Thursday, April 11, 2013

THE LONG ROAD TO BOSTON: Marblehead


Most fans of running know the story of Shalane Flanagan‘s lineage. As Amby Burfoot wrote in 2008, “She sure as hell did a fine job selecting her parents.

Her mother, Cheryl Treworgy, was the first woman to break 2:50 in the marathon. The first. Ever. Her father, Steve Flanagan, was a 1:50.8 half-miler, a 4:07 miler, a three-time member of the U.S. World Cross Country team, and a 2:18 marathoner.

And then there’s this tantalizing little tidbit. “We were living in Boulder when Shalane was born, and I ran all the way through my pregnancy with her,” says Treworgy. “The Africans have got nothing on Shalane.


Boulder preceded Marblehead Massachusetts, where Shalane would grow up playing soccer and displaying a competitive nature. Quoted in a Runner’s World feature, her dad said, “Even as a young girl, her energy level and recovery were incredible.” Those abilities were on full display once she hit high school, converted to running, and began coming up big in big races.

Three Massachusetts cross country state titles.

Millrose Mile champion.

Top 30 in the junior race at World Cross, despite being a year younger than the top runners.

To get to Worlds, she won the Junior National title as a Volvo station-wagon-driving high-school senior. It was a shock, even despite her prodigious genes.

“I really had no expectations of winning going into that race,” she told Dyestat.com at the time. “I just told my mom I was going to try for sixth (last qualifying) place. That was a huge learning curve for me.”

At the same time, as such a standout in a smaller town, Shalane was designing her own workouts, with input from her father and the blessing of her high school coach, discovering her limits and what worked and didn’t. Blowing up at Foot Locker Regionals in cross country further illustrated that desire to push the envelope and discover her full capabilities. Never content. Always learning.

+++++

Marblehead is a town of about 20,000, right on the Atlantic, and less than twenty miles away from Boston proper. Its identity has always been a seafaring one, having been home to the first combat vessels in the United States Navy, and even today existing as a fishing hub. That Emanuel Leutze painting of Washington crossing the Delaware? Those are Marblehead men surrounding America’s first president-to-be.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mr_t_in_dc/6202481190/sizes/l/in/photostream/

So, maybe it stands to reason that Flanagan would strike out, explore the world, tackle these pressure-cooker races, each with a hint of the unknown.

+++++

With the requisite New England historical sites, her small bay hometown offers just enough distance from the big city to have its own center of gravity, while still orbiting Boston. So even after winning two world-level bronze medals, and competing from China to Spain and everywhere in between, there is still something magical in the promise of Boston’s stage for someone who was once just a child watching in the massive crowds of Massachusetts’ metropolis.

In a Running Times interview earlier this week, Shalane said, “It blows my mind that I have a banner [on lampposts along the course]. I just can’t believe I was that little girl standing on the sideline cheering for the elite runners.”

Now?

“It’s just surreal that I’m going to be one of those elite runners.”

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