After over-taining for London, Flangan is hoping less is more
On London disappointment: “When it came down to fighting and putting forth a really big effort, I just don’t think it was in our legs. It’s not that it wasn’t in our hearts – we were just too fatigued.”
by Robert Johnson, LetsRun.com
April 11, 2013
Early this morning (9:25 am ET), thanks to the people at Gatorade who are trying to get the word out that they’ve re-branded their products designed specifically for endurance athletes with a new look, feel,and much easier to understand moniker of “Gatorade Endurance,” I caught up via phone with Shalane Flanagan for ten minutes before she hopped on a plane to get to Boston where she’ll be the leading American entrant on Monday at the 117th running of the Boston Marathon. An American hasn’t won in Boston since before Boston started offering prize money, 1985 (Boston first offered prize money in 1986), and if Shalane wins on Monday, it will be absolutely HUGE – an astronomically bigger media event than it normally would be when a 28-year streak of futility ends because Flanagan was a Massachusetts high school star at Marblehead.
When reading race profiles and previews, one thing I think people forget is that the stars of the sport are just people like you or me. If I was going to use one word to describe the sentiment I had after the ten minutes with Flanagan on the phone, the one word I’d use is “real”.
Like anyone who has trained really hard for a marathon and had many encouraging signs along the way (half marathon personal best, strong 10,000 on the track), she obviously is very excited but also like anyone who has ever run a marathon she is antsy, nervous, even a little superstitious. You train for six months for a single event – and in some ways Boston represents a lifetime of training – and all of the human emotions are there – hence the beauty of the marathon.
Flanagan said she learned a lot from her 2012 London Olympic disappointment. After earning a bronze medal in the 10,000 at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Flanagan was tenth in the London Olympic marathon despite putting in eight weeks in the 120-125 miles per week range. Looking back, Flanagan thinks that was too much. Having figured out “kind of where I tap out,” she has tried to train smarter, not harder for Boston – maxing out at ‘only’ 116-117.
Without further ado, my interview with Shalane. We apologize but our last question didn’t get answered in full as we had a technical problem with the LetsRun.com office phone and when we called back Flanagan was on the plane. We’ll try to get the answer in the near future.
LetsRun.com (LRC): I’ve read a lot of pre-race articles in the last week or so where you seem very confident (In USA Today on Wednesday, Shalane said, “If I ran 2:22 on Monday but was third, it would be a nice consolation prize but it’s not the point of what I do.”). You recently ran 31 flat for 10,000 and your coach Jerry Schumacher said that was more of a tempo run. Would you say this is the best shape you’ve ever been in?
Shalane Flanagan (SF): (This year), I think I’ve had three races to validate my fitness. I’ve been pretty fit in some other buildups but no one is there to see the fitness as it’s just Kara (Goucher), Jerry and I witnessing some of the workouts. Some of these (races) were just glorified good hard workouts to compliment the marathon, but I’ve had fun doing that (the races). It’s kind of nice to not be up in the mountains, hiding away. It’s fun to race it up to do some races to boost the confidence and test ourselves in a really fun environment.
I don’t know if I’m in the best shape but I certainly feel really good. This is the best I’ve felt given the efforts in my training. I don’t know if it’s that the accumulation of all the strength work I’ve done under Jerry for the past four years is finally coming to fruition or if it’s because we’ve dialed back the training a little bit and that’s what making the difference, but it’s by far the best I’ve felt in a marathon buildup. It just leaves me excited about the potential on Monday because I feel good and am mentally in a good place and feeling ready to race.
LRC: Have you done any signature workouts? I read before London you did 16 miles at 5:22 pace. Have you done any race simulators like that?
SF: We did a pretty creative workout this year- we had never done it before. We did 13 miles in the morning and then 13 miles in the afternoon to kind of simulate the marathon. Not all of it was at marathon pace but it was pretty good up-tempo running at altitude, it’s all relative (anyway). That was kind of a fun workout and it was something I went into thinking, “Oh man, this could be really ugly and not feel so good,” but I felt like it was a really good simulator as to what I’m going to experience on Monday where you have to run pretty hard while tired.
LRC: You say you haven’t been as high in your mileage and intensity. I read you’ve been at 90 to 95%, but I read one thing, and maybe I didn’t read it correctly, but it still said you still ran 116-117 miles a week. Has it really been that high and if so, how high have you been in the past?
SF: I would say in my max training – the most I’ve ever put in for a buildup was for London (last year at the 2012 Olympics). Kara and I probably strung together – I’d have to look back to be sure – almost like eight weeks at 120 to 125 (miles per week). That was really impressive (Flanagan said with a laugh).
But I think it left both of us a little bit fatigued when we actually got to London. We learned a lot from that experience and felt like we didn’t have as much to give on race day so I felt like I needed to scale back just a hair so I maxed out (this time) at 116-117 like you said, but I’ve probably averaged closer to like 110 and I actually built in a few days off. I also actually did fewer workouts – we only did two workouts a week as compared to three – and I scaled back close to 10 miles (per week) some weeks as compared to my London buildup.
