Shalane Flanagan’s win of the 2017 New York City Marathon was a victory long in the making and a performance befitting of a world-class runner. While almost every other runner’s heart rate was dropping and the pace was slowing during the final stages of the 42.195-kilometre event, Flanagan stepped on the gas.
“It’s never over until you cross that line,” she said at the post-race news conference.
Her finish time didn’t turn heads, but the way she finished was impressive. She clocked in at 2:26:53. That is one-minute and one second faster than second-place finisher Mary Keitany of Kenya.
Flanagan’s personal best is 2:21:14 from the 2014 edition of the Berlin Marathon, but this is NY, a rolling and honest course devoid of pacers.
Keitany is a three-time winner of the race and owns a personal best of 2:17:01, which makes her the second-fastest marathon runner all-time behind only Paula Radcliffe. Keitany owns the world record for the fastest marathon in a women’s only race. She is also a three-time winner of the Virgin London Marathon.
Flanagan ran a monster race in her first major marathon victory.
She lives in Oregon and grew up in the Boston area. She always wanted to win Boston. Her parents were elite distance runners, so she grew up in a running environment; it’s part of her culture like it is for Kenyans.
Injured with a back issue leading up to the 2017 edition of Boston she was denied an opportunity to win that event.
“I kept telling myself that there is going to be delayed gratification and a moment down the road that would make up for it and I have dreamed of a moment like this since I was a little girl,” she said fighting off tears.
Crossing the line she created an indelible moment mouthing the words “f**k yeah”. Her celebration went viral and was trending on Twitter, as it were; the new barometer for noteworthy happenings. It was a proud American moment amidst domestic violence by homegrown and foreign terrorists. It was a bit of good news that Americans have been thirsting for. Non-running fans felt the transcendent news that overarched the overbearing and depressing presidential cacophony coming out of Washington just a few hours south.
The drought of an American woman’s win in New York had lasted 40 years.
Flanagan killed it.
In preparation, she hung out for a few months in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., a sometimes home to other great American marathon runners like Deena Kastor and Ryan Hall. She ran up to 210 kilometres per week while there. Mammoth Lakes resides at nearly 2600-metres of elevation.
Her stretch at altitude was the perfect incubator for building the muscle-thirsting mitochondria and increasing her red blood cell count.
New York was her 10th major marathon. The four-time Olympian also ran the 2016 Rio Olympic marathon but finished in sixth in debilitating heat.
For the Beijing Olympic 10,000m *bronze medallist (30:22:22), New York may be her swan song. While she captured glory for her country in New York, Meb Keflezhigi, another American great, was ending his long reign as an American athletics hero. Meb finished 11th in the time of 2:15:29. Flanagan can carry that mantle forward.
The men’s field was won by Geoffrey Kamworor in the time of 2:10:53. The second-place finisher was Wilson Kipsang, three seconds back in the time of 2:10:56.
New York is an honest piece of work. There will be no world records set on this course, only indelible moments like that of the legendary Kiwi Rod Dixon who in 1983 hunted down Englishman Geoff Smith in the final stages to win in 2:08:59.
And then there was the 2005 men’s finish where the legendary Kenyan Paul Tergat barely outsprinted a hard-charging Hendrick Ramaala of South Africa, to a frenzied finish-line crowd.
There was Grete Waitz and her near decade-long reign as the Queen of NY. The Norweigan won nine times between 1978 to 1988, a record in itself.
For 2017, Shalane Flanagan, the girl who dreamt of winning Boston, her hometown marathon, for all of her life, can mark Sunday, Nov 5 as a marquee moment in a career that was rich with top finishes, but until NY was devoid of that penultimate moment that defines a career. She’s got it now.
“This means a lot to me, to my family and hopefully inspires the next generation of American women.”
*Flanagan was later moved up to silver medal position due to Turkish-born Elvan Abeylegesse testing positive for performance enhancing drugs.