SAN DIEGO (AP) Meb Keflezighi will be a true champion of the people in his hometown Sunday.
Not recovered enough yet from winning the Boston Marathon to run the full 26.2 miles, Keflezighi will be the pacesetter for runners hoping to break 90 minutes in the Suja Rock `n’ Roll San Diego Half Marathon.
After the elite runners take off, an estimated 200 runners will then start from the ”Meb corral.” It’ll be Keflezighi’s job to get them around the course, from Balboa Park to Petco Park, at a pace of about 6 minutes, 51 seconds per mile.
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”You’re going to see a lot of selfies,” Keflezighi cracked.
Meb’s ultimate goal is to have as many people as possible from his group holding hands and crossing the finish line at the same time.
Of course, there’s bound to be some carnage.
”Some of them might fall off but some of them are going to say, you know what, with a half mile to go whatever, they might just want to take off and say, `I beat Meb,’ which is fine,” said Keflezighi, who turned 39 on May 5, two weeks after winning the Boston Marathon. ”Anytime you can get people out to do activities, it’s great.
”The beauty of our sport is you get to line up with the best in the world, share the same roads, and sometimes, like Boston, I was fortunate enough to lead the way and help 36,000 people come across in first place.”
Keflezighi is still enjoying the afterglow of his win at Boston, which came a year after the deadly bombing. Keflezighi wrote the names of the three dead on his bib along with that of the MIT police officer killed during the manhunt. Keflezighi was the first American in 31 years to win the men’s race.
But he’s also glad to be running in San Diego, where his family moved in 1987 as refugees from Eritrea, via Italy.
The half marathon course goes within a block of the apartment where Keflezighi’s family first lived in San Diego. One of 10 children, he graduated from San Diego High in 1994 and from UCLA in 1999.
”San Diego is the only place that I know exactly where I am,” Keflezighi said. ”Other places, like still New York, I’ve done several times and I see Central Park or mile marks, but I’m not comfortable. San Diego, I know exactly where I am and where I’m going to be. It means a lot to be running at home.”
Keflezighi finished fourth in last year’s Rock `n’ Roll Marathon after winning the half marathon the previous two years.
Once a week or so, he runs part of the course where he won the city cross country title in high school. He smiles when he runs past the junior high he attended.
Keflezighi won the silver medal at the 2004 Olympics and won the New York City Marathon in 2009.
He figures he has five or six more marathons left in him before he retires. He’d like to run New York again this fall, and hopes to qualify for the 2016 Olympics.
He said he takes care of his joints by driving to his favorite running spots in Mission Bay Park and Balboa Park rather than taking a pounding running there.
Keflezighi said winning Boston ”was special like no other. There was so much meaning to it.”
His life hasn’t slowed down since then, ”which is a good thing. I’ve been blessed.”
Keflezighi wants to go into motivational speaking and coaching when he’s done competing.
Regardless of what he’s doing, he wants to leave people with a positive experience when they meet him.
”It’s an honor and a privilege to be in the shoes that I am in. But with it comes a lot of responsibility,” he said.
What’s it like being Meb?
”It’s a lot of fun being Meb,” he said. ”I still enjoy the sport. It’s great to be recognized. It’s happy being Meb.”
Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson