“We all want to be the next Joanie,” Shalane Flanagan admitted before a packed press conference room following the 2013 Boston Marathon.
Shalane sat next to her training partner, Kara Goucher, both trying, but failing, to hold back tears. Shalane had just thrown down a ruthless race (2:27:08) in an attempt to be the first American woman in years to win the Boston Marathon, only to be outkicked in the very end.
I sat in the second row at the presser and while trying to remain an impartial journalist, as a runner, a female runner, and a Bostonian at that, it was hard not to get emotional.
In 2014 Shalane wanted revenge and ran an even more relentlessly fierce race. Although she didn’t win, she set a PR and broke the American course record of by running a 2:22:02- nearly five minutes faster than 2013.
“I have a good friend, Joan Benoit Samuelson, who for years has told me to run my own race,” Flanagan said after the race.
I used to hear stories about Joanie when I was growing up. My dad was a marathoner and before I was born, my parents lived down the road from her in Watertown. I wasn’t a runner when my dad used to tell me these stories. I had never been really good at sports and I actually hated running, so at the time I didn’t care. But now, my perspective has completely shifted.
I had the pleasure of running with Joanie in 2013 at the Walt Disney World Marathon while I was there for work. She joined us on a quick shakeout run the day before the half marathon. I ran by her side for about a mile and although we didn’t talk much, it was completely surreal. Here I was running next to a legend and it was like we were out on a typical, every day run.
I thought about all of this on my run this morning. When my alarm went off at 5 a.m. I really didn’t want to get up. I had 6 miles, easy on the schedule as part of my Chicago Marathon training. My first mile was slow, a 9:38. Before I started to beat myself up about it, I found myself thinking about Joanie’s impact. Today marks 30 years since her Olympic Marathon win in 1984, the first women’s Olympic Marathon, and as Roger Robinson described the victory in a piece for Runner’s World today, it “was the perfect symbol for the final full acceptance of women’s running.”
As I thought about all of this I noticed my pace start to quicken – 8:46, 8:40, 8:34, 8:10.
I was about a mile out from my apartment when I decided to just give it my all at the end. I finished in front of my door step and clocked in a 7:31 mile – fast for me but two minutes off of Joanie’s Olympic Marathon pace. But I felt strong.
Joanie’s performance at the 1984 Olympic Marathon changed women’s running forever. It brought it into the mainstream and made it possible for people like Shalane and Kara to want to become the next American female marathoning star.
I know I’ll never be the next Joanie, but we all could be.