New York City: Concrete jungle where dreams come true

Coming in to this year’s race I was ready. I mean REALLY ready for a marathon race. The only question that Coach Larsen and I had was:

Meb celebrates his 2009 ING New York City Marathon victory (photo by Jane Monti).

photo by Jane Monti

Can I hold the peak fitness that I experienced in early and mid October for the ING New York City Marathon on Nov. 1?

I knew I was ready to roll four weeks before the New York City Marathon. However, I tried to keep the momentum from the encouraging performance at the Rock ‘N Roll San Jose Half Marathon going for as long as possible. I just needed to keep healthy and do the minimum for the last three weeks because I knew I was fit.

Well, now that the race is over, we can say the training was right on.

On Wednesday before the race, I took a day off for two reasons. One, it was a long travel day from Mammoth to New York. We started the journey by driving through the snow from Mammoth to Reno. Luckily, Coach Terrence Mahon drove me and my family to Reno because he had a flight at a similar time. Second, I just wanted the body to be ready for race day. In the 2004 Olympic Games, I took Thursday off before the Sunday race day, due to knee tendonitis. Taking a day off and being confident in the months of training paid off in 2004 and it paid off in NYC 2009.

The race unfolded in a magical way. With the caliber and depth of the athletes in the professional field, I really thought it was going to come to the last 300 meters or so. Racing is something you play along with and see how everyone is feeling and make a decision on the spot. I never like it when races come down to the last 400 meters, especially in the marathon. The marathon distance is unique because it usually makes the move for you. After the grueling pace for 20 miles, it was down to 4 athletes.

Meb Keflezighi and Robert Cheruiyot

photo by jschumacher

After, 23 miles it came down to Robert Cheruiyot and I. I was feeling good. The whole goal for the race was to feel good and relaxed most of the way. During practice, I visualized myself feeling good and strong coming into Central Park because I knew that was going to be the key to getting the victory. You don’t actually feel strong, but you try to maintain the pace of the race, and when others are struggling, you get more strength. I have been there in many of my marathons. Now it was a matter of being there first.

In Mammoth we conquered a lot of hill training, like we did in preparation for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. When I was running those hills in Mammoth, I visualized myself racing and competing in Central Park.

RIP Ryan Shay

Well, a little before 24 mile mark, I was in a landmark where I knew where I was and how far I had to go. So, I tried one move and surprisingly Robert Cheruiyot allowed some space between us. At that time, I prayed, “God help me push strong to the finish line.” I got away from Robert Cheruiyot. At that point, I knew the race was mine. Through the last two miles I kept picking up the pace. By making the move early it allowed me to enjoy myself with the crowd and point to my USA jersey. It was emotional when I went by the place where, Ryan Shay, passed away. I did my religious cross sign and pointed to the sky. May Ryan Shay rest in heaven.

The last mile was great. It was a great joy for me and the crowd was just fantastic. A lot of people hollered: Go MEB. GO USA. GO MEB. It was an amazing atmosphere. Central Park is a place where I have run so many races outside the marathon. The ING New York City Marathon has been good to me; I finished 2nd in 2004 and 3rd place in 2005. But I have also had my share of difficult moments with the NYC Marathon. In 2006, I was battling food poisoning and finished 20th and my worst marathon time ever. But this year, running the last mile in Central Park, I thought, I am in position to win my first marathon ever, in the big city, the big apple. It is not just another marathon, but the ING New York City Marathon, with the best field ever assembled. Wow, that is why I cried when I crossed the finish line: In memory of Ryan Shay and my struggles to get back to being healthy.

Finally, I had won the race I dreamed of winning since my first marathon in 2002. Finally, the many expectations people had for me and my dream of winning the ING New York City Marathon had become a reality.

I always dreamed of winning NYC, but that dream was temporarily shut down when I suffered a stress fracture during the 2007 Olympic Trials. Following that race, I was not able to walk. My wife Yordanos said, “this is not a way to earn a living.” After the stress fracture, those dreams were slipping away. But deep down, I knew my God given talent had not yet been completely tapped. From what my training showed in the Fall of 2006 and Fall of 2007 I knew I was ready to do great things. Whether or not I would achieve my dreams, I committed myself to working as hard and smart as I could to get healthy. There was no way I could get healthy and fit all by myself, but I was committed to do what I needed to do and work with those I needed to work with to get to that point. All of the hard work rehabbing in 2008 paid off on November 1st, and really all of 2009. So many people helped me get back to being healthy and it all started simply by starting to walk. The process of coming back from that injury has made me a stronger person and a stronger runner. Winning the ING New York City Marathon after this long and challenging journey made the victory just that much sweeter. I guess it’s true that everything happens for a reason.

The most important lesson I learned is that it all happens in God’s time.

Thanks for your support!

Run To Win,

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