How NYC Marathon Champion Shalane Flanagan Trains for Race Day (Plus Tips You Can Steal)
Follow her lead (minus a few minutes and miles) to nail your own PR.
Since Shalane Flanagan burst through the finish line tape at last year's New York City Marathon-the first American woman to do so in 40 years-she's been inspiring runners everywhere. Take her teammate Des Linden, who went on to win the Boston Marathon just a few months later. Or these young runners who hope to follow in her footsteps.
This November, Flanagan will toe the start line in New York again, this time to defend her title (if she wins, she would be the first American to repeat since 1977). And in addition to her own training, she took on a new role: coaching 95 runners with Michelob Ultra's Team Ultra. While Flanagan's running regimen isn't really the kind mere mortals can keep up with, she's been sharing her training and motivation tips with these soon-to-be marathoners-and, now, with us.
She logs up to 120 miles per week pre-race.
Because running is Flanagan's job, she needs a little less time to get in gear than your average runner. "I typically train 12 to 14 weeks for a marathon," she says. "When I'm starting out, I build my mileage up throughout each week until I hit a plateau around 105 to 120 miles, and then I maintain that high volume until I taper about two weeks out from the race."
It's the same gradual increase and decline in mileage as anyone else, but the average runner logs just 21 miles a week, according to the 2017 National Runner Survey and Running USA. If you're following a marathon training plan, you might run, at most, 50 miles per week.
"It's a little bit of a grind," Flanagan admits. "I run twice a day except on long run days, and it's very repetitive-and quite unrealistic to people who are working. But it's about building as many miles as I can handle without injuring myself and having that really good base for race day." No matter how your mileage stacks up next to Flanagan's, that's a worthy goal for any runner.
She switches up her speed and mileage.
Not every run is meant to be a steady-state slog. "I love workout days to switch things up," says Flanagan. "Once a week in my training cycle, I hit the track and do striders to keep up my leg turnover." Think eight times 200 meters without worrying about pace, or 100-meter striders down the street. "Another day, I'll do anywhere between eight and 10 miles worth of intervals on the track at more of a 5K to half marathon pace," she says.
Long runs are done at marathon pace, unless Flanagan is running over 26 miles (that is, in fact, something she does in training). But to break things up, some long runs are tempo runs (at a pace just outside of your comfort zone) and some fartleks (periods of fast running interspersed with slower running). "Mixing it up makes a little more mentally entertaining," says Flanagan.
That's a pretty standard regimen. Most marathon training plans call for one long run, two short runs (like a speed or interval workout), and one medium run (like a tempo run)-plus strength training and recovery, of course. All of those workouts serve different purposes for getting you race-ready, so it's important to work them into your routine. (For what it's worth, though, most people do not need to be running twice a day like Flanagan.)
She doesn't skip strength training.
Strength training is crucial to runners-a fact that many overlook since it's so much more appealing to run outside than work out in the gym. "I go to the gym about two to three times a week," says Flanagan. But it's not about working the legs; that's what running's for. "I only do a little bit of hamstring and glute work and then I'll do some mobility work on the range of motion through my hips and abductors and all those little muscle groups that get really tight as you run a lot." Resistance bands (used for band walks) are one of her favorite tools, especially for the glutes. "We're so quad-dominant as distance runners, that's a really key area to work on," she says. (Related: The 5 Essential Cross-Training Workouts All Runners Need)
Instead, Flanagan focuses on classic upper-body and core exercises with Swiss balls, medicine balls, and weights. "I really like assisted pull-ups," she adds. "I think having good arm strength is important for propelling me forward for when I get tired. And core and back strength are really crucial at the end of the race when you want to break down and turn into a wet noodle; it helps me keep a strong posture so I don't do that." All in all, those workouts tend to take Flanagan 30 to 40 minutes-quick and efficient.
She makes time for recovery.
Since this year's Boston Marathon, Flanagan has had a pretty laidback schedule. "I've had a lot more recovery time, which has been good for me," she says. "What's great about the off-season to me is that it's unstructured and unscheduled. Most days, I won't even run with a watch, which feels very freeing and liberating. I just run until I feel like I want to be done and don't count mileage or care about the distance or what pace."
Even new runners can relate; sometimes, the simple math of training (how far do I need to go? how fast do I need to go? how long will this take me?!) can be overwhelming. Occasionally leaving your fitness tracker or even your phone at home while you run can be a mental break that helps you reconnect to why you love running in the first place. (Related: Why I Love Running Without a Fitness Tracker or GPS Watch)
She preserves her mental energy.
You'd think that an elite marathoner is hyperfocused for every step of those 26.2 miles. But zoning out a little bit is not necessarily a bad thing, says Flanagan. "It's really hard to stay fully engaged for that long! I personally almost check out as much as I can for the first half of the race," she says. "I just look at someone's back and try to find a rhythm and be in tune with my body; when I get to the halfway point, then I start to get more and more dialed in." (Related: The Importance of *Mentally* Training for a Marathon)
Letting your body just go through the motions actually helps you conserve the mental energy you're going to need later in the race. "It's inevitably going to get tough," she says. "So in the beginning, I try to save that mental energy for when I know I'm gonna have a harder time later on. You only have so much focus; delegate it to where you know you're going to need it."
She doesn't do it just for herself.
Obviously, Flanagan is a professional runner, and very few people can maintain the kind of running regimen she follows. But her historic win in New York last year can still serve as serious motivation. "I hope people see that the more work you do put into anything in life, the greater the risk-but also the greater the reward," she says. "Hopefully people are excited to push their boundaries, maybe they find out more about themselves in the process of doing this, maybe they find out, 'Oh my gosh, I'm capable of more than I thought.'" After all, the race itself is just a culmination of all the training process and journey-it should be a celebration. And we all know how Flanagan celebrates crossing that finish line.