In late September, Shalane Flanagan surprised her fans when she announced that, after three years of retirement and two major knee surgeries, she would be running all six world majors in just 42 days. Seven weeks later, she’s completed the Berlin, London, Chicago and Boston Marathons, run a “virtual Tokyo Marathon” at her home in Portland, Ore., and this weekend, she crossed the line of her sixth and final race of Project Eclipse, the New York City Marathon.
Heading into the challenge, Flanagan made it clear that she wasn’t just going for completion points. Her goal was to run each marathon in under three hours, and she delivered. Her slowest marathon was in Chicago, where she finished in 2:46:39. Project Eclipse culminated in New York City, on the course where, in 2017, she became the first American woman to win the NYC Marathon since 1977, and in poetic fashion, she ran her fastest time of 2:33:32.
In our interview with Flanagan on The Shakeout Podcast, she talked about some of the mental health struggles she went through after she retired in 2019 and had to stop running while she recovered from her knee surgeries. During that time, she came to realize how important running was for her mood and overall happiness, and described that period as being like “losing your best friend.” Once she was able to get back into it, she knew she wanted to return to the sport, but in a slightly different way than before.
“I didn’t know if I was going to be able to run again, and that was really scary,” she said. “Once I realized I was going to be OK, I just wanted to have something to get back in shape for, to motivate myself and inspire others.”
Flanagan never had the opportunity to run all six World Majors during her professional running career, so when she saw the jam-packed fall schedule, she couldn’t pass up the chance to run the ones she missed and re-visit the courses she’d already run. She decided “Project Eclipse” was the perfect name for the challenge because it was such a rare, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
To most, running six marathons in seven weeks sounds like a painful nightmare, but Flanagan has thoroughly enjoyed the experience. This is despite all of the logistical challenges, which involved traveling between continents and cities in very short time frames: in the case of Chicago and Boston, in only 24 hours.
“As soon as I finished Chicago, I literally hopped in a golf cart and went straight back to the hotel, rinsed off and went to the airport,” she said.
Because the Tokyo Marathon was rescheduled for the spring, Flanagan ran her own marathon at home in Portland on the weekend Tokyo was supposed to take place. Without the typical energy and excitement that comes with a major marathon, she was nervous about how this one would go, but the intimate nature of it ended up making it one of her favourites. Of course, one of her favourites until New York Marathon weekend.
“I knew going in that today was going to be my favourite, but I had no idea just how much it would fill my heart,” she said in an Instagram post after the race. “Just as I have always said, I love you, New York.”
Throughout the entire challenge, Flanagan has been trying to keep a playful aspect to each race, and “dipping her toe” into the pain, but not so much that she can’t read the signs her fans are holding on the sidelines or give high-fives to enthusiastic supporters.
Now that Project Eclipse is over, Flanagan doesn’t have any more goals on the horizon. In the same way that she conjured up Project Eclipse, her next goal will simply be whatever sounds fun. “Anything that sounds fun and I can bring my girlfriends along is what I’ll be doing.”
To listen to Kate Van Buskirk and Maddy Kelly’s full interview with Flanagan, check out The Shakeout Podcast.