Boston Marathon Champ ‘Meb’ to Run Shelter Island 10K

Meb poses with fan Marley Burns
Meb poses with fan and fellow runner Marley Burns, Photo: Courtesy Marley Burns

The 35th Annual Shelter Island Run 10K announced this week that 2014 Boston Marathon winner and Olympic Silver Medalist Mebrahtom “Meb” Keflezighi will be competing in this year’s race, scheduled for June 21. With Monday’s heartfelt win in Boston, Meb became the first American to win the race in 29 years.

The Shelter Island 10K has longstanding ties with Boston, the world’s oldest continuously run marathon, as many of Boston’s elite runners have participated over the years. The list includes four-time Boston Marathon champion Bill Rodgers (1975, 1978, 1979, 1980) and two-time Boston winner Joan Benoit Samuelson (1979, 1983). Last year’s race was peppered with “Boston Strong” slogans, and many runners ran with T-shirts or wristbands showing Boston support.

Meb’s victory was the exclamation point on a Marathon Monday that showcased Boston’s spirit and strength in the wake of the tragedy that marred the 2013 finish, making it one of the most memorable in Boston’s 118-year history. Meb’s win was largely unexpected, as many analysts had counted the 38-year-old elite marathoner—and an American win in general—out of the picture for the 2014 race. But that’s the thing about racing—when competing, heart and drive play a bigger role than flat-out stats.

After the race, Meb revealed that the words “Boston Strong” and “Meb Strong” were running through his head as he rounded the final turn onto Boylston Street, eventually winning Monday’s race with an 11-second margin.

His résumé includes a silver medal in the 2004 Olympic marathon and a win at the New York City Marathon in 2009, but Meb is perhaps best known for his optimistic attitude during and after races, even more than his running prowess. Regardless of how he was destined to finish, Meb would have garnered some of the loudest cheers during the race, as both his racing accolades and his humility have made him one of the most—if not the most—beloved distance runners in recent history.

Everyone was hoping for an American win in Boston, a feat that has not been accomplished by a man since 1983, or a woman since 1985. And Meb did it with the names of last year’s victims — Martin, Krystle, Lingzi and Sean — written on the corners of his race bib. After the race, he said that thinking about them kept him strong.

Meb’s story is all-American. He immigrated to the United States with his family as refugees from the African country Eritrea, settling in San Diego. He attended UCLA, where he was lauded as an All-American a total of 12 times and won four NCAA Championships. Meb went on to run professionally, with his most celebrated accolades coming at the 2004 Olympic marathon; and in 2009,when he became the first American in 27 years to win the New York City Marathon.

Like any successful, driven runner, Meb’s career has faced considerable speed bumps that he has “run to overcome,” the titular phrase from his autobiography, released in 2010. He suffered a pelvic stress fracture during the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials in Central Park and failed to make the team. Three years later, Nike did not renew Meb’s contract, and he ran as an unsponsored athlete before being signed by Sketchers in December 2011. Especially after the Nike incident, many questioned Meb’s commitment to the sport — at 36 years old, he was on the tail end of what many consider the prime running years. But Meb pressed on. He intended to run Boston in 2013, but an injury forced him to drop out prior to the race. He was, however, in the grandstands at the finish line, leaving just prior to the explosions.

The experience left an indelible impression on Meb, and he vowed to run the Boston race in 2014. He came back stronger than ever — despite another perceived setback: a 2:23:07 finish in the New York Marathon last November — and notched a personal best time of 2:08:37.

Meb’s strength is inspirational. His win, a victory for the U.S. And his presence at the Shelter Island 10K an honor for East Enders.

The run is scheduled to begin at the Shelter Island High School at 5:30 p.m. on June 21. Racers will continue past St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, past Ram Island Road, taking in the stunning views of Gardiners Bay and Coecles Harbor, and then past Dering Harbor. The final stretch along Route 114, “Joey’s Mile,” is dedicated to fallen Shelter Island soldier Lt. Joseph Theinert, who was killed in action in Afghanistan. The local community lines the final mile with small American flags, inspiring runners to push toward a strong finish at the high school athletic field.

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