The last time I saw Meb Keflezighi, he was flying. His long, sinewy legs were devouring the pavement of Commonwealth Avenue, propelling him past Mile 21 of the Boston Marathon, where everybody and I chanted, “Meb! Meb! Meb!” Five miles later, he was the first American to win the race in 31 years.
At 39, Keflezighi should be well past his prime, but the Eritrean-born racer is still running personal bests, still pushing the pace and proving his doubters wrong. This week he’ll lace up his Skechers on the Strip, not with an eye toward breaking the Rock ’n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon finish-line tape, but as something of an attraction at the half marathon, where he’ll be running as a pacer.
I saw you run in Boston this year, and the whole atmosphere felt really special. In Vegas hardly anyone comes out to cheer. When you’re racing, how much does the crowd energy matter? My career started as a track runner, where you might hear your coach or your parents or whatever at one point in the turn, but cross country and road racing is pretty special. You get so close, you can hear people and you can get vibe and energy from them. Before you saw me, at about 18.5 or 19 miles, I was fist bumping saying, “USA! USA!” and “Boston Marathon,” because the emotion gets into you. If it wasn’t for the crowd, I wouldn’t have been able to win that race. And obviously, the [Boston Marathon bombing] victims’ names that I had on my bib number also was a huge honor and drive and motivation to run for. I was the only athlete that had that.
People who don’t run competitively often find it therapeutic, but it’s your job. Is running still a release for you? When I’m at race pace I’m at work, but other times I use it as therapeutic. I actually map out my day through my run. But when I’m doing my repeats or going race pace for 10, 15 miles or toward the end of my long run, I’m focusing on my mechanics and breathing and visualizing how I want to finish in the race.
Do you have any pre-race rituals? In terms of diet, I like to have my pasta and red sauce, meatballs and spaghetti dinner, but when you’re in Japan you might not get that. I have my usual 3-mile run and stride and drills the day before. I try not to do anything new before any race, that’s my standard for 5k, 10k, half marathon, marathon for a few days before. Sometimes you have a lucky charm. It used to be socks for me back in the day.
You’ve won the Boston and New York marathons and an Olympic silver medal. Do you have any big goals looming? I’m happy to say that my career has been fulfilled. Boston Marathon was the missing link on my resume. I don’t feel like I have to say, I must do this. That was the case before I won Boston, but now that I won Boston I feel like my career is 100 percent fulfilled.
Was Boston a PR (personal record) for you? It was a big PR. That was the first time I ever broke 2:09 [two hours and nine minutes]. I’d always been stuck. I had a 2:10:03 as my personal best, and then 2:10, 2:09:56, 2:09:56, 2:09:53, 2:09:26, 2:09:21, 2:09:15, 2:09:13, 2:09:08, and then the breakthrough: On the most important day of marathoning I ran a personal best two weeks before my 39th birthday.
Do you think you have a faster race in you? I wouldn’t be surprised. I always believed I could run under a 2:09 and ... others probably laughed at me, but I’ve done it. Can I run the same or better? Yeah, if the conditions are good. I’ve done it in Boston, and Boston is one of the most challenging courses of marathoning. If I get on a flat course like Chicago or Berlin or London I’m pretty sure I could run faster or equal.
You’re pacing the 1:45 group for the Rock ’n’ Roll half marathon in Las Vegas this Sunday. What’s it like to be at the race but just pacing other runners? I have a blast. My career has been fulfilled, but a lot of people want to run with me and break an hour 45 or an hour and a half. Let them run with me, and I communicate with them and try to guide them and coach them throughout, think how the mechanics should be, what to do with their hands, focus. You get to tell them about the Boston story to take their minds off racing. You try to make jokes. Obviously, I’m going a lot slower than what I train for, but I love people and I love running with people and having that experience.
4:02 Meb's personal best mile pace
$150,000 Prize for Meb's win in Boston
2:08:37 Meb's winning time at the 2014 Boston Marathon, a personal best. That's a 4:54 average mile pace.
Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Marathon & Half Marathon November 16, 4:30 p.m., Las Vegas Strip, runrocknroll.competitor.com.