Shalane Flanagan Is Running 6 World Marathon Majors In 6 Weeks - Women's Health

Shalane Flanagan Is Running 6 World Marathon Majors In 6 Weeks

To accomplish the feat, Flanagan has already had to run two marathons in two days.

In the world of running, Shalane Flanagan looms large with the kind of mythical aura that would surround a Marvel superhero. Only in this instance, of course, Flanagan is real and doesn’t rely on cinematic techniques or a writer’s room to deliver a plot line rife with inspiration and motivation learnings. She comes up with these things on her own. 

If you’re unfamiliar with Flanagan, know that in 2017 she became the first American woman to win the New York City Marathon in 40 years. In 2018, she placed third in the event before retiring in 2019 as a four-time Olympian and Olympic silver medallist. These days, she might be retired but she’s still a powerful and motivating force in running. As a mentor and coach, she leads Nike’s Bowerman Track Club in Portland, Oregon. But in a year that came to be defined by the global pandemic, she also saw an opportunity. With the marathon race schedule closely packed following months of shut down across most sporting codes, Flanagan tasked herself with the challenge of running all six world marathon majors. That alone would be an incredibly demanding feat, but Flanagan wanted an added challenge: to run each in under three hours, equating to a pace of under 6 minutes 50 seconds per mile, or 4 minutes 14 seconds per kilometre. In other words: it’s pretty darn quick. 

Already, Flanagan has run the Berlin Marathon, a race that saw her achieve a personal best of 2:21:14 and become the fourth-fastest American marathoner of all time. The race, which was on September 26, saw Flanagan finish in a faster-than-expected time of 2 hours 38 minutes. Just seven days later, she went from Berlin to the UK for the London Marathon, where she finished in a time of 2:35:04. 

But if that sounded tough, it was nothing compared to the next challenge Flanagan was faced with: the Chicago Marathon on Sunday, followed by the Boston Marathon on Monday. Two marathons back-to-back. In an interview with the New York Times, Flanagan expressed: “I missed pushing myself. It was just fun to have a big goal again.”

It’s an incredible feat Flanagan has already achieved so far, and should she make it through all six it certainly will be cause for celebration. But even more so, it’s a feat that speaks volumes about the strength we have within ourselves, one that defies expectations – particularly those we impart on ourselves. Flanagan’s quest to complete six marathons in six weeks goes beyond running itself. This is a woman who has gone through numerous life changes since retiring just two years ago, and a woman who is still pushing herself to her limits, setting new goals, and inspiring others to continue to challenge themselves. “An interesting stat is that by age 17 more than half of girls will have quit playing sports, and that made me really sad,” Flanagan told SELF. 

“That was a motivator right there. I was a shy young girl, but sports completely transformed my life and gave me confidence and direction. Even just in terms of the people I’ve met through sport, I’ve realised everything has changed for the better because of athletics. I felt this was a great platform to share that message and also connect with each running community within the cities that I’ll be visiting.” 

Flanagan will now do a virtual version of the Tokyo Marathon at home in Oregon, after organisers cancelled the in-person event due to the pandemic. Then it’s off to the New York City Marathon on November 7. It’s a heavy workload for someone who underwent two major knee reconstructions in 2019, but as Flanagan continues to prove time and time again, there’s little she can’t overcome through sheer grit and determination alone. 

By Jessica Campbell

Jess is a storyteller committed to sharing the human stories that lie at the heart of sport.

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