Wednesday, 01 November 2017 15:55

Meb Keflerzighi's Best Marathoner Performances in U.S. history

The top 26.2-mile performances by the greatest marathoner in U.S. history.

Meb Keflezighi’s run in this Sunday’s New York City Marathon will be his 26th and final competitive marathon. Since he debuted at the distance in 2002, he’s built a resume unmatched by any American. While he’s undoubtedly had many memorable moments on the road over the course of his career, below is our ranking of the five best of his many great marathons.

What these performances have in common is that they came in races where Meb felt he had something to prove. Keep that in mind as we look ahead to Sunday. Many people may expect Meb to go through the motions on a 26.2-mile valedictory run, but after knowing Meb for more than a decade and working with him on his 2015 book Meb for Mortals, I think he’ll place no worse than fifth, if for no other reason than to cap his career with a final reminder to never, ever count Meb out.

New York City, 2011 (6th place, 2:09:13)

This at-the-time PR was the beginning of Meb’s remarkable late-career resurgence. He considered retiring earlier in the year after being dropped by long-time sponsor Nike, but instead became Skechers’s first pro as the company entered the running market. Sixth place might not sound all that impressive, but it came against a stacked field on a day the course record was lowered by two-and-a-half minutes.

And get this: In the second mile, Meb felt something against his left big toe. He realized he’d left a Breathe-Right strip in his shoe that he’d stashed there because his new warmup outfit didn’t have pockets. By the end of the race, his foot was bloodied. He’d also thrown up several times in the last 10K. Despite all this, he set a PR. He then knew he had plenty more great races in him. Two months later, he won the Olympic Marathon Trials.

London Olympics, 2012 (4th place, 2:11:06)

Meb’s third (of an eventual four) Olympic appearance is his great unsung race. Despite being the only one in the race with an Olympic medal and New York City title, he wasn’t among the small group highlighted to the crowd before the start. Meb set off intending to prove the folly of this oversight, but soon encountered problems.

He mistakenly grabbed teammate Ryan Hall’s bottle and started having stomach problems from the unfamiliar drink. As he fell farther and farther behind the leaders, he thought about dropping out. At halfway he was in 21st place. But he resolved to finish no matter what and told himself, “Just pass one more person.” He kept doing so mile after late-race mile until, in the final stretch, he moved into fourth place, just one spot out of the medals.

New York City, 2009 (1st place, 2:09:15)

Two years before this race, Meb had perhaps the worst day of his running life. Running with what he later learned was a pelvic stress fracture, he placed eighth in the Olympic Trials, held in Central Park. After finishing, he learned his friend and training partner Ryan Shay had died during the race. Unable at times in the following weeks to even walk, he wondered if his career was over. But he built himself back from scratch throughout 2008. Wearing a USA jersey in what he considered his delayed Olympics, Meb took the lead for good with just more than a mile to go. His win was the first by an American in 27 years.

Athens Olympics, 2004 (2nd place, 2:11:29)

This was Meb’s initial “first-American-man-since” performance. In just his third 26.2, he ran with the leaders from the start and became the first U.S. male since Frank Shorter 28 years earlier to win an Olympic Marathon medal. His result and Mammoth Track Club teammate Deena Kastor’s bronze earlier in the Games rebooted American distance running by showing the value of group training and the belief that U.S. runners can take on anyone.

Boston, 2014 (1st place, 2:08:37)

Meb’s long-time coach, Bob Larsen, says the Athens silver is Meb’s top marathon. But 50 years from now, the Hollywood story of Boston 2014 is what Meb will most be remembered for. A year after the Boston Marathon bombings, running with the names of the four fatalities on his bib, Meb helped to reclaim the race for the running community with a bold front-running victory. It was the first win by an American man in 31 years.

That he set a personal record two weeks shy of his 39th birthday only added to the legend. That a native of Eritrea who embodies the American dream won when the whole world was watching only added to the poignancy and significance of Meb’s day of days.