Is Shalane Flanagan the Fastest American Ever?
The test: The Berlin Marathon, where she aims to set a new American record.
For exclusive access to all of our fitness, gear, adventure, and travel stories, plus discounts on trips, events, and gear, sign up for Outside+ today and save 20 percent.
It’s no secret that Shalane Flanagan will try to become the fastest American woman ever to run a marathon this Sunday at the Berlin Marathon.
She said so.
But that means the Massachusetts native will have to chop at least 2 minutes and 26 seconds off her personal best and run faster than 5:19 minutes (and change) per mile to surpass Deena Kastor’s eight-year-old mark of 2:19.36 set in London.
To that end, Flanagan’s coach (Jerry Schumacher) and Kastor’s husband (Andrew) had a long phone conversation this spring about what it took for Kastor to slay the record.
The timing was no coincidence. At the 2014 Boston Marathon, Flanagan was on sub-2:19 pace through the halfway mark, only to get dropped, place seventh, and inadvertently pace the top four finishers to break the old course record. Her potential was clear.
And now, Flanagan has seen Kastor’s playbook. But Kastor said the two women haven’t discussed the record directly. If they had, Flanagan might have picked up some additional gems.
Keep Things Low-Key
“I think it’s great that Shalane put it out there,” Kastor said but “I don’t think I made a big deal about it. It was more a private goal, and what I worked for in practices.”
Treat Your Pacesetters Well
Two men will pace Flanagan on Sunday. In 2006, Kastor also had two male pacers – sort of. “I had a training partner run with me till about 20 miles, and stop,” she said. “Then there was a Kenyan hired by the race organizers but he didn’t have a watch on and was throwing up right before the 40K where my last water bottle was. So I forewent my water bottle and gave it to him because I could tell it was dehydration. He was puking green bile on my shoe.”
Run Like You’re Racing
“I didn’t want it to be just a monotonous march of clicking off miles,” Kastor said. “The pacesetters let me take charge in the beginning and I liked that because I was in a race and I needed to remember that. As soon as that last woman, Susan Chepkemei from Kenya, dropped off, the two guys came up. Then one dropped off, and the one without the watch carried me till probably about 24 miles.”
…and Race to Win
Kastor broke the American record for the first time in 2003, in London, “but I was third place,” she said. “In 2004, after the Olympic [marathon bronze] medal, I thought, you know what? I have the American record and I have an Olympic medal, but I’ve never won a damn race! Then my goal was to try to win a major marathon. In 2005 in Chicago I did. Since I was still in really good shape, I decided in 2006 to try to lower that record so it could stand a little bit longer. Well, it probably wasn’t my [exact] intention, it’s just that: Wow! I’m in really good shape. I want to run faster than I have before.”
Like Kastor, Flanagan has an Olympic bronze, in 10,000 meters, from 2008. Technically, Flanagan also has an American record in the marathon because track and field’s international governing body recently split women’s marathon records into two lists: times achieved in all-female races, and times set in mixed-gender marathons. USA Track and Field followed suit, so Flanagan holds the single-sex American record from her triumph at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials—although it is not her fastest time.
Know it Won’t Last
“Of course, for selfish reasons, I’d like my [marathon] record to stand longer. But the sport needs records to be broken. It’s just the insatiable nature of the sport—of wanting to continue to improve and achieve more.” Last weekend, Kastor set a masters world record in the half marathon (1:09:36) at age 41.