I have to say, it’s impressive when athletes push themselves to accomplish more…remove themselves from their comfort zone in the hope to reach their goals, live their dreams, etc. It happens all the time in high school and college levels, but when it is done on the professional or Olympic level, it’s even more inspiring.
Take Shalane Flanagan, an American long-distance runner, who currently holds the American record times in the 3000 meters, 5000 meters, and 10,000 meters. I remember her from back in her Massachusetts high school days as well as at the University of North Carolina, where it seemed she could do no wrong…She was always described as one of the best from my generation of runners. And she definitely met the expectations. In fact in 2008, at the Beijing Olympics, Shalane finished in third in the 10,000 meters. So while most would continue on this path of the 10,000 meters (the one that they finished third in the world in) and just look to tweak or better their performance little by little, Shalane instead did something drastic. She changed her premiere event to the marathon. And she aimed high: to qualify for the Olympic team – and medal.
In my own high school experience, I started off running the 800 and 1600 meter races in track season. I did that my freshman and sophomore years. For some reason I felt a strong draw to the 800 meters back then even though in the end I realized I had no business running such a race (one the 400 meters girls attempted the two-lap race…I was quickly left in their sub 50-quarter dust!). After finishing in fifth and sixth (I believe) at the Florida State Championships, I realized I wanted more control over how I did…and in order to do so, I needed to focus on the longer distances. For my junior and senior seasons, I refocused on the 1600 and 3200 meter races. My change in focus was obviously because I believed I had more opportunity in the longer races…and in the end it was the 1600 and 3200 meters that I won individual state titles in.
For Shalane, she already finished at the top of the pack in the 10,000 meters…so was it that she felt she could do better in the longer race (like I felt back in high school) or was it another goal she wanted to meet? To compete in and be the best at something else? Both reasons are plausible and to me both are impressive…
In a 2011 issue of Running Times Magazine, Shalane said “When I first sat down with Jerry (her coach), I expressed an interest in trying to run a marathon in the next couple years, and what better way than attempt the training and see if I can handle it. I’ve never done anything close to what’s required to run a marathon. We took the time this fall to try that. This year not being a world championship year, we figured now was the time to tackle that training. Whether I run one this spring is still to be determined, but regardless if I run on the track or a marathon, I will have this really great base of work. It will allow me to have multiple options. I’m excited. I’ve never done anything like it. I can see the progress and I think it will set me up nicely for the next chapter in my career.”
Shalane ended up winning her debut half marathon race, won the Miami Rock n Roll Latin Half Marathon in December 2011 (where I ran as well), and then won the Olympic trials for the full marathon in Houston, TX a few weeks later. While there were many articles and features claiming this was the USA’s best chance for a medal in the women’s marathon in London…Flanagan unfortunately did not. She finished 10th overall – her body cramping, aching, etc.
However, Shalane spoke of her experience in a recent article appearing in Innovation For Endurance.