With grit, dedication and a victory yell of F*ck yes, Shalane Flanagan became the first American woman to win the New York City Marathon since 1977. Though we loved every second of Flanagan’s riveting 2:26:53 marathon win, we really loved that it was a story of redemption: in April, a fracture forced Flanagan to withdraw from the Boston Marathon, her hometown race where she had intended to not only enter in 2017, but win.
This in just one in a series of loops and whirls in Flanagan’s rollercoaster of a career. Seeing her rise in the face of adversity is a reminder to stick it out, even when it seems impossible–good things are always ahead.
Shalane Flanagan’s Career Highlights
1981: Born to Cheryl Treworgy, a former marathon world record holder, and Steve Flanagan, a world team cross-country runner.
1996-2000: Raced on the track team at Marblehead High School in Marblehead, Massachusetts. “She just seemed to win everything that she was in. State titles, national championship and then obviously going to college,” track coach Mike Lavender told CBS Boston. “She was always a super respectful kid, very good student, all-around great person.”
2002 and 2003: Won back-to-back cross-country NCAA titles while running for The University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill.
2004: After graduating from UNC with a degree in history, Flanagan officially became a professional runner, entering and winning the 2004 USA Cross-Country Championship. In her debut at the IAAF World Championship, Flanagan placed 14th.
2004: Flanagan made her Olympic debut at Athens in the 5,000-meter race, where she finished a disappointing 11th place in her heat and vowed to return to the Games in 2008.
2006: After running the 5,000-meter world championship race in Helsinki, Flanagan began to experience foot pain that worsened with running. Multiple doctors failed to diagnose the cause, leading to worsening pain and an inability to run. A fourth doctor suspected a tendon tear and scheduled a surgical repair; minutes before surgery, he took a standing X-ray, which revealed an extra bone in Flanagan’s foot–the cause of Flanagan’s pain. After surgically removing the bone, Flanagan underwent three months of intensive rehabilitation.
2007: In her first race in 17 months, Flanagan set two American records: for the indoor 3,000-meter race with a time of 8:33.25, and the 5,000-meter race in 14:44.80. “I thought I had a bad foot, and that’s the name of the game in running,” Flanagan said after the race. “I wasn’t discouraged, just disappointed. I felt helpless. But it helped me grow up, so it was a blessing in disguise.”
2008: Shortly before the 10,000-meter finals at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Flanagan was stricken with a case of food poisoning. Despite dehydration, Flanagan lined up for the race–in 80-degree temperatures and humidity. She walked away with a new American record of 30:22.22, plus a bronze medal (that was later upgraded to silver after the second-place finisher tested positive for a banned substance).
2009: Flanagan announced her intent to step up to longer distances. In a 2016 interview, Flanagan said it was her destiny: “I think I felt a sense of closure after I medaled in Beijing. I had exceeded my dreams; I got an Olympic medal. I felt like I wasn’t going to ever top that moment. It’s tough because I think a lot of athletes like to chase, thinking, ‘I can always up that.’ I knew in my heart that that was the best I was going to be on that day. So, to inspire myself and tackle something different, I would do the marathon. I felt like it was calling me.”
2010: In her debut half marathon in Houston, Flanagan set a course record of 1:09:41.
2010: Buoyed by her success in Houston, Flanagan entered the 2010 New York City Marathon. In her first attempt at the distance, Flanagan ran a 2:28:40 to take second place, the best finish for an American woman in nearly 20 years.
2012: In only her second marathon, Flanagan won the 2012 Olympic Trials event in 2:25:38, breaking the record set by her mother in 1971.
2012: Flanagan placed 10th at the 2012 Olympic Games in London with a time of 2:25:51.
2013: In her Boston Marathon debut, Flanagan ran a 2:27:08 on her hometown course to take fourth place.
2014: Glimpses of Flanagan’s winning future were evident at the 2014 Boston Marathon, where she led for the majority of the race before being passed in the final miles. Her final time, 2:22:02, was the fastest time set by an American woman at the event.
2016: In her fourth Olympic appearance in Rio, Flanagan placed sixth with a time of 2:25:26.
Early 2017: Flanagan withdrew from the 2017 Boston Marathon in April, citing a fracture in her lower back brought on by treadmill running. “I had to, for sure, mourn the loss of a dream of running Boston again,” Flanagan said in an interview on The Morning Shakeout. “It was what got me so excited to start training again after Rio, and it’s all I could think about throughout the whole fall and winter as I was preparing and getting back in shape. Boston means everything to me, essentially. When I got injured, I just was in shock that it would happen at this point in time.”
Fall 2017: Flanagan entered the 2017 New York City Marathon, hinting it might be her final race before retiring from professional running. With 3 miles to go in the race, Flanagan pulled ahead of three-time defending champion Mary Keitany of Kenya, finishing in 2:26:53 to become the first U.S. woman to win the NYC marathon in 40 years. In a post-race press-conference, Flanagan said, “I’ve dreamed of a moment like this since I was a little girl.”