As a Dedicated Competitor
In her pursuit of that hometown legacy, Flanagan has studied the marathon course and trained on it frequently, memorizing every restaurant landmark and divot along the way.
“I would get out there and it would be like negative 10 degrees, and I would be running through the Newton Hills,” she says. “The months of February and March, there are tons of people out there training on the course. I remember running and suffering, and there are all these people running on the course cheering me on just encouraging me to keep working hard.”
Flanagan’s intimate knowledge and familiarity with the course will work in her favor on April 20—not only for an edge over the competition, but also knowing when her body can go and when it needs to hold back.
“I think it’s just knowing how to delegate your energy over the course. If I have signs that I’m fatiguing or I’m feeling really good, I just know when to save my energy or question when to sit back,” she says. “I know how to run it, for me, the best way, and if I can tell someone doesn’t know the course well, I can take advantage of that knowledge.”
Steve Edwards, Flanagan’s husband, manager and former college teammate, says the Boston Marathon is also more tactical, calling for more strategizing and planning rather than speed. Flanagan ran a new PR of 2:21:14 last September at the fast and flat Berlin Marathon, but she has a different approach for Boston.
“For Berlin, we wanted to make sure she was fast. That’s kind of more of a time trial style, so there was more emphasis on speed work and even more emphasis on quality over quantity,” Edwards says. “Whereas Boston is more of a chess match. She goes to Boston and runs on the course; it’s going to be a little more strength-oriented and strategizing. It’s a very strategic race, with more hills on the course.”
Flanagan’s previous two appearances at Boston—a fourth place in 2013 and a seventh-place showing last year—were two notable additions to her professional running resume. In 2013, Flanagan’s Boston debut was quickly overshadowed by the tragic bombings at the finish line. Like most competitors eyeing a second chance at the Hopkinton starting line, Flanagan felt the patriotic pull to return and command a winning race in 2014. After a grueling 19 miles of front running, she finished in a disappointing seventh—but she helped set up the fastest race in Boston history, which included a course-record time from Rita Jeptoo and her own two-and-a-half minute PR.
“Even though I wasn’t able to execute it the way I wanted last year, I don’t think it was in vain,” Flanagan says. “I think that knowledge will stay with me. I’m really comfortable on the course, and I have great memories along the way. It’s kind of a comforting place for me, it’s not scary or daunting.”
Edwards says the Flanagan’s consistency is her strongest characteristic as a runner—and the reason she returns with force year over year. “I’ve told numerous people this—they ask, ‘Why is Shalane so good?'” he says. “Obviously she’s talented, but more than that, her biggest strength is hard work. If I had the same talent as Shalane, I wouldn’t be half as good as her. She’s on year 11 of her professional career, and she brings it 100 percent every day.”
Coming from a family of runners—her mother set a world record during her 1971 marathon debut and her father ran a 2:19 marathon in the 1980s—Flanagan was born with that raw talent and a competitive streak that’s never dwindled. After years of pounding shorter distances on the road and track, from breaking her own American record and earning an Olympic bronze in the 10,000 meters in 2008 to a come-from-behind bronze medal effort at the 2011 World Cross Country Championships , the 33-year-old decided to add another distance to her resume—one that landed her on her third Olympic team in 2012.
“Honestly when she said she wanted to start running the marathon, I went, ‘Why?!’ She was so good at all these other distances, why do you want to move up?” says Treworgy, laughing. “Her goals have always been so high. She makes statements that the rest of the world may feel are outlandish. Her goals and her drive have made us believers. She has to believe in it, but she’s made us believers too. I think her wanting to [win Boston] and to be able to achieve it would just be unbelievable.”