By Justin A. Rice | April 18, 2014, 7:13 p.m. (ET)

Meb Keflezighi leads the pack at the U.S. Marathon Olympic Trials Jan. 14, 2012 in Houston.

BOSTON -- Sidelined by injury at last year’s Boston Marathon, Meb Keflezighi spent four hours at the race’s Boylston Street finish line in street clothes before leaving to do a scheduled television appearance. Minutes later, the explosion of twin bombs near the finish line changed the world’s oldest annual marathon forever.

Keflezighi, an Olympic silver medalist, texted fellow American Ryan Hall, who also missed last year’s race with an injury.

“I texted Ryan Hall, ‘Next year is it man, we gotta’ be here next year,’” Keflezighi, the three-time Olympian from Mammoth Lakes, Calif., recalled during Friday’s media availability for Monday’s 118th running of the Boston Marathon. “The people that got injured or killed, they were spectators, just like I was here. I was a spectator. Just a big fan of the sport, big fan of the Boston Marathon.”

The bombs exploded at 2:49 p.m., and Keflezighi can’t help to think what would have happened to him if he didn’t leave the finish line early to prepare for his 4 p.m. appearance on Universal Sports.

“I was there,” he said. “I feel blessed but unfortunate for the people that were just like me, spectators … I have an 8-year-old daughter. It could have been her. If I was running that could have been her, my wife, my kids, my parents.”

Hall, who sat out the last two Boston Marathons, failed to finish the marathon at the London 2012 Olympic Games due to a hamstring injury. In 2011, his Boston Marathon time of 2 hours, 4 minutes, 58 seconds was good for fourth place and the best mark ever recorded by a U.S. runner.

“Right after the bombings happened, we knew that Boston was going to get back up from this,” said Hall, who trained at altitude in Ethiopia to prepare for this year’s race. “[Keflezighi and I] knew that America was going to get back up from this. We knew that this was going to be a super special race, so we just both knew we had to be there. We have to give it a good run for the U.S.”

Keflezighi and Hall highlight a strong group of U.S. elite athletes in this year’s field, a group that also includes 2012 Olympians Desiree Linden (formally Desiree Davila) and Shalane Flanagan, plus 2012 Paralympic marathon champion Shirley Reilly and Tatyana McFadden, a wheelchair racer who made history in 2013 by becoming the first athlete to win the marathon grand slam — Boston, Chicago, London and New York City.

Linden, who was also forced spectate last year’s race due to injury, said she has to suppress thoughts of the bombing while running. The Rochester Hills, Mich., resident is running Boston for the first time since losing the race by two seconds to Kenya’s Caroline Kilel in 2011. She was second at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials the following year but failed to finish the Olympic marathon due to a stress fracture.

“For me, personally, I have to be pretty locked into the task,” she said. “I think there is a time for tapping into the emotion, but it’s pretty late into the race. It’s when you need everything you can possibly take; three miles to go when you want to stop and then you go, ‘OK let it flood in.’”  

Both Keflezighi, 38, and Hall, 31, said training for this year’s Boston Marathon was like training for the Olympic Games, not just because there is so much buildup to one single race but because they have to balance the added enthusiasm with the extra pressure.

“It’s just another race for me, but internally it’s like the Olympics because it’s a big stage and this has always been a big stage,” Keflezighi said. “It’s a bigger stage now because of what happened.”

In fact, Flanagan, who finished fourth in last year’s race, said on this past Sunday’s “60 Minutes” that winning this year’s Boston Marathon would be more meaningful than winning an Olympic gold medal. The Marblehead, Mass., native, who missed Friday morning’s media availability due to a change in travel plans, clocked a time of 2:27:08 in Boston last year. The three-time Olympian finished 10th in London.

“The 2014 Boston Marathon will be run with overwhelming honor, passion and joy,” she said in her athlete bio. “Each step we take closer to the finish line is a victory in and of itself.”

Olympian Amy Hastings, Serena Burla and Adriana Nelson round out the elite women’s runners from the United States. On the men’s side, Jason Hartmann, who finished fourth in Boston in 2012 and 2013, and Abdi Abdirahman, Brett Gotcher, Nicholas Arciniaga and Jeffrey Eggleston round out the U.S. contingent.

McFadden will look to celebrate her 25th birthday on Monday by keeping alive her bid for a second-straight clean sweep of the marathon grand slam. She kicked off the defense of last year’s sweep by setting a course record of 1:45:12 at the London Marathon on Sunday. 

“That would be kind of cool to do well on my birthday or have a really great race on my birthday,” said McFadden, who won last year's Boston race in 1:45:25. “I think it will be a great Monday and I'm excited about it.”

McFadden, a three-time gold medalist in track and field at the London Games, won a silver medal in cross-country skiing earlier this year at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.

Joining McFadden and Reilly — also the 2012 Boston Marathon champion — in the elite women’s wheelchair division are Amanda McGrory, Susannah Scaroni and Chelsea McClammer from the United States. Krige Schabort and Aaron Pike are the only two American men competing in the elite wheelchair division. 

“It’s going to be magical,” Keflezighi said. “We’ve visualized it every day. I don’t think a day has gone by where I haven’t thought about it, the marathon and the people. … It makes you appreciate the life that you have and you want to maximize it. You are able to do what (the victims) can’t. For us, every day you think ‘Boston Strong,’ or you see a hat (or hear someone say), ‘I was going to run Boston,’ or ‘I couldn’t get to the finish line.’

“You hear all the stories.”

Justin A. Rice is a Boston-based freelance writer who covers sports and local news. He has been a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org since 2010 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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