Meb Keflezighi

When Meb Keflezighi won the Boston Marathon while wearing the names of bombing victims

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Before starting the 2014 Boston Marathon, Meb Keflezighi had four names scribbled in marker on his race bib corners: Martin, Krystle, Lingzi and Sean.

Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell and Lingzi Lu died as a result of the twin bombings near the Boylston Street finish line during the 2013 Boston Marathon. Three days later, Sean Collier, a policeman, was shot and killed in a confrontation with the attackers.

Keflezighi ran in 2014 in their memory and with his own remembrance. All the way to one of the defining victories in the race’s 123-year history, becoming the first U.S. male runner to win in 31 years.

A year earlier, Keflezighi left an observer grandstand near the finish line of the Boston Marathon about five minutes before the bombs went off.

“The four victims that died in the explosion were spectators just like me,” he said.

It marked a career turnaround at age 38 for Keflezighi, who had been dropped by Nike three years earlier. He considered retirement. The 2004 Olympic silver medalist and 2009 New York City Marathon champion had placed 23rd at his previous marathon and withdrew before the 2013 Boston race with a calf injury.

Keflezighi went out hard from the start, keen on meeting his minimum pre-race goal: to set a personal best. At the halfway point, he and little-known American Josphat Boit led the field by 30 seconds.

In the chase pack, other Americans conversed and strategized not to push the pace in pursuit.

“We needed to give Meb as much space as possible,” Ryan Hall, the fastest American marathoner in history, texted Tim Layden, then of Sports Illustrated and now of NBC Sports. “If the African guys were going to try to catch him, we weren’t going to do the work to help them. It wasn’t my day to win, as much as I wanted to. Meb winning was the next best thing and what the US needed.”

Keflezighi pulled away from Boit between the 15th and 19th miles, opening a one-minute lead. The margin dropped to about eight seconds at the 25-mile mark, but Keflezighi held off Kenyan Wilson Chebet by 11 seconds on Boylston.

“This is beyond running,” Keflezighi, whose full first name, Mebrahtom, means “let there be light” in the Eritrean language, said in a finish-area TV interview. “This is for the people, for the Boston Strong. We’re resilient as runners.”

Keflezighi, born in Eritrea, moved to the U.S. at age 12. His first time running seriously was in San Diego in junior high school, when PE students were given a grade for how much effort they put into a mile. He eventually earned a scholarship to UCLA and made his first Olympic team at age 25 in 2000.

Keflezighi retired from elite running in 2017 after 26 marathons, but he felt complete after Boston in 2014.

“99.9 of my career was fulfilled,” Keflezighi said after winning Boston. “Today, 110 percent.”

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Meb Keflezighi brought back to marathon running by special email

Meb Keflezighi
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BOSTON — As a hurting Meb Keflezighi hit the halfway point of the 2017 Boston Marathon, and the leaders pulled away, the 41-year-old started thinking he made a mistake by not retiring after the Rio Olympics.

“A year ago, if you asked me if I would do the Boston Marathon [again], I wouldn’t have said that,” he said Friday.

Yet the 2014 Boston champ joined the elite runners at the pre-race press conference three days before he runs his 27th marathon. Keflezighi will not try to keep pace with them on Monday (8:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold).

Instead, the 122nd Boston Marathon will be Keflezighi’s first 26.2 miler in a non-competitive capacity.

Keflezighi is starting a second marathon phase as a charity runner. He’s representing the Martin Richard Foundation, in honor of the youngest victim of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

He plans to enter the New York City Marathon for Team for Kids in November and, if the cause is right, more marathons in future years. Maybe even one in the name of his own Meb Foundation.

“I still love running,” Keflezighi said. “I don’t miss the pain.”

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Keflezighi always planned to continue running, even pacing races up to half marathons, but nothing longer than that. He was satisfied with 13th- and 11th-place finishes in Boston and New York City last year to complete a career that also included a 2004 Olympic silver medal (among four Olympic teams overall) and the 2009 NYC Marathon title.

Then his brother received an email from Bill Richard, whose 8-year-old son died in the 2013 twin bombings on Boylston Street. Keflezighi met Bill and his wife, Denise, before the 2014 Boston Marathon. He gave them a hug, prayed for them and said, if there’s anything you ever need, please reach out to me.

Bill remembered. The email to Keflezighi’s agent and brother, Merhawi, before the New York City Marathon last fall asked if Keflezighi would be interested in running for the Martin Richard Foundation.

“I know Meb is a man of his word,” Bill wrote, according to Keflezighi. “I don’t want to control him, but he said this, so can he do it?”

If it was a 5K or 10K, Keflezighi would have accepted immediately. But he needed some time to consider another marathon. Ultimately, he signed up. Keflezighi said his longest training run was only 17 miles. His goal is to break three hours.

“I’m counting on my 120,000 miles that I’ve done over the years and my talent to get me through this one,” he said.

Keflezighi hopes to have the opportunity to enjoy the world’s oldest annual marathon in a way he didn’t as an elite racer. Maybe stop at the Scream Tunnel to hug Wellesley College students.

“I was planning on taking my phone and taking pictures,” Keflezighi said, “but with the [forecasted] rain I probably won’t do it.”

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Meb Keflezighi to run Boston Marathon

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Meb Keflezighi isn’t coming out of competitive retirement, but he will be running the Boston Marathon on April 16.

Keflezighi, who won the 2014 Boston Marathon one year after twin bombings rocked the world’s oldest annual 26.2-mile race, will run “on a non-competitive basis” representing the Martin Richard Foundation, in honor of the youngest victim of the bombings, according to the foundation.

The foundation “provides opportunities for young people to learn, grow and lead through volunteerism and community engagement,” according to its website.

Keflezighi retired after finishing 11th in the New York City Marathon on Nov. 5, fittingly his 26th career 26.2-mile race. The 42-year-old raced in four Olympics and is the only person to win an Olympic medal and the New York City and Boston Marathons.

When Keflezighi won Boston in 2014, he did so with the names of three bombing victims, including Richard, and a slain police officer written on his bib. Last April, at his final Boston Marathon, Keflezighi embraced Richard’s family in the finish area on Boylston Street, feet away from where Richard, then 8 years old, was killed at the 2013 race.

This year’s competitive fields are loaded with elite Americans, headlined by 2017 New York City Marathon winner Shalane Flanagan and two-time Olympic medalist Galen Rupp.

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