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Carlsbad 5000, 'world's fastest 5K,' returns Sunday

Runners compete in the Carlsbad 5000 race in this undated photo.
Carlsbad 5000
Runners compete in the Carlsbad 5000 race in this undated photo.

The Carlsbad 5000 is back this Sunday. The running race through downtown Carlsbad is known as the world’s fastest 5K because of the world records set there.

The first race starts just before 7 a.m. on Carlsbad Village Drive and Roosevelt Street, and races continue all morning, culminating with races for elite runners just after 1 p.m.

The Carlsbad 5000 is the last significant road race in the U.S. to return after the pandemic, and more than 6,000 runners are signed up.


San Diegan and Olympic marathoner Meb Keflezighi is a co-owner of the race and has deep roots with it. Keflezighi is the only male runner to win an Olympic medal, the Boston Marathon and the New York City marathon, and attended the Carlsbad 5000. He then twice chased the 5K American record there, finishing in 13 minutes 34 seconds twice in two years.

Keflezighi joined KPBS to talk about the race.

Can you tell us about your history with the Carlsbad 5000.

Keflezighi: The Carlsbad 5000 is an iconic race here in San Diego. It's 5,000 meters, which is 3.1 miles. I remember going there when I was in high school to see top national and international runners. So that's when I was introduced to it. It's the fastest 5K in the world. And there's been numerous world records and American records been broken. And for me, watching in high school and then after college, after UCLA, I went and competed there twice where I finished fourth in one year and seventh the next year. But I finished in the same exact time both years. It's a very beautiful, scenic course. And obviously it's an iconic race not only here but also throughout the world.

You are a running all star. You're the only male runner in history to win the Boston Marathon, the New York City Marathon and an Olympic marathon medal. And as you mentioned, you chased the 5K American record in Carlsbad, finishing two times in a row in 13 minutes and 34 seconds. Can you tell us what were those two races like? What are your memories from them?


Keflezighi: I remember those races like it was yesterday. Samuel Kipketer was a Kenyan runner who, the first time I ran it, I want to say he went out under a 4 minute mile and I'm looking at the clock, looking at 3:57, 3:58 before I got there. And I went by the first mile marker in 4:08. I said, 'oh, I blew my race away' and I struggled to get to that finish line. I hit the wall. But amazingly, I came in 13:34. And then the following year, 2002, I played a little bit conservative, maybe too conservative. And I ran 4:28 or so first mile, and then I hammered the last 2 miles and guess what? The same exact time, 13:34. So it is a great race that can bring a lot of people together. And whether elite athletes like myself in those days or Samuel Kipketer or chase an American record or world record or some age groupers who want to just be the top finishers in the age group. So the Carlsbad, one way it's unique, it has different divisions throughout the day, which starts at 6:55 a.m. with the 40 years old or older and then to the next age group and the next age group and then about 1:00, we have the elite men and women. For those people that finish the great 5K run and then can cheer on all the superstars nationally and internationally.

San Diegan and Olympic marathoner Meb Keflezighi appears in this undated photo.
Carlsbad 5000
San Diegan and Olympic marathoner Meb Keflezighi appears in this undated photo.

Why did you decide to take over the Carlsbad 5000?

Keflezighi: I'm always about health, education and fitness. And whether you are the top of the game to chase records or just recreational runners who wants to walk or run a 5K, it is a wonderful opportunity to be associated with that. And it just brings people together. I think as Nelson Mandela from South Africa said, 'sports unites us more than anything else.' So that's what it is. And running definitely just does that.

Even when gyms were closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, people could still go out or walk or run. So what do you think it means to people to be able to take part in an actual organized race?

Keflezighi: It means a lot to take part in races, especially the Carlsbad 5000, a lot of new walkers and now a lot of new runners, or for those people that have done it for the past 36 years. It's not a half marathon or full marathon, I think a lot of people can do it. We welcome you and I'm looking forward to be there and running myself and then putting medals around people's necks. What a triumph it is, just for the new people and it's a stepping stone. Running is hard. Running is definitely hard, but it starts with 1 mile. It starts with a 5K or 5000 meters, and it gets you to exercise, a good habit.

Did you say that you're going to be running it this year?

Keflezighi: Yeah, I'm going to recreationally run. I'm not competing like I did in the past, but yeah, I'll be there running it on Sunday, May 22 and looking forward to running along my fellow runners.

What's a recreational pace for you?

Keflezighi: Recreational running for me is almost twice as what it used to be. I'm comfortable going 8 minute pace, 9 minute pace. I'm just doing it for the people. I'm not there to pursue my goals. I'm thankful to God I have accomplished all my goals that I want to accomplish as a competitor. So now it's just making sure that people have a wonderful experience.

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