Shalane Flanagan, the leader of an accomplished generation of U.S. women distance runners, announced her retirement Monday.
Flanagan, 38, ended a frustrating dearth of championships for American women when she won the 2017 New York City Marathon. She was the first U.S. woman to capture the prestigious event in 40 years, and the first female American winner of any World Marathon Majors race -- a series that includes Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York -- in more than a decade.
The Marblehead, Massachusetts, native ran the last 3 miles alone and restrained her emotion until she was about to break the tape, when she thrust one fist in the air and uttered an emphatic four-letter word.
Her victory was hailed by her peers as vindication for an entire cohort of tenacious U.S. women who kept grinding through a period of near-unassailable dominance by East African runners and a flurry of doping scandals that altered results in many races, often long after the fact. Desiree Linden's win in storm-battered Boston the following spring -- the first U.S. woman to win there since 1985 -- served as another confirmation for that group, which also included Kara Goucher and Amy Cragg.
"Now that all is said and done, I am most proud of the consistently high level of running I produced year after year," said Flanagan, a four-time Olympian and 2008 silver medalist in the 10,000-meter event on the track. "No matter what I accomplished the year before, it never got any easier. Each season, each race was hard, so hard. But this I know to be true: hard things are wonderful, beautiful, and give meaning to life.
"I've loved having an intense sense of purpose. For 15 years I've woken up every day knowing I was exactly where I needed to be. The feeling of pressing the threshold of my mental and physical limits has been bliss. I've gone to bed with a giant tired smile on my face and woken up with the same smile. My obsession to put one foot in front of the other, as quickly as I can, has given me so much joy."
Flanagan will transition to coaching as of this week at her longtime training base, the Portland, Oregon-based Nike Bowerman Training Club, overseen by Jerry Schumacher and Pascal Dobert.
She made it her mission to mentor younger runners and challenged herself with training partners who were striving for the same coveted spots on Olympic and world championship teams. She also sought balance in her life, taking in two teenage foster daughters with her husband, Steve Edwards, putting one foot into television race commentary, and co-authoring a pair of cookbooks.
Growing up north of Boston, the daughter of two distinguished runners, Flanagan excelled in cross country and track at the University of North Carolina and dreamed of someday winning her hometown marathon. Her best finish in four tries there was fourth place in 2013.
She would have greater success in New York, where she was second in her initial attempt at the marathon distance in 2010. In between that promising debut and her win on the same course seven years later, Flanagan was a perennial contender in the most prestigious events.
Flanagan soloed to victory at the 2012 U.S. Olympic marathon trials in Houston and placed 10th in London that summer. Four years later, she staggered over the line in third place at the U.S. trials on a warm day in Los Angeles, so badly dehydrated that she had to receive intravenous fluids immediately afterward. Her sixth-place finish at Rio 2016 was tops for the American women.
She had reconstructive knee surgery in early 2019 and had not raced competitively since her third-place showing in New York last year, when she dropped two other women in the late going to earn a podium spot.