BOSTON – Shalane Flanagan grew up in nearby Marblehead watching her father run the Boston Marathon. Her mother was a marathoner, too, setting the women’s world record in 1971.
But Flanagan never ran her hometown race even as she was building a celebrated cross country career that took her to three Olympics. Now, as the 31-year-old local favorite prepares to make her Boston debut, she gives the United States its best chance in years for a hometown victory.
“It’s a huge honor to be an American in this race,” Flanagan said as she prepared for Monday’s 117th edition of the Boston Marathon. “I feel almost sentimental about it because this is my city, in a way.”
It’s been 30 years since Greg Meyer won the Boston Marathon, the last U.S. man to take the title at the longest-running long run in the world. Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach won the women’s race two years later, and since then it’s been a quarter-century of East Africans claiming the olive wreath in Copley Square.
Kenyans and Ethiopians have won the men’s race 23 times in the past 25 years, and on the women’s side they have won 14 of the last 16 titles.
Kenyan runners say the deep talent pool in their country gives them an advantage, allowing them to train together and then work together on race day.
But this year the Americans have a tag-team of their own. Flanagan has been training with Kara Goucher, a fellow Olympian who finished third here in 2009 and fifth in 2011.
“Having a friend to go through it with makes it a team element, especially in a sport where you can get so isolated,” Goucher said. “At first I thought it was going to be a business relationship, and now we’re friends. I was thinking about retiring, and now I love it so much.”
Flanagan said she has wanted to run Boston but her coach, Jerry Schumacher, encouraged her to stay off the hilly course until he was sure she was ready.