Shalane Flanagan came to Boston to run Tuesday morning.
The Marblehead native did not misread the calendar. She’ll be toeing the line in Hopkinton come April. But Tuesday, