Shalane Flanagan was about to enter her senior year at Marblehead High in Massachusetts when she accompanied her dad, a former world-class cross country runner, to the 1999 Beach to Beacon 10K Road Race.
And beat him.
By two minutes.
“I think it was the first time we had really raced and I was faster than him,” Flanagan said Tuesday morning by phone from Portland, Oregon. “Previously, he had always kind of whupped my butt.”
After a 15-year absence, Flanagan will return to Cape Elizabeth to run in Saturday’s 17th edition of the road race founded by Joan Benoit Samuelson. This time, Flanagan’s father Steve will remain home in Marblehead. Her competition will come from East Africa, homeland of the past dozen B2B champions and all but two male and three female winners.
As a three-time Olympian who won bronze at 10,000 meters (in 2008) and American record holder at that distance (30:22.22), Flanagan represents perhaps the best chance of becoming the first U.S. runner – male or female – to win Beach to Beacon.
“I want to run really well for Joanie and for the race, being back in New England,” Flanagan said. “I certainly will try to win. However, I’m assuming a fair amount of the ladies are not doing a (fall) marathon and they’re just peaking for this and maybe Falmouth (in two weeks). So they’re ready and primed and really fast. That’s not to say that I couldn’t hang with them, but it’s the 28th (of September) I’m really peaking for.”
On that day, Flanagan, 33, will be in Germany for the Berlin Marathon. She has tiered goals there.
First would be to beat her previous best time at the distance – the 2:22:02 she ran at Boston this spring, making her the third fastest American woman in history, behind Deena Kastor and Samuelson.
Second would be to break 2:20.
Third would be to lower Kastor’s American record of 2:19:36.
“I told her there’s a fourth tier,” said Steve Flanagan, by phone from Marblehead. “To run the family PR.”
That would be 2:18:36 he ran in the Fiesta Bowl Marathon in Phoenix in the late 1970s. Oh, and her mother, Cheryl Treworgy, set the women’s marathon world record of 2:49:40 in 1971. So yeah, she’s got decent genes.
She also has the willingness to make the most of her ability.
“She’s tough as nails,” said Chris Solinsky, a training partner and fellow Bowerman Track Club member who will be making his Beach to Beacon debut Saturday.
“I’d say she’s tougher than some of the guys in our group, myself included. We’ll get a workout and some of the times she’ll run will have all our jaws hanging down.”
Flanagan’s potential was evident early. For three years running, she won the high school girls’ mile at the old Maine Distance Festival at Bowdoin’s historic Whittier Field. Her winning time the third year, in 1999, was 4:50.53, the first time a schoolgirl had run a sub-five mile on Maine soil.
It was in Brunswick that Samuelson introduced herself to Flanagan, and they have remained in touch ever since. Samuelson’s daughter Abby has even stayed in Flanagan’s condominium in the other Portland.
“Joanie has been a longtime supporter and really just a friend,” said Flanagan, who usually spends her summers on the European track circuit. “This is one of the few races that are left on my bucket list of races that I’ve wanted to compete in, and Joanie’s is at the top of the list.”
After Flanagan made her Boston Marathon debut in 2013 – finishing fourth with training partner and good friend Kara Goucher placing sixth – she spoke poignantly about Bostonians wanting her to win as much as she does. “Which just tugs at your heart,” she said, “because we want to be that person. We want to be the next Joanie.”
The tragic bombings only increased Flanagan’s desire to deliver an American victory in 2014. A student of history (she majored in that subject at North Carolina), she pored over past results and saw only two winning times below 2:22.
“My coach (Jerry Schumacher) and I looked at what it took and said, ‘I’m going to train to be a 2:22 marathoner on the Boston course,’ which is really hard,” she said. “But if I do, and I can execute a 2:22 race, I think I can win.”
On Patriots’ Day she went out, led the race through 19 miles and finished within two seconds of her goal. No American woman had run faster at Boston.
Incredibly, six East African women, led by Rita Jeptoo’s remarkable 2:18:57 course record, beat Flanagan to the Boylston Street finish.
“I just couldn’t believe I was seventh,” Flanagan said. “I guess the consolation prize is that I made everyone better that day, including myself.”
NOTES: Defending B2B women’s champion Joyce Chepkurui led a Kenyan medal sweep in 10,000 meters at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland. Emily Chebet, also due to return to Cape Elizabeth, was third, one second behind Chepkurui’s winning time of 32:09. … Louis Luchini, winner of the 2011 Maine men’s category, will not race Saturday because of an Achilles injury. Emily Durgin, a Cheverus graduate and current UConn runner, is also out. She is still recovering from a stress fracture. … Jordan Hasay, 22, is a recent Oregon graduate who has joined the field. Hasay ran a 31:39 on a California track this spring.