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Q&A: Shalane Flanagan Reflects on Berlin, Looks Ahead

With a marathon PR in the books, Flanagan looks ahead to 2015.

Shalane Flanagan ran fast at the 2014 Berlin Marathon on Sept. 28, walking away with a 2:21:14 PR for the second-fastest female American marathon ever. Her time, which bettered her Boston performance by 48 seconds, scored her a third-place finish and new American record at the 25K distance. Competitor followed up with Flanagan and discussed lessons learned in Berlin, 2015 racing goals and post-season splurging in Europe.

Congratulations on a great PR and performance in Berlin—how are you feeling being back home?

I’m feeling good! I’ve been relaxing and on a break, haven’t done too much thinking about running actually. I had a nice little vacation in Germany and Austria after the race with my family. But I’m feeling pretty good. I think after each race I do, I get different types of soreness. Boston typically makes my quads really sore, but with Berlin it was more my calves and hamstrings just because of the type of course and the nature of what I was trying to do; it was a lot speedier. Today was actually my first day of a little jogging with my teammate, Emily [Infeld]—just 3 or 4 miles—for her cooldown. I definitely felt a little awkward out there and will probably run every other day for the remainder of the week just to flush out the legs. Nothing serious. But I definitely enjoyed eight days off, with absolutely no running and indulging in things I don’t normally do.

What does a “splurge day” look like in the day for you now that you’re enjoying some well-deserved indulgence?

When you take out running from the day, it feels like I have so much free time! We had a fun time in Germany and Austria, just did some cool sightseeing. We had some really good lazy mornings with a lot of coffee and indulging in pastries. I’m obsessed with them, I think there was one day where I just ate pastries and no real food. Being in Europe, there are some really good ones, so I was basically taste testing all over! The indulgences will probably continue for the rest of this week, and then I will start to clean things up.

How about during the race—what is your overall reaction to getting that American 25K record but missing your bigger goal by a couple of minutes?

My ultimate goal was to get the marathon record and having not achieved that, [25K] is a good consolation prize. I did run a really great 30K, I ran great until really the last 8K before the wheels started to fall apart. It’s a reward for some good, hard work early on, so I would call it a good overall consolation prize in the end. It was kind of fun to just find out what I’m capable of, and there are some things my coach and I are going to work on to close better over the last 8K to 10K. For this particular race, I closed really poorly over the last 2K, and I think that’s a little bit because of the nature of what I was trying to do, which wasn’t easy. I think there’s room definitely for improvement. I close a lot better when it’s a little easier pace, and I close really well when it’s a bit more tactical, but when it’s an all-out assault on a time, you’re just riding that fine line. I think the mistake here toward the end was that I started to compete for second [place] after I lost sight of first. I thought, I can get second, and I started going into surges after I told myself not to do that prior to the race. But I just couldn’t help myself once I saw the record slip. So I went from running a 2:20 marathon to a 2:21:14 literally in the last 2K, which is unfortunate. But it was a race I’d never really run, so it was a lesson that will serve me better for next time.

What do you think is the biggest lesson for you coming out of Berlin? Will we see this same type of racing that we saw in Boston and Berlin, where you really chose to command the race from the gun?

The one glaring thing I want to work on is, how do I close better at the end of a marathon? I think that I’m naturally going to slow down, but how do I get myself to mentally and physically get more out of myself. Maybe it’s something in training or fueling that I can just tweak, and that will make the difference. Some of the greatest marathoners haven’t always nailed it until a few tries. This is my first real attempt at just running really fast so maybe there are some things I can learn along the way. Sitting down with my coach, we will come up with some things to practice during training to kind of fix that. I definitely committed to trying to get the record, I didn’t shy away from it. I could have run much more conservative and even, but I felt like I wanted to just see what I could do.

Is there something specific you want to try out during training that you haven’t been focusing on as much before?

I tend to run a lot of my workouts, because they are so long, at a very even pace—I save the racing part for the race. But maybe I need to start focusing on closing harder at the end of workouts, and that will translate to the races. It’s just tricky how to figure out how to run faster at the end of a marathon. It’s really hard! The men did it in Berlin, so I know it can be done, but I know I need to practice it more. I need to do more simulators in practice, where I’m doing long endurance running but really closing hard at the end.

That’s some great training advice! You mentioned the men in Berlin—in your opinion, do you think we will see a sub-2-hour marathon in the near future?

I was fortunate enough to watch the men’s press conference post-race, and my jaw was just dropped. They are very confident men—not cocky by any means—and just hard workers. To hear the men talk about that it’s really a feasible goal, I truly believe they actually can. The fact that they think about it in their training and that I never thought I’d see the day that someone breaks 2:03, I truly believe that if they think they can, they can. It was pretty exciting to watch that kind of discussion happen in Berlin.

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You were open about your goals in both Boston and Berlin—wanting to win and wanting the record.

I don’t see any downside in sharing what we are striving for. I don’t want to sugarcoat it—I’m honest with myself and with other people about my goals. I don’t feel entitled about them or what it’s going to take to get there—some of them are pretty lofty ones! It’s almost like writing your goals on your wall, like when you were a little kid. It’s the same kind of thing, and if someone asked me what I want to do, I don’t try to hide what I want to achieve. I guess I’m not afraid of failure.

Do you have any renewed racing goals, looking forward to a potential return to Boston next year and the 2016 Olympic Trials on the horizon?

It would be great to be back in Boston and yes, obviously the trials are coming. I think we [my coach and I] will work back from the trials knowing that’s an important race to be ready for and what fits in making sure I’m ready for that day. I still have a lot of aggressive goals. I don’t know about returning to Berlin next fall, that might be too close to the trials and trying to make the team. I feel like I’ve been in great shape to run some really great half marathons, but I’ve always had marathon build-up legs, so I can’t necessarily execute a great fast half marathon. So maybe the half-marathon record would be something to look at and even the 10K record on the roads, just various other prizes dangling out there next year if it’s not the marathon record.