Craig Leon, Laura Thweatt both finish top 10 to lead Americans
NEW YORK – Perhaps they should rename the race the New York City Mebathon.
On a day when the lead men seemed content to jog through 20 miles, enjoying the unseasonably late autumn foliage and warm temperatures, the biggest cheers were for Meb Keflezighi, who in 10 runs through the five boroughs (plus one Olympic Trials in Central Park) has more or less made the Big Apple his own personal stage, even meriting a ride at the head of the city’s famed Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade after his 2009 win.
Indeed, the lead men’s back seemed to defer to Keflezighi as they descended the Queensboro Bridge en masse, allowing him to be the honorary leader as they entered the canyon of sound that awaits the runners as they hit First Avenue.
In the end, the pace got serious in the final miles and Keflezighi was left in somewhat in arrears—“Those guys have leg turnover I don’t have anymore,” he said—but still managed to finish seventh in 2:13:32, a time that gave him a couple of masters records for his day’s work. Keflezighi’s name will now supplant those of course record holder John Campbell (2:14:34 from 1990) and American holder Mbarak Hussein (2:13:52 from Twin Cities in 2006).
“I’ve run this race 10 times and I have stories from every year,” said Keflezighi, whose training had been hampered by some hamstring niggles in the last month. “I knew the masters records were in reach, and fortunately the pace was slow enough early on that I could run in a pack and get pulled along.”
Keflezighi will do his usual thorough recovery routine, then gear up for next February’s Olympic Trials, where he’ll hope to make his fourth U.S. team. “To represent my country one more time would be amazing, to have my daughters be there old enough to appreciate it—it won’t be easy, but I’ll be ready.”
If Keflezighi’s story is well known and seems almost scripted for Hollywood, that of Craig Leon, who finished one place behind him as the second American in 2:15:16, is almost equally storybook. A walk-on distance runner at Ohio University, Leon seemed almost shocked by finishing just behind the American marathoning legend. “This might be the worst buildup I’ve had going into a marathon,” said Leon, who now trains and works in Eugene. “I had plantar fasciitis that really curtailed my training, and then a month ago I got sick. But that might have been a blessing in disguise, because when I started back running I was pain free, and I felt great during the race. At about 20 miles I thought ‘if I can keep this rolling, I can get a PR [2:13:52]’ but that’s when the leaders took off and I was kind of on my own the rest of the way.
“I have no business being with these guys on the track—I think I’ve broken 30 minutes twice—but the one thing I do well is run marathons. I’m as proud of my run today as my race in Boston in 2014 [12th in 2:14:48]. I’ll take a few weeks to recover, then start building up for the Trials. I think it’s a pretty wide-open race, so I just want to be able to be in the mix.”
One person who definitely won’t be in Los Angeles for that race is the woman who equaled Keflezighi’s performance, placing seventh as the first American. Before the race Laura Thweatt had said the marathon trials were not an option, and she stuck to that assertion in spite of running an excellent 2:28:23 debut. “I still have some unfinished business on the track, and I’m going to focus on the 5,000 and 10,000 at the track trials.”
For someone running her first race at the distance, Thweatt, who won the U.S. cross country championship in February, looked extremely comfortable and confident, even taking the lead for a few moments near the halfway point. But that shouldn’t come as a total surprise, since she’s coached by Lee Troop, a three-time Olympic marathoner for Australia.
“She executed just about perfectly,” said Troop, “but the whole point was for her to get a taste of what the marathon is like, and build up her strength for track.”
“The marathon definitely has its highs and lows,” said Thweatt. “Around 20 miles Mary [Keitany] took off and it was really challenging the rest of the way and I just had to put my head down and grind. The 10,000 is a grind in a different way but today will really help me psychologically.”
So for the three top Americans, an autumn’s jog through the five boroughs proved to be just what each wanted heading into next year’s all-important Olympic buildup.