The two biggest stars of American distance running - Meb Keflezighi and Ryan Hall - committed last week to running the Boston Marathon on April 19.
Both have returned from previous third-place efforts - Keflezighi in 2006 and Hall last year - to settle some unfinished business, which is to put an American male on the victory stand for the first time since Greg Meyer won the prestigious race in 1983.
“Hopefully, one of us finishes first,” said the 34-year-old Keflezighi, who is training in his hometown of San Diego until just after Christmas, when he will move back to his training grounds in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. “[Ryan] is a good guy.”
With Keflezighi and Hall at the helm, the chance of an American wearing the prized laurel wreath at the finish is as good as it has been for more than two decades. Both Keflezighi and Hall have been teammates and training partners for some time now, and both believe that racing Boston together will have a positive impact on each other.
“In the race last year, I had the feeling I was the only American guy,” said Hall, who is training high in the mountains of Mammoth Lakes. “With Meb in the race, it will feel more like practice. Meb is always pulling for me.”
Keflezighi said he is still riding the high from his huge triumph at last month’s New York City Marathon, the first American victor since Alberto Salazar won in 1982.
“With the big win in New York, obviously the momentum is on, and I wanted to stay in Boston rather than train overseas,” he said about his decision to run in Boston instead of London next year. “A lot of people ask me about New York, and they don’t ask me about my time. They ask me about the win. It’s always been my dream to win New York and Boston.”
At New York, he soundly beat a star-studded field, including four-time Boston champion Robert Cheruiyot of Kenya.
Both Keflezighi and Hall know that the key to success in Boston is patience. Keflezighi displayed the same patience at New York last month as he did at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, where he nailed the silver medal.
Back in 2006, however, he made a rookie error and crushed the first half of the Boston course, passing in 1:02:44. He later paid for the pace.
“I learned from the 2006 race to be patient,” Keflezighi said. “It’s a little bit of a downhill. Ron Tabb, one of my mentors, told me about [the course]. I went away too fast - 1:02:44 - in first half. To have Ryan there will be a lot of fun and hopefully ease our minds.”
The 27-year-old Hall also made the same mistake last year and also paid dearly.
“I trained along the course before the race,” Hall said. “When I jogged the Heartbreak Hills, it’s a whole lot different than racing hard on it. Racing it is a whole different ballgame. I’ll do some thing differently this year. By the time I got to the top I was spent. You need to race the backside of the hills, too. That’s where you make up time.”
In head-to-head marathon competition, Hall has defeated Keflezighi 2-1. The two have run remarkably close times at Boston, Keflezighi in 2:09:56 and Hall in 2:09:40.
“Meb and Ryan are among the very best and brightest stars in U.S. distance running,” said Guy Morse, executive director of the Boston Athletic Association, which oversees the marathon. “Meb has led the resurging American men since he won the silver medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004, and Ryan’s full potential at the marathon distance is yet to be realized. We look forward to providing the stage for both of them to continue their success and development.”