By R.L. Bynum
Shalane Flanagan finished her six-marathon challenge today as the 12th woman to cross the finish line at Sunday’s New York City Marathon. Her time of 2 hours, 33 minutes, 32 seconds was her best of the six races.
The Olympian, three-time national champion at UNC and 2017 New York City Marathon winner, finished her sixth marathon in six weeks (42 days) when she crossed the finish line in Central Park. Earlier, she ran the marathons in Berlin, Chicago, London and Boston, as well as running the Tokyo Marathon virtually from her home in Portland.
“I’ve had a blast,” Flanagan said. “I’ll be sad that it’s actually over to some degree. I was just hoping to feel good and just run my last one the fastest. I calculated well.”
Of the six, Flanagan said New York was her favorite.
“I felt way better in the last six miles than I have than the other ones, so I probably had more in me,” Flanagan said. “But I was just so conservative because the last ones were so close together that when I would hit mile 20 or 22, I was really having to grind it out. But because I had three weeks recovery, when I hit mile 20, I was like, ‘oh, I have a lot left.’ I might have miscalculated a little bit, but that’s fine. I’d rather come in feeling good and not wobbly.”
At age 40, Flanagan has retired from professional running. But she still is the envy of recreational marathoners with both her times and her endurance in doing so many 26.2-mile races in such a short time.
“I was experiencing the sport in a while different way,” Flanagan said. “I’m not here to win. I’m not here to set a record. It’s purely just enjoying the sport for what else it has to offer and I didn’t get to experience that fully as an elite athlete.
“I had a lot of like tunnel vision and now I get to read the signs on the side of the road,” she said. “I get to give high-fives. I get a whole different experience and I’m really enjoying that side of the sport. The kind of pressure that I used to put on myself was pretty intense. And now I just feel a lot of like there’s just joy and lightness to running with where I’m at.”
She easily met her goal of running all six in under three hours, with her slowest race in Chicago when she came in at 2:46:39 and her best time before NYCM coming with a 2:35:04 in London.
Even though she put up a good time in London, she said that race was the hardest.
“I’ve heard so much about the London Marathon,” Flanagan said. “I actually thought it was a lot tougher than people give it credit for. You hear amazing times like Paula Radcliffe’s world record there. I just miscalculated my pace with just getting in the wrong corral, and so I got out way too fast and didn’t realize it till it was too late.
“I ended up having to walk a little bit, which I’ve never done before,” she said. “But now it’s like my piece of advice. I’m like, when in doubt, just walk a little bit. That changes the whole dynamic of what the race can be for you. You can regroup fairly quickly if you just walk. So, but London was the hardest.”
She ran Boston in 2:40:34 the day after running Chicago. For the Tokyo Marathon, where there was no on-site race, she ran a 2:35:14 in Portland.
Flanagan presented fellow former Tar Heel cross country runner Elyse Kopecky with her medal after the race. The two co-authored a cookbook called Rise and Run.
At Carolina, she won NCAA cross country titles in 2002 (19:36) and 2003 (19:30), becoming the first Tar Heel to win an individual title in the sport. She was named the top college cross country runner in 2003 and 2004. Flanagan won an indoor NCAA title at 3,000 meters in 2003 (9:01.05).
Flanagan won a silver medal at 10,000 meters at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and won a world cross country title in 2011.
In addition to winning NYCM in 2017, she was second in New York in 2010 and third in 2018. She was also third in the 2014 Berlin Marathon, where she ran her fastest marathon at 2:21:14.
Photo via @_r4fun_