The official motto for this month’s Summer Olympics in London is simple: “Inspire a generation.”
If each of the athletes had their own personal slogan, Shalane Flanagan’s would be a little more direct and to the point: “Leave nothing to chance.”
The pride of Marblehead leaves the United States today for Europe, where she and her fellow U.S. Track & Field teammates will settle in the Netherlands before eventually making their way to London. Flanagan will be running her first Olympic Marathon (and only her third marathon ever) on Sunday, Aug. 5, and has left absolutely no stone unturned as she prepares for the biggest race of her life.
“When I step on that starting line, I want to have absolutely no regrets about my preparation,” said Flanagan, who celebrated her 31st birthday on July 8. “If anything is within my control and I
control it this time, I will. I’m taking full responsibility for everything that I do.”
To illustrate her point, Flanagan will not be taking part in the Olympics’ Opening Ceremonies this Friday night. It’s not because she’s done it twice already (2004 in Athens and 2008 in Beijing) or that she wouldn’t
to do it, but more because it’s the smartest choice to make in terms of her marathon preparation.
“Most of my teammates will, but Kara (Goucher, a close friend of Flanagan’s and fellow U.S. marathoner and training partner) and I won’t. Being on our legs for six to seven hours that night doesn’t sound like a lot of fun,” the former Marblehead High and University of North Carolina superstar admitted.
“It’s something I wish I could do, believe me. But I’ve worked so hard to achieve my athletic dreams that I’m not willing to compromise anything. I’ve made so many other sacrifices to get ready for this race that I’m not taking any chances.
“Probably in my last Olympics, I’ll do everything I can one more time,” Flanagan said, likely alluding to the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. “But for right now, there’s a lot at stake. If anything were to go wrong, it would just crush me.”
A surge of energy
With the marathon less than two weeks away, it’s all about tapering and fine-tuning now for Flanagan. She and Goucher were put through some of their most grueling workouts by head coach Jerry Schumacher just after the July Fourth holiday, leading to a huge culmination and peak of pushing her body to its limits.
She’ll now cut down her weekly running routine from 120 to 100 miles this week, which she admits is “glorious,” and probably ease back to 80-90 miles with lighter, faster workouts to get some pop and snap back in her legs before reaching London.
“I’ve been tired for months and months, but you just learn to accept it,” said the 5-foot-5 Flanagan. “Now that I’m tapering, I almost have
much energy, like a surge of it. Instead of a constant state of depletion, I can re-energize my body. I’ve been cleaning my whole house, doing tons of laundry ... I can’t find enough things to do. I just have an insatiable desire to do a million things; I just have to rein it in for race day.
“It’s all relative in that it’s only my third marathon, which means it’s only my third marathon buildup. But it’s also the best I’ve ever felt. Kara and I have had our best workouts ever; hopefully, that can be shown on the course in London.”
A mental game
Ah yes, the course in London.
The race (set for an 11 a.m. start London time), which starts and ends at The Mall, has been on Flanagan’s home refrigerator for months; she’s also been on the course a few times already with Goucher and Schumacher, so she is well aware of what she’ll be up against.
“It’s a very technical course,” she said. “It’s fast and flat along the (Thames) River and as it goes by St. James Park and Buckingham Palace. Then there’s a million-degree turn with rhythm breakers, challenging hills, twists and turns, and even cobblestones. It’s all over the place.”
Visualizing success during her workouts has helped push Flanagan to the point she’s at. Already one of the greatest female long-distance runners in American history and owner of a bronze medal in the 10,000-meter race in Beijing four years ago, she has herself prepared, both mentally and physically, for what she hopes is the greatest race of her life, culminating with another medal 13 days from now.
“It’s probably going to be my hardest race, one that’s very painful,” Flanagan admitted. “But that’s why I put myself through so much pain (training for it). To fight through those tough moments (during the marathon), I’ll bring myself back to the workouts and the pain I fought through.
“It’s a mental game; the mind and the body wants to protect itself, but if you can override those negative thoughts, it’s amazing what you can do. Those are the places I’ll go to when I’m in London.”