Meb Keflezighi will miss the hotel rooms. They treat you nicely when you’re American running royalty, and Keflezighi certainly qualifies as such. The 42-year-old distance superstar ran his final competitive marathon Sunday, finishing 11th in two hours, 15 minutes, 29 seconds at the 47th Annual TCS New York City Marathon.
“I’m going to definitely miss the VIP service from the New York Road Runners,” Keflezighi, an immigrant of Eritrea, who became a U.S citizen in 1998, said. “I grew up with three bedrooms, one bathroom. They gave me the presidential suite for my family and me. So, it’s very humbling to know where your background is, where you came from, to have escalated to this level.”
His body physically spent, his mind emotionally drained, Keflezighi crossed the finish line and instantly collapsed to the ground. He is, once and for all, done — without an ounce of energy left in the tank.
“It was just exhaustion and emotion,” Keflezighi said. “[It was] emotion throughout the course, but at the end, it was just pure exhaustion. I wanted to get through that finish line. My goal was to be in the top three, or top ten, and I was up in front.”
Keflezighi was in the mix for most of the race, sticking with the top pack through 35 kilometers before falling four minutes behind the leaders, and eventual winner Geoffrey Kamworor of Kenya (2:10:53).
“I was in the lead early on, but I was more staying away from getting tripped and being smart. When it was windy, I would tuck in behind,” Keflezighi said. “When we were halfway, I felt comfortable. I knew there was going to be a deciding factor at one point.”
But, when the race came to it’s latter stages, Keflezighi said he just didn’t have the turnover to compete with younger runners.
“I just can’t do it,” he said. “There’s no way.”
But, still, not a regret appeared on Keflezighi’s face as he sat for media questioning after the race, an American flag draped over his shoulders, with no signs of leaving his race-worn body anytime soon.
“It was a beautiful victory lap, you could say, to be up at the front with all the great runners,” Keflezighi said.
Keflezighi rose to national prominence in 2014 when he won the Boston Marathon the year after the Boston Marathon bombing. That fact was not lost on this year’s women’s marathon winner, Shalane Flanagan, who became the first American woman to win in New York since 1977, less than a week after last Monday’s terrorist attacks.
“I was thinking of Meb,” Flanagan, who grew up in Massachusetts, said. “I was thinking of how I wanted to make him proud today, and I think I did.”
Keflezighi said he heard Flanagan had won late in the race.
“I heard she won at (the 24th mile mark) and I think I did a jump with both hands in the air . . . Shalane and I have been texting a lot and emailing each other words of encouragement,” Keflezighi said. “I just couldn’t be happier for her . . . .She deserves [it], whether it’s here or Boston, and I’m so delighted for her.”
Keflezighi will now trot onto another course- family life and philanthropy.
“For 27 years, my life has been about what is next,” Keflezighi said. “What is next for me? Coaching is an interest, especially at collages . . . But, also the Meb Foundation, maintaining an excellent balance for health, education, and fitness comes from the bottom of my heart. I can give back because the sport has meant so much to me.”