On Sunday, November 5th,  Shalane Flanagan became the first American woman to complete the New York City Marathon in 40 years. The four-time Olympian created the one moment that she has been eyeing to achieve for years. Flanagan, 36, was overcome with emotion with the American flag draped over her shoulders after taking the victory in 2:26:53, beating three-time New York winner Mary Keitany, who was second in 2:27:54. Mamitu Daska was third in 2:28:08.

“I’ve always dreamed of a moment like this since I was a little girl,” Flanagan said through tears. “It means a lot to me, my family and hopefully inspires the next generation of American women. It took me seven years of hard work to make this single moment possible.”

Flanagan ran her first marathon in New York in 2010, when she came in second to Edna Kiplagat, who also participated in the NYC 2017 marathon and was placed fourth. She has won a silver at the 10,000 meters at the Beijing Olympics, a bronze at the 2011 world cross-country championships and several American records on her resume. She has long believed that a victory on a big 26.2-mile stage is what she needed all along.

Flanagan had to overcome multiple disappointments over the past 10 years. The daughter of two former elite American athletes, she had hoped to claim a victory one day at the Boston Marathon. However, her strategy to press hard from the start was beaten by Rita Jeptoo, who won despite later being found guilty of taking performance-enhancing drugs.

In 2017 she had to withdraw from the 2017 Boston Marathon due to a back injury, she was forced to take a long break. But these weeks away from running actually served her well. In a Runner’s World report, she says, “About nine months ago I was heartbroken over not getting the opportunity to run the Boston Marathon. It really hurt quite a bit, but 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.”

Besides being an intrinsic part of Portland’s Bowerman Track Club, Flanagan also underwent training from coach Jerry Schumacher who realized that the break from running had Flanagan equipped with fresh legs and a rejuvenated drive. Together they began to utilize this, increasing her weekly mileage very early in her training, making her legs stronger for the later stages of the race.

It was safe to say that the strategy worked. After letting Kenya’s Keitany take the lead til mile 23, Flanagan pressed into the lead and gradually built a 30-second gap on the 35-year old Keitany. Talking to Runner’s World, Flanagan said, “The strategy was that we were going to cover every move. It didn’t matter if it happened after 5 miles or after 22 miles, I just had to cover any move that was made.” Schumacher also added, saying “She started to smell the finish line and that this could be it. I knew it in my heart that she wasn’t going to be denied.”

When asked if she still had plans to retire after hinting that she’d do so after a successful race in New York, Flanagan has left the door open by saying that she’ll discuss the decision with her coaches and family. Playing his part as the coach, Schumacher said the Bowerman Track Club will support whatever Flanagan decides to do, but he believes she’s in top form. “If she wants to continue, I think we’ll get the best version we’ve seen of Shalane,” Schumacher said. “This might be the best she’s ever been, but if she doesn’t want to compete professionally, then it’s a great way to finish.”

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