They’d known each other for years as they made their individual marks as track and field champions. Yet, over the past few months, the world has watched Shalane Flanagan and Amy Cragg become the unstoppable duo as true teammates on their buildup to Brazil. Shalane and Amy, who pushed each other during an inspirational L.A. Olympic Marathon Trial in February, are in the final weeks leading to the Summer Games. Their bond has provided them with confidence and strategic insights while working hard to reach Rio. With a few weeks to go, the training partners and friends talk about the relentless determination and dreams of the summer stage that pushed them through some of their most challenging miles.
You both qualified for the Olympics at the LA Marathon. What was your strategy for the race?
Amy: The heat was a big factor in LA, however the race did not play out the way we thought it would. Shalane and I thought it would be a slow, tactical race and so the plan was to sit behind the leaders until 6 miles to go. Going too early in that heat would have been way too risky. When Kellyn Taylor put in a move, we tucked in and expected the whole field to go with, but to our surprise, within a couple of miles, it had whittled down to four runners making us change our strategy. We decided to push a little bit more and see what happened- it worked and we continued to break away from the field. We would have never been able to do it alone because it would of been to risky a move, but because we had each other, we felt confident in leading."
The LA Marathon had record-breaking temperatures. Shalane, how did having Amy by your side impact your race?
Shalane: Amy and I found an amazing rhythm and groove, but by the time we hit Mile 20, we were about a minute up on the rest of the field and I started to get chills from dehydration and being overheated. I got nervous but didn’t say anything. By Mile 23, I told Amy that I was having trouble and from Mile 23 to 25, she stuck by my side. I couldn’t see straight, I had ringing in my ears, I could feel my face getting just redder and redder, and I was so thirsty. With every two steps I was thinking about just stopping. It was scary because you start to lose control of your body. Mentally, you keep pushing, but your body starts to shut down. Amy was absolutely crucial. Her encouragement is what kept me going and I just latched onto her. When we got to Mile 23, I was like, ‘Amy, you just gotta go,’ and thankfully at Mile 25, she just took off and I could see the pep in her step.
What was going through your mind during those last three miles?
Shalane: At the end of the race, it was just survival mode for me. I just had to work as hard as I could. Amy and I were both highly driven to have each other to train for Rio, so that was a huge motivating factor in those last three miles. I couldn’t let Amy down; I couldn’t send her off to Rio alone. It would be heartbreaking for me to not make Rio, but I felt so bad if she had to go alone. There are a million reasons why I continued and pushed through it, but that was the main thing that got me through the hardest three miles of my entire life.
Amy, how concerned were you about Shalane? Your teamwork made headlines.
Amy: I was very concerned for Shalane. The goal was to always to qualify for Rio and to do the Olympic marathon buildup together. I knew with about three miles to go something was very wrong. Our pace was slowing and every time I looked over at her she was turning a different shade of red. I knew the heat was getting to her. When people overheat they lose function of their bodies but I knew if anyone could work through it, it would be Shalane. I kept telling her she could do this — she is always tough, but that day she took it to another level.
What was it like to see Shalane cross the finish line — and to literally catch her?
Amy: Seeing Shalane coming down that last home stretch was one of the best moments of my career. We had worked so hard together to get there and when I left her we were so close to accomplishing what we set out to do. When I left her I knew she was in third but I had no idea how far back Kara was or how hard she would be able to finish. Anything can happen at any point in a marathon so seeing her cross the line filled me with such relief and happiness.
Shalane’s about to embark on her fourth Olympics, and Amy her second — we can’t wait to watch them run!
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2016 USA Olympic Marathon Trials
Los Angeles, CA Febuary 13, 2016
Photo: John Barnhart@PhotoRun