I did a little bit less, but like I said I don’t know if it’s the cumulative effect of all the hard work I’ve done previously but this less approach – and it’s not by much just a little bit – has allowed me to just give more in my workouts and I think if anything that has yielded some of the great results.
LRC: Wow. No need to apologize. That seems like a lot to me and I was a want-to-be marathoner myself. Ok, a followup that I’ve got to ask you. Are you a little bit superstitious? Do you realize this is the 117th running of the Boston marathon and you got up to 117 miles. I was wondering if there is any significance in that.
SF: (Laughs) I didn’t really think about that but I am superstitions about certain things. My favorite number is eight so that’s a good sign if I’m on the eighth floor of a hotel – or if it’s my room number. It’s really kind of pathetic but I always look at my bib to see if it has an eight in and in Beijing I had two eights and the Chinese love the number eight (LetsRun.com would also point out that she won her Olympic medal in the year 2008). So that is one my superstitions.
And then I have a lucky Navy Seal charm that I always bring with me in my backpack. Those are my superstitions so the (117) was not one of them but maybe it will be (laughs).
LRC Editor’s note: We checked and unfortunately the Boston organizers didn’t give Flanagan bib number 8, she is F10.
LRC: You talked about the London Olympics. Do you think you were off your game or was the competition just that good?
SF: For sure, it was the greatest Olympic marathon assembled given the women’s PRs that were in the race. There were a handful of women running 2:19-2:20 so I’m not going to knock the competition by any means.
But knowing what Kara, Jerry and I knew about our buildup and what we’d been doing, I don’t think we maximized our potential on that day. I think we left a little bit too much in the training. When it came down to fighting and putting forth a really big effort, I just don’t think it was in our legs. It’s not that it wasn’t in our hearts – we were just too fatigued.
I could almost feel it in the buildup. I’m pretty intuitive and know my body pretty well. I felt like I was forcing some of the workouts to make them phenomenal – to make them great – instead of just letting them kind of come to me which I feel like I’m doing right now. (Now) I don’t force the workout – I just let it come to me and it’s natural.
I just feel like during the London buildup there were times when I was working too hard for the effort. It was a good learning lesson. We definitely found out where I kind of tap out, and 120 to 125 is a lot for me. It’s not that I won’t go back to that but I feel I’ve learned I have to cycle in kind of higher mileage and I can’t just chip away at it for 8 to 10 weeks like I did.
LRC: Let’s talk about this week specifically. When I was running marathons, I used to hate tapering. I just felt so weird barely running. How much do you run this week. Today is Thursday, the race is Monday. This would be the day – three days before the race – that I’d do my last light workout. Are you going to do something today? Just take me through the specifics of this week.
SF: I’m actually at the airport right now about to fly to Boston. Typically we would have done the last workout today but due to the travel schedule and obligations, we actually did our last workout yesterday. I’ll probably just end up taking today off – maybe just go for a walk later to kind of flush the legs. And then probably just some strides on Saturday.
Every build-up has been a little bit different. I just kind of listen to my body. If I feel like I’m getting a little stir crazy, I’ll still get out and do some light shakeouts.
It is a weird time. I’ve told Jerry that I feel funky and I think some it is because I’m coming out of altitude – sometimes you can feel a little funky (after being at altitude). Just on top of that, I’ve had surges of energy where I want to do a million things like re-organize my closet and then there are times when I’m like, ‘Man I’m so tired, I shouldn’t be so tired.’ And then at the same time, I feel like I could go run forever. (Certainly) a lot of contradictions.I feel like I’m a basket case all over the place.
I’ve just learned to accept it’s part of the process but it’s amazing how the ego gets so used to positive reinforcement with workouts and if I don’t have a hard workout within a few days of a hard race it just seems weird. I need that kind of gratification of a workout to confirm I’m fit but I know I’m fit so I listen to Jerry and Kara calms me down. We all keep each other calm so I’m handling it decently well. I think in the past I’ve actually been worse about it. I think I’ve come to learn to expect the quirkiness.
LRC: A lot of people want to know about your in race strategy for fluids and fueling. The people at LetsRun.com are pretty hard core but they may even be a bit confused as there are a lot of Gatorade products out there – the regular Gatorade, the diet Gatorade (G2), the whole endurance stuff for running. My question is what do you use on a daily basis – if you are just going out for a run, and then what are you going to use for the race.
(LRC Editor’s note: That was going to be the last question of the interview as Flanagan’s plane was about to leave, but our phone cut out. Robert was taping the call and Flanagan could still hear him but all he could hear was shrieking static. If anyone knows why the IP based phone has been doing this consistently after ten minutes of calls the last week, please email us.)
We should be able to get this question answered as we emailed it to her and also the Boston press conference is tomorrow)
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