The three-time Olympian and American's fastest female marathoner on how she stays fueled, keeps her head in the race, and recovers right
American long-distance runner and Olympian Shalane Flanagan is a speed demon. At the 2014 Boston Marathon (where she also came in third) she set the record for the fastest time by an American woman in the race's history. And at the 2014 Berlin Marathon, where she came in third overall with a time of 2:21:14, Flanagan became the second fastest American woman in history at the distance. This is all to say: She's really darn fast, and not slowing down any time soon.
The three-time Olympian, who took home the bronze medal in 2008 Olympics in the 10,000 meter, is now heading full force towards Rio. Next month, she heads to the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon (hosted by the Los Angeles Marathon, which takes place the following day)–in which she is the reigning champion after winning in record-breaking time in 2012–as the number one women's qualifier. We sat down with Flanagan for her training and race-day tips that even a newbie marathon runner can benefit from.
Power Through with Patience
"I think especially in endurance running (I consider anything above 5K an endurance run), it's all about patience and not giving up. Elites like myself have good days and bad days. I definitely find that those times when you're the most challenged and things aren't going your way are truly the defining moments—even though they really stink! Everyone has setbacks and injuries, but it's how you deal with them. I think surrounding yourself with good people has always helped me to stick to my goals and keep on the path and keep my dreams alive."
Accountability Is Key
"Everyone is different; I thrive on the accountability of a group environment. A lot of people are doing their training either before work or after work and it's hard to maintain that motivation. Marathon running is all about consistency—whatever you put into it you're going to get out of it. So having someone or a group is essential for training. And I really believe most people are like that. Finding a running buddy or running group to help keep you on task I think that really makes or breaks someone's preparation." (It's one of the Top 25 Marathon Training Tips.)
Keep It Hearty and Healthy the Night Before
"The night before, it's very simplistic. Everybody is different with what they can digest, but I don't go for anything spicy. Before a marathon, it's always good to have some sort of protein and carbohydrate. My go-to is sweet potatoes—I love sweet potatoes! They're like a dessert to me—I like to put butter on them. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but good healthy fats are always important for runners. I'll also have some chicken, salmon or steak—whatever protein source I'm craving. And definitely a good hearty salad. I don't have a huge meal, because I don't want to feel too heavy on the start line, but I don't want growling hunger pains."
Breakfast Like a Champion
"My go-to in the morning is always coffee, an electrolyte drink, and my race-day oatmeal (it's actually in the cookbook I'm coming out with in the fall, Run Fast, Eat Slow, which is filled with my recipes to stay fueled). It's basic and filling: oatmeal, honey or maple syrup for some healthy sugars, and then almonds or walnuts and berries mixed in. That's my must-have."
Savor the Starting Line
"I always try to savor how good I feel at the start line because, inevitably, the marathon is an uncomfortable race and you're uncomfortable for a really long amount of time. I always stop and savor the moment and remember how grateful I am to be competing and being able to run, so not to take it for granted. Everyone has those voices in their head of negativity, and I try to just take deep breaths and brush them aside and focus on what an amazing opportunity I have to showcase my hard work." (P.S. Cutting Yourself Some Slack Can Lower Your Risk of Running Injuries.)
Give Yourself a Pep Talk
"Each race has different goals, but more often than not, I'm always chanting to myself 'You got this, you got this'—I'm my own cheerleader! Even in workouts I use that. Some races require more specific things—my last Olympic trials were really exciting, so I remember telling myself before the race 'controlled aggression' so that I wouldn't waste my energy too soon or get too excited or too rattled. It was all about controlling my excitement."
Keep Your Body Fueled
"There are eight stations set up for the elites during the race, so I always consume 4 ounces of Gatorade every there miles. And every 45 minutes, I'll take a gel to make sure I get enough carbohydrates and sugars."
"I like to know how long I'm running so my Garmin watch is essential. And I love my compression socks. If I had to pick 2 things to go to the grave with, those would be it. I don't necessarily wear them for what the scientists say they're for, but I honestly like the feeling of the compression, I feel seamless sleek and I feel like it's race day. I race a lot in compression socks and I don't fear my sock will crinkle down into my shoe. And if it's chilly out, it keeps my calf nice and warm and loose! So I don't necessarily doing it for the compression factor but I feel sleek and fast!" (Make sure you have the 13 Marathon Essentials That Every Runner Should Own.)
"The R3 roller is a go-to that I have with me at all times—it's so cool. It's basically this compression contraction that can massage your legs. Everyone on my team and almost every elite athlete I know has one. If your IT bands or quads or calves are tight, it's phenomenal. I'm big into ice baths, but I'm really starting to get into Epsom salt baths—after training in the cold in the winter, the last thing you want to do is hop in an ice bath, so I find the nice warm bath is way more enticing and eases the soreness of my muscles. And of course getting food into your system—a little bit of protein, plus some sugars and carbs—and hydrating right away with an electrolyte or water does wonders for recovery." (Want more? 9 Smart Running Tips from Shalane Flanagan.)