Former UNC runner becomes first American woman to win NYC Marathon in 40 years

Former UNC runner Shalane Flanagan, a resident of Portland, Oregon, made history on Sunday, November 5, as the first American woman to win the New York City marathon since 1977.
By
Former UNC runner Shalane Flanagan, a resident of Portland, Oregon, made history on Sunday, November 5, as the first American woman to win the New York City marathon since 1977.
By

North Carolina

How Shalane Flanagan ran from UNC, to the Bejing Olympics to victory at the New York City Marathon

By Chip Alexander

calexander@newsobserver.com

November 10, 2017 12:38 PM

The past week has been crazy for Shalane Flanagan.

Crazy good.

From the moment she crossed the finish line Sunday in the New York City Marathon, becoming the first U.S. woman in 40 years to win it, Flanagan’s life changed forever.

Often, Cheryl Treworgy would have been there to record it, photograph it from the back of the media truck in front of the leader. But Treworgy, a professional sports photographer, was back in North Carolina this time, in front of the TV, trying to will her daughter to victory.

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“Oh, wow,” Treworgy said Thursday. “I couldn’t sit still, but at the same time it was like I was frozen inside. I started shaking.

“We all wanted it so badly for her, and I was just hoping she’d get to the tape first. I knew I could get better coverage on television, and I didn’t want to miss a step if this was, as she sort of predicted, it could be her last if she won.”

Flanagan, 36, draped an American flag over her shoulders in the aftermath – a shot Treworgy surely would have liked to have taken. The former University of North Carolina cross-country champion didn’t run a personal best in her biggest career victory, but for Flanagan the race was more about fortitude, about being smart, knowing what she had left.

“A marathon is so much like a chess game,” said Treworgy, who set the women’s world marathon record in 1971.

Flanagan’s phone blew up within minutes of the end of the race, overloaded with texts and voice mails. Even Treworgy had a hard time reaching her.

They briefly spoke, Flanagan blurting she had to be up at 5:30 a.m. Monday to appear on “Good Morning America,” then Kelly Ripa’s show, with more appearances to follow. Bye, mom.

“We’ll talk later when things slow down,” Treworgy said, laughing. “Everyone wants a piece of her right now. She’s swamped. Right now I don’t know where she is, but I guarantee you it has something to do with Sunday.”

Among those watching Sunday – and cheering from afar – were Flanagan’s former UNC coach, Dennis Craddock, and former teammate Jennie Sucher DiGiovanna.

“Shalane was one of those who came in with dreams, and in listening to her on television, said she never let go of that dream,” said Craddock, who retired in 2013 and lives in Henderson. “She’s 36 and she started having that dream when she was 11 years old, that she’d like to be a marathon champion and run the New York City Marathon, because it’s so big in her life.”

Growing up in Marblehead, Mass., north of Boston, Flanagan had been a state cross-country champion. Her mother was an obvious influence. So was her father, Steve, a former marathoner and cross-country runner.

Their mantra: You’re only as good as your last race. That stuck with her.

At UNC, she won national cross country championships in 2002 and 2003 while also competing in the 1,500, 3,000 and 5,000 meters. And she met her husband-to-be, Steve Edwards, who was on the Tar Heels’ men’s track team.

“She was intense and really fun,” Sucher DiGiovanna said. “When we came in together as freshmen she was highly recruited and obviously the best of the six. She also was from Boston and was very tough and hilarious.

“She had a plan as a freshman that she was going to go to the Olympics. As freshmen we kind of laughed a little bit about it because I don’t think any of us really realized how good she was. It only took a couple of months to realize that was likely.”

In 2008, a victory in the 10,000 meters at the U.S. Olympic Trials had Flanagan headed to Beijing to compete for the U.S. in the Summer Olympics. She won a bronze medal in the 10,000, which later was upgraded to silver because of Elvan Abeylegesse’s doping violation that cost the Ethiopian her silver medal.

Turning to marathons, Flanagan entered the 2010 New York City Marathon and was second, the best finish by a U.S. woman in 20 years. An injury kept her out of the Boston Marathon this year, a big disappointment for her, but allowed her body added rest, and her buildup to New York was spot on, everyone agreed,

On Sunday she became the first U.S. woman since the late Miki Gorman, who won in 1976 and ’77, to capture the marathon.

Those on hand for the finish included Joan Benoit Samuelson, the former N.C. State star and winner of the 1984 Olympic women’s marathon in Loa Angeles. Treworgy calls her Flanagan’s “road momma” and said the two make many Nike appearances together.

In the final moments, Sucher DiGiovanna said she was yelling so loudly at her TV she startled her 8-year-old nephew.

“He said, ‘What’s the matter with you, you aren’t running,’ ” she said. “But I was so nervous.”

Craddock said as he saw Flanagan in the lead in the final miles he kept saying: “Stay there, stay there, stay there as long as you can.”

“I was afraid she might fade at end,” he said. “But the other mentality kicked in of ‘Hey, I can win this.’ That’s what you want them all to think regardless of the distance. At 23, 24 miles, you need to get in position. Then you might get too excited.”

Flanagan didn’t fade. Finishing second, a minute behind, was Mary Keitany of Kenya, the three-time defending champion.

“She had the attitude, ‘I’m excited, I’m tough, I believe in myself, I’m going to do this,’ ” Craddock said.

Flanagan, who could not be reached this week, lives in Portland, Ore., with her husband and two foster children. She trains with Jerry Shumacher, who Craddock said briefly coached at UNC, at the Nike Bowerman Track Club.

Flanagan has a cookbook “Run Fast, Eat Slow” that made the New York Times bestseller list and now has another, “Run Fast, Cook Fast, Eat Slow.” In an interview this week with ESPN.com, she also hinted she may not have run her last marathon after all.

But if you’re only as good as your last race, Flanagan is good for now.

“I think she reached a lot of people,” Treworgy said. “She’s evolved to where she’s a role model, and she takes that role seriously.

“She’s articulate enough to share what’s in her mind and in her heart and feel comfortable with those inspirational words. Because we all need them in our life.”

Chip Alexander: 919-829-8945, @ice_chip