I said not to count her out. You guys saw that, right? But still, when Shalane Flanagan flew down the final stretch of the New York City Marathon on Sunday, fist-bumping and F-bomb dropping, I could barely believe it, too.
Despite her storied marathon — and track — career, Shalane hadn’t captured a victory at a World Marathon Major. Now, she has, breaking a four-decade long drought of an American woman winning NYCM.
She was the engine on a freaking freight train of American women in the top 10 — Allie Kieffer (don’t worry, coming back to her), Kellyn Taylor, Stephanie Bruce, plus Diane Nukuri who just recently attained U.S. citizenship.
Sorry, did you catch that? FIVE AMERICAN WOMEN in the top 10 of the New York City Marathon.
It’s a hell of a way to wrap up an amazing freaking year for women’s distance running in the U.S.
Let me recap.
August: Amy Cragg earns a bronze medal in the World Championships marathon, following up on her 2016 Trials win and 9th place finish in the Rio Olympics. Meanwhile, on the track, Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs go 1-2 in the steeplechase for one of the most epic finishes EVER on the oval; Jenny Simpson charged down the stretch for silver in the 1500 meters.
October: Jordan Hasay runs the fastest time by an American woman at the Chicago Marathon, in 2:20:57, placing third. Her performance moves her to number 2 all time, just behind Deena Kastor’s 2:19:36 at the 2006 London Marathon. Gulp.
November: Shalane slays at NYC, winning by 61 seconds over race favorite Mary Keitany in 2:26:53.
It’s a damn good year for American women distance runners. U.S.A. women have never — never — had double-digit sub-2:30 performances in one year before.
Shalane made it 12. Allie Kieffer made it 13.
Still with me? That’s 13 times an American woman has run under the 2:30 marker in a marathon in 2017.
Historic. And that’s saying a lot because 2016 was not too shabby either. (All three American women in the top 10 at Rio, plus bronze medals for Emma and Jenny, for example.)
Shalane said before the race she wanted “one more big performance” before she retires from professional racing.
She got it.
Ironically, her victory came in the same week we quoted her talking about her mom — running pioneer Cheryl Bridges (now Treworgy) — in our #MeToo piece. Bridges once held the world record in the marathon, yet would have crap thrown at her by men driving by while she was out training.
Ain’t nobody throwing anything at Shalane this week except flowers. (Well, and a little shade.)
Now, let’s talk about Allie Kieffer. I’m not gonna sit here and act like I knew who she was going into this race, because I didn’t. In fact, I couldn’t find much about her. The race media guide listed her with a marathon personal best of 2:55:30, although she ran 2:44:44 to set a new indoor marathon world record last year as well. This year, she ran a 1:14:13 half-marathon, which is good but certainly not astounding.
On Sunday, Allie took 26 minutes off her marathon time in her second outdoor race at the distance, finishing in 2:29:39.
Allie didn’t have the smoothest road to the NYC starting line. She started running as a youth because her sister, Meghan, ran. But a few years later, her sister was killed in an 8-car collision during her junior year of college in 2007.
Allie went on to be a talented collegiate runner for Wake Forest. After college, she used money her sister bequeathed her to run professionally, qualifying for the 2012 Olympic Trials in the 10k but not racing it. Soon after, she found herself injured and moved back to her home state of New York from Boulder, Co.
She joined the New York Athletic Club to make friends, and started making money on the road racing circuit.
She has no coach and had no major sponsorship heading into NYC, although breaking 2:30 will probably change that quickly.
And not too far behind were superstar running mamas Kellyn Taylor and Stephanie Bruce from NAZ Elite, with Diane Nukuri between them. Nukuri recently became a U.S. citizen, having previously competed for Burundi but having lived in Canada and the United States for most of her life.
Wow. Just wow.
What a day. The group messaging system we use for Salty Running was blowing up all morning, as people watched live and caught up on DVR.
I yelled at my television, I fist-bumped along with Shalane, I cried.
As Desi Linden put it, “Thank you, Shalane Flanagan, for giving us something to believe in.”
Anything is possible.