NEW YORK — There was a moment, about halfway through, when 42-year-old Meb Keflezighi thought he could win the final marathon of his career.
“I knew there was going to be a big deciding factor at one point,” Keflezighi said afterward, referencing his time in a leading group of about 12 men as the 26.2-mile race snaked from Queens into Manhattan.
Keflezighi, the only person to win an Olympic medal and the New York City and Boston Marathons (in 2009 and 2014, respectively), then began to feel his age.
He faded about 15 seconds behind the pack in the 20th mile entering the Bronx and another minute and a half in the 23rd as Central Park came into view.
“When the turnover is fast, I just can’t do it,” he said. “There’s no way. … I stopped four times probably, four or five times, same old usual thing. When you are 42 years old and competing against the best of the best in the world, your body is not right.”
Keflezighi was 11th in 2:15:29, 4:35 behind Kenyan winner Geoffrey Kamworor, ending an incredible career that included four Olympics. Kamworor was born in 1992, when Keflezighi was a California high school junior.
A small percentage — if that — of knowledgable track fans would have predicted that Keflezighi would win Sunday. Eleventh place in his 11th New York City Marathon, he’ll take it.
In typical fashion, Keflezighi spent the last uphill half-mile in Central Park fighting the grimace and acknowledging cheering fans. Waves. Thumbs-up. Blown kisses. Fist pumps.
He collapsed in exhaustion at the finish line, sprawled out on the pavement where he made his marathon debut 15 years ago and swore he’d never run 26.2 miles again.
Keflezighi lay there for five seconds. A man dressed as a race official and his wife and daughters came over to drag him up.
“Today was a struggle, but to get to that finish line was a magical moment,” said Keflezighi, joined by dozens of family members in Manhattan this week. “It was a beautiful victory lap, you could say.”
Keflezighi knew that he would race Sunday with the support of thousands of fans along the route.
What he didn’t know was that perhaps his biggest source of inspiration would be Shalane Flanagan. Also a four-time Olympian, she became the first U.S. female runner to win New York since Keflezighi was a 2-year-old in Eritrea.
“I heard that she won at [mile] 24, and I think I did a jump with both hands in the air,” Keflezighi said.
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