Exclusive: Marathon master Meb Keflezighi tells Moneyish why he’s coming out of retirement to run the New York City Marathon this year
March 1, 2018
Nicole Lyn Pesce
Meb Keflezighi celebrates at the finish line with his family following the 2015 Suja Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon & 1/2 Marathon. (Jerod Harris/Getty Images)
The American athlete will be hitting the road with NYRR charity Team for Kids to support youth sports.
This retired marathon legend is pounding the pavement again.
American master Meb Keflezighi, the only athlete ever to win the Boston Marathon, the New York City Marathon and an Olympic marathon medal (the silver in Athens in 2004), retired from running these 26.2-mile races professionally last fall after finishing New York City for what was supposed to be one last time.
Keflezighi told Moneyish he was running on empty. “The marathon hurts,” said the 42-year-old father of three. “I’ve done 26 competitive marathons, and I’ve done over 100 long runs that are 24 miles or more at least. I’m ready for the next chapter of my life.”
But Keflezighi has too much heart and sole to spectate from the sidelines for long, which is why he’s returning to the TCS New York City Marathon this November as a charity runner and ambassador for Team For Kids supporting youth and community programs, which he revealed to Moneyish ahead of the New York Road Runners’ official announcement on Thursday.
“I do still enjoy running!” he laughed. “And I said, you know what? I don’t have to be up in the front or leading the pack. I can still do one or two races a year at an easier pace. And I care about inspiring the next generation of runners.”
Meb Keflezighi falls to the ground after finishing his “last” New York City Marathon in 2017. (Elsa/Getty Images)
Keflezighi and his family were refugees from Eritrea who came to the U.S. by way of Italy in 1987. “Before I started running, I was a very shy, timid kid who didn’t speak English, who would listen to the teacher but wasn’t sure if I should raise my hand to ask questions in class,” he said. “Sports has that power to teach kids self-esteem, and also setting goals, work ethic and time management that can also help them to be better students. And I am so lucky to be part of that, and to be able to touch people’s lives with my gift.”
And yes, that means he’ll be starting in the middle of the back with his Team For Kids teammates versus toeing the starting line with the elites. Keflezighi, whose personal best on the NYC course was 2:09:15 when he won in 2009 (becoming the first American man in 27 years to do so) expects to finish in around three hours or so this time.
“That will be almost an hour slower than I usually do, so I hope it will be a much more pleasant experience,” he said. “I don’t have to make every stride count, or be planning my attack [to pass another pro runner] or think about how to break somebody. I can enjoy the view running in New York for the first time, you know, and take it in when you turn onto First Avenue and you’re surrounded by the sound of the crowd.”
Meb Keflezighi winning the New York City Marathon in 2009. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
He won’t be fundraising himself for Team For Kids, which has pulled in more than $57 million for youth running programs since 2002, and $6.1 million through the New York City Marathon last year. But he will be serving as a team ambassador and special advisor to the charity runners to motivate them toward their fundraising goals. He’ll also be running his own charity, the Meb Foundation, which benefits youth health, education and fitness. Its Team Meb 26 leg raised close to $140,000 last year.
Hundreds of charity teams are expected to participate in this year’s New York City Marathon, the world’s most populous marathon with more than 50,000 runners. Charity runners have raised more than $235 million through the five-borough tour during the past decade. About 9,000 charity runners donated $35.5 million to more than 300 official charity partners in the 2017 marathon alone.
“The discipline and distance of running lines up with charity giving because, one, running can be a very hard and lonely sport, so through charity teams, people get inspired to run socially or to have another purpose for going 10 or 13.1 or 26.2 miles,” Keflezighi said. “And it’s inspiring for the people watching you train, because these are very impressive distances. And we’re in this era where people want to live healthy and set a good example.
“I can’t wait to be among my fellow charity runners sharing the streets of New York and taking a little longer time to enjoy the cheers and the camaraderie,” he added, “and to share what this sport has brought for me during this new chapter of my life, right in the middle of the crowd.”