By Gianna Addario
---- — Every Patriots’ Day, thousands of runners flock to Boston for the world’s oldest annual marathon. In less than two weeks, the city’s sidewalks will be filled with avid fans and spectators cheering on the competitors in this year’s 117th Boston Marathon.
What was once a local event, Marathon Monday has evolved over the years to now attract athletes from all over the world.
One local harrier, already well established as one of the greatest American female runners of all time, hopes to put her mark on the iconic race she grew up watching.
Shalane Flanagan has made an illustrious running career for herself; she’s a two-time Olympian and bronze medal winner in the 10,000 meters at the Beijing Olympics, and an American record holder many times over. But this will be her first-ever Boston — and only fourth marathon — when she toes the line in Hopkinton in 11 days.
And make no mistake about it: she’s running to win.
“It’s one of these moments that I’ve thought about for over 20 years now,” Flanagan, speaking by phone from Colorado, said of the big day. “I’m slightly terrified and excited at the same time ... and then the other part of me just wants to throw a big party.”
With all the success she’s had in her career, the 31-year-old Flanagan is looking to own this course and become the first American woman winner since Lisa Larsen Weidenbach in 1985. Her biggest competition will come from elite marathoners Ethiopians Mamitu Daska, Meseret Hailu Debele and Alemita Abera Begna; Kenyans Rita Jeptoo and Sharon Cherop; Madai Perez of Mexico; and Tetiana Gamera-Shmyrko of the Ukraine.
Now living in Portland, Ore. with her husband Steve, Flanagan made her marathon debut in New York City in November 2010, taking second place. She finished 10th in the Summer Olympics last summer at the London Games and won the U.S. Olympic Trials marathon in Houston a little over a year ago (recording a personal best time of 2:25.38).
Over the past few years, the former Marblehead High and University of North Carolina All-American has transitioned from a low-mileage (5K and 10K) runner to a full-out marathoner and is more than prepared for her next endeavor.
Filled with emotion, Flanagan — who has been training at the Olympic Training Center and Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs — has put in countless hours of work and preparation for Boston and has now tapered her training with just a week-and-a-half to go before the marathon.
“I’ve scaled back some of my training,” said Flanagan. “I learned a lot from London; I felt fatigue at the start line then. This time I really feel like I have more to give on the day of the race.
“It’s a lifestyle for three months, and there’s nothing easy about it. It’s the hardest event to prepare for; it’s months upon months of preparation. I haven’t covered 26 miles on a training run, but we do go out for 3-hour runs and take it nice and slow, just to practice being on our legs for that long.”
The majority of her training has been with running partner, fellow marathoner and U.S. Olympian Kara Goucher, along with their coach Jerry Schumacher. Both Flanagan and Goucher (whose best marathon effort, 2:24.52, came in Boston two years ago) took part in the Stanford Invitational in California last weekend, in which Flanagan dominated the field and placed first.
Though the weather conditions have been ideal for running on the West Coast, Flanagan has no idea what to expect in Boston weather-wise on Patriots’ Day. Last year’s temperatures reached 80 degrees on race day, while the runners experienced a Nor’easter in 2007.
As a native New Englander, Flanagan is preparing herself for any and all possibilties.
“You can’t ask Boston for 55 degrees and no wind,” Flanagan joked. “You just have to take what’s given to you. Honestly, I hope for conditions that allow all the runners to display their best performances.”
Flanagan flies into Boston a week from today and will have the weekend to get adjusted to the time difference on the East Coast. Her family and friends will be out to support her, along many of her former Marblehead High classmates.
Having already won an Olympic bronze medal, a win in Boston would be just as meaningful for the hometown runner, she said.
“It’s a different kind of excitement than the Olympics,” Flanagan said. “I feel somewhat territorial and patriotic because it is my hometown. It’s very personal to me and probably slightly emotional.
“I’m extremely excited to perform.”
Follow The Salem News' Gianna Addario as she live blogs from the 117th Boston Marathon as Marblehead's Shalane Flanagan goes for victory in her first Boston. Addario will be on the women's lead truck following Flanagan every step of the race and providing live updates via her Twitter account (@GiannaAddarioSN), then speak with her after the 26.2-mile jaunt and provide post-race analysis.