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Shalane Flanagan Finishes the NYC Marathon, Her Sixth World Major Marathon in 2021

The 2017 champion covered the course in 2:33:32, a 5:52/mile pace.

Finishing the 2021 New York City Marathon in 2:33:32, Shalane Flanagan completed the unprecedented challenge of running all six World Marathon Majors in 42 days. Sunday’s race was Flanagan’s fastest marathon of the series, which took place four years after she became the first American woman in 40 years to win the event as a pro.

“I was just hoping to feel good and just run my last one, the fastest. I accomplished that. I calculated well,” Flanagan said after crossing the finish line in Central Park. “I felt way better in the last six miles than I have in the other ones. So I had probably more in me, but I was so conservative just because the last ones were so close together that the last six miles were a little grindy, and I had to really focus. And this one, I felt like I could open up, and I actually felt really good.”

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The four-time Olympian started the race in wave 1, behind the elites, a new experience she really enjoyed. “It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “There’s not a lot of pressure. It’s just as hard as I wanted to run today.”

Before the race started, Flanagan said she got an unexpected surprise when she met long-time social media friend and World Cup champion Abby Wambach, who made her marathon debut in 3:44:25.

“[I got to have] interactions like that that I would never have gotten to have,” Flanagan said.

Because of the delays caused by COVID-19, the Berlin, London, Chicago, Boston, Tokyo, and New York City marathons were all scheduled within a six-week timeframe this fall, which presented an exciting opportunity for the 2017 New York City Marathon champion. In partnership with her former professional sponsor, Nike, the 16-time national champion decided to run them all, calling the challenge Project Eclipse.

“As a young, shy girl, running has transformed my life. Sport is for life,” Flanagan said. “Why I took on this challenge with the Abbott World Marathon Majors is because I want to showcase that the running between mental and physical health is synonymous.”

The six marathon majors marked Flanagan’s return to competition after announcing her retirement in 2019 and undergoing surgery on both knees. In retirement, the four-time world championship finalist hasn’t slowed down. In addition to racing around the globe, Flanagan coaches athletes in her former training group, the Bowerman Track Club. In the spring of 2020, she and her husband, Steven Edwards, became parents to their son, Jack Dean Edwards, through adoption. She also released her third cookbook, Rise & Run, with co-author Elyse Kopecky in October.

When Flanagan announced her plans for this challenge in September, she said she hoped to run under three hours for each 26.2. In every race, the Olympic silver medalist far surpassed that goal.

She kicked off the series by finishing 17th in 2:38:32 at the Berlin Marathon on September 26.

berlin, germany   september 26 shalane flanagan of the united states of america finishes seventeenth in the womens elite race during the 47th berlin marathon 2021 on september 26, 2021 in berlin, germany photo by maja hitijgetty images
Maja HitijGetty Images

On October 3, she completed the London Marathon in 2:35:04. Flanagan told Runner’s World on Friday, November 5, that London was her toughest race of the five she’d completed up to that point. After starting in the wrong corral, she found herself running too fast and had to walk at one point in the race.

shalane flanagan racing in the virgin money london marathon 2021, in tower hill, london, uk
Avpics/Alamy

“I’d never [walked] before, but now it’s my piece of advice,” Flanagan said. “I’m like, when in doubt, just go walk a little bit. It changes the whole dynamic of what the race can be for you. You can regroup fairly quickly if you just walk.”

After London, Flanagan also came down with a cold. But she rebounded quickly for the next part of the challenge, which took her stateside.

A week later, she finished a grueling double when the Chicago and Boston Marathons were scheduled on back-to-back days on the same weekend. On Sunday, October 10, she completed the Chicago Marathon in 2:46:39.

shalane flanagan running the chicago marathon
Kevin Morris

Then she hopped on a plane and flew to Boston. On Monday, October 11, she covered 26.2 in 2:40:36 at the Boston Marathon, her hometown race she’d run five times prior as a pro but never got to fully enjoy as a retired athlete.

boston, massachusetts   october 11 shalane flanagan of the united states crosses the finish line during the 125th boston marathon on october 11, 2021
Maddie MalhotraGetty Images

For each 26.2, Flanagan said she soaked up the experience of running with friends and making new friends along the way. Some fans even brought food from her cookbook and offered her bites on the course. Flanagan said she’s also enjoyed talking to fellow runners during the races, something she didn't get to do as an elite. On Sunday, Flanagan said she used her son, Jack, as a motivator to reach the finish line faster. “I'm like, the sooner you get to Jack the better!” she said.

Because the Tokyo Marathon was moved to a virtual option this year, Flanagan completed the distance on a course near her home in Portland, Oregon. Without race organizers and crowds to cheer her on, she still managed to clock 2:35:14 on October 18.

shalane flanagan running
Courtesy Nike/Cortney White

On November 7, she wrapped up the project with marathon No. 6, crossing the finish line in the 12th-fastest women’s time of the day. So, have the standout performances made her consider coming out of retirement? Flanagan says no.

“I’m very happy with what I’m doing on my timeframe. It’s what excites me and what I’m passionate about. Running to make a living is just not where I’m at anymore,” she said. “This is definitely where I’m at in my heart right now.”

While reflecting on her accomplishment prior to the race on Sunday, Flanagan said that Project Eclipse was a major highlight in her running career.

“Part of me is happy to be done running marathons, but I am very sad to finish this because I’ve had the most fun I’ve ever had running, honestly,” she said, explaining that she’s enjoyed having a support team around her and traveling the world. “I’ll be sad that actually it’s over,” she added.

shalane flanagan running in the 2021 new york city marathon
Shalane Flanagan around the 40K mark of the 2021 New York City Marathon.
Derek Call

After spending years of her life dedicated to the rigors of professional running, Flanagan said the challenge has allowed her to explore a new perspective as a retired athlete. “I’m not here to win. I’m not here to set a record. It’s really just enjoying the sport for what else it has to offer, and I didn’t get to experience that fully as an elite athlete,” she said.

“I had a lot of tunnel vision and now I get to read the signs on the side of the road, I get high-fives, I get a whole different experience, and I’m really enjoying that side of the sport,” she explained. “The pressure I put on myself was pretty intense. Now I just feel a lot of joy and lightness in running where I’m at.”

After closing out the challenge on Sunday, Flanagan said she hopes more people in the running community “find something in their life that pushes them” like Project Eclipse pushed her.

“I feel like it just makes me a better, happier person, and everyone has something in their life that does that for them,” she said. “It’s easy to neglect that, especially as working parents. You can get busy, but I think it’s important to take time for yourself and do things that are important to you and not always push it off, like have a little more sense of urgency. If anything that taught me this year is to not always wait. I could have easily said, ‘nah, not the right time,’ but I just saw this as a once in a lifetime opportunity. I thought about not doing it multiple times, but I’m so happy I did.”

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