NYC Exhilaration and Boston Disappointment

My training has been going very well this winter and I am as excited as I can be that I will be competing in the 2011 NYC Half-Marathon on March 20 against a great field that includes my fellow American Olympians Ryan Hall and Abdi Abdirahman. I am very grateful that the New York Road Runners (NYRR) are bringing us together and look forward to doing my very best against these and other terrific competitors. And I shall always appreciate the ongoing support the NYRR give me – they gave me my first opportunity to run a marathon in 2002, and have invited me back every-year since.

At this time during each of the last two winters, I was training hard in anticipation of an April date with 26.2 miles. Both those races went well.

I completed the London Marathon in April, 2009, in a personal-best time of 2:09:21, a top ten finish against one of the strongest marathon fields ever assembled. Most of you know that I was coming back from an injury-ravaged 2008. I was appreciative to Dave Bedford for giving me the chance.

And I completed the Boston Marathon in April, 2010, finishing within 11 seconds of the personal best I set in winning the 2009 New York City Marathon: 2:09:26! This was good for fifth place in the fastest Boston ever run. (In fact, my time was faster than the winning times in 6 of the previous ten Boston Marathons!)

As the 2009 ING New York City Marathon champion (if you don’t know what happened, check out this link: being invited to the 2010 Boston Marathon by John Hancock to participate in the 114 year-old Boston Marathon was especially exciting. Boston is the oldest consecutively run marathon in the world. It has prestige, tradition, and a lot of media coverage. There is a lot of demand to participate in the Boston Marathon from professional runners – and even more from recreational runners. I was extremely gratified – and somewhat humbled, really – in Boston last year by the hundreds and hundreds of recreational runners who went out of their way to congratulate me on my New York win and tell me how well I represented the USA and our common sport of distance running.

While winning Boston in 2010 for the USA was not to be, I ran my hardest despite a training injury and came within 11 seconds of my personal best time set in winning New York. I can tell you this: I ran to win. I probably ran harder and competed tougher in Boston than when I won New York. My effort in Boston left me with a ruptured quad. I ran in the lead pack until Mile 18 when my quad started to bother me. The winner of the race, Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot of Kenya, had to run a course record of 2:05:52 to pull away. As mentioned, this was a top five finish, one spot behind my close friend, Ryan Hall. I was glad to have been invited and proud of my performance.

Last year was actually my second Boston Marathon. In 2006, John Hancock felt that I could possibly be the first American winner of the Boston Marathon since Greg Meyer in 1983. I came to the race very fit and ready to beat both the challenging course and top-notch competition found at the Boston Marathon. Benjamin Maiyo of Kenya and I ran very aggressively and our split at the half marathon was 1:02:45, at that time world record pace. Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot of Kenya (not Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot, the 2010 winner!), who had run the Boston Marathon before ran more conservatively and caught me at Mile 18 and went on to win the race in a then course record 2:07:14. Maiyo finished second and I was third in 2:09:56, within 3 seconds of my then personal best. I probably let my fitness, excitement, and the competition get the best of me that day. If I had run more conservatively in the first half of the marathon, I feel confident I would have run sub 2:09, whether or not I won the race. But I run to win, especially in a race like Boston, so I can’t fault myself for going for it.

In any event, I now have two top-five, sub-2:10 Boston Marathons under my belt and really believe the race is one that I can win. Unfortunately, it does not appear that 2011 will be the year. I’ve won an Olympic Medal in the Marathon, I’ve won the New York City Marathon, but I am missing a victory in the Boston Marathon. With my the end of my athletic career just a few years away and the Olympic Games next year, I am not sure when I will get another opportunity to win Boston. That’s why I wanted to run the Boston Marathon so much this year.

You know that elite athletes have a special process for entering major races, and this process includes elite athlete coordinators, managers, and appearance fees. A lot goes in to these negotiations. Starting in July 2010, my team communicated consistent and serious interest to John Hancock’s elite athlete coordinator about my competing in the 2011 Boston Marathon. Unfortunately, though John Hancock’s representative indicated there was a lot of interest in having me as part of the field and keeping the conversation alive until late January, no offer was made. It’s not that I’m not getting what I want, it’s that John Hancock did not make me an offer at all. As much as I respect the opportunity to run the Boston Marathon, I would have accepted any reasonable offer.

I’m really disappointed not to get an offer because I really thought that I could do something special on April 18 for the race, for US distance running, and, yes, for myself and my family. But my brother Hawi, who is a lawyer and my manager, and I always try to accept disappointment and setbacks with the dignity and respect that our parents instilled in us. We recognize that we have been
extremely fortunate to be citizens of this great country, to represent a great sport, and to have had such wonderful support from friends, coaches, sponsors, and fellow competitors, and we always try to be worthy role models for young people here and around the world. We are already looking past Boston to the next opportunity.

The cloud of not being invited to Boston already has three silver linings. First, it has me absolutely focused on doing my very best in the 2011 NYC Half-Marathon on March 20. Second, I will have a chance to run shorter races on the road and possibly on the track this spring and summer. There are some great road races that I have not been able to run yet because of Spring Marathons in my schedule. Now I look forward to racing in these great US Road Races. Third, it probably makes it possible for me to run both a full marathon this fall and compete in the Olympic Marathon trials in Houston on January 14, 2012. Three marathons within nine months might not have been physically possible. Of course, the thought of the 2012 Olympics already has me excited – with memories of the Silver Medal I won in Athens and the fact that I currently own three of the four fastest Olympic trials qualifying times.

Run to Overcome, Meb

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