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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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Ryan Hall says 7 marathons in 7 days gave him ‘sense of closure’

Ryan Hall
Courtesy Ryan Hall
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Ryan Hall couldn’t walk without limping when he disembarked his airplane in Sydney last weekend. That’s when he knew he was in for the hardest marathon of his life Sunday.

Hall completed the World Marathon Challenge — seven marathons on seven continents in seven days — by clocking 5 hours, 15 minutes, 34 seconds in Sydney. He run/walked the entire marathon in Australia and then left his shoes at the finish line, signifying the final 26.2-mile race of his career.

As Hall waited in the Sydney airport for his flight home Tuesday, he couldn’t help but think of his first long run at age 13 — 15 miles around Big Bear Lake at 7,000 feet above sea level in California. In basketball shoes.

That outing sparked a career that included two Olympics and the fastest marathon recorded by an American — 2:04:58 at the 2011 Boston Marathon.

“So to end it with another epic running adventure, going around the world running seven marathons in seven days, just seemed like very fitting,” Hall said in a phone interview from Sydney. “It kind of gave me a nice sense of closure, which I think I was still looking for. It was kind of weird of how my body fell apart, and I retired. I never had the opportunity to have a farewell race. I felt like this week was that for me. It was actually an emotional moment for me walking away from my shoes on the finish line.”

Hall, 34, announced his retirement from elite marathon running in January 2016. Before that, he had finished one marathon since finishing second at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials.

He quit at an early age for a marathoner due to “chronically low testosterone levels and fatigue so extreme … he can barely log 12 easy miles a week,” according to The New York Times.

He became engrossed in weightlifting last year, reaching 177 pounds by the time he toed the line for his first of seven marathons in Antarctica last week. That’s about 50 pounds heavier than his elite racing weight. Hall’s longest training run in the previous four months was eight miles.

“I didn’t even know I could finish,” he said, calling it a coin flip going in. “I was thrilled I made it through at all.”

The seven marathons were obviously quite different than anything Hall had previously experienced. He ran alone for most of the races (only 22 men were able to complete the seven-day gauntlet). He ran races with headphones for the first time, with varied playlists, from electric dance to church worship.

And he ate like never before. Some 16 cookies in Morocco, an estimated 45 Muscle Milk bars in a week and the coup de grâce, six Krispy Kreme doughnuts during that agonizing Sydney limpthrough. Hall can now relate to those who run five-hour marathons (“Way harder than running 2:04,” he insists).

“Probably the ugliest marathon ever run, but I made it,” said Hall, who still lost five pounds overall. “I was thinking, too, I probably set a world record for biggest differential between your fastest marathon and your slowest marathon.”

Hall said the biggest challenge was sleep deprivation. With so much flying from country to country, he only spent two nights in a hotel and averaged a few hours of sleep per night.

Old injuries popped up, such as the right hip pain that first struck at the 2009 New York City Marathon. And the right hamstring tightness that forced him out of the 2012 Olympics. It still throbs when he sits for an extended period.

Hall said he still hopes to run adventure races, but his focus is the weight room. He’s close to reaching a goal of 300 pounds in the dead lift, squat and bench press.

The most special moment of the previous week was laying his shoes at the Sydney finish, a symbolic act of retirement common in weightlifting and wrestling.

“That’s just how I always pictured my career ending in running,” Hall said. “The way things happened [as an elite], I didn’t get a chance to do that, so that was really cool for me to end my career on my terms the way I wanted it to end.”

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Ryan Hall runs 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days

Ryan Hall
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Ryan Hall‘s elite marathon career ended after a series of withdrawals and DNFs, which made his accomplishment this past week all the more impressive.

Hall, the fastest American ever over 26.2 miles, completed a marathon in Antarctica on Monday (with a wind chill falling to minus-22 degrees Farenheit, according to organizers).

The next day, he ran a marathon in Chile. The next day, he ran a marathon in Miami. Then in Madrid. Then Morocco. Then Dubai. Finally, on the seventh day, in Sydney.

Hall was one of 22 men and nine women to complete the World Marathon Challenge — an annual event starting in 2015 composed of seven marathons on seven continents in seven days.

Michael Wardian had the fastest average time — 2:45:56 per marathon. Hall, a two-time Olympian, averaged 3:39:36 for fifth place. Hall’s average time took a big hit in Sydney, where he clocked 5:15:34 on Sunday.

Hall said Sydney marked his final marathon. He said he started that race at about 1:30 a.m. local time and slowed to a walk in the final miles.

“Just my hips on fire,” Hall said on Instagram, filming as he covered the course. “My legs are just gone completely. So I’m just going to enjoy this last 42km I’ll ever do. I was thinking, it’s very fitting, actually, to have a rough day, just because that’s how my career went. High highs and low lows. That’s what happens when you dream big, train hard and give it everything.”

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Men's provisional rankings in 2017 World Marathon Challenge.

Posted by World Marathon Challenge on Sunday, January 29, 2017