Running with Shalane

Shalane Flanagan pictured winning the High Performance section of the Women's 10,000m at the 2017  Portland Track Festival  in her typical dominating style. 

Shalane Flanagan pictured winning the High Performance section of the Women's 10,000m at the 2017 Portland Track Festival in her typical dominating style. 

In 2013 I struck up a friendship with Shalane Flanagan and her husband, Steve Edwards. They are wonderful people. Kind, warm, generous. I am a better man for the relationship. I hope they feel similar. We've since fallen out of touch, both of us moving on with our lives and careers.

During that time I'd occasionally run with Shalane and on the rarer occurrence, pace her in workouts. She mostly worked out alone. There were, and still are, few women capable of keeping up with her. 

In my opinion, Shalane is the G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time). The best American distance runner ever. Not the best woman. The best US runner ever — no matter the gender. It was a privilege to know her as a friend. And an even greater gift to learn directly from her. She taught me more about high performance running than any other teacher I've ever had. 

I'll never forget a workout Jerry Schumacher, her coach, roped me into running with her. It was a couple of weeks before the USATF Outdoor Championships. Shalane was preparing to win another US title in the 10,000m. She and Jerry wanted a hard test. They decided on a 1600m-1200m-800m-400m cutdown session. The pace assignments were 70-69/400m for the 1600m cutting down to as fast as possible on the final 400m. 

I can't find the splits, most likely I was too exhausted afterward to record them.

If memory serves, the first 1600m was completed in 4:35. To put that in perspective, her time would have been good for about Top-25 in 2013 for all US women 1 Mile performances. But, that rep was really a warm up. The real fireworks forthcoming.

Shalane, being Shalane, blitzed the 1200m and 800m reps, completing them faster than prescribed. She set off to jog a recovery lap before the final 400, but I couldn't join. I wasn't in the best shape back then, and at that point in the session I was fried, but didn't say anything. I needed to walk, collect myself, and rally to be of use to Shalane.

Thankfully Jerry called for the final 400m rep to be executed with control. He was convinced she was good to go and didn't want to get greedy. I secretly welcomed his mercy. He told us, "No faster than 65 for this. OK?" We both nodded. 

The first 200m came in 33 seconds. I glanced back to make sure she was on my shoulder. She was. Then I heard, "Marcus, move your ass. Go f&%king faster — now!" When the G.O.A.T. gives a command, you obey. 

I accelerated as quickly as I could to running at full throttle. She was still on my hip. We whipped around the turn into the home straight. With 50m left, I finally separated, but had no clue. I dared not look back. I was all out.

Running past the line I clicked my watch. 1:02 it read. The final 200m in 29-point for me. Shalane came in at 63-and-change. Her final half lap run in 30 seconds. 

I went down to the track on all fours, my lungs gulping down oxygen. Jerry came over. He said, "Jon, what the hell happened?" He was perplexed why we came through faster than ordered. 

I replied between gasps, "Jerry....she....said....faster." He sighed. Resigned, he replied, "Well I'm glad you're OK. I was worried, I didn't think you'd be able to finish. Impressive work today. Thank you."

Jerry rightfully had no reason to worry about Shalane as two weeks later she won her umpteenth US 10,000m championship by over 30 seconds. I, on the other hand, was sore all over for nearly a week.


Thanks for reading. I'm glad you're here. // jm

Jonathan Marcus