The two-time defending champion will have his hands full in this year’s half marathon.
SAN DIEGO — In winning the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Half Marathon each of the past two years, Meb Keflezighi has encountered relatively little opposition. When he steps to the starting line this Sunday, however, a powerful array of Kenyan talent will be waiting to challenge the two-time defending champion. And Keflezighi knows it.
“Competitor Group has assembled an amazing field, which will make it very difficult for me to defend my title,” the 38-year-old Keflezighi said.
Keflezighi, however, has several advantages. He will be racing in his hometown, where he grew up and was very successful as a young runner. He will be competing in front of many family members and friends, and he has the familiarity of the territory, even though the course has been altered from a year ago.
“I love racing in my hometown,” he said.
Two years ago, Keflezighi was expected to be challenged by Martin Lel, a Kenyan who had won the London Marathon three times (2005, 2007, 2008) and the New York City Marathon twice (2003, 2007). Keflezighi led all the way, pulling away after four miles when he ripped off a 4:24 burst between miles three and four. The ailing Lel was finished. He struggled for another two miles before dropping out and Keflezighi went on to win by nearly three minutes.
Last year, Keflezighi’s was expected to be opposed by fellow U.S. Olympian Ryan Hall. That didn’t materialize either. Hall, competing with a leg injury, couldn’t keep up with Keflezighi’s hot pace and finished second, nearly two-and-a-half minutes back.
“Winning the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Half Marathon (in 2011) was a turning point for me,” Keflezighi said. “I enjoyed running my home course, where I know every inch of the way, with family, friends and fans cheering me on. This is a fun race for me.”
Two of Keflezighi’s more recently scheduled races have not been nearly as much fun. In November, he was scheduled to run in the New York City Marathon, which he won in 2009 — becoming the first American champion in that race in 27 years — but the event was canceled because of Superstorm Sandy. In April, he was going to run the Boston Marathon, but a dog crossed his path on a training run a couple of months before the race, causing Keflezighi to injure a calf muscle after a sudden jump and awkward landing.
He said he was in great shape for both races and called the circumstances “misfortunes.”
Still, Keflezighi is upbeat. “Like the marathon, life can sometimes be difficult, challenging and present obstacles,” he said. “However, if you believe in your dreams and never ever give up, things will turn out for the best.”
That’s the outlook Keflezighi is taking in his attempt to win the half marathon in San Diego for a third consecutive year.
Winning won’t be easy.
The new Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Half Marathon course is quite different, traversing new neighborhoods — some of them close to where Keflezighi lives. That familiarity should inspire him tremendously against the fast Kenyan competition assembled to challenge him on Sunday. The Kenyan favorites include Eliud Kipchoge, Stephen Kibet and Bernard Koech, each of whom has run the half-marathon under one hour. Keflezighi’s best is 1:01.
Kipchoge set his half-marathon best of 59:25 in his debut at Lille, France, in 2010. He then won the Hamburg Marathon in his marathon debut, running 2:05:30, a course record, and opened this year by winning the Barcelona Half Marathon in 1:00:04. He also has frst, second and third place finishes at the Carlsbad 5000 to his credit.
Kibet won the City Pier City in the Netherlands last year, clocking a PR of 58:54, ninth on the all-time list.
Koech also has blazing speed. He set his half-marathon PR of 59:10 last September at Lille and his marathon best of 2:04:53 at Dubai in January. He also ran a 59:54 to win the EDP Lisbon Half Marathon at in March, where his first 10K of 27:17 was the fastest 10K split in a half marathon by 10 seconds. He was recently selected to represent Kenya in the marathon at the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow, which take place in August.
With his Lisbon victory, Koech moved into first place in the men’s open standings in the Half Marathon Grand Prix, ahead of double Olympic champion Mo Farah. The San Diego race is the third of six major events in the 30-race Half Marathon Grand Prix, a two-year competition created by the Competitor Group which includes all 2013 and 2014 Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathons.
For a complete list of Half Marathon Grand Prix standings, visit www.halfmarathongrandprix.com.