Inside Lane: Lindsay Flanagan, 9th at Boston, Talks About Training and Life
Unsponsored marathoner Lindsay Flanagan, Olympic standard in hand, balances coaching other athletes with her own training.
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
In less than two years, Lindsay Flanagan, the former University of Washington star broke 2:30 for the first time (2:29:28 at the 2018 Frankfurt Marathon) and, this month, earned her first top 10 finish at a World Marathon Major by placing ninth at the Boston Marathon. The latter accomplishment has even more significance now, as top 10 at a Major meets the new IAAF Olympic qualifying standard. She is one of seven American women to nab the standard, which gives her a crucial leg up at next year’s Olympic Trials in Atlanta.
I caught Lindsay over the long Easter weekend, while she was taking a quick vacation with her family in Napa and Sonoma, to talk about the best race of career and learn more about her training and life.
Has Boston sunk in for you yet?
I think it’s starting to. It always takes a few days and then you start to process it. I’m definitely really happy with the way it turned out. It was a pretty big improvement from two years ago, when I pretty much ended by myself up the whole race.
Were you aware during the race of what place you were in? When did you know you were definitely in the top 10?
There was a pretty big move at mile three and a large group broke away. I wasn’t really able in the moment to count how many were in front of me but I knew there was a good chunk. Around 16 miles was when I started to slowly pass people.
I thought, ‘I must be getting close, I might be 12th, 13th,’ and it actually wasn’t until a mile to go that someone told me I was in 11th. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I can either suffer for 10 minutes now or I’m gonna have to do this again in October.’
That’s pretty rare for me to pass people in the last mile. I passed one, and it was with maybe 200 meters left in the race—on Boylston—that I caught one more person. That’s when I knew.
— Lindsay Flanagan (@lflanagan242) April 15, 2019
How long have you lived in Colorado and where did you train before that?
I’m in Louisville, it’s about 10 minutes outside of Boulder. I’ve been there for almost two years, it’ll be two years in June.
I was in Seattle for five years [running for the University of Washington] and knew I was ready to go somewhere else. I graduated in June 2014 and moved to D.C. at the end of July, so it was a pretty quick turnaround.
I was in Washington, D.C. for three years. I was [coached by] Isaya Okwiya, with the Mizuno sponsored group out there. I had a great coach and a great team, but I think the east coast was just a little hard for me. I had come from Seattle where things are a little more laidback. It’s just a totally different environment from the east coast. It was kind of hard, but good to see a different part of the country and that helped show, ‘Okay, I did this, now I’m ready to move somewhere a little more remote.’
At the end of 2016, I moved to Colorado Springs. I knew I wanted to train at altitude and that’s where I decided. I actually spent six months in Colorado Springs running and just happened to go to Boulder. I really liked it and I’ve just been here ever since.
When did you start working with Steve Magness?
I’ve been working with Steve Magness for about a year. I had run the World Championships at the end of 2017 and then I knew I needed to make a change. I had some injuries.
I knew I wanted to stay in Colorado, but didn’t necessarily want a coach in Colorado. I talked to a few people who recommended Steve, who coaches a lot of remote runners. I sent him an email explaining my situation, we talked on the phone and it seemed like a good fit.
After I was getting back from my injury, I was just doing my own thing. I wasn’t doing workouts anyway. I figured, I’m gonna get to myself back to a point where I’m healthy and then I’ll reach out to a coach to get some structure.
What’s different about working with Steve and being coached remotely?
Being coached remotely is nice. At this level, you have to be self-motivated and get out the door and get your work done. I’ve never been someone who needs someone out there watching me do it. He’ll send me my training for the week. I’ll take a look at it, do my workouts and then I’ll check in with him, tell him how it goes, send him splits and we talk about it afterwards. It’s pretty laid-back, which is really nice. I try not to stress out about workouts too much.
It’s nice be able to do it on your own schedule. Not having to set an alarm is a luxury. It works well because I’m self motivated and we talk before big races and things like that. It keeps things fun, running shouldn’t be stressful.
Is it ever hard to get out the door?
There’s definitely days when it’s hard, but Boulder is a really great running hub. It’s a really great community so even if I’m not running with people, I’ll see them out there and it’s like we’re all doing it together. It gives you that sense of camaraderie.
Even if it’s just an easy run, [I’ll meet up with people] for the social aspect. Neely [Spence Gracey] lives right down the road from me, so I’m able to link up with her pretty easily.
In D.C. and in college, I never did workouts by myself. There was always somebody to run with. This past year has been the first time I’ve actually done things by myself and at first I was nervous about it. There’s something to be said for doing a workout by yourself, you can run the exact pace you need to, you’re not worried about people around you. It’s definitely been a change and sometimes it’s challenging but overall, I think it’s been working out pretty well.
One of those workouts where it’s so cold & damp you can’t even see your watch due to the huge icicles that have formed on your 👀..essentially turning you into a human popsicle..#iLOVEEEwinter #🥶🥶 pic.twitter.com/74WcdFqRZN
— Lindsay Flanagan (@lflanagan242) February 6, 2019
Do you see this as being your long-term training situation?
I worked with Steve for my last marathon, after having a rough world championships, and I think the goal for that one was to get to the starting line healthy. I wouldn’t say I was under-trained but we were pretty cautious. This time around, I was able to add more miles and do more workouts. I don’t think we’ve found the exact formula but we’re getting there.
Have you ever met in person?
No, which is really funny! That happened with my agent [Josh Cox]—we talked a lot and I felt like I knew him but we didn’t meet until after the fact.
