Shalane Flanagan Says Her Dream of Winning the Boston Marathon Changed to Just Surviving It
The Olympian (and New York City Marathon winner) shares how she managed to place in the top ten in the Boston Marathon despite 35 mph winds, pouring rain, and a freezing temps.
Three-time-Olympian and New York City Marathon champion Shalane Flanagan was a huge favorite going into the Boston Marathon yesterday. The Massachusettes native has always hoped to win the race, considering it's what inspired her to become a marathoner in the first place. But, unfortunately, the brutal weather conditions took the runner (and the rest of the world) by surprise, putting her in seventh place by the finish. "I don't think I've ever even trained in conditions like that before," Shalane, a HOTSHOT sponsored athlete, tells Shape. "It's just one of those things that you just really can't prepare for." (Related: Desiree Linden Is the First American Woman to Win the Boston Marathon Since 1985)
In its 122-year history, the Boston Marathon has never been canceled, regardless of torrential rain or unspeakable heat. Yesterday was no different. Runners and spectators braced 35 mph winds, pouring rain, and a below-freezing wind chill-not exactly what runners had been expecting for a mid-April race. "I knew it was going to be bad so I anticipated the need to keep my core temperature high for as long as possible to ward off potential hypothermic symptoms," says Flanagan. "But even still, it was quite the conundrum trying to figure out what to wear to stay warm, knowing that my clothes were going to get really wet, which could end up making me feel really cold." (Related: Cold Weather Running Tips From Elite Marathoners)
So, Flanagan came up with a game plan to wear what she thought would optimize her performance given the less than ideal conditions. "I decided to wear typical running shorts, two jackets, armed sleeves, hand warmers, gloves, and then latex gloves to put over my gloves to keep them as dry as possible," she says. "I was also wearing a hat and ear warmers to ward off the rain so I could see. I had never lined up at the starting line with that many clothes on and, in the end, I wish I was wearing more." (Related: 13 Marathon Essentials Every Runner Should Own)
Despite preparing to the best of her abilities, Flanagan says her body struggled to brave through the abnormal spring weather. "My legs, in particular, got really cold-so cold that they kind of just numbed out," she says. "It honestly felt like I didn't even have any pants on-that's how numb I felt. Plus my body composition, being in a fit and lean state, didn't provide me with a lot of insulation or body fat needed to keep me warm. That lead to my leg muscles becoming extremely tight, making it really hard to go any faster."
It was her body's reaction to running in these conditions that led her to take a 13-second bathroom break at the 20k mark. While it seemed like a huge deal to some, Shalane doesn't seem to think it bore any consequence on her finishing time. "It was a calculated decision," she says. "Considering it was so cold out, my fluids caused me to take a quick pee break, and because we were running really slow, I knew I could take a break and get back on without hindering my race at all. If anything, it was the weather that ended up being the downfall for me."
Despite everything that worked against her, Flanagan says she's is still super satisfied with the outcome of the race. "I am really happy," she says. "It's not what I dreamt of. In my training, I was in similar, if not better, shape than when I won the New York City Marathon six months ago and was actually at a point where I was able to visualize winning Boston. But during the race, my dream changed from winning to surviving and just making it to the end, which I did-and I'm really proud of that. By the end, I had nothing else left to give so I think when you can honestly say that, then there's nothing to be disappointed about." (Read more on Shalane's tips for going the distance.)
Given that this was her sixth attempt to win the Boston Marathon, Flanagan says she's considering whether this might be her last race as an elite runner. "It's pretty nostalgic considering it was this race that inspired me to become a marathoner in the first place," she says. "I feel a little unsatisfied because the conditions didn't allow me to showcase my abilities and potential, so it is kind of sad to think that was it."
That said, there's a sliver hope that she'll come back and give the race one last go. "I've always been good at following my heart and what excites me and what I'm passionate about, so over the next couple months I'll assess whether I have the desire or the drive to do the training again," she says. "Either way, if I won't be on the starting line, I'll be here coaching and assisting my teammates. So one way or another, I'll still be here."