FOREWORD by Shalane Flanagan
When I was young, growing up in Boulder, Colorado, and just outside Boston, I was surrounded by runners and great races like the Boston Marathon. Strangely enough, however, I didn’t actually know a lot about running.
That’s because my parents never talked much about their running careers, or pushed me to start entering races. It’s almost like they didn’t want me to get into running too early in life. They wanted me to discover it naturally, on my own, maybe a few years later. But they totally supported my interest in basketball, swimming, soccer, and all sorts of physical activities.
Looking back, I’m so glad they didn’t encourage me to focus on running too soon. I think this allowed me to build up the passion and momentum I have felt since I turned pro in 2004. It’s taken a lot of hard work and tenacity to win a 10,000-meter bronze medal in the 2008 Olympics, to run the Olympic Marathon in 2012, and to continue pushing my boundaries. In September,
2015, I set a new American record for 10,000 meters on the road.
If my parents had pushed me into running,I don’t know if I would still be exploring my potential and chasing fast performances. I’d probably be injured or burned out. Instead, I’m still excited about my running, still challenged to achieve my best.
I was almost literally raised in a running store. In the early 1980s, my mother and father both worked at the Frank Shorter store in Boulder. It seemed like the center of the running universe. So many famous runners passed through that store. Of course, I didn’t know who they were. I just thought they were friends of my parents, or Frank’s friends, and that everyone wore running
I didn’t know my parents were fast and famous. I thought they just liked to run a lot. One of my mother’s best friends was Lorraine Moller. I didn’t realize she was an Olympian and the 1984 Boston Marathon winner. I just thought of her as my favorite babysitter.
I also didn’t know that my mother, Cheryl, was a one-time world record holder in the marathon. Before she married my father, Steve Flanagan, she had become the first woman to break 2:50 in the marathon. Her name was Cheryl Bridges then, in 1971.
My father wasn’t too shabby either. He ran a 2:18 marathon and and ran in the World Cross-Country Championships three times. Yet neither ever talked about their running. It might seem a bit unusual that I knew so little about my parents and their racing records, but I guess that’s just the way they wanted it.
In high school, I did have a poster of Grete Waitz on my wall. I thought she was amazing with all those wins in the New York City Marathon. She was so consistent--a goal I later adopted for myself. She became a role model to me, and I knew that my mother admired her too.
Later, when I met Joan Benoit Samuelson, we talked about training programs. I think she was very intuitive--very good at listening to her own body and its needs--and I’ve tried to follow that approach. I know she also trained like a beast.
It wasn’t until I got to college, and started to immerse myself more in the sport, that I began to uncover the amazing truth about my parents. I can remember times when I went rummaging through the back of closets, and found medals, old pairs of running shoes, and musty USA team uniforms. I thought the uniforms were cool. They were so retro they seemed hip to me.
Anyway, once I began to ask my parents more about the stuff in the closets, I learned their running histories for the first time. My mother would tell me stories about how uncomfortable it was to run in heavy cotton clothes and sweat suits, and with no sports bra. When I got my first shipment of running apparel from my sponsor, NIKE, she was absolutely flabbergasted by the fit
and and function of all the technical clothes.
She also told me it wasn’t unusual for her to be pelted by cans or bottles from passing motorists. I don’t know how she handled it all, her or the other pioneers. Those were hard times to be a woman runner. I’m not sure I would have had the guts to pursue running without any real support, and I can’t fathom how they managed to persevere. They must have been very strong
We’ve made such amazing progress since those early days. I can’t say that I’ve ever felt any disadvantage compared to the men. My running is so much easier than my mothers was. I get to do what I want to do, and to pursue my dreams. I have so many opportunities that might never have existed except for my mother and the other women runners like her. They literally
paved the road for all of us to follow. I feel so deeply appreciative for all they contributed to the sport.
And they didn’t do it just for Olympians like me. They did it for all women runners. Because one of the things they learned is that running can give you a self-confidence and a sense of possibility that carries over to all parts of your life. Running certainly changed the trajectory of my mother’s life--it gave her so much more confidence. And it has done the same for countless other women.
That’s what I tell the women runners I meet at road races. It doesn’t matter how fast you are. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to reach the finish line. It’s all about personal excellence--striving to be the best you can be. That’s what we’re all aiming for. That’s what the First Ladies taught us.
Shalane Flanagan won a bronze medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympic 10,000-meters race, and holds the American record for 10,000 meters on the track and on the roads. She holds a marathon best of 2:22:02. Her book, Run Fast, Eat Slow, will be published by Rodale, Inc., in September, 2016. Flanagan’s mother, Cheryl Bridges Flanagan Treworgy, set a world record for
the marathon, 2:49:40, in 1971.