Why Meb Keflezighi Is Running The Boston Marathon On Monday

He’s not running to win. He has more important goals and messages to share.

Last Updated:
Why Meb Keflezighi Is Running The Boston Marathon On Monday 1

Meb Keflezighi is the epochal American marathoner, an immigrant African who made good by following the classic American values, education, endless hard work, and perseverance. And in success, he remained true to similar values, humility, family, community, and solidarity. 

On April 21, 2014, Meb’s story became a fully American tale. On that day, he won the Boston Marathon, one year after the bombs, tragic deaths, and horrible injuries. It made him a national and international headliner.

You can follow our live coverage of the Boston Marathon on race day here, starting at 9:00 a.m. ET Monday morning (30 minutes before the race start time).

This Monday, Meb returns to run Boston again. He won’t win, and that doesn’t matter. It’s his values that matter. 

He was offered a broadcast job but turned it down. Instead, he’ll be running to raise funds for the Meb Foundation, which supports youth health, education, and fitness.

More than that, he says, “I thought it would be an important statement for me to run Boston on the 10th anniversary of 2014. It would be important for me, important for other runners, and important for everyone in Boston.

Below, Meb Keflezighi answers questions about key moments in his life and his running career.

How did you get started in running? 

“When I was a kid in Eritrea, we just played soccer. We didn’t have shoes or a ball, but we took a long sock and stuffed it with plastic so it would bounce a bit, and that’s how we played. My dad would tell us about Pele, and his big dream was to one day take us to a real soccer field with shoes and a ball, so we could play in better conditions.

“When we moved to San Diego, we lived close to the park where the Foot Locker Cross-Country Championships were held. I remember going to the park and seeing people run. I thought, “What are they running from? They don’t have anything chasing them?”

“At my junior high school, they gave a t-shirt to any boy who could break 6:15 in the mile. I ran 5:20, and the PE teacher said, ‘Wow, you’re going to go to the Olympics someday.’ I didn’t know what he was talking about. I only wanted to know: “Do I get a T-shirt?’”

Why Meb Keflezighi Is Running The Boston Marathon On Monday 2

And then, not that many years later, you’re running in the Sydney Olympics. What was that like?

“It was just magnificent to wear the red, white, and blue in the Sydney Olympics. To this day, it’s my favorite Olympic experience. I felt so proud to wear the USA jersey. 

“My dad was so happy for me, but he told me I had to win the gold medal. I said, ‘Dad, you don’t understand. There are guys like Haile Gebrselassie and Paul Tergat who are more than a minute faster than me in the 10,000. I’m not going to win the gold.’

“He told me not to be so pessimistic. Well, I was just hoping not to be lapped. But I also started thinking that maybe I could come back in four years and do something greater for our country. Maybe I could win a medal.”

Which you actually did in the 2004 Athens Olympics. How did that happen?

“In 2004, everything was about preparation. I had Coach Bob Larsen and Joe Vigil with me. We had Deena Kastor with us, training at altitude in Mammoth Lakes. We had the Olympic Committee sports scientists explaining how to perform our best in heat and humidity. We were all focused on creating a resurgence of distance running success in the U.S. In terms of training, we just put in the work, lots of weeks around 130 miles. I remember one at 136 miles.

“The race itself unfolded slowly but surely. I kept telling myself, ‘Don’t do anything drastic. Don’t make any mistakes.’ Slow but sure. And that’s how it worked out. I was focused on a strong finish, and I just had an amazing race to bring home the silver medal. It felt monumental. I still have to pinch myself. It always makes me reflect on all the people who helped me through all the stages of my running career.”

You must have hoped to do even better four years later.

“Yes, I figured if I can get silver in one Olympics, maybe gold in the next. I remember at the Olympic Marathon Trials in New York in 2007, I was sitting next to my good friend Ryan Shay on the bus to the starting line. We were both reflecting on how cool it was to own the city of New York at 5:30 a.m. 

“I had a disappointing race with a big hip pain. I dragged myself to the finish line in eighth. Then someone asked me, ‘Did you hear about Ryan?’ I thought they were talking about Ryan Hall, who had a fantastic victory that day. But no, they were talking about Ryan Shay, who passed away during the race. 

“And I just broke down. I collapsed, and I couldn’t get back up again. They had to pick me up and put me in a taxi.

