Meb Keflezighi was in Chapel Hill Friday 12 days after winning the 118th Boston Marathon with a personal best time of 2:08:37, which would have caused him to celebrate even if he didn’t lead the field of 36,000 runners.
“I go into every race with three goals,” Meb said to a packed room at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Carrboro, adjacent to Fleet Feet, which had the foresight to schedule his appearance before he won Boston.
“To win, of course, finish in top three, and run my personal best. If I set my goal at 2:09, and ran that and didn’t win, that is still all I could ask for.”
Keflezighi, the first American citizen to win Boston in 31 years (and the oldest champion in 81 years), turns 39 Monday and was supposed to be in retirement by now. Then Hurricane Sandy wiped out the 2012 New York Marathon and the bombings stopped Boston last year, when Meb was there and watching as a spectator while recovering from an injury.
“I never get a chance to see you guys finish,” he joked about leading the field. “I’m busy with the media and getting drug tested. But I was there in 2013 watching and wanted to see everyone finish. So I watched for about 4 hours, wheel chair racers, elite runners and then everyone else until I had to leave for a an appointment just after 3 o’clock.
“When I left the finish line was packed, and I was at the Copley Hotel when I heard one loud noise that I didn’t know what it was. Then I heard another one. After going on espn.com and later watching it on TV, I saw what happened.
“I decided then, I was going to get healthy and come back and run the next year. I wanted to be able support, and hopefully I’ll be healthy. And I wanted to win and would try to do everything I can. That’s been on my mind every day since.”
After winning the New York Marathon in 2009, Keflezighi returned in 2010 but sustained a serious foot injury late in the race and finished sixth, still the highest American finisher. That began a prolonged rehab during which he went to Boston as a spectator last year.
Someone in the crowd asked him what his strategy was in Boston. “Fast!” the 5-foot-7 Meb said.
“Fortunately, the race unfolded very well and I was in control,” he said. “At about 14, 15 miles, approaching where I had trouble in this race before, I wanted to be by myself in the lead. I keep pushing, use the crowd, use the pace truck in front of me . . . kept pushing, kept pushing. When, at 18, 19 miles, the crowd started chanting USA, USA . . . loved it. I was kind of into the crowd, but had to remind myself to focus, focus . . . gotta get to that finish line, don’t want to lose it.
“At 22, miles, I got a cramp on my left side and said, ‘Oh, no’. But, remember, use your mechanics, breathe right. At 23 miles, I was looking back and said ‘Oh, no’ . . . didn’t know who it was but he was an orange shirt. I had two choices, slow down, let him catch me and I would have energy to finish strong, or just keep pushing, pushing really, really hard, saying to myself, ‘technique, technique, technique’.
“I make the last turn onto Boylston Street and said use the power of the crowd, my technique, the truck and the police motorcycle to just keep going. What I envisioned for the last year, and then I heard ‘USA! USA!’ I made it across the finish line, couldn’t be prouder after 31 years to be first American to win Boston.”
Keflezighi, who was born in Asmara, Eritrea, immigrated to the U.S. with his family as a grade schooler. He attended UCLA and was a middle-distance runner before his first marathon in 2002.
He resides in San Diego and is the only person to win Boston, New York and medal in the Olympics (Silver in Athens, 2004).
Meb was asked was has been his greatest moment to date.
“All are significant but the most meaningful was winning the Boston Marathon,” he said. “Yes, the Olympics are every four years, but all the eyes were on Boston after last year. A lot of people were saying congratulations, but also a lot of people were saying, ‘Thank you, thank you!’
“At this point I can retire.”