The elite fields for the Boston Marathon gathered Friday afternoon to meet the media and discuss their race plans, and the most talked-about name discussed was one no one mentioned ahead of the 2014 race: Meb Keflezighi.
A chance to defend
Keflezighi's smiles and jokes showed he is handling well the of pressure of his chase to become the first American to repeat since 1978.
“The only way to get an extension [to be here] is to win it again, so I’ll do my best to fight for it,” Keflezighi said. “I don’t want the year to be over. The same goal that I have is to win, podium and run a personal best. If I can do any of those, I’ll come away satisfied.”
Keflezighi took off around the eighth mile of the 2014 race and no one else followed, but there was a last-minute chase down Boylston Street. With a year to think of a new game plan for his title defense, Keflezighi has decided not to change much.
“Come Monday it’s going to be similar,” Keflezighi said. “If seven people decide to go, I’ll go. If they decide to make it a killer pace, I’ll have to engage how I’d like to finish. I sure would love to have another shot at the title, because it’s been a wonderful ride thus far.”
His hope is to be with the leaders at Heartbreak Hill, and he believes he can put himself in a position to finish on the podium from there. Among the few changes to his training regimen was added hill work.
“I did a little bit more hills than I did last year because of my hamstring tightness that was troubling me. I intentionally avoided hills last year, but this year I’ve been running all over San Diego,“ Keflezighi said. “Hopefully, I’ll be stronger this year with endurance and stamina-wise coming off the hills.”
What if Meb takes off?
Other elite men shared how they might respond to another surge by Keflezighi:
Wilson Chebet, Kenya (second place, 2014): “Definitely. On Monday, if someone reacts very fast last year was a lesson. I will not allow it, unless my body will not respond well. Otherwise, I will stay until it’s time to go.”
Dathan Ritzenhein, USA (Boston debut): “It’s not going to be what happened last year, for sure. I never like to gauge myself off one person, but Meb is someone that tends to do well. The couple times I have done that, it’s been in New York when he hasn’t run as well. I have to be able to focus on what I’m doing. I can’t control what happens to someone when they take off.”
Patrick Makau, Kenya (Boston debut): “It’s a bit challenging. This course is up and down, so you’ll need a lot of patience.”
Lelisa Desisa, Ethiopia (2013 Boston champion; DNF in 2014): “Now we know who he is. Last year we had no idea. We thought someone was keeping out pace and he would step out at a certain time, but he didn’t. This time we’re not going to let him go.”
Olympic trials test
The men’s and women’s fields are stacked with top American talent, which provides a glimpse of what could be in store at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, set to take place in Los Angeles in January.
Nick Arciniaga, Jeffrey Eggleston and Fernando Cabada are seeking a breakout performance to put themselves in the main conversation for an Olympic roster spot.
“We’ll see how we stack up and there won’t be any speculating afterwards. I’m really excited for that,” Cabada said. “I want to showcase my fitness and how good I really am. I’m in uncharted territory not knowing how well I’m going to run.”
Former Olympian Matt Tegenkamp may be another American to watch as he runs his first marathon since the 2013 Chicago Marathon. He hopes to replicate the success from his debut in Chicago now and in L.A.
“I was top 10 at a World Marathon Major [in Chicago],” Tegenkamp said. “It wasn’t perfect since I lost two minutes over the last four miles. If I don’t fall off as much as I did, I’ll be extremely happy. If I stay within myself and run my race, I think I can be in the top 10 again.”
Ritzenhein holds the fastest American personal best and is finally healthy after an injury-plagued 2014. With more eyes on the defending champion, Ritzenhein may use Boston as a chance to reclaim his label as a favorite for the team headed to Rio de Janeiro.
“After Boston, I’ll be thinking about [Olympic Trials] all the time,” Ritzenhein said. “By the time I recover from this race and get myself going again it’s right on the horizon.”
On the women’s side, Desiree Linden enjoys the competition from her compatriots, but doesn’t see this as a litmus test for the trials.
“I feel like I’m building on my training and I’m in a good position for the trials,” Linden said. “This is more about racing the world’s best, taking chances and winning the Boston title. I have one last opportunity to take a big risk and put myself out there.”
Flanagan relieved without Jeptoo
Shalane Flanagan, the top American woman in 2014, expressed a sense of relief at not having Rita Jeptoo -- winner of the previous two Boston Marathons -- in this year’s elite field because she's been banned for a positive EPO test.
“I just didn’t know how to compete against her,” Flanagan said. “I felt like she had an answer to every strategy, and there was a reason why. I feel optimistic and excited this year, because we don’t have her in the race. The possibilities are open and endless for anyone.”
Last year, Flanagan led the women’s race with an aggressive charge for the first 30 kilometers. Jeptoo dropped Flanagan and the remainder of the field en route to her 2:18:57 victory.
“I tried not to concede defeat early and tried to run it out of her,” Flanagan said. “It wasn’t feasible.”
On paper, Flanagan will have her hands full with two Ethiopian runners that have broken 2:20 in their careers, but she values Boston success more than personal bests.
“Buzunesh Deba, Desi Linden and Sharon Cherop are the most dangerous, because they know the course and they’ve mastered it very well,” Flanagan said.