Running with a legend

by Michele Marcus

My favorite race is the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon and I have run it for three years now. The city shuts down the strip, it’s at night, the lights, the people, it is just such a cool race. I signed up for this year’s race the day after I ran last year’s race…yep, it’s that cool. My excitement for the race increased exponentially when I received an email from the Rock n’ Roll people in September. Meb Keflezighi would be a pacer for the half and he was going to pace the 1:45 group. Are you freaking kidding me? That’s my pace! I spent the next two months telling everyone that I was running with Meb. My friends heard it about a thousand times…Meb, Meb, Meb. Okay, Michele, we get it, you’re running with Meb.    

Now, I tried to be realistic and not kid myself. This is a huge race and we are all runners. Everyone knows Meb. He is an icon. I figured there would be a large crowd around him during the entire race and that I would be lucky if I got to run beside him for even a minute. As I stood in the corral waiting, I wasn’t even sure if I was in the right place. I didn’t see him anywhere. I stood by the 1:45 pacer sign, but it wasn’t Meb. I started in corral six and we were slowly working our way up to the start. Corral five took off and we all walked up to the start line. And then I saw him.  He walked around the corner, grabbed the pacer sign and we took off. I felt the runner high right away and realized just how cool this really is. I am going to run this race with a legend.    

The beginning of larger races always seem to start off in a real cluster, and the group around Meb was huge. I knew that my husband was waiting in front of the big Excalibur sign, which is a little past mile two. I had told him to video me running by and I would try my best to make that the moment I would run with Meb. As we ran, I tried to work my way up to run next to him, but there were just so many people. I then had an idea. I’ll run around the crowd, run up ahead and let him catch up to me. This would become my signature move throughout the race. I’m running up ahead, I see the Excalibur sign, I slow down and there he is, right next me. I see Lee with the camera and wave as I go by. Yay! I’ve got it on video.      

As the race continued, running with him became easier as the crowd eventually spread out more. As we passed other runners, I heard many different comments. “Look, it’s Meb.” “I’m running next to an Olympian.” “This is so cool.” “It’s about time you caught me.” “You’re an inspiration.” Other people would run up next to him with their cameras to take selfies, which he seemed to absolutely love. He also loved doing videos. People would come up with their camera and ask to do a video, and before they started taping he would ask for their name. He would then say into the camera, “Hi, I’m Meb and I’m running down the Vegas strip with Joe.” I also heard a few different people say that they were part of a running club and asked him to say something to the club. He would always say the name of the club and then something inspirational. Sorry Second Wind, I didn’t have my camera with me…my bad.    

As we ran, I really just listened as he responded to the runner’s comments and answered questions.   

Here were some of my favorites:

“Thanks for running this race with us.”
Meb: “This is so much fun.  I love running with all of you.”
“What’s a normal easy pace for you?”
Meb: “I usually go out and start about 7:30 and work up to 6:00-6:10.”
“When are you going to take water?”
Meb: “I won’t need to this race, but ask me again at mile 10.”
“I was cheering for you from home during the Boston marathon. I was screaming at the TV.”
Meb: “That win was a group effort. Everyone was right there with me. We did it together.”

At about mile 12, a small group formed around Meb again. I ran up ahead to let the other people enjoy the experience of running with him. That’s when I heard my name. I looked back and it was him. He wanted me to run next to him because he wanted to cross the finish line with me. Wow, really? With me? I was so excited. Throughout the race, most people seemed happy just to run with him for a minute and would then run ahead or fall back. There were four of us that ran the entire race with him. He wanted us to form a line, hold hands, raise them in the air and cross the finish line together. I’ve run a lot of races and crossed many finish lines, but this was by far the best one. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of my finish line photos with a bigger smile on my face.      

After the race, we took a few more pictures together. He then came over and gave me a hug. I thanked him for running with me. He said he wanted to stay in touch. Really? With me? One of the race directors then pulled me to the side and said she wanted to do an interview with me on my running experience with Meb. After we finished, she said it was a great interview and she wanted to use it for future Rock ‘n’ Roll promos. She then told me that she had my race bib number and would give my info to Meb. She said he really does keep in touch with some of the people he runs with and that he loves to Skype. She also said that she would be sending me free pictures from the race so I could remember the experience. Not that I need pictures to remember this amazing experience, but I’ll take them. I think I’ll blow up one of those pictures and hang it in front of my treadmill. Talk about inspiration.    

So what can I say about Meb. He is a super nice guy, he is inspirational and he is also just like you and me. Yes, just like all of us. He is a person who runs because he loves it. I really loved what Letitia said about this. “He goes right-left-right-left-right-left in the time we go right-left -- still the same pattern!” Meb said he decided to run with the slower pace groups because he loves to be around people that share the same passion.         

This experience ended up being way more than I expected. When I first found out that I had a chance to run with Meb, I would have never imagined the night turning out the way it did. I will forever remember running side by side with an Olympian, a Boston marathon winner and a runner, just like me. 

This story originally appeared in the Jan/Feb 2015 issue of In Passing.