- One year after winning the event, Massachusetts native Shalane Flanagan returned to the podium in what may prove to be her last race.
NEW YORK — Defending champion Shalane Flanagan made her third podium appearance in just as many New York City Marathon races with a 2:26:22 finish Sunday for third place. Flanagan ended a four-decade drought for American women in the New York City Marathon in 2017, when she took the top spot with a time of 2:26:53. Flanagan’s 2017 time was fast enough to beat the three-time defending champion Mary Keitany of Kenya and become the first American woman to win since Miki Gorman in 1977.
Keitany reclaimed the title Sunday, finishing in an astounding 2:22:48 for her fourth New York City marathon win. Keitany finished with the second fastest women’s time in New York City marathon history, just 17 seconds shy of Margaret Okayo’s course record 2:22:31 time and 50 seconds better than her personal record.
“I can say the course record was not in my mind,” Keitany said. “I wanted actually to run very, very fast. When I did the course alone, I was hoping to do the course alone, but I was just thinking, ‘OK, let me just try to win.’”
Last year after pulling away in the second half, Flanagan caught Keitany at the 24-mile mark.
“I went in front and they caught me at 24 miles. So for today, I was thinking to try to win, not about the course record,” she continued. “But I came to see that I missed it by 17 seconds to beat the course record. Its okay, for me, winning was really good.”
Flanagan’s third-place finish was historic in it’s own right, making the Massachusetts native the first American woman to make the podium two consecutive times since Kim Jones in 1989 and 1990 with back-to-back second place finishes. Accomplishing that feat in what could be Flanagan’s last competitive race in New York was satisfying enough for the veteran runner.
“When I finally did get into that third place, I got another level of excitement. I felt really proud of myself in that moment that I kept fighting even though there were some rough patches in there,” Flanagan said. “I just was overcome with emotion in that stretch as everyone is. I think 50,000 plus runners feel overwhelmed there.”
Flanagan averaged a 5:35 mile pace through 26.2 after a strong second half. The pack ran a steady 5:24 pace through the first 13 miles before the women dropped to a 5:15 mile pace at the 14-mile marker to speed up the second half of Sunday’s marathon. The lead pack narrowed to three East Africans, led by Keitany, the 2016 New York City Marathon champion and 2017’s runner up. Flanagan fell behind the breakaways but remained alongside fellow Americans Molly Huddle and Desiree Linden.
Linden fell behind as Flanagan and Huddle picked things up at the 19-mile marker as the first American women to cross at 1:46:44 and 1:46:51 respectively. Flanagan's 5:15 mile was still 20 seconds slower than Keitany's 4:55 (Keitany finished with an average pace of 5:27 after running the last 10.2 miles at a sub-five minute mile pace).
The 37-year-old moved into fourth with a 5:26 mile 20, which put her on pace for a 2:26 finish, the same time Flanagan won the title with in 2017. She snuck her way onto the podium after passing Ethiopia’s Rahma Tusa in the 25th mile. Keitany and Vivian Cheruiyot, the 2018 London Marathon champion from Kenya, claimed the top-two spots Sunday while Tusa rounded out the top-5. Huddle finished fourth with a time of 2:26:44.
“It was a fast day out there,” Huddle said. “It was just good marathon experience for me and a solid race.”
Flanagan, a four-time Olympian, returned to New York in 2018 to defend her title after a disappointing finish in April’s Boston Marathon. New York City is where she made her marathon debut in 2010, when she finished second. It was the highest-placing performance for an American woman at the race in 20 years, only beaten when she won in 2017.
She finished sixth among American women and seventh overall with a time of 2:46:31 in Boston. Freezing cold conditions cost the Marblehead, Mass. native the memorable finish she’d been seeking in her home state, but despite the disappointment, Flanagan told reporters after the race that she still thought it was her last Boston Marathon.
“I don’t know what’s next but, for sure, I think this was my last Boston Marathon,” Flanagan told reporters after the race. “I think that’s it. This course is really hard. The conditions are really hard. And I’m not averse to hard things, but I think I’m good with Boston. I think that was it.”
The race was won by Flanagan's Olympic teammate Des Linden, who became the first American woman to win the Boston Marathon in 33 years. Linden also ran New York City on Sunday, finishing sixth in 2:27:51.
“I think I probably waited a bit too long to kind of get the ball rolling,” Linden said Sunday. “Honestly, I thought I ran the second half really well. I had every reason to just back off and roll in and be fine with that but I kept my foot on the gas the whole day and was able to catch two people. I came back with 1:12, which is one of my better half marathons in the open so overall it was really solid.”
Keitany ran the second half in 66 minutes.
“She’s going to go down as one of the greatest marathoners ever of our generation,” Flanagan said. “Her consistency at a really high level–she rarely has an off day. The way she can execute and just really crush a competition over the last half of a race is incredible. She’s a rare athlete and one to be celebrated.”
After last year’s victory in New York, Flanagan thought Boston would be the last marathon she’d race in. She didn’t know then that she’d be competing against Keitany once again for the top spot in New York this year. But after Flanagan left Boston unsatisfied with her performance, she decided to return to New York for what she says could have been her last hoorah.
“He [Peter Ciaccio, New York Road Runners President] put together an incredible field and I felt like I had to come back,” Flanagan explained after her podium-worth finish Sunday.
The perfectly sunny, 53-degree day presented much more promising weather conditions for Flanagan. “It was the opposite of Boston weather-wise. It was one of those really nice days where Mary [Keitany] got close to the course record and a lot of the women ran fast,” Huddle said.
The weather set both up for impressive finishes. Flanagan was happy with her podium place and overcome with emotion as she crossed the finish line mouthing, “I love you,” to the fans cheering her on in the heart of Central Park.
“The running community is an incredible group of people around the world and in New York City,” Flanagan said. “I just am so appreciative of being here today. I felt so much love on the course, I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day.”
After what was likely her last race in New York, Flanagan expressed nothing but contentment with her performances in the City and seemed happy with what likely lies in the near future.
“I think I’m going to take a few hours post-race to decompress and really evaluate so I [won’t be] too soon to make a decision but I do feel like my heart is leaning towards serving others [with] the knowledge that I’ve gained,” she said later. “It’s swinging more in that direction than it is [toward] my own running. While I’ve had a lot of fun with my own running, I do fee like its more getting towards the time to serve others.”