I read that you had stress fractures in your feet in 2017. Did you know going into the London World Championships that you were hurt?
It happened in the summer leading up to Worlds, which was really unfortunate timing because the race was in August. I was cross-training a couple hours a day, which aerobically, I was fine but if you haven’t done that pounding on the ground, it’s definitely going to impact your race. I had a pretty rough race at Worlds. All things considered, I’m happy I did it and it was tough but I learned a lot from it.
Did you think about giving up your spot at Worlds?
It definitely crossed my mind, but by the time the injury happened, it was a little too late to give the spot away. I don’t think it would have given an alternate enough time to really consider running the race because it was just a few weeks out. I just got through it but I hope I have another opportunity to redeem myself at a world championships.
— Lindsay Flanagan (@lflanagan242) June 9, 2017
What was your longest run before Worlds?
Maybe three or four miles the week of. Which is not ideal! I did what I could.
What was your mindset like?
I knew, aerobically, I had done so much work on the Elliptigo and in the pool. I knew I was in decent shape aerobically but the big concern was, I hadn’t even walked that much.
I have a lot of lifetime miles in my legs. I was okay for halfway. I got through the half marathon mark and the last 10K, that really felt like I was walking. I had some eight minute miles in there. You train just as much for this as anybody else, just not in the same way. I knew I had to finish it. It’s an experience you’re not gonna get back so you just want to make the most of it.
What do you think it will take to make the Olympic team next year?
I think it’s going to be really interesting with the new standard. I think people are going to rise to the occasion and we’re gonna see a lot of fast times this year and people are gonna get their qualifiers at World Majors.
I know Atlanta is gonna be tough; from what I’ve heard, it’s pretty hilly. I think people are underestimating us women a little bit by saying people aren’t going to run fast on that course. I mean, we saw people run fast at Boston, which is not historically that fast of a course. I think it’s gonna take running under 2:29:30 on the day. I think you’re gonna have to run 2:27. Even though it’s a hard course, people are going to be well-prepared.
Now that you have your Olympic qualifier, how does that affect what races you’re going to do this year?
We didn’t think too much past this one because this was such a big focus and it was going impact so much if you got the standard. Now that I have it, I’m not sure if I will run a marathon. It could be fun to switch gears and do some shorter things. A lot of times we forget that if you can run faster in the half or the 10K, that will help you in the marathon.
Did you always want to do the marathon?
College is funny because it only goes up to 10K and I always wanted to run a little bit longer. I knew I wanted to do half marathons and things like that. I did my first marathon in Houston in 2015 and ran decently and thought, ‘Hey, this is something I want to continue pursuing.’
I read that you’re unsponsored. Is that still the case?
No, I’m not [sponsored]. I think for awhile it was a stressful thing trying to make ends meet and train. It was kind of wearing on me. I had to remember why I was running. You’re not running for the sponsorship, you’re running to see how good you can be. It’s going to work out when it’s supposed to. And I’m hoping now is the time it’s supposed to. That would be very helpful to have that. Fingers crossed that works itself out.
What are your other sources of income besides prize money from racing?
I’ve been doing online coaching. It’s nice to take a break from thinking about your own training and think about somebody else’s. Boulder is not a cheap place to live. It definitely required a second supplemental income. Race money and coaching is how things are going right now. I’ve made it work. I can keep making it work. But I know that getting some support would be really beneficial, too.
I have between 10 and 15 people that I’m coaching [at a given time]. It’s a pretty manageable number. They all really enjoy running, so it’s really fun. Their joy makes me happy. It’s a good thing to have.
My sister [Kaylee, who also ran for the University of Washington] lives with me. She works for a company called Stryd—they make this power meter pod, which I trained with for Boston—and is also balancing her running. We’re able to match up some shorter easy runs when she’s not at work.
Do you come from a running family?
It’s funny, we don’t. We swam growing up all through high school, ages 6 to 16, and my brothers all swam competitively, too. I ran indoor track in high school and thought, ‘wow, I’m really good at this running thing,’ so I made the switch and my sister made the switch and we’re the only ones.
My favorite text was right after Boston. My brother texted me like, ‘Man, that looked kind of hard.’ They’re like a fun outside perspective so I can teach them a little bit about it. They definitely think I’m a little wacky.
In the training log you compiled for PodiumRunner, you were hitting 100 mile weeks. Is that typical for you?
The first time I ran 2:29, I was only running 70–80 miles. It was pretty low and I knew it was important to get the mileage up. I’ve been at 100–110 since December, which for me was a huge consistent block. I know some people run a lot more, like 120, 130 and eventually, that’s something I’ll get up to, but I have to remember I’m only 28. I don’t want to overdo it now because what am I going to be running in my mid-30s, 150 miles? Let’s take our time to get there, there’s really no rush. I just want to stay healthy. If you can have consistent training, that’s really huge.
What are your long term goals?
The main goal is to see how good I can be. I definitely want to make more world championship teams and another big goal is the 2020 Olympics. But I also know I’m going to be doing this for awhile and I don’t see why I won’t be at the next Olympic Trials and the next one and just keep trying to get myself to the Olympics.
There have been a lot of big moments in American women’s marathoning the past few years. Are there any that stand out for you and have really inspired you?
Shalane winning New York was huge because she had been out with the injury in her back. Des in Boston, I remember seeing her the fall before and she was not really enjoying running. We ran the Manchester Road Race together and she was down. She was in a slump. Then she wins Boston six months later. Everyone goes through these hard moments but bounce back and have huge breakthroughs.