By Cathal Dennehy
For Shalane Flanagan, everything has gone to plan ahead of Sunday’s attempt to break the American record at the Berlin Marathon. The 33-year-old was in confident mood speaking to the media in the German capital yesterday as she explained why she thinks she is capable of lowering Deena Kastor’s record of 2:19:36 in Sunday’s race, which will be held on what she calls “a lightning-fast course”.
Shalane Flanagan wins 2010 USA Half title, photo by PhotoRun.net
She should know, for Flanagan has been in Berlin since this day last week, and has been out to examine the course on several occasions. She likes what she sees. “I’m a student of the sport,” she said. “I enjoy getting to know the courses on an intimate level. I thrive on knowing the key elements of the race; if I know where the finish is I can delegate the appropriate energy.
“Coming here early has allowed me to soak in the course. This will be by far the fastest course I’ve raced on. I’ve prepared for this test. The weather looks great, the course is lightning fast and the competition is fierce. I’m really excited to get out there and display the fitness that I’ve accumulated.”
Shalane Flanagan, Sally Kipyego, Payton Jordan 10k, May 2011,
photo by PhotoRun.net
Flanagan will be assisted in her efforts by two male pacemakers, both elite marathoners themselves – 2:10 man Ryan Vail and 2:13 man Rob Watson. They will lay down the 5:19-per-mile pace that Flanagan needs to churn out for 26.2 miles if she is to remove Kastor’s mark from the record books.
Shalane Flanagan, London Olympics 2012, photo by PhotoRun.net
“I hope to run relatively the same as I did in Boston through halfway, probably closer to 69:40,” she said. “I’m hoping with the faster course that I can sustain that for the second half as well. I have world-class pacemakers, and feel very fortunate. They know what it feels like; they’ve done it numerous times and having such experienced marathoners will help me get the best out of myself.”
Flanagan, Goucher, Hasay, USA Outdoors, 2013,
photo by PhotoRun.net
Though Flanagan’s eyes are fixed firmly on the American record, dipping under that would also bring her close to Mizuki Noguchi’s course record of 2:19:12, set in Berlin in 2005. “I came here to make American history, first and foremost, but it would be nice to come away with two records.”
In opposition on Sunday, however, will be a pair of athletes more than capable of preventing Flanagan time-trialling her way to victory. They are Ethiopians Feyse Tadese and Tirfi Tsegaye.
Tadese finished fourth in the London marathon earlier this year in 2:21:42, and set her personal best when winning the Paris marathon last year in 2:21:06, a time almost a minute quicker than Flanagan has run to date.
Tsegaye, meanwhile, is the only one of the leading trio to have run the Berlin marathon before. The 29-year-old Ethiopian finished second in the race in 2012 in a personal best of 2:21:19, which she has since yet to improve.
Goucher, Flanagan, Boston 2013, photo by PhotoRun.net
A native of Oromia – the region of Ethiopia which has produced so many distance-running greats such as Kenenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba – Tsegaye is immensely proud of the history of her fellow athletes. “I’m very aware of this tradition of great athletes from my region,” she said. “I’m very proud to represent Oromia.”
On Sunday, her goal, much like Flanagan’s, is to break 2:20 for the first time. “I have trained well in Ethiopia,” she said. “I think I can put the training to good practice. I hope I can go under 2:20; that is the target.”
A race that, on paper, appears to be a number of athletes chasing a specific time, may well turn into a close, exciting duel for the Berlin Marathon title – given the leading women are likely to be running the same pace on Sunday morning.
Shalane Flanagan leads Boston 2014, photo by PhotoRun.net
For Flanagan, the journey to be able to cover 26.2 miles at a shade under 5:20 a mile – which is what she now feels capable of doing – was one that started back on the streets of Boston as a teenager, when she watched and marvelled at the pace Uta Pippig could maintain on her way to taking one of three Boston Marathon titles.
“I was there to watch my father,” said Flanagan. “At the time I was just starting running, and had a hard time fathoming how they ran so fast. My mile PR was slower than they ran for 26 miles, but it was inspiring. It’s probably the reason I’m here today.”
Pippig’s best time for the marathon of 2:21:45, by the way, is marginally faster than Flanagan’s current best of 2:22:02, though still some way behind the American record she so badly wants. On Sunday, if all goes to plan, Flanagan should finally surpass her childhood hero Pippig.
Whether she can go under 2:20, or indeed become the fastest American in history, well, that’s a whole different ball game. Even still, it will come as no surprise if she manages it.