By Jonathan Gault
October 10, 2017
Shalane Flanagan and Meb Keflezighi are two of the most accomplished athletes in the history of American distance running. Each has made four Olympic teams, and each owns an Olympic silver medal, Flanagan from the 10,000 meters in 2008 and Keflezighi from the marathon in 2004. But Flanagan and Keflezighi are also fans of the sport, and despite an early start, both of the West Coast-based athletes got up early on Sunday morning to watch the 2017 Bank of America Chicago Marathon, which began at 5:30 a.m. Pacific Time.
The race featured a couple of brilliant performances from Americans representing the Nike Oregon Project as Galen Rupp won the men’s race in 2:09:20 while Jordan Hasay ran the second-fastest time ever by an American woman (2:20:57; Flanagan is #3 on the list at 2:21:14). However, like many fans of American running, Flanagan and Keflezighi did not know how to feel in the aftermath of the race. The Nike Oregon Project and its coach, Alberto Salazar, has been under investigation by USADA for the past two years. In 2015, a BBC/ProPublica report alleged Salazar violated anti-doping rules by experimenting with testosterone and encouraging the use of prescription medication for performance benefits. In May 2017, Flotrack published a leaked interim version of a USADA report to the Texas Medical Board that provided more details on Salazar’s attempt to maximize performance gains through the use of prescription drugs and also claimed that it was “highly likely” that six NOP athletes, including Rupp, violated anti-doping rules.
Salazar and Rupp have denied the charges, stating repeatedly that they have not broken any rules. Neither Salazar, Rupp, nor any other member of the NOP has been charged or sanctioned by any governing body. But because USADA has yet to release the results of its investigation, many people still have questions about Salazar and the NOP. Count Keflezighi and Flanagan among them.
“That program, the NOP has been under investigation for the last two years,” Flanagan said in a conference call with reporters ahead of November 5’s TCS New York City Marathon, which Flanagan and Keflezighi will run. “So as a fan of my own sport, it’s hard to have full excitement and faith when you don’t know all the facts yet. There’s still an investigation going on so it’s hard to truly and genuinely get excited about the performances that I’m watching.
“And I think it’s really important to consider who you associate with. We don’t get to choose our parents, but we certainly get to choose our friends and our coaches and who we want to include in our circle and put our faith and our trust in. I think it’s really important to think about who you include in your professional circle in this sport, and I think that who you choose to allow in says a lot about you.”
When asked for his thoughts on Chicago, Keflezighi praised the performances of Rupp and Hasay.
“I’m happy for Galen and Alberto, but there’s things that are still going on so it’s hard to comprehend,” Keflezighi said. “I’m [inaudible] that he won and I know she ran also, I think 2:20:57 so that’s amazing, especially in their second marathon and fourth marathon. So they achieved a lot.”
When he was asked to expand on his comment of “things that are still going on,” Keflezighi responded thusly.
“Well that’s the same thing you know. I’m pretty sure you’ve done your homework. There’s a lot of speculation going on and I would love to know what’s going on and how far it’s gotten. There’s allegations going on, so that’s what it is.”
Flanagan says training for New York has gone “exceptionally well”
Looking ahead to next month, Flanagan is excited to return to the Big Apple for her first New York City Marathon since her debut in 2010. In that race, Flanagan finished just behind champion Edna Kiplagat and just ahead of third placer Mary Keitany. Both Kiplagat (Boston) and Keitany (London) have already won major marathons in 2017 and both will return to New York to face Flanagan again in November.
“I’m very much motivated every day thinking about those two women and how I can possibly beat them,” Flanagan said. “You know on paper, it looks like a really huge task. But as you know, I have beaten both of them at various times and so I take confidence in that.”
Flanagan has not run a marathon since placing sixth at the Olympics in Rio, the highest finish by an American woman since Deena Kastor‘s bronze in 2004. Flanagan was entered in April’s Boston Marathon but was forced to withdraw with a back injury, the first major injury of her career. But after taking 10 weeks off, including a vacation with her foster daughters to Hawaii, she said that she feels rejuvenated and “better than I have in a long time.” She also said at one point, “My training has gone exceptionally well.”
“I think there was a point probably of some overtraining over the last couple years [and] not really identifying it,” Flanagan said. “It’s easy to just kind of set your sights on one goal after another if you have nothing to stop you from doing it, like your body. It’s easy to just keep going and not give it the appropriate rest. So in a way, the 10 weeks off that I had this winter, I really do think was a blessing.”
This will be marathon #10 for the 36-year-old Flanagan, and she said she feels a sense of urgency as she chases the first major marathon victory for an American woman since Deena Kastor won London in 2006. But that’s normal.
“I think I’ve always had a sense of urgency when it comes to the marathon because if you can arrive at the start line healthy and fit, I really put pressure on myself to deliver because it’s rare to have both of those on the same day,” Flanagan said.
And even though Flanagan is closer to 40 than 30, she says that she believes she has yet to decline as a runner.
“I am 36, but what’s amazing is for some reason, I have over the past few years, no decline yet, no decay in my speed or endurance,” Flangan said. “This summer [I was] able to break 15:00 in the 5k, which a lot of young women would be very happy to do and I didn’t really put a ton of effort into that.”
“No decline” isn’t quite accurate. This summer, Flanagan finished 4th at USAs in the 10,000, which brought an end to one of the most impressive streaks in U.S. track and field: Flanagan’s 10 straight Olympic/World teams from 2004 through 2016. She’s never going to run 14:44 or 30:22 again. But the fact that Flanagan, at 35, could come within one spot of making another national team in a deep year after an extremely limited buildup coming off her back injury, shows that she’s got plenty left in the tank, and she’s eager to use it in New York. She spent the past five weeks at altitude in Mammoth Lakes, California, and early in that stint she set a lifetime mileage PR with a couple of 130-mile weeks.
“I’ve learned over the past couple years that at the end of the marathon, what’s not failing me is my cardiovascular system, it’s definitely my legs,” Flanagan said. “So I was very much trying to callous my legs to the pounding. New York is a really difficult course and so I’m hoping that those really big miles that I put in will pay off for me on November 5.”
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