We sit down with one of the greats of American distance running
While on a recent trip to Tokyo for the release of the Nike Pegasus Turbo, we were lucky enough to sit down with one of the undisputed greats of distance running, Shalane Flanagan. While even occasional runners know of Shalane after her gutsy win in the 2017 New York Marathon, it’s hardly the only accolade she’s earned over her long career. Olympic Silver medallist, multiple national records, multiple Olympic and World Champs finalist, and widely regarded as a huge influence on the development of the Bowerman Track Club women’s program.
As Shalane explained to the large media audience at the event, she hasn’t yet decided on her next race. Shalane has hinted many times that she perhaps only has 1 or 2 more marathons left in her, and we believe she is currently considering her options, and whether or not she continues racing.
Here’s a lightly edited transcript of our conversation with Shalane.
You’re widely regarded as the ‘mother’ of the Bowerman women’s program. Do you ever stop and reflect on what you’ve helped build?
I’m very fortunate that Jerry (Ed: Jerry Schumaker, coach of the Bowerman Track Club) took on such a good group of women. Originally when I joined he said that I would be the only female that he would ever coach and he wasn’t interested in coaching women. And I basically pleaded and broke down and said in order for me to have a lengthy career I need to be working with other women.
So he slowly integrated more women and I think he saw the success that we had and it just led to integrating more women who were talented and wanted to be part of this group who were high level achievers and extremely competitive.
So I feel really fortunate that Nike supported it and that my coach was on board. The fact that he never wanted to be a women’s coach and then took it on to this extent of being one of the best women’s groups in the world, I feel pretty lucky.
I asked Colleen Quigley about your impact on the group. She said how lucky the group is to have you, and that someday they will be lucky to have you in a coaching capacity. Is coaching something you’ve always wanted to do, or is it just the natural next step for you?
I would say I had a definite turning point where it clicked for me one day and I decided I would like to coach. I remember it very distinctly, it was when one of my teammates, Emily Infeld, who had endured 2 years full of injuries, went to the world championships and medalled out of nowhere. At that point I remember being so excited that I couldn't sleep, it felt like I had won the medal. I was so invested in her, and I remember thinking that this must be what coaches get to feel, and I want to have this feeling for other athletes, and be able to share the knowledge that I’ve gained over the years. So that was the point where I decided that I really want to coach one day.
We’ve had a discussion with Nike, so as soon as I decide that I don’t want to run competitively, I’ll transition and be there aiding my teammates and helping them achieve their goals.
The win in New York was obviously a big exclamation point on your career. Are you most proud of that result, or the entire body of work over your career?
I think it's the consistency throughout my career. Someone at Nike, who had just started there when I first signed in 2004, he said to me ‘you know what, Shalane? It's rare that you have someone who is competitive for their whole career, usually they fall away but you’ve remained competitive throughout your whole career’. I'm really proud of the consistency, and it's just through hard work.
New York was extremely special, it was one of those dreams that I was just about ready to give up on, I felt like it wasn't going to happen for me, and so winning came right at that moment where I thought maybe I should give up on it, and it felt so rewarding that I stuck to that dream and had it come true.
Des Linden has said a lot of similar things since she won Boston.
Yeah, exactly, you just feel so desperate, it’s like banging your head against a wall and you feel like you’re not getting anywhere. A lot of the American women had been so close but not getting the job done, finishing 4th, 5th, 6th, whereas now we have some great momentum on the American women's side.
Last question; since the win in New York there has been a lot of extra attention on you. We saw a lot of talk especially leading into Boston. How do you deal with the external pressure, is that something that affects you?
No, I mean I think about that great quote that says ‘pressure is a privilege’ so the fact that people expect great things from me, I thrive on that because I expect those things from myself too. There’s no negative pressure, it’s all good and the fact that people are cheering for me and wanting me to do well motivates me, I really thrive on that.
Since sitting down for this interview, Shalane has been back on the track working for her teammates. Shalane paced Bowerman teammate Shelby Houlihan for the first 3,000m to a new American Record in the 5,000m in Belgium. We await news of what’s next for Shalane.