By Rich Sands, @sands
(c) 2018 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
(09-Oct) -- Over the past year Shalane Flanagan and Desiree Linden have redefined what an American marathoner can achieve. But, as they approach the final weeks of preparation for the TCS New York City Marathon, it's clear that their paths to race day couldn't be more different this time around.
Defending champion Flanagan is relying on a familiar, high-volume regimen at high altitude, while Linden, this year's Boston Marathon winner, has a new coach and a renewed emphasis on speed. Today, with a symbolic 26 days to go before the November 4 race, both women talked to reporters about the road to the Big Apple on a conference call hosted by New York Road Runners.
Flanagan, who last year became the first American woman in 40 years to win in New York, continues to find motivation in what she calls the "arduous" process of preparing to race 26.2 miles. "I enjoy the process of the work that I do. There's definitely a grind element to it," the three-time Olympian said from her training base in Park City, Utah. "I really feel like since 2016 I've become a much better marathoner. It's fun to test myself and see progress, even at age 37 [and] seeing if we can come up with the perfect recipe for success."
Though she didn't do a fall road race to tune up for New York, Flanagan feels like a hard summer on the track with her younger Nike Bowerman Track Club teammates helped get her body primed for the marathon. "Although I didn't officially race, I did get to do some really high quality track work," she said. "I paced my teammate Shelby Houlihan to an American record in the 5000 meters [in July]. So I felt like that fitness carried over really well in the transition to my marathon training."
A tune-up race didn't fit into her schedule and she's fine with that.
"The way Jerry [Schumacher, Bowerman head coach] and I developed my plan for the New York City Marathon was to be at altitude for quite a chunk of time," Flanagan continued. "I just felt like our training is hard enough. I run paces that some people run in races. I don't need that race setting. I don't mind going to the mountains and putting my head down and doing the work without actual races. It worked well for me last year heading into New York, just really keeping the training volume up and the high quality workouts."
While Flanagan's build-up has been consistent and familiar, Linden has found herself in a completely new routine. After becoming the first U.S. woman in 33 years to win the Boston Marathon in April, she parted ways with Keith and Kevin Hanson, her coaches at the Hanson-Brooks Distance Project since 2005. By late July Linden began working with Walt Drenth, the longtime Michigan State stead coach. The post-Boston promotional spotlight meant that her training and racing weren't optimal, but she's finally feeling ready for another marathon.
"I'm here training in Charlevoix, Michigan, and in my comfort zone right now," the 35-year-old Linden said, joking that, "I'm finally putting in more miles per week than selfies taken. So that's a nice feeling to be back to the grind and focusing on the running."
So far the new partnership with Drenth is going smoothly. "He's a really bright guy and he knows what works for me and why the Hanson's system worked, what we could add to maybe extend my career and get back some leg speed," she said. "So we've been doing a little bit shorter workouts at the beginning getting speed back. I would say one of the big things is being more rested but [doing] higher-quality workouts."
Linden won the Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia Half-Marathon on September 16, clocking 1:11:48 despite suffering a side stitch in the 11th mile which caused her to stop, briefly. "It was pretty solid, I think I got in a good quality 10 miles in," she said. "Unfortunately it was a half marathon and not a 10-miler. I didn't get a result that I was super pleased with, but again it was a good quality day and did the job of being a rust buster."
One thing Flanagan and Linden do have in common is their understanding that they are going up against a tough field in New York City. Among the international contenders are three-time winner Mary Keitany, who placed second to Flanagan in 2017, and Vivian Cheruiyot, this year's London Marathon champ and the reigning Olympic gold medalist at 5000 meters. A strong group of American entrants will also be on hand, led by Molly Huddle, a 27-time national champion at a variety of distances on the track and the roads, and Sally Kipyego, an Olympic medalist and New York City Marathon runner-up for her native Kenya, now representing the U.S.
"All of the Americans are lining up with more confidence than ever that it might be them," Linden said. "Anybody in the field has a shot."
Since her historic and iconic victory last year, Flanagan has debated when to hang up her spikes, and she’s no closer to that decision now.
"I haven't really decided what the next step in my career is," she admitted. "Over the last two years since Rio I've acted as if each marathon is my last. I'm not at the phase of my career where I'm focusing years in advance. I'm very much living in the moment and the day to day."