(Reuters) - Meb Keflezighi has run past his humble beginnings, his marathon opponents and his advanced age as he reaches distances only he can see. When the Rio Olympics are held in August, Keflezighi, who turns 41 in May, will be the oldest United States Olympic marathon runner in history. It could be the latest chapter in a career that is finally nearing the finish line.
Keflezighi says the 2013 U.S. Half Marathon Championship was supposed to be his swan song.
“The marathon is a prestigious event, but a brutal one,” he told Reuters in a recent interview.
“As you get older the physical part (is the hardest). My parents always look forward to me being able to retire.”
Yet Keflezighi keeps pushing forward, adding to a legacy that sets him apart.
The Eritrean-born American distance runner is an Olympic silver medalist (2004) and winner of the New York City Marathon (2009) and Boston Marathon (2014).
The Boston triumph, Keflezighi says, was the crowning achievement of his career. He was the first American in 31 years to pull off the feat and it came one year after the infamous Boston bombings.
Keflezighi is a mix of gentle spirit and take-no-prisoners competitor.
He reflected both sides in finishing second at the U.S. Olympic marathon trial earlier this month in Los Angeles, where he earned his way back for a fourth Olympic appearance. During the race, Keflezighi exchanged tense words with eventual winner Galen Rupp, accusing Rupp of running on his heels.
At the post-race press conference, however, Keflezighi was moved to tears by complimentary words from peers that included Rupp.
“Once I don’t have racing shoes on I have nothing to be competitive about,” Keflezighi said while promoting Krave, a healthy jerky product he endorses.
“I just want to see the positive in people. If someone beats me I congratulate them.” Keflezighi’s humility perhaps comes from being one of 10 children. He moved to the U.S. when he was just 12 and says he rose before dawn each morning to learn English before his school day started.
So when Keflezighi suffered a hip fracture at the 2008 Olympic marathon trial, which he finished in excruciating pain in eighth place, and considered looking for a real job as he waited for the injury to heal, it was merely a speed bump to negotiate.
So too was being without an endorsement deal for most of 2011.
Three more marathons would give Keflezighi 26 in total, the approximate number of miles in a marathon and the figure Keflezighi says he has chosen to end his competitive career on.
“Twenty-six is the perfect number to stop at,” said Keflezighi, who wants to give his three young daughters a chance to see him in more races.
He knows “the end is close” but for him it always seems just around the corner, without ever actually arriving.
Editing by Andrew Both