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Meb Returns To Road Racing, Discusses Boston And Beyond

By Aimee Berg | May 10, 2013, 11:15 p.m. (ET)
Meb Keflezighi enters the stadium before finishing second to win
the silver medal in the men's marathon at the Athens 2004 Olympic
Games at Panathinaiko Stadium on Aug. 29, 2004.

NEW YORK – Three-time Olympian Meb Keflezighi is finally ready to race. After scoring a U.S.-best fourth place in the marathon at the 2012 London Olympic Games, he was primed to run the 2012 New York City Marathon, but it was cancelled after Hurricane Sandy. He was supposed to run the 2013 Boston Marathon, but was sidelined with a leg injury. On Saturday, finally, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist will return to the roads at the Healthy Kidney 10K in Central Park, New York.  It will be his first competitive effort since London. If he wins, he would also earn the biggest paycheck in the world for a 10K road race ($25,000). En route, he would have to beat the 10K world record holder, Leonard Patrick Komon of Kenya, who has covered the 6.2-mile distance in 26 minutes, 44 seconds. Keflezighi is taking a pragmatic approach, however – toward this race and his future. We caught up with him on Friday in Manhattan.

What exactly kept you out of the 2013 Boston Marathon?

I was in phenomenal shape before Boston. In fact, I was scared that I was going to peak too soon. Then, on February 13, I was on my semi-long 18-mile run in San Diego. A dog on a leash rushed in front of me on a turn. I had to jump over it and I landed on the side of my left foot. It messed up my posterior tibialis. Then it went to the Achilles, the soleus, and the calves. It took almost two months to heal.

You went to Boston anyway, even though you weren’t racing. Where were you when the bombings happened?

I was scheduled to do the Universal [Sports] recap of the race at 4:00. So I went out for a little 10-mile run, came back and [my brother] Hawi and the other managers were watching in the lobby at the Fairmont. Then I’m like: I need to go to the finish and watch it on the big screen so I grabbed a bagel and headed out. I was in the grandstands the whole time. I probably took 80 pictures just of the expressions of people finishing. It was a joyous moment. Eventually, it got colder and I was a little envious of people that had apartments near the finish because they’ve probably got hot chocolate and are watching inside. The last picture I took of people finishing was at 3:55 [on the clock]. I had four people running from my foundation and I was going to stay, but I had to prepare for Universal Sports show. I walked to the Fairmont Copley and as soon as I got there it happened. It was five or six minutes after I left the finish. If it wasn’t for that appointment and getting a little chilly…

Did you look to see if you got any pictures of the suspects? Did you have to send your photos to the FBI?

I did look a little bit. Maybe I did see them, but it was from way across and it was on my iPhone. My resolution might not be so great.

Boston wasn’t the first scary moment you’ve seen at a marathon. At the 2004 Athens Olympics, a crazy fan jumped out and pushed the leader, Vanderlei de Lima of Brazil, off the course about three miles from the finish. In terms of security, do you have any ideas about what can be done?

I used to give high fives and be really close to the crowd. Now you’ve got to think: maybe I shouldn’t get too close. You can’t trust anybody. That caution was always there for me, ever since Athens.

In Athens I didn’t have any family members come because of 9/11. My parents wanted to go, my siblings wanted to go, and I said, ‘No, because I don’t want to be worried about you guys.’ The U.S. advised a high alert on [travelling]. When I won a silver medal, I was by myself – which was fine.

The same thing is going on right now with the freshness of Boston. It will eventually fade, but you have to think about the consequences.

If I was racing in Boston, usually both my parents come, my wife comes, my three kids come. Martin [Richard], that 8-year-old [who died], could have been my daughter. You never know. Even when you’re racing, you have to think of that. So do you want to concentrate on what you want to do? Or do you want to worry about your family?

The city of New York overcame 9/11 and Boston will overcome this. Runners are resilient. It’s just when it’s so vivid in front of you – it puts life in perspective. It’s not the first time I heard bombs. I heard land mines in Eritrea [where I was born]. I can’t help but to think back to those moments also. I’m lucky to be alive.

What is the significance to you of this Saturday’s race?

I’m not in peak-peak-peak form yet. I just want to get the best out of myself.

Meb Keflezighi holds the United States flag aloft as he approaches
the finish line in the men's marathon at the London 2012 Olympic
Games in the Mall on Aug. 12, 2012.
How will you gauge whether you’ve given your best at Saturday’s race? Is there a time you want to hit?

For me, 27:13 is my best time on the track, but I think under 28 is my best on the road. So to break 28s or 29 would still be a good effort. You might not be in shape, but sometimes the competitive side comes out and surprises you.  I look forward to being competitive and having fun at the same time tomorrow.

After Saturday’s race, what other events are you targeting this summer?

Maybe a half-marathon at the end of May. Then get ready for the Big Apple [New York City marathon] on November 3. That’s my goal.

Are you planning to compete at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow?

No. I’ve never run the marathon at the world championships.

At the London Olympic marathon, you said it was going to be your last Olympics. Since you missed New York and Boston, are the 2016 Rio Games now back on the radar? What are you thinking at this point?

A lot of people say, ‘You should keep going for the older guys. You represent us all.’ I just turned 38 last week, on May 5. I have New York at the end of this year. Then, in 2014, it’s only about 16 or 17 months away from the Trials so… I don’t have to win Trials, I just have to try to get on the team. And people can get injured. Boston was a perfect example: Ryan [Hall], Abdi [Abdirahman], myself. If I can stay healthy, there’s a possibility I guess. And maybe just do one marathon a year instead of four marathons a year. We’ll see. We’ll play it not day-by-day but year-by-year now.

And hopefully, another gnarly dog won’t cross your path. This year wasn’t the first time a dog caused you to miss a race, was it?

I have dog incidents almost every day. Literally, two to three times a week. Sometimes you want to Twitter about it, but you want to be respectful. This year [a dog kept me out of] Boston. Two years ago before the 2011 New York City Half Marathon, I was in phenomenal shape [and strained my iliotibial band because of a dog in Central Park]. In 2005, I was training for the London Marathon and [had to withdraw after] a pit bull ran toward me. I ran backwards and [pulled] my Achilles because I ran so fast to try to avoid him. In 2004, before the Olympics in Athens, at the U.S. training center in Crete, a German Shepherd went straight for my throat and the only way to avoid it was to fall back. I was with Terence Mahon, Alan Culpepper, and Matt Lonergan; they had to throw a rock at him to prevent me from getting bit. I called Hawi [back in the U.S.] and said, do not be worried if I DNF because my knee is so bad. [Instead, I took a silver medal]. I guess adrenaline kicks in – but that could have potentially cost me the gold. My [former] training partners, they used to be scared of bulls or cows. I have no problem with them. They’d say, ‘How come you don’t mind them but are scared of dogs?’

Are dogs faster than cows?

Cows are not going to bite me.

Aimee Berg is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.

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