Looking To Go Fast This Fall: Interview With Shalane Flanagan

Flanagan, shown here leading April's Boston Marathon, says she feels like she's grooming herself to be a world-class marathoner. Photo: PhotoRun.net

The 33-year-old is aiming for a sub-2:20 marathon clocking this fall. 

At April’s Boston Marathon, Shalane Flanagan did everything she could to try and become the first American woman to win the storied race since Lisa Rainsberger last did it in 1985. The 33-year-old native of Marblehead, Massachusetts led the race through 19 miles, but ended up fading to seventh overall. Still, her finishing time of 2 hours, 22 minutes and 2 second was the third-fastest marathon time ever run by an American woman.

Flanagan, the 2008 Olympic bronze medalist at 10,000 meters, lives in Portland, Ore., and trains with the Nike Bowerman Track Club under coach Jerry Schumacher. She was inspired by her gutsy performance in Boston and has clearly stated that she’s on the hunt for Deena Kastor’s American record of 2:19:36 this fall at a yet-to-be-announced race. We caught up with Flanagan—who will race next at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon on July 20—from Park City, Utah, where she was kicking off her marathon training cycle.

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You have just started training again for a marathon that you said would take place this fall. How are you feeling?

Good. I’m actually here in Park City [Utah]. It’s kind of my first month of altitude training. I really liked how my training for Boston went so we are kind of simulating the pattern, because we thought it went well and I felt really good doing it. So what we did was a month at altitude, then about a month at home and then about a month at altitude again before the marathon. So I’m doing my altitude training now at Park City, which I had never been to before. It’s beautiful. It’s not necessarily your Mammoth or Flagstaff. There aren’t any runners, so I’ve been kind of lonely. Most of my team is headed off to Europe doing the track circuit. It’s been adventurous. I have my husband here, but I’m definitely missing the running community. There are a lot of cyclists here. I’ve made a few local friends and there some nice trails here, so things are looking up. I came off my run at Boston pretty well both physically and mentally. I’m looking forward to another marathon and hopefully another PR. It will give me confidence for future marathons as I look towards Rio. If I can run with some of the top women in the world time-wise [then] that would be a good confidence boost. I’m looking for a fast marathon. Even though we have these goals of running really fast and running another marathon, I think when I invest emotionally in a marathon, it’s hard to come off of it. I was invested emotionally very much in this year’s Boston. So I’m being a little cautious because mentally and physically I want to run another marathon, but we got to be sure that it’s the right thing to do. You can’t force training and force another marathon. When I first started my marathon training about a week or two ago, it felt really harsh and abrupt going back to the high mileage and volume. At first, I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do, but the more I get into it, the more I feel like myself. As I get the training under me, I feel better doing it, so as long as that pattern and trend continues, then a fast fall marathon is a goal.

Have you narrowed it down?

I’m just looking for a fast one in late September or early October.

In previous interviews, you talked about going for sub-2:20 in the fall. Is that still a goal?

Yeah. I just believe that had Boston been a Berlin or a Chicago course, I would have run that kind of time. I went through the half in Boston in like 69:30. I think that if it had been a fast course like Berlin or Chicago, then I would have continued on that pace. That being said, I think it’s an attainable goal. It’s just how I come off of training. This past cycle, I was the fittest I’ve ever been for a marathon. I don’t think I’ve lost that fitness. It’s not like suddenly I’m a 2:30 marathoner and trying to get down to 2:19. I just hope the timing is right and that it comes together physically and mentally. I saw glimmers. Jerry [Schumacher] is pretty realistic for me to run sub-2:19. We’ve looked at Deena’s [Kastor] record and will shoot for something around there. We are just looking at where I will be most successful doing that. This means we’ve looked at courses, pacemaking, and weather and how it’s set up. All that has played a huge role in getting me to believe as I make a run at the sub-2:20 record.

In June you ran really well at the BOLDERBoulder and ran with Deena on the American team. Have you talked with Deena at all to pick her brain about how she ran under 2:20?

I think Jerry has called Deena’s husband, Andrew, and picked his brain about certain things. I haven’t specifically asked her. I respect her a lot and I don’t know if I want to say, “Hey, I’m going after your record.” At some point, maybe I will talk to her and ask her, but I know that she put in the work and put one foot in front of the other. But I will probably study the splits of her record and do my own due diligence and homework. It gives me confidence knowing that she can do it. I’ve run similar times on the road, like my 15K is equivalent to Deena’s effort, so no, I haven’t spoken with her about it, but I know that Jerry has called Andrew and asked a few questions in terms of what she did before in terms of tune-up stuff.

Any regrets missing the U.S. Championships last month?

Yeah. It’s hard not being part of track nationals. My pulling out [of the 10,000m] was something of a last-minute decision. I trained for it and was excited to do it, but when Jerry and I made the decision to run a fall marathon, Jerry said that I needed to go out to altitude. I had already put a week in prior to that race [U.S. Track and Field Championships]. He just asked me, “What are your main goals for this year?” and I told him my main goal was to break 2:20, so he said, “then that comes at a cost of not doing USAs then.” I listen to Jerry. I fight certain battles, but for this one if my goal is a sub-2:20 marathon then that race was a casualty of it. It’s tough to watch other people compete. I was ready for it and I was excited to compete. It’s definitely something I don’t like to do, but he just felt like it was the right decision for my big goal.

Earlier in the interview, you talked about Park City, which, you said yourself, isn’t a hotbed for elite distance runners. Why that place?

You are able to stay at a pretty good elevation here. Also, if I came back here again, the temperature is pretty cool. At Mammoth and Flagstaff, when you drop down lower to do harder efforts like at 4,000 or 5,000 feet, it can get really hot. Here, you can drop down to that altitude and it’s a little bit cooler. Jerry and I had never been here before so we thought it would be good—new exploration, new trails—something that can invigorate you. It’s been an adventure. Like I said, I think I thrive off of having other people to run with. I enjoy having company with my training. But it is very, very beautiful here.

A lot of people are who are reading this witnessed your gutsy performance at Boston. What would you recommend to someone who is training for Boston about the race?

It’s probably the best race that they will ever run. For better or worse, it will be one of their most memorable. I think it’s one of the more challenging races that anyone will run. Getting to know the course in advance is definitely an advantage. It still is hard no matter how you shake it. Being a part of community is life changing for a lot of people. But to train for it, you have to train for the ups and downs—the hills. My husband ran it for the first time this year. He came in with a 2:38 PR in Eugene and said how great he felt there, but when he came in at Boston, he couldn’t believe how hard it was. He couldn’t believe that the course was that hard and that people actually wanted to run it. But it’s rewarding, because it tests everything. But it’s addicting.

You just said that Boston can be a life changing race for some people. Did this year’s race change your life in any way? Are you a different runner mentally or physically?

Yes. I feel like I’m grooming myself to be a world-class marathoner. I feel like I am becoming a true marathoner. That’s what I want. It doesn’t mean I won’t go back to the track or other races, but my big-picture goals for the rest of my career are the marathon. I think I have a little bit more self-belief. I still need to figure out my training. I really loved the training that I did leading up to Boston. I think it got me to go after some more aggressive goals. If you had asked me when I ran my first marathon if I would ever have a goal of breaking Deena’s record, I don’t know if I would say yes, because I wanted back then to get on the podium and win races, which is very important but I have changed my goals and want to be more aggressive with the marathon. I want to chase faster times. I think Boston gave me the confidence that I am evolving into a better marathoner which lets me have bigger aspirations.

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