Shalane Flanagan’s career as an Olympic runner seemed like the obvious route. Her parents were accomplished runners – her mother once held the world record in the marathon – and set the pace for Shalane at a young age. Growing up, her Super Bowl was the Boston Marathon, where she would watch for her father on the corner of Hereford and Boylston, eagerly anticipating the joy and elation from runners turning the corner, eyeing the finish line -- a feeling she would eventually experience for herself more than once. Setting American records, medaling in Beijing and qualifying for her fourth Summer Games, Shalane has achieved unimaginable goals with Rio still to come. Here’s a look at how her running career has evolved from being a medalist in the 10,000 meters in Beijing to a champion marathoner as she gears up for Brazil.
When you step back and look at the progression of your career, how satisfying is it to be at this position now?
I don’t think I would have ever thought that I would one day be a four-time Olympian. It’s been quite a journey and a process. I feel really grateful, and honestly, I think it’s truly because I surrounded myself with really smart people. Over the years, I’ve adapted my goals along with the success I’ve had and that’s what keeps me going. I’m very passionate about what I do and the training is something that I enjoy. I genuinely love the process and I think it’s what has led to a really lengthy career. Also, seeing the kind of joy it brings my family when I compete -- and I compete well -- is exciting to me.
How did you decide to switch from track and dedicate yourself to a marathon?
I always knew that one day I wanted to become a marathoner. Whether I was capable of doing that, I didn’t know. But I wanted to try it. I think I felt a sense of closure after I medaled in Beijing. I had exceeded my dreams; I got an Olympic medal. I felt like I wasn’t going to ever top that moment. It’s tough because I think a lot of athletes like to chase, thinking, “I can always up that.” I knew in my heart that that was the best I was going to be on that day. So, to inspire myself and tackle something different, I would do the marathon. I felt like it was calling me.
How was that process?
I quickly changed from being a track athlete and became a student of the marathon. My coach, Jerry Schumacher basically had me train as a marathoner for an entire year before he actually let me run a marathon. There were a lot of growing pains to that process. Jerry threw me in to one of the toughest marathons, NYC.
What was it like running the New York City Marathon?
The New York City marathon was completely overwhelming. It’s a huge stage to perform on. But I wanted to face the best competition because I needed to know whether or not I wanted to dedicate the next four years of my life trying to become an Olympian marathoner, or stay on the track. My standards for my first marathon were pretty low originally. At the end of the day, I just wanted to complete 26.2 and claim myself as a marathoner. I came out on top and I think my respect for the distance is what helped me.
The Boston Marathon is where it all began for you. What was it like to run the course?
When I knew I was signing up and I was finally allowed to run the Boston Marathon, I was giddy. I thought to myself, this is the coolest thing I am ever going to do as an athlete. The Boston Marathon fulfilled and exceeded my expectations and the course is probably one of the more challenging ones out there. I think that’s the beauty of it.
You set the American record there, despite the challenging course…
Yes, I set the American record. Being that I’m from there and a lot of great American women have run that course, the entire race meant so much to me.
Can you talk about the Olympic Trials in LA? How did you handle the heat?
I tried to convince myself that I could handle anything, that it’s mind over matter. But, I do know that the marathon can do some weird things to the body. I was a little timid and scared since I had never ran a marathon in those kind of conditions, but at the same time I just thought, I’ve prepared well I’m going to just run my race and try to be as smart as I can be.
How did your training partner, Amy Cragg, help when things got tough?
I was feeling fine actually up until my mile 20. That’s when I think the heat had just started to accumulate, especially since the race starts so late in the day. It was just survival mode for me from that point on, and I had to work as hard as I could. Luckily, though, I had an extreme amount of motivation during that really tough moment, including Amy. Her encouragement is what kept me going. We are both highly motivated to have each other to train for Rio, so that was just a huge motivating factor especially in those last three miles. There were a million reasons why I would want to continue and to push through it and I just kept telling myself, “Just get to that finish line!”
How has HOTSHOT helped you through your training?
I feel very alert when I consume HOTSHOT. I love to take it right before my hard workouts. It’s a responsibility for all athletes to know what they are putting in their body, so when I see natural ingredients in HOTSHOT, that’s the key factor for me.
Keep an eye out for more information on Shalane Flanagan in the next few weeks leading up to the Summer Games!
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