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What Olympian Shalane Flanagan Does Before Every Race

Shalane Flanagan, third-place finisher at the Olympic Trials Marathon, shares her best-kept secrets and tips ahead of racing.

Shalane Flanagan is arguably the most dominant American distance runner of the last decade. We’re no different than her competitors when we say, “We could use a little bit of her speed.” At the Nike Innovation Summit in March, we were lucky enough to watch endurance magic in action when Flanagan joined us for a treadmill workout. How quick was her turnover, you ask? Every time to tried to snap a photo, her legs were a blur! After the workout we caught up with the soon-to-be-four-time(!) Olympian to find out her speedy secrets.

On pre-race fueling…

“Always before I race my marathons, I have what I call my race-day oatmeal, which is actually going to be in my cookbook [out this September]. It’s just simple Irish oats with some banana, fruit and some nut butter mixed in. I think that a lot of people struggle with what to eat on race morning, but this is so simple and it’s something you can make in your hotel room. I use that before all of my long, hard workouts and before races too.”

On feel-fast accessories…

“Whenever I slip on my tall compression socks, I know I’m ready to race. Sunglasses too. I feel like I’ve got on this kind of barrier that protects me. I feel like I can see things, but people can’t see me. I feel a little invisible. I like that people can’t read emotions on my face and I just feel sleek.”

On visualization techniques…

“When I want to be fast, I’ll tell myself to be like a sewing machine—really quick up and down. I’ll envision a sewing machine and what the needle does. If I’m tired, I’ll tell my legs to be the needle.”

On taper rituals…

“Especially before marathons, which is really hard training, I love to pamper myself a little bit. I get a haircut or my nails done—or even my toe nails even though no one’s going to see them. Before the Olympic Trials, [my training partner] Amy [Cragg] had never done that before. She was a little hesitant, because she thought, Oh, I’m not super girly, I don’t do that. And I said, ‘Amy, you’re going to love it.’ She was sitting in the chair and she called her husband and she said, “This is the greatest idea ever. This is going to be my new ritual now.” We are in this sport where you’re not always presented in the most beautiful light, when my face is turning bright red and I’m sweating everywhere, so it’s just fun to do something that’s a rewarding little treat.”

On no-fail tips…

“To me, it’s not all about being fast; it’s all about finding your best self. I’m out there, yes, I’m trying to beat other people, but I think a lot of athletes just want to find their true potential—whatever that potential is. I think it’s important to not always compare yourself. Go internal and say, ‘Am I maximizing myself on this day?’ Once people let go of the comparisons, they can actually realize: I’m a great athlete and I’m doing the best I can. That’s a victory in and of itself.”

Jessica Sebor

Jessica Sebor

Jessie Sebor is the Vice President of Women's Running at Competitor Group. After finishing her first marathon at age 18, Jessie has run everywhere from Singapore to Prague and competed in hundreds of races including the Boston Marathon and the Bare Dare, for which she won the title of National Nude Running Champion. Jessie’s work appears at ESPN.com, Ultrarunning Magazine and has been selected for Houghton Mifflin’s Best American Essays. A former romance novel editor, it’s at Women’s Running where her true passions lie. You can reach her at jsebor@competitorgroup.com.