his late comeback, he added, “I ran down a lot of guys at the end, but they were—when seven guys go, three will survive and they did. It got close to James Kwambai who has run a phenomenal time, so for me it was good self-confidence.” 

The top-ten finish was Keflezighi’s fifth in six runs at the New York City Marathon, and was also the fifth time he finished the race as the top American.

Check back next week as we recap Meb’s run at the 2011 New York City Marathon, in what would turn out to be the fastest race in event history to date.

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