NEW YORK — Meb Keflezighi says his bib from winning the 2014 Boston Marathon, the one with the four 2013 Boston Marathon bombings victims’ names written in black marker in the corners, is still pinned on his singlet from the race.
“Believe it or not,” the bib collector Keflezighi said, smiling. “The pins picked up water and stuff, got rusty.”
It hangs in a special closet in his Southern California home. It has company, too.
Also in there is his Athens 2004 Olympic uniform. He earned a silver medal 11 years ago.
And Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals baseball jerseys, reminders of the last 11 months — a nationwide tour that included ceremonial MLB first pitches, at least one call from President Obama and passing 22,780 runners in Atlanta’s Peachtree Road Race 10K on July 4.
He received fan mail after his Boston triumph from students, teachers and cancer survivors. And Germans. Many, many Germans. Somebody made him a scarf.
Keflezighi has been everywhere since becoming the first U.S. man in 31 years to prevail in Boston, the world’s oldest annual marathon, one year after that tragedy.
“Sometimes 11 p.m. is the only time I can take a shower,” he said.
Yet training hasn’t suffered, Keflezighi said. He feels healthy and competitive going into the NYC Half Marathon on Sunday, his tune-up race for Boston for a second straight year. He spoke Thursday after jogging laps with students in a P.S. 452 gymnasium on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
In 2014, Keflezighi’s goal at the NYC Half was not to win, but to emerge healthy after 13.1 miles. He suffered a “little hamstring issue” the week before that race, missed about five days of training and finished 10th.
This Sunday, Keflezighi’s competition includes countrymen Dathan Ritzenhein, top American in the 2008 Olympic marathon in ninth, and Abdi Abdirahman, a 2012 Olympic marathon teammate, and Kenyans 2012 Boston Marathon winner Wesley Korir and Stephen Sambu.
It lacks Keflezighi’s biggest perceived threats to come in Boston on April 20 — former marathon world record holder Kenyan Patrick Makau and 2013 Boston winner Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa — but will test the 39-year-old.
“Hopefully it will be a good indicator for Boston,” Keflezighi said.
In Boston, Keflezighi will likely not be able to employ the same tactic to win as he did last year.
Then, Keflezighi and occasional training partner Josphat Boit opened a 15-second lead over the East African favorites at the 10-mile mark. It grew. Keflezighi moved ahead of Boit at mile 16 and held off Kenyan Wilson Chebet to win by 11 seconds.
“I probably can’t do a similar thing, but they didn’t let me go [in 2014], I decided to go,” Keflezighi said. “They didn’t say, hey, Meb, run, we’ll let you have it. I made the decision to go for the win.”
Few considered Keflezighi a contender before that race. Now, he feels targeted.
“I’ll have more [of a chance] now than I did last year,” Keflezighi said, referring to expectations, “but I’m older.”
His goal is to finish in the top three or run a personal best. He did both last year.
“I’m relaxed,” he said, “but at the same time I’m a competitor.”
Keflezighi hopes to benefit from injury-free training, allowing more hill workouts than when his hamstring held him back one year ago.
Confident, he plans to race as an elite in at least four more marathons.
There will likely be a fall marathon, perhaps New York City on Nov. 1, followed by the Olympic trials in Los Angeles on Feb. 13 and (should he be top three at trials) the Rio Olympic marathon in August 2016. And then one, maybe two more, though he sees himself running half marathons, 10Ks, pacing races and doing clinics beyond that.
“To give back to the sport,” he said.
Keflezighi, who turns 41 in 2016, will try along with Bernard Lagat to become the oldest U.S. Olympic runner of all time, according to sports-reference.com. Keflezighi (UCLA) and Lagat (Washington State) competed against each other in college in the 1990s.
They still text.
“We inspire each other,” Keflezighi said. “[1996 Olympic champion] Allen Johnson, I remember in the 110-meter hurdles, I saw him doing it at 39, jumping over all of those things. I said, you know what, I’ve just got to maintain five-minute [mile] pace as long as I can.”
Keflezighi will be in Boston two days after the NYC Half, for more appearances and functions.
“Then head back to seclusion and train,” he said, “and disappear.”
In 2014, Keflezighi arrived in Boston three days before the race on a redeye from San Diego. He wants to keep a similar schedule this year but also acknowledged one pre-race difference on Thursday.
“I’m going to wear bib No. 1,” Keflezighi said of what will be pinned on the back of his singlet (his front bib will still read “MEB”). “That’s earned, not given.”
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