Q&A: Shalane Flanagan On Targeting American Marathon Record In Berlin

Shalane Flanagan will have two pacers with her in Berlin as she aims to break the American marathon record. Photo: www.photorun.net

Flanagan wants to break the mark in Berlin next weekend.

Marathoners Ryan Vail, who owns a 2:10:57 PR, and Rob Watson, who has run 2:13:39 for the distance, will be pacing 33-year-old Shalane Flanagan during her pursuit of the American marathon record at the Berlin Marathon on Sept. 28.

“I’m a humbled, lucky girl. I’ve got two of the best marathoners in the business to help pace me to the AR in Berlin,” she Tweeted recently. A sub-2:19:36 performance will break Deena Kastor’s 8-year-old record for the 26.2-mile distance.

Competitor caught up with Flanagan before she left for Germany.

How are you feeling overall?

I actually just finished, literally 30 minutes ago, my last really hard workout, which went really, really well. It was 6 x 1-mile with short rest, and it was probably one of my best training blocks ever for a marathon buildup in terms of the combination of speed and endurance. All my track sessions have been comparable to what I would run when I’m in peak form for a 10K, so that gives me a lot of confidence that my speed is coming around to attack this [American] record. It’s obviously takes a fine balance of speed and endurance—I’ve always felt like in the last few years I’ve really built up my endurance component, so it’s kind of fun to challenge myself to run kind of fast as well.

Last time we spoke, you hadn’t spoken to Deena Kastor about her record. Has that changed at all?

I haven’t—I still have so much respect for her as an incredible athlete, and I think everyone gets to the starting line a little different. As much as I try to emulate her, at the same time I have to pursue it knowing myself and what’s best for me. I’ve heard some details about what she did prior and how races unfolded and what races she did before—little details to fuel me and show that it can be done. If Deena can do it, it feels more tangible; she’s just another lady like me, she’s human. It helps ground me and have confidence in myself. But I still haven’t spoken to her out of respect—she could still beat me on any given day at any distance. When I ran my first marathon, she helped me a lot with my nutrition and was an open book about it—so I know she’s always there if I did need some help.

RELATED: Flanagan Wins Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago

How does the strategy, physically and emotional, behind chasing a time—the American record—differ from your strategy in Boston, which was to win?

There’s definitely an emotional pull to both. With Berlin, I’m trying to make my mark in marathon history, in U.S. history. There is an emotional component to that, but I guess it’s more business-like; I’m not focusing on winning, which can be another emotional component as well, so I’m kind of eliminating that extra one. Boston was a very emotional day for everyone—it’s all about winning, and you’re surrounded by it all around you in the spectators and athletes. So this one is going to be a little more laid back in a sense, but at the same time, I’m asking myself to do something that’s going to be really physically demanding, and I’m going to have to dig deep over the last 12K of this race. I know it’s going to be really, really hard. But having something really big on the line, like this type of a record, and having it held by someone I really admire who’s been a role model for me, that’s where it gets emotional, knowing I could be a part of history. I think the beauty is I will be able to compartmentalize early on and not worry about winning at all. I’m just going to see how fast I can run for as long as I can.

So there’s no focus on winning in Berlin?

I think if you try to do both, it becomes tricky. That’s why my coach and I chose to go to Berlin—it’s lightening fast. If I wanted to focus on winning, I would have gone to something like a New York, where it’s just about competing. I just want to focus on running fast—and if winning is a by-product of that, that would be phenomenal.

How has your decision to skip the U.S. Track and Field Championships in June benefited you overall marathon training during the last few months?

I was pretty bummed to withdraw, but I needed to go up to altitude to start getting in some long miles. My coach asked what my goal was and if it was to go after the American record, and if that was the case, I felt like he was going to give me the recipe to do that. I wish I could do it all and race more often sometimes, but I know I don’t like compromising my goals and having regrets. Maybe I could have done it and pulled it off and done both, but it really came down to my coach and the decision to go up to altitude. We like to go up for 28 to 30 days [at a time], and I would have felt great going in and out to race [on the track].

RELATED: Will Flanagan Make The 2016 Olympic Team?

Having the background that you have on the track and knowing some of the competitors in Berlin have that similar background, do you think that knowledge will play in your favor while you chase a fast time on Sept. 28?

I hope so. I’m trying to race 5:19 a mile, which doesn’t sound that fast, but when you put that together for 26 miles, it feels really fast! I think being able to dip back into my track background has helped me; my experience with the 10K, that mix of speed and endurance, I’m trying to obviously spin it to a much larger distance. I do think it is beneficial to have that background on the track, where I can do some of the mechanics and speedwork I’m going to need for this particular marathon.

There are a lot of first-timers tackling their first marathon this fall—do you have any nutritional recommendations for them as it relates to your own fueling leading up the next weekend?

It’s important to fuel before the run, during the run and after the run. I rely on just really good quality foods. It’s hard when you’re out running really long efforts and away from my refrigerator, it’s easy to grab the easiest thing. But when I’m away, I make sure to grab my hydration, which is usually an electrolyte. I’ve been working with KIND bars, which has a good combo of natural ingredients and fats and carbs, which I need. Those are my go-tos when I’m away from my house. But leading up to the race, I just don’t go too crazy with the carbo-loading; I mix in some snacks to make that happen. I keep it pretty simple, nothing too crazy.

Many runners turn to you and other elites for inspiration for their own running, especially after races like the Boston Marathon this year. But where do you go to get that quiet moment of inspiration before your own race?

Everywhere I go, there’s little sources of inspiration for me, like watching my teammates make sacrifices and working hard—that inspires me. Other athletes, even just the general runner who qualified for Boston or any other marathon, what they’ve gone through, inspires me. It’s amazing—if you take the time to mingle with the everyday runners at these marathons, they all have their own story of how they got there. Like in Chicago, I heard of inspiring stories about people losing weight and turning their life around through running. They are using running to make their whole life better, and that totally captures my attention and my heart. It doesn’t have to be something big—just a simple act is inspiring.

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