Meb Keflezighi feels like he’s almost on borrowed time as a runner.
Every goal he’s set during his career he’s met: winning state high school cross-country titles; winning NCAA titles in cross-country and indoor and outdoor track at UCLA; earning a silver medal at the 2004 Olympic Games; winning the New York City Marathon; and, finally, in April, winning the Boston Marathon.
At 39, the San Diego resident has just about done it all.
“Borrowed time, that’s a good way to refer to it,” said Keflezighi, who was in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Saturday to race in the Bellin Run, where he placed third in the 10-kilometer race with a leisurely time of 29 minutes, 58 seconds. He was also the host of a charity run the previous day.
“Knowing as an athlete that I’ve accomplished all my goals is a blessing,” he added. “Not all athletes get to leave that way.”
Keflezighi has flirted with retirement a couple times in the past few years. He considered calling it a career after the 2012 New York City Marathon — a race he won in 2009 — but the event was cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy. He then decided to run the 2013 Boston Marathon but a pulled calf forced him to withdraw.
Instead of running, he watched from the grandstand as runners crossed the finish line. Five minutes after he left his post at Boylston Street so he could provide analysis for Universal Sports television coverage, the first bomb went off near the finish line.
Keflezighi knew that day he was going to run in the 2014 Boston Marathon.
“For 365 days, I’ve been thinking, ‘How I can change this to positive for Boylston Street?’” Keflezighi said. “I’ve been thinking, ‘What can I do? What can I do? Can I pull it off?’ I wanted to win it for the runners.”
With the names of the four people who died in the bombings written on his racing bib, Keflezighi edged Kenya’s Wilson Chebet by 11 seconds to become the first U.S. man to win the Boston Marathon since Greg Meyer did so in 1983. A refugee from Eritrea, Keflezighi became an American citizen in 1998.
Keflezighi was pretty emotional when he hit the finish line tape, but said his accomplishment didn’t sink in for a good 15 to 20 seconds afterward.
“I feel honored and blessed to have that victory on the most important day in marathon history,” Keflezighi said. “It really was necessary, not just for me but for any American male or female to pull it off.”
Having already achieved “99.9 percent” of what he had hoped to in his career beforehand, Keflezighi said “The only one I was missing was Boston, and that has been accomplished.”
He doesn’t plan to hang up his running shoes just yet, though.
Keflezighi is shooting to run for a repeat next season in the Boston Marathon and also to race at the New York City Marathon before trying for his ultimate goal — competing in the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for the marathon in Los Angeles.
“There are three to five, maybe six marathons left in these legs,” Keflezighi said. “I want to make sure that they count.”
Keflezighi — who said he has logged more than 70,000 miles during his career, which is the equivalent to running nearly three times around the world — will let his body dictate if he races in the Olympics Trials. He knows his body so well after running for 24 years, the last 12 in marathons.
Keflezighi is just hoping to make the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team, which would be his fourth. He knows medaling at the Games would be extremely difficult, since he would be two months shy of his 41st birthday.
“I’m a realistic guy, but I’m running faster than I ever have,” Keflezighi said. “But the marathon times are dropping like crazy. I’d be satisfied just making the team, and to do that I just have to be healthy.”
Health can always be a trump card for marathoners. Keflezighi failed to qualify for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games after suffering a broken hip. However, he came back to finish fourth at the 2012 Games in London.
“We kind of felt London might be his last major marathon, but he continues to run really well,” said Bob Larsen, who has been helping Keflezighi for 20 years since his days as the UCLA cross-country coach. “As long as he can do that and he’s enjoying it and still has that passion for it and for training, I think we’ll possibly see him make it to the trials. … I sure wouldn’t rule him out right now.”
If for some reason Keflezighi couldn’t race again, he knows he wouldn’t have left anything on the table.
“No regrets for sure,” Keflezighi said. “I’ve been blessed. I’m completely satisfied more than I can think of.”
Greg Bates is a freelance writer based in Green Bay, Wisconsin, who has covered Green Bay Packers games for a number of media outlets for the past seven seasons. He has been a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc., since 2012.