Flanagan Fueled By Samuelson’s Support

Flanagan won her last race at the Rock 'n' Roll Chicago Half Marathon, running 1:09:45. Photo: PhotoRun.net

The 33-year-old is hoping to become the first American to ever win the Beach To Beacon 10K.

(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission. 

CAPE ELIZABETH, MAINE  — The last time Shalane Flanagan toed the line here for the TD Beach to Beacon 10K, she was a bright-eyed 18-year-old high schooler in Marblehead, Mass. Taking up her idol Joan Benoit Samuelson’s invitation to compete, Flanagan jumped at the opportunity, ultimately finishing 139th of 3,248 in 36:35.

Some 15 years later, Flanagan has returned with her eyes set on becoming the first American ever to win the race, now in its 17th year.

“I’m excited. This has been a bucket list race of mine to come back to as an elite runner,” Flanagan told Race Results Weekly, speaking with the Atlantic Ocean as a picturesque backdrop. “Joanie, I think our friendship kind of formed around this race back in 1999 when she invited me. I’ve always wanted to come back.”

For Flanagan, 33, returning to the streets along Maine’s coastline is particularly meaningful. The Nike Bowerman Track Club Elite member once vacationed close by as a child, and racing here gives her a chance to spend time with mentor Samuelson, winner of the inaugural Olympic Women’s Marathon in 1984.

RELATED: Samuelson Recalls 1984 Olympic Victory

Samuelson, the race founder, will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of her Olympic win next Tuesday, August 5, something that is clear on the mind of Flanagan. Knowing the proximity of the anniversary to Saturday’s race, Flanagan wants to honor Samuelson in the best way possible: an American victory.

“Thirty years, it’s crazy. She’s the hero that I’ve looked up to for a long time and so she’s just someone that embodies the sport in so many different ways,” said Flanagan. “She’s someone that I look to not only because she’s a great person, but she’s an ambassador and a great runner obviously. To be here, I think it’s kind of a full circle moment for me coming back and being a part of her race. I think she’s inspired me and I feel like she’s helping me, showing me the way how to be a great ambassador for the sport.”

Throughout her career, Samuelson and Flanagan have shared a special bond, the former encouraging the latter in her pursuit of excellence. After this year’s Boston Marathon, the friendship was evident when Flanagan referenced Samuelson in her post-race press conference, saying she wanted to become “the next Joanie” and bring home a victory for America. Surely, the drive and motivation that once fueled Samuelson to become the best marathoner in the world has rubbed off on Flanagan.

Samuelson told Race Results Weekly she sees a bit of herself in Flanagan, an Olympic bronze medalist at 10,000m.

“She’s the kind of runner I tried to be when I was at the height of my career. She goes after it, she runs her own race, and that’s the only thing you can really do,” said Samuelson, 57. “She doesn’t care what other people are in the race or what their credentials are. She knows what she wants and goes after it.”

RELATED: Flanagan Aiming For American Record In Berlin

Flanagan is coming off a training stint at altitude in Park City, Utah, where she and coach Jerry Schumacher completed their marathon base phase. Earlier this week, Flanagan announced her intention to compete in September’s BMW Berlin Marathon, hoping to dip under Deena Kastor’s American record of 2:19:36.

Despite having only done one pure speed session, Flanagan believes she has what it takes to set a personal best tomorrow. Her fastest 10K on the roads to date is 31:41, her 10-kilometer split at last November’s .US National Road Racing Championships, contested at the 12K distance.

“I would like to run under 31:30,” Flanagan said in a confident tone. “I think my fitness indicates something sub-31:30, so that would be nice. But winning would be the best though, for sure.”

If she did indeed win, Flanagan would rank the victory as one of the most meaningful of her career.

“It would be fantastic. I haven’t really looked at the field much, I’ll probably do some homework tonight. I’ve just been putting my head down and training really hard,” she said, trying not to jinx herself.

Flanagan’s chances at the $10,000 first-place prize got a bit better with the announcement that reigning champion and this week’s Commonwealth Games 10,000m winner Joyce Chepkirui, as well as Commonwealth Games 10,000m bronze medalist Emily Chebet, have both withdrawn due to the Kenyan Olympic Committee not clearing the pair to compete. They had to remain in Glasgow with their team.

Samuelson has decided not to run tomorrow’s race, as the opportunity to watch one of her favorite athletes break the tape was too much to pass up.

“It would be awesome. It would be awesome. It would be really cool. I gave it some thought about running this year,” began Samuelson. “But I said if Shalane or Ben [True, a native of Maine] were to win this race and I wasn’t there, I’d kick myself forever and ever. I’m going to be at the finish line to see it first hand.”

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