Ready For Anything: Exclusive Interview With Shalane Flanagan

Shalane Flanagan is the best U.S. chance for a medal in Sunday's Olympic Marathon. Photo: PhotoRun.net

Shalane Flanagan, a bronze medalist in the 10,000 meters at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, figures to be one of the top medal contenders among U.S. distance runners in Sunday’s Olympic Marathon. We caught up with her recently to talk about her training, nutrition and racing strategy for this weekend.

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Competitor.com: This is your third Olympics, however, in previous trips you have represented the U.S. in the 5,000m and 10,000m. How different is your preparation for London given that you’re running the marathon this time?

Shalane Flanagan: My previous Olympic experiences have given me the experience to know how I should handle many of the formalities and distractions that can come with going to the Olympics as a competitor. As a result, I am walking into these Games in a whole new world where I am calm and very mentally prepared for everything that comes with our journey as an Olympian.

The marathon is very different from any track race. Physically, I have doubled my mileage (60 to 70 miles a week vs. 110-120 miles) and also increased the duration of higher intensity workouts. As my coach (Jerry Schumacher) first began to shift me into marathon training, we increased the volume very gradually and after about six months I was able to bite the bullet and fully dive in to the higher volumes of training. Initially it left me tired on a regular basis, but the body is amazing in how it adapts to the training you impose on it. Over the past four years my body really has really adapted and the fatigue is not there like it use to be. I fully bought into the training after the 2010 New York City Marathon, where I had a great debut and finished on the podium.

In preparation for the London Olympics, I have completed a number of dress rehearsals to practice for the Aug. 5 Olympic race, which has included everything from visualizing the race in training to ensuring my nutrition is right for race day. Nutrition is another area that differs significantly when you are focused on the marathon. The training you undergo for the marathon requires that you are more nutritionally focused each day and are consistent with your pre-workout meals and snacks as well as recovery nutrition. An increased focus on recovery is also a key difference between the track and the marathon. With the marathon you have to make sure you’re doing all the extra recovery in order to come back time and again for the mileage you run each day.

Today we hear so much about various methods or pieces of equipment that promise to enhance performance. In preparation for this marathon and others, how have you approached finding what is right for you in this area and what, if anything, do you believe really is a great asset to your performance?

I don’t really use too many gadgets. My coach is big on making sure we focus on the fundamentals and have that right on a day-to-day basis. However, what I do believe pays off for me is the use of high-altitude training at the right point in time during the training cycle. I also use an iron supplement regularly and pay attention to how much red meat I’m consuming to help maintain my iron stores. The one other item that I do believe is very beneficial are compression garments. Compression socks help especially when it is cool and wet outside and wearing compression garments while flying helps to minimize swelling and body fluid shifts that can occur during flight.

What are the three key areas of performance that you have focused on going into the Olympics in order to perform your best on the day?

The three main areas I focused on for these Olympics were mental preparation, competition nutrition and fartlek-style workouts. My mental preparation focused a lot on visualizing running the course as well as teaching myself how to overcome discomfort and perceived pain and just watch and feel it all dissolve. Teaching the body to push through pain is one of the biggest keys to running a great marathon, and focusing on this aspect of training has really taught me to push through the longer interval workouts and compartmentalize the pain so it dissolves. The focus on fartlek-style workouts has been in anticipation of stretches where we may experience faster paces and then slower paces due to the course including cobblestone streets, tight turns and hills.

Nutrition plays a huge role in racing performance. Starting about three days out from the marathon, what does your nutrition plan look like?

With each marathon I have run, my nutrition has slowly and progressively changed. The biggest changes came as I went into Olympic Trials Marathon last January in Houston. I fine-tuned my plan with a change in sports drinks to [one] with a greater amount of electrolytes. I feel this has significantly helped with the absorption of my fluid. Kara Goucher also shared her plan of focusing on simple, low-residue carbohydrate that she developed and that also has made a difference. In the several days leading up to the race I focus on carbohydrates that have little or no fiber (pretzels, crackers, white rice and bread), and make sure I consume fluids with electrolytes so I am well-hydrated.

How have you focused or modified your training in order to prepare for the London Olympic marathon course? Are there training methods or types of training session you could share with recreational competitors?

The course for the London Olympics is an 8-mile loop that, to me, is more like a cross country course, given that it has cobblestone roads, alleyways, technical turns and a steep hill that you encounter with each loop. However, included in each loop are also stretches of about 3 miles that can be fast because the roads are open and flat. As a result, the course can force you to change speeds quite a bit throughout the entire duration of the race. As I mentioned earlier, in order to prepare for this course we have used fartlek-style training, which any runner could implement should they face a course such as this. One of the most recent workouts we used to simulate the course was a 21-mile long run which included 10 miles of 800m on at 5:00 min/mile pace and 800m off at 6:00 min/mile pace.

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About The Author:

Sports nutritionist and exercise physiologist Krista Austin, Ph.D, has been a consultant to numerous U.S. Olympic runners and triathletes.

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