Q&A: Olympic Marathon Runner Shalane Flanagan

The daughter of two marathoners, Shalane Flanagan was a star runner at Marblehead High School before she went on to set American records in the 3,000-, 5,000-, and 10,000-meter distances and win a bronze in the 10,000 at the 2008 Olympics. In 2010, she made the switch to marathons, finishing second in her first New York race and 10th last year in the Olympics. This month, Flanagan returns home to run her first Boston Marathon.

shalane flanagan

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

It’s rare to have an American as a top contender, but hey, a local!

I’ve watched the marathon ever since I was little, and I’ve watched my parents run, so I’ve been dreaming of it for a long time. I’m very excited.

We don’t have too many runners come out of Boston. Are you sure you’re not secretly Kenyan?

I’m not Kenyan, but I’ve got good American breeding behind me. I always joke that I chose my parents well. I’m not afraid to work hard, and I think that’s a common theme in Boston. People are tough and put their nose down.

You’ve been running for a long time, but this is your first Boston Marathon. What took you so long?

This will be my fourth marathon. It really just came down to timing. I’m excited that I did delay running Boston, because I’m not a novice marathoner anymore—the Boston course is very hard.

You were highly accomplished at shorter distances. Why switch?

To me, it’s the ultimate challenge. You can’t run marathons hard very often, so they’re really special. You dedicate a huge chunk of time and then you just have one day to display it. If it doesn’t go well, it’s like you broke up with a girlfriend or boyfriend. It’s devastating. There’s a lot riding on it, but at the same time, that excites me.

So race day is totally make or break for you. 

I literally haven’t thought about what I’m going to do for the rest of the year beyond the marathon. April 15 is like my D-day. That’s my Super Bowl. Beyond that, I’m sure there’s going to be some running as long as I don’t completely annihilate myself.

Have you ever completely annihilated yourself before? 

The closest I’ve come was in London, during the Olympics. I went for it big time. There was a huge surge in the middle of the race and I went after the leaders, and had I not crumbled and fallen apart, I would have finished fifth, which would have been a huge accomplishment because it was a stacked field. But I annihilated myself. I ran so hard that the last two miles were a death march. I ended up losing five places. So I have experienced it. I’ve pushed myself pretty far, to the point of complete exhaustion.

So how do you plan to attack the Boston course?

The hills are tough, but to me, it’s more the downhills. I’ve been training knowing that I need to incorporate a lot of downhill, because it just beats up the quads. I really have to rein in my emotions and just execute. There’s going to be a lot of positive energy for the Americans, and I think, if I’m not careful, I could get too excited. If I can just control my nerves and get to mile 20 knowing I have a little bit more in me, that’s a great position to be in.

Will you be able to enjoy the hometown crowd at all?

In order to execute, I’m going to have to put that stone-cold face up and have tunnel vision. But toward the end, when I get tired, I’m going to need to pull on some of that enthusiasm.

And after the race?

It will be a special day—I’m just excited to share it with my family and the community that brought me up. It’s going to be a big celebration, regardless of the outcome.

To be honest, I don’t believe you. 

No, I mean, I will certainly be pouting and pretty pissed off if I’m not challenging for the win. That’s the whole point. The reason I get up every day and bust my butt is thinking of the potential of winning it. I’ll be fulfilling a lifelong dream, that’s a consolation prize, but I want to be fighting for that win. If I’m not, I will be pissed.

So how do you like your chances?

Based on everyone’s personal best, I’m not the fastest. But that’s the beauty of the marathon: On any given day, it’s anyone’s race. I know I have just as good a chance as anyone and that I have a lot of support. Boston fans can get rowdy, and I thrive on that. I believe that the Boston crowd can bring out something special in me.