“Ten weeks later, I still couldn’t put any weight on the hip. I thought, ‘I guess this could be the end of my career. If so, I’m okay with that. I’ve been so blessed.’ But deep down, I felt that there was more in the tank, and I decided to stick with the sport and see what I could accomplish.”

Why Meb Keflezighi Is Running The Boston Marathon On Monday 3

You didn’t run Boston in 2013, but you were there. What was your experience?

“I was there, watching from the grandstands next to the finish line. I wanted to see my fellow runners as they came down that famous Boston finish. I don’t usually have that opportunity.

I was there for more than four hours, cheering and clapping like everyone else. I was enjoying the spirit of the marathon and all the things that bring us together. Then I had to leave for an appointment inside the nearby Fairmont Copley hotel. 

“I had barely gotten inside when someone told me there had been a bomb explosion. I remember I said, ‘How is that possible?’ and I threw an F-bomb. Later that night, the journalist Bonnie Ford asked me if I would be afraid to come back and run the Boston Marathon again. I said, ‘No, I wouldn’t be afraid. I’d like to be healthy enough to come back and win it for the people.’”

Why Meb Keflezighi Is Running The Boston Marathon On Monday 4

Can you tell us about 2014? 

“Ryan Hall and I had been talking in training beforehand. We were determined to go all in on this marathon. We figured it was going to be like the Tour de France with so much emotion, so much electricity in the air. 

“The night before the race, I wrote the names Sean, Martin, Crystal, and Ling on my bib number, the people who had died after the bomb explosions. I wanted to write them big, but then I got nervous about stirring the pot too much. I wondered if the BAA or Hancock would be upset. So, I wrote the names small in the four corners of my number. I wish I had written them bigger. 

“I had planned to stay behind for 21 miles. But at five miles, the Kenyans and Ethiopians were slowing things down. I was like: ‘No way. I’m going for it. Whatever happens, happens.’ So I got a big lead, and it was the thrill of a lifetime to hear everyone chanting, ‘USA! USA! USA!’ They were so excited to see an American in the lead.

“Of course, I knew someone was going to close up on me near the end. When he did, I just thought to myself, ‘Do it for the victims. Keep doing it. Run to the finish with their prayers, run with their spirit, run with their angels.’

Why Meb Keflezighi Is Running The Boston Marathon On Monday 5

“When I broke the tape, it hit me. I was put on this earth to have a purpose, and my purpose is the sport of distance running. I feel very thankful to God that I have been so blessed. It was such a beautiful moment not only for me but for Boston, for the sport of running, and for the United States.”

Did it change your life?

“Oh, absolutely. It was a defining moment. Not that an Olympic silver medal wasn’t. Not that a New York City Marathon victory wasn’t. But the Boston victory, there was just so much attention on that day, so much weight on that race. 

“I mean, for me, running was my job, and it was always my dream to win the Boston Marathon. But when I got a call the next day from President Barack Obama, I knew it was a big deal. He said to me, ‘You did your job well, and you made America proud.’

“Then he invited me to a White House dinner, and I brought my wife. We met President Jimmy Carter, who had been a passionate runner. And he said, ‘I’ve been dying to meet you.’

“Yes, Boston changed my life forever. I’ll tell you a little story. All of a sudden, people would see me walking around town and ask, ‘Would you be willing to take a picture with us?’

So I’d say, ‘Yes, sure.’

“But then my daughters would say to me, ‘But Dad, I thought you told us to be careful with strangers. Do you know these people?’

“And I’d have to explain: ‘No, I don’t know them. But these people know me because I’ve won the Boston Marathon and the New York City Marathon and an Olympic medal. So it’s okay. These are good strangers.’”

[If you’d like to make a charitable donation to the Meb Foundation, go here.]

Photo of author
Amby Burfoot stands as a titan in the running world. Crowned the Boston Marathon champion in 1968, he became the first collegian to win this prestigious event and the first American to claim the title since John Kelley in 1957. As well as a stellar racing career, Amby channeled his passion for running into journalism. He joined Runner’s World magazine in 1978, rising to the position of Editor-in-Chief and then serving as its Editor-at-Large. As well as being the author of several books on running, he regularly contributes articles to the major publications, and curates his weekly Run Long, Run Healthy Newsletter.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.