MARBLEHEAD — Shalane Flanagan stood on a small stage inside the gymnasium at the Marblehead Community Center with 50 children sitting at her feet, hands raised, grilling her.
Most of the children were girls from a local running club, and for them, Flanagan was as big as it gets — the hometown girl who had just done something extraordinary: She won the New York City Marathon.
They asked all sorts of questions about how many miles she runs each day (about 18.5); whether she “had a feeling” that day in New York (she did); and what she did after she won.
“I cried,” Flanagan said. “A lot. And I really wanted a doughnut.”
But none asked the question that was on the minds of the parents in the back of the room, on the lips of everyone in Marblehead and the running world at large: Is she going to make one more attempt to win the Boston Marathon?
The 36-year-old has made no secret of the fact that her dream in life is to win Boston, the world’s oldest and most prestigious marathon. Her parents were both elite marathoners — her mother, Cheryl Treworgy, once held the women’s world record — and after a strong career on the track that included an Olympic silver medal, Flanagan turned her attention to winning Boston, running the race three times. But she had a major back injury last year that kept her off the starting line in Hopkinton in April, and prior to the New York marathon Nov. 5, she had hinted that she might retire after that race.
Then she won in Gotham in convincing fashion, running at the top of her game and defeating the current world record holder in the process. And the wishful buzz in Marblehead was that she was going to go for it, to make one last attempt in Boston.
The official answer is that there is no answer. She has said she is “leaning toward” running the race, but has thus far sidestepped giving a definitive answer, saying she’s focused on enjoying her win, spending time with her family, and recovering from the grueling 26.2-mile battle (the day after the race, she stood during her interview on “Live with Kelly and Ryan” because her legs hurt so much).
But when she returned to her hometown last week for the Thanksgiving holiday and to make appearances in support of a road race that benefits the local track, there was a very large elephant in the room.
Her husband, Steve Edwards, said the Boston Marathon was on their minds as they landed at Logan, after flying cross-country from their home in Portland, Ore., where she trains near the headquarters of her longtime sponsor, Nike.
“New York was very special, but obviously it’s not Boston,” Edwards said as he stood in the back of the gymnasium and watched his wife answering questions from the children. “At some point, we want to start the next chapter in our lives and have a family, but she has a checklist, and she’s checked off everything except Boston. Would Boston get her out of retirement? Yes.”
Up on the stage, Flanagan took off her gold medal from New York and handed it to the children to pass around. One asked her how she deals with disappointment, and she used the question as an opportunity to talk to them about hard work and delayed gratification.
“I always thought the Boston Marathon was going to be my first win, and I tried and tried, and then, nine months ago, I got my first major injury,” she told them, pointing to the spot in her back that sidelined her for months. “The message is to not give up. I love the word grit. Do you guys know what grit is?”
A smaller child asked her if she’s won any marathons since New York.
“No, that was, like, three weeks ago and my legs still hurt,” she said to a big laugh.
If there is another marathon remains to be seen, but if it’s Boston, and if she wins . . . well, it’s impossible to overstate how big it would be to Flanagan and the region that has taken so much pride in watching her go toe-to-toe with the East African runners who have dominated the sport.
“It would be a nice way to end her marathon career,” her husband said with a cryptic smile as he watched the children passing around the medal. “I’ve already told her that if she wins Boston we’re moving here so she never has to pay for a drink again.”Billy Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.