Shalane Flanagan, this year's top American finisher at the Boston Marathon, has her sights set on Deena Kastor's 2:19:36 American women's marathon record.
After a win at the Chicago Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon in late July, Flanagan is shipping off to Flagstaff, Arizona, for altitude training. She spoke with ESPN.com to discuss her game plan for attacking Kastor's record at the Berlin Marathon on Sept. 28.
Christopher Chavez: In Boston, you went for the win. Now you're chasing the American record. How does that change things when it comes to training and race-day approach?
Shalane Flanagan: It's a different way of approaching a marathon. I've never gone into a marathon thinking about a record or running as fast as I can for the entire distance. Boston came as close to that, and I was just shooting to win. I ran a race that would give me that chance. Berlin is going to be an all-out assault on the American record.
I've steered my goals where it's not my day, maybe running a PR, which could be a 2:22 marathon. Sub-2:20 would be great and maybe the American record if that's in reach. It's a little scary and daunting to put it out there that's what I want to achieve, but I'm giving it a go. If I fall short, I fall short. Now is the perfect storm in terms of my fitness and where I'm compared to people that have made the attempt.
Chavez: Why Berlin?
Flanagan: [Coach Jerry Schumacher and I] believe it's the fastest course in the fall. We believe it's faster than Chicago and New York. We just feel that it has the potential to run really fast. Men have set multiple world records there. A lot of athletes go there to purely run fast. We believe the weather is a little more conducive and not as fickle as Chicago, where you never know what you're going to get there. Granted, I can show up to Berlin and it can be rainy and cold, but I think my chances at success are greater there. When you're trying to run in such a narrow window, every little decision is really important.
Chavez: Have you had any conversations with Deena Kastor about her American-record race?
Flanagan: She is a friend and would probably tell me anything I wanted to know. Out of respect, she still is competitive. I've heard stories about how her American record shaped up. I know it was in London. She won it and had male pace-setters up until 800 meters to go. I know she ran the American record in the half-marathon right before it in Berlin. I know some of the details but not all of the training, per se.
I did look at how old she was, and we're going to be almost the same exact age. I'd be like a week or two older than her when she set the record. I was looking to see if I was too old for this or the goal was too far-fetched. I'm not. I think the more seasoned of a marathoner that you are, the better chance you'll have. You're more comfortable and understand the marathon. I think that was her seventh marathon, and this will be my sixth.
Chavez: You mentioned Deena's pacer. Is there a plan in place for who is going to help you on your attempt?
Flanagan: It is a little bit up in the air, but I am able to get some influence because I'm shooting for 2:19. There are a few other women who want to run around that time. I will have help from Ryan Vail, a 2:10 marathoner, and Rob Watson. I think that'll be the ideal scenario. If there was another American, that would be great. The meet director should also be able to find some Africans that would be able to do some pacing as well.
Chavez: How different has it been to train without Kara Goucher?
Flanagan: I miss the camaraderie more than anything, especially having someone to suffer through all the miles with. I'm really good at pushing myself, and anyone can say that's a natural gift I have. I can dig pretty deep. It's kind of nice to not have to do it on your own, and that's what Kara brought to my training. We shared the journey and the process and made it more fun. When you're doing it alone, it's not nearly as fun.
Chavez: Where did you take things after Boston? You were a little upset about the result, so what was that recovery process like?
Flanagan: I think it's more of a mental recovery to be honest. Physically, I bounced back well because I went into it extremely fit. The fitter you are, the easier it is to recover from a marathon. Emotionally, I invested so much into it. For example, after the London Olympics, I had a hard time coming off that. I just felt like "What's next?" and "What's left to get excited for?"
That's how I felt with Boston, and Berlin has given me fire again with the potential of running fast. That will catapult my next effort, which would hopefully be back in Boston, and give me that confidence I need. I was devastated after the marathon not having won, but I realized it was all I could offer on that day. It was a heck of a day, and the consolation is I'm the fastest American on that course.
Chavez: How important is your diet for this marathon?
Flanagan: I've fine-tuned my diet and consulted with different people. I have been consuming KIND bars for a while, and [a partnership with them has] been a great marriage in terms of what they have to offer. I'm always looking for the best way to recover since I'm running so many miles. I look for high quality foods that have very simple ingredients. I'm always looking to fuel pre- and post-workout. They're helping me achieve that peak performance, and when I talk about going after records, every little percentage counts. Nutrition is just another key focus of mine over the last year.
Chavez: You're in Flagstaff right now. What's the plan between now and race day?
Flanagan: I've experimented with coming right out of altitude and going straight to the marathon and doing no altitude training. I've done a variety of different approaches. For Berlin, since we're trying to run about 5:18 per mile, that requires some leg speed. I'm going to come out about 19 days before the actual marathon.
That's what Deena did, and we consulted with her husband, Andrew. She came out of altitude almost three weeks prior to her record. We felt like that was a great recipe for success.