By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
EUGENE, ORE. (23-Jun) — In almost exactly a one year span beginning in April, 2014, Olympic 10,000m bronze medalist Shalane Flanagan put in months of 100-mile weeks and competed successfully at three high level marathons. Running Boston twice, and Berlin in between last September, she lowered her personal best to 2:21:14, making her the second fastest American ever behind Deena Kastor. She stands alone as America’s #1 female marathoner now.
But this summer, Flanagan is turning her attention back to the track, if only briefly. On Thursday night, the 33 year-old who lives and trains in Portland, Ore., will attempt to win her fourth national 10,000m title here at historic Hayward Field at the University of Oregon, the same oval where she won the 2008 Olympic Trials by three seconds in a thrilling duel over Kara Goucher. She has since won the national 10,000m crown two more times, in 2011 and 2013.
“I have phenomenal memories,” Flanagan told Race Results Weekly in a telephone interview from Portland today. “The 2008 Olympic Trials were certainly a highlight of my career. Now it’s nice that I can literally drive down from Portland and compete.”
For the first time, Flanagan won’t be entering the American championships at 10,000m as the favorite. While she stepped away from the track, compatriot Molly Huddle has taken the top spot among Americans. Huddle, 30, who has broken the national 5000m record twice, ran the second-fastest 10,000m time in the world in 2014 (30:47.59). She’ll be racing here along with newly-crowned NCAA 5000m champion Emily Sisson (who trains with Huddle), and rising star Emily Infeld (who trains with Flanagan).
“I think it’s just kind of stamping a legacy,” Flanagan explained of her motivation to come back to the track this summer. “It’s huge to win. I don’t necessarily think of myself as a favorite. I come from a different fitness and background. I’ve run three marathons in a row without a track season. The marathon has become more of my comfort zone. I’m thriving on being more of an underdog in this circumstance. That’s a fun challenge.”
In her favor, Flanagan says, is how fresh she feels from not doing high-mileage marathon training.
“We pretty much tapered and peaked for this,” she said, referring to her Nike Bowerman Track Club coach, Jerry Schumacher. “We’re confident but not overly confident,” she continued. “I can’t remember the time I’ve felt this fresh. I’m embracing the taper, but I’m almost de-training. It’s weird.”
Flanagan relishes a good race, and she’s keen to line up against Huddle. In 10,000m track races, the pair have met four times during their careers, from 2008 through 2011, and Flanagan has beaten Huddle on each occasion. Although Flanagan has a commanding 19-2 record against Huddle at all distances, according to respected statitiscal service Tilastopja Oy, Huddle’s two wins came in their last two meetings, both in 2013.
“Molly has, over the last couple of years, has established herself as a fabulous track runner and road runner and has really dominated the 5-K and 10-K,” Flanagan said. “Meeting in the 10-K will be a phenomenal race. I think the fans can expect to see four good women make it an exciting race.”
Flanagan is also entered in Sunday morning’s 5000m final, but she’s not focused on that race like she is on the 10,000m, she said.
“The first objective is to qualify in the 10-K,” she said. “I haven’t thought that much after that. Depending on how I recover, then put in a good, solid effort (in the 5000m). “It’s just a great stage to perform on. I haven’t run on the track much the last few years. Instead of going to Europe, I’d rather perform on the U.S. stage.”
After competing here, Flanagan will head to Atlanta on July 4, to compete for the American team at the first Peachtree Cup at the Atlanta Journal Constitution Peachtree Road Race 10-K. She called that race a “bucket list” event that she always wanted to do.
Assuming she makes the team for Beijing, Flanagan said she’ll run a fall season of races focused on shorter distances so she can be fresh headed into marathon training for the USA Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles next February. She’s the defending champion, and hopes to make her fourth Olympic team.
“The last Trials, that was a great race for me,” Flanagan recalled of her Trials record 2:25:38 in Houston. “I felt like I executed my plan very well.” She continued: “Just being in my fourth Olympics would be something I’d like to have in my story book.”