Nearly three years after Shalane Flanagan officially retired from elite racing, she’s toeing the line of her marquee event again — not once, but six times in 42 days. With five of the six World Major marathons coming up in the next few weeks, the 16-time national champion will be aiming to run each of them in less than three hours, and then to run a sixth to make up for the postponed Tokyo Marathon.
Because of delays caused by COVID-19, five of the six World Majors are being crammed into a tightly packed fall schedule. Flanagan’s marathon of marathons will start in Berlin on September 26, the same course where she ran her personal best of 2:21:14 in 2014 and became the fourth-fastest American marathon runner of all time. She’ll have one week of recovery before heading to the U.K. to compete in the London Marathon, and from there she’ll return to North America where she’ll run the Chicago Marathon on October 10 and turn around the very next day to run the Boston Marathon on October 11.
The Tokyo Marathon was to be her next race on October 17, but organizers postponed the race again until March 2022. In its place, Flanagan will travel to Portland, Oregon to run her fifth marathon in four weeks. She’ll then have three weeks of recovery before completing her challenge at the New York City Marathon on November 7. New York will be a special place to end her gruelling series, since it was there that she became the first American woman to win the race in 40 years in 2017.
Flanagan retired from professional running in 2019, and since then has had two reconstructive knee surgeries, become a coach with the Bowerman Track Club and adopted a baby boy. In an interview with Self, she explained that she’s taken on this challenge as a way to “reunite” with running after retirement and knee surgery.
“I felt the need to set some goals again,” she said. “Realizing this was a once in a lifetime opportunity presenting itself, with six major world marathons in 42 days, I feel like I’m doing it for myself, for my son, and for young women to showcase the connection between mental and physical health and how important of a role athletics can play in your life.”