Of all the encouragement Meb Keflezighi received at his final Boston Marathon, one message stood out on the 26.2-mile course.
The 2014 Boston winner’s eyes caught a sign that told him he was a hero.
“It was the thrill of a lifetime again,” Keflezighi said after finishing 13th on Monday, more than seven minutes behind winner Geoffrey Kirui of Kenya. “It’s not like a victory that I could have ended up with, but at the same time, I enjoyed every bit of it.”
Keflezighi, who turns 42 next month, crossed the Boylston Street finish line in 2 hours, 17 minutes, in his 25th and penultimate marathon. It was his first time outside the top eight in five Boston starts.
Keflezighi started drifting behind the leaders before the halfway point on a warm day with temperatures in the 70s. As thoughts of a win faded away, the Eritrean-born, four-time U.S. Olympian ran alone behind the lead pack and was showered with praise.
“Everybody was saying you’re our hero, we love you, and all that,” said Keflezighi, the only U.S. male or female runner to win Boston since 1985. “Even if you finish 15th or 20th, they still love you.”
Keflezighi blew a kiss, pumped his arms and gave thumbs-up to the Boylston Street crowd in his final strides.
In a poignant finish-area moment, Keflezighi embraced the family of Martin Richard on Boylston Street, feet away from where Richard, then 8 years old, was killed in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.
In 2014, Keflezighi ran to a surprise victory in Boston. He raced that day with the names written on his bib corners of Martin and the other three people who were killed by the attackers.
“Winning the 2014 Boston Marathon changed my life,” Keflezighi said. “I remember I was at the airport, and somebody came up to me and said whenever you come to Boston, you should never buy a beer.”
Keflezighi, a 2004 Olympic silver medalist, hopes to remain affiliated with the Boston Marathon in a non-racing capacity in future years. His final marathon will be in New York City on Nov. 5.
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