Meb Keflezighi is finally retiring after he completes his 26th marathon.
“People always ask how far a marathon is — it’s 26.2 miles — so I’ll do 26 marathons in honor,” Keflezighi tells PEOPLE about why he has decided to stop running marathons after completing the 2017 Boston and New York City Marathons.
“It’s also 42k, and I will be 42 years old, so it makes sense to stop. There comes a point in life when you’ve achieved the things you want to in running, and you want to move onto the next chapter. Obviously the body has a lot to do with it. You can’t keep going the way you used to!”
Keflezighi — who has taken home the silver medal for his marathon finish at the 2004 Olympics and also won the gold at the Boston and New York City Marathons — is “super excited to retire” after adhering to a grueling 12 times a week training schedule (which means he often runs twice a day!) for the past 27 years that he’s been running professionally.
“It’s hard on the family, and I have three daughters I want to spend more time with,” he says. “I’ve been very fortunate to accomplish my goals, whether to win an Olympic medal or be able to win the New York City Marathon in 2009, and to win the Boston Marathon in 2014. The time has come.”
First on his post-retirement agenda is taking ski lessons with his daughters.
“I live in the mountains and I’d like to try,” he says. “[My daughters] haven’t done that yet because they need a parent with them. I would also love to learn how to surf. And camping out — they’re definitely interested in camping out.”
“[The bombing] changed everything obviously,” he says. “Winning it for the people was my goal. For me and the 36,000 participants in 2014, we just wanted to show our resilience and do something positive after a catastrophic moment for all of us. I was fortunate enough to pull the victory and be the first American to win it in 31 years. I feel blessed.”
Keflezighi says that victory “was the most meaningful victory in my career. I had a less than 1 percent chance of winning, but you’ve got to believe in yourself and go for it. I took a risk and prevailed, and it has a special place in my heart. It’s hard to put it in words, but it’s emotional.”
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And Keflezighi — who is a member of Team KRAVE and brand ambassador for KRAVE jerky — says he feels those same emotions going into the race this year, as it will be his last Boston Marathon.
“There’s always a great crowd and people call out to you, and I’m interactive with the crowd, so it’s going to be touching,” he says. “At the same time I’m looking forward to being competitive. My goal is to win it or finish in the top three or 10. It’s not all about winning, but getting the best out of yourself that day, and I hope to do that Monday.”
After Boston, Keflezighi will be running the New York City Marathon in November as his final marathon race. He chose to end his marathon career in New York because that is where it all began.
“In 2002, I did my first marathon as a 27-year-old,” he says. “I had done a 5k and was a record holder in the 10k. I’m like, ‘I’m a miler!’ I never wanted to do a marathon, but eventually I did that race and I went for the win. I hit a wall at about mile 21, 22 and started going slower. I was in so much pain and finished ninth overall. I thought, ‘This is my first and last marathon, I never want to do this again!’ ”
Although Keflezighi didn’t enjoy the experience at the time, it was a life-changing moment for him.
“I learned a lot from that race and have accomplished so many accolades since then, but it seems right to [end my career] in New York,” he says. “New York is the capital of the world, and we get the honor of going through the five boroughs and seeing all the ethnicities and neighborhoods.”
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But just because he is ending his marathon career this fall doesn’t mean he’s taking off his running shoes for good.
“Running’s still in my blood,” he says. “I would still love to run 10 miles, five miles a day and keep doing half-marathons.”
For anyone looking to start a marathon career of his or her own, Keflezighi says to start small and work your way up.
“My advice is to just to put your shoes on and get out of the house, and try to find someone you can run with,” he says. “You have to start with one mile, 5k, 10k, half marathon — work your way up. I do recommend trying one marathon in your lifetime. The perseverance, hard work and dedication will teach you so much and translate to your work life or school life or household. It’s a beautiful sport.”