Olympic Marathoner Shalane Flanagan's Toughest Workout

Three weeks and six days before from the Women’s Olympic Marathon on August 5, Shalane Flanagan battled against the wind. She was pushing to maintain her 5:22 minutes per mile pace, a speed that would have her finish a marathon in 2 hours and 21 minutes - the time she believes will be necessary to be competitive on the streets of London.

The workout was her last long run before the race, 16 miles on tired legs to mimic the 26.2-mile physical and mental challenge to come.

“It’s a tough workout because you want it to feel easier than it does,” says Flanagan, 31, who ticked off the miles with the fierce, steady grit she’s known for.

Flanagan—who owns American records in 3,000m (indoor), 5,000m (indoor), and 10,000m—is competing in her third Olympics. She raced 5000m in Athens and took home a bronze medal in the 10,000m in Beijing, becoming only the second U.S. woman to medal in the event. Despite impressive credentials, Flanagan is toeing the line in London as long-distance newcomer; the Olympic marathon will be only her third 26.2-miler.

There’s little reason to view this as a disadvantage. In her first 10,000m race, Flanagan shattered the American record, and in her 2010 marathon debut in New York City, she took first among all American women .

Her Workout

Flanagan leaves nothing to chance. Her final long run was not just a tough physical effort, but what elite runners call a simulation run—a full dress rehearsal designed to sharpen her fitness and her mental game. Miles at race pace train her body to run efficiently at that pace, and going through her entire routine provides of sense of control and readiness.

Flanagan did the same warm up she’ll do at the Olympics, used her marathon shoes, took in the same fluids, ran a route similar to London’s flat roads, and pushed through tough spots, alone.

“My training partner is [fellow Olympic marathoner] Kara Goucher, but our coach split us up today so we’d be able to really focus on our own preparation,” she says.

When she saw cyclists ahead, she pretended they were her competitors and tried to reel them in. When pain crept in, she practiced taking deep breaths and relaxing. And she envisioned herself succeeding. “I’ve run the London course multiple times so I visualized those last two miles, practiced keeping my form together, not giving an inch,” she says.

Come race day, she’ll draw on the workout to execute her plan to be “a fierce competitor all the way to the end.”

Do It Yourself

Before your next race—a 5k, 10k, half, or full—make your last long run a dress rehearsal. Do as Flanagan did: practice your warm up, wear what you’ll wear on race day, and drink the fluids you’ll take in. See yourself executing your goal, and battling through tough spots. And practice the pace you want to run—something you can and should be doing throughout your training. Running coach Andrew Kastor of the High Sierra Striders recommends the following workouts.

*5K: One week before race day, run 1 mile easy, then 2 x 1 mile at race pace, with an easy 2-3 minutes of recovery between intervals.

*10K: One week out run 2 miles easy, 3 miles at race pace, 2-3 minutes of rest/easy running, then 1 more mile at race pace. Cool down with one easy mile.

*HALF-MARATHON: Two weeks out run 3 miles easy, 5-6 miles at race pace, 2 miles easy. Try to run the workout on a route with a similar terrain to the race course.

*MARATHON: Four weeks out run 3 miles easy, 10 miles at race pace, 2 miles easy.

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