By Becky Wade
There’s been a lot of negativity in the marathon world lately: athletes like Jemima Sumgong, 2016 Olympic marathon champion, testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, and a high-profile American team under serious suspect; more and more casual runners getting caught course-cutting or cheating in other, equally pathetic ways; and the biggest tragedy by a long shot, the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, which claimed the lives of three people and injured at least 264.
Speaking as someone who’s built a career on the marathon, last weekend’s New York City Marathon offered the hope and positivity so many of us needed. When she broke the tape on Sunday, Shalane Flanagan—who was born in Boulder, graduated from the University of North Carolina, and currently trains with the Nike Bowerman Track Club in Portland—ended a 40-year drought for American females. In doing so, she beat Mary Keitany of Kenya (called “the best female marathoner on the planet”) and the rest of the superb international field. Her final five miles were clocked at 5:09, 5:08, 5:11, 5:04, and 5:12. Even for an Olympic medalist, a finish like that, with over 20 miles of racing in her legs, is nothing short of phenomenal. Her 61-second victory confirms that.
With her victory, Shalane sent a powerful message to the large contingent of female American distance runners who look up to her: We can do this. We can not only mix it up with, but beat, the East Africans, who for so long have seemed invincible. And the way to do it is with integrity (I have no reason to believe Shalane’s doing anything illegal) and with staying power (she’s 36 years old and has been dedicated to her craft since high school).
Des Linden, another one of the great American females, said it best: “Thank you, Shalane, for giving us something to believe in. Congratulations!”