Newly crowned U.S. half-marathon champion Meb Keflezighi has decided to enter the Flora London Marathon on April 26, and he'll be using Saturday's U.S. Cross Country Championships to help him prepare. Keflezighi, the national 10,000m record holder and an Olympic silver medalist, was twice the national 12-K cross country champion in 2001 and 2002, but hasn't entered those championships since 2003.
"Cross country is a fine and fun sport," said Keflezighi in an e-mail message to Race Results Weekly. "I always enjoy participating when I am healthy and in shape. I was very disappointed when I couldn't participate in the USATF XC Championships when it was held in my hometown of San Diego last year."
The Eritrean-born athlete and former UCLA Bruin is indeed in shape now. In Houston on Jan. 18, he ran away from the field to win what he said was his "sweetest" national title, clocking a personal best 61:25 to beat Dathan Ritzenhein by ten seconds. It was Keflezighi's best performance in over a year, and clearly demonstrated that his injuries, including a nagging stress reaction in his hip which drove him to see dozens of doctors, were behind him.
"It's challenging being fit enough to participate in cross country after running a fall marathon, and that has been my priority the last several years," Keflezighi explained. "But right now, I am healthy and in shape, so why not participate in cross country?"
There is little doubt that Keflezighi's performance in Houston helped him land a spot in London's star-studded field. He has entered London three times, in 2005, 2007 and 2008, but has yet to cross the majestic finish line on The Mall. In 2005 he withdrew prior to the race because of injury; in 2007 he dropped out with a massive blister on the bottom of his foot and an Achilles injury in the 16th mile (26th km); in 2008 he had to scratch because of his hip injury which he had sustained at the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in New York City in November, 2007. For Keflezighi, a fiercely competitive athlete, London represents unfinished business.
"London is a great marathon," said Keflezighi who is still trained by his university coach Bob Larsen. "I am truly honored to be a part of the great field (race director) David Bedford has assembled. I have been fortunate enough to be invited the last three years, but I still haven't made the finish line. I hope to do so this year in reasonable time, hopefully a significant personal best."
Keflezighi has proved himself as a strong marathon racer, mounting the podium in New York twice and in Boston and the Olympic Games once, each. However, he's never run a fast time by 21st century standards. His personal best is 2:09:53 set in New York in 2004, but his 10,000m American record of 27:13.98 points towards marathon potential in the low-2:07's. He's hoping to use London's talent-packed field to help bring him to a fast time.
"The fields in London only seem to get stronger and better every year," he said.