There have been some years when it was almost impossible for the other runners to catch up with Meb Keflezighi in the Quad-City Times Bix 7.
The challenge Saturday was to catch up with the affable distance running hero after the Bix 7.
He flitted from television interviews to cool-down runs with pals he has made in the Quad-Cities to signing autographs for fans to posing for photos with admiring competing runners.
Everyone wants a piece of Meb.
And just about everyone gets one.
“You compete as hard as you can but at the end of the day they say ‘Oh, that’s Meb,’’’ Keflezighi said when another old friend finally cornered him for an interview more than an hour after he had finished the race. “They want to be able to take a picture and hang out.
“Just try to have a positive experience on people’s lives,’’ he added. “That’s what I want.’’
The mere fact that Keflezighi ran the Bix 7 this year is evidence of how he feels about this community and this race. The 41-year-old runner is in the midst of preparing for perhaps his last big moment in the international spotlight — the Olympic marathon in Rio de Janeiro on August 21 — and is trying to keep to a regular training schedule.
Instead of going through an 8-mile tempo run in the relative solitude of Mammoth Lakes, California, he opted to do a 7-mile run under the watchful eye of about 50,000 people.
He loved it.
Almost every step of the way, someone was shouting “Go, Meb, go’’ or “Good luck in Rio.’’ There were signs, banners, loud cheers, tons of support.
“There was no better way to send me off on this great adventure with enthusiasm than to be racing in Iowa,’’ he said.
He set a rapid early pace, was the first runner to reach the turnaround, finished in seventh place — a record-tying eighth top 10 finish in the Bix 7 — and ran the second-fastest time ever by a runner 40 years or older.
And the lovefest didn’t end at the finish line.
The other runners, some of whom are former Olympians or winners of major marathons, all wanted to pose for photos with him in the elite runners tent.
Then there are all the friends Keflezighi has made in prior visits to the Quad-Cities. He always stays with the family of assistant race director Dan Breidinger when he comes here but he also has become buddies with former Geneseo running star Bryan Glass, who won the men’s master title Saturday, and former Davenport Central and University of Iowa runner Ben Lloyd, who is now a dentist, and others.
“We just started talking to each other a few years ago and now we talk to each other here all the time,’’ Glass said. “If I go out to San Diego I try to get a hold of him. He’s a good guy.’’
Keflezighi took a post-race cool-down run with Glass and about 10 others out to the slip-and-slide near the McClellan Boulevard turnaround but, of course, he had to stop several times along the way to accommodate well-wishers.
“Whether they’re 65 years old or they have their grandkids or their sons are there, they want to be able to take a picture because I’m an Olympian and I’m an American,’’ he said. “They’re enthusiastic about my journey and to be able to share it with them is an honor. I wish I could give them all more time.’’
His day wasn’t done at that point. He spent an hour signing autographs later Saturday afternoon at Fleet Feet on north Brady Street.
Unlike NFL and major league baseball stars who occasionally pass through town, there was no charge for him to sign items or pose for photos. No one was turned away. Everyone was greeted with that same toothy grin.
Keflezighi will get back to his regular training schedule today when he catches an early-morning flight home to the west coast.
He departs for Rio on August 16 with his fourth Olympic appearance taking place just five days later.
But for one day Saturday, he was able to get away from the grind of training and escape what he called his “comfort zone.’’
“I’m glad I came,’’ he said. “I wasn’t sure about doing this, but it turned out great.’’