Her tears of joy flowed freely as she approached the finish line, again when she was crowned the winner and once more as she spoke to the press following her historic win.
It had been a long time coming for Shalane Flanagan, and the mixture of emotion and fulfillment that poured out of her was a testament to her greatness as a champion.
The 36-year-old Marblehead native became the first American woman in 40 years to win the TCS New York City Marathon Sunday morning.
Wearing a tank top and arm warmers that were both red and black — the colors of her hometown — to go with her black shorts and red nail polish, Flanagan began to yell excitedly while crying happily before she crossed the finish line, knowing victory was hers. Her winning time of 2 hours, 26 minutes and 53 seconds was a minute better than Mary Keitany, the Kenyan runner who had won this race the previous three years.
“These are the moments we dream of as athletes,” Flanagan said in her post-race press conference, “and this is going to feel good for a really long time.”
Flanagan, who draped the American flag around her soon after finishing the race, became the first American woman to take top honors in New York City since 1977, when Miki Gorman won it for the second straight year. She’s also just the fifth American female to win the NYC Marathon since women started running the race in 1972.
“It’s too long, that’s what it is. It’s way too long,” the former Marblehead High and University of North Carolina superstar said of the four decades between American female champions. “But I knew that it was possible. I believe in amazing things, and I believe amazing things can happen.
“My coaches (Jerry Schumacher and assistant Pascal Dobert) told me that it was possible, that the training I put in was the best I’ve ever had,” she added. “They made me believe today could happen if I just ran a tactically sound race and was patient.”
In winning her first major marathon, Flanagan pulled away from Keitany with a little more than three miles to go near Fifth Avenue, taking a lead she’d never relinquish. She continued to pull away, running a blazing 5 minutes and 4 seconds over mile 25.
It was her first time running NYC since her initial foray in 2010, where she placed second.
One of the greatest distance runners in American track and field history, Flanagan – who now calls Portland, Oregon home – had not run a marathon since the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. A back injury had forced her out of running her favorite race, the Boston Marathon, a fact that absolutely fueled her drive to win Sunday.
“About nine months ago, I was heartbroken over not getting the opportunity to race the Boston Marathon. It really hurt quite a bit. I just kept telling myself that there’s going to be delayed gratification and a moment down the road that would make up for it,” said Flanagan, tears welling up and pausing for a few moments before continuing.
“I’ve dreamed of a moment like this since I was a little girl. This means a lot to me and my family, and hopefully inspires the next generation of American women. It took me seven years to do this, so a lot of work went into one moment.”
Prior to the race, the four-time Olympian had hinted that she might retire from competitive running if she won New York City, but did not say anything about that in the immediate aftermath of her triumph.