The first American woman to win the New York City Marathon in 40 years is a role model whether you run or not.
Who doesn’t want to follow in Shalane Flanagan’s footsteps?
The four-time Olympian became the first American woman to win the New York City Marathon in 40 years on Sunday, finishing in a blistering 2:26:53 and beating three-time NYC winner Mary Keitany.
And this victory came after a long road of frustrations and disappointments over the past decade – yet she knew she just had to keep working to break through the wall and get a major win on her belt. So here’s seven life lessons from Flanagan, 36, that go beyond marathoning, which can help the rest of us follow her path to success.
Take setbacks in stride. Until Sunday, winning a World Marathon Major like NYC kept slipping away. She won the 2008 and 2012 U.S. Marathon Olympic Trials, but failed to clinch victory in the Games. She ran the Boston Marathon in 2014 faster than any American woman before her, but came in seventh place in the fastest field in Boston history. And she had to withdraw from this year’s Boston Marathon with a back injury. “I just kept telling myself that there’s going to be delayed gratification and a moment down the road that would make up for it,” she told Runner’s World. She was right.
Self care pays off in the long run. She took 10 weeks off from running this year to tend that lower back injury. She spent time with her daughters, went on her first vacation in seven years (to Kauai), worked on her second cookbook and did some broadcasting. Taking that time to heal herself gave her fresh legs for her incredible finish Sunday. “My body clearly needed it, and in those 10 weeks, I got to explore other things in my life that were really rewarding in a variety of ways,” she told USA Today.
Age doesn’t slow you down. Research shows that the “golden age” for running your fastest marathon is 26 for men, and 29 for women. Well, Flanagan is 36, and the second and third place women’s finishers Mary Keitany and Mamitu Daska are 35 and 34, respectively. The younger runners ate their dust.
But you have to put in the work. Most amateur marathoners train for four to six months to finish the 26.2-mile race, which includes giving up your Friday and Saturday nights out to wake up at dawn to do long runs up to 20 miles. That’s dedication all right – but Flanagan has been working for seven years to condition herself to win this race. “It means a lot to me, to my family—and hopefully inspires the next generation of American women to just be patient. It took me seven years to do this. It took a lot of work for just this one moment,” she told Runner’s World.
Keep your eyes on the prize. Flanagan was all business for 26 miles – and didn’t even look over her shoulder once during the last two miles to see how close her competitors were behind her. She stayed focused on her goal ahead, pumping her arms and driving her legs forward toward the finish line – and she won. You don’t want to celebrate prematurely and have someone who’s more dedicated steal your victory – like what happened to this cocky Oregon runner:
Be a good sport. Flanagan won graciously, turning around and hugging second place finisher (and three-time NYC Marathon winner, herself) Keitany before taking a short victory lap to thank the crowd. Of course, she knows something about tough finishes: During the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials last year, Flanagan’s training partner Amy Cragg finished first – but Cragg waited for Flanagan, and dramatically caught her friend/competitor as she collapsed crossing the finish line. The photo of Cragg holding Flanagan up has become an iconic image of good sportsmanship.
Savor your milestones. Sure, Flanagan was all work during most of the marathon – but she covered her face and broke into tears as she won. She hugged her family in the stands. And she wrapped the American flag around her shoulders and did a short victory lap in front of the finish line crowd. What’s the point of all your hard work if you don’t savor your success at the end? “I’ve dreamed of a moment like this since I was a little girl,” Flanagan told Runner’s World. And it showed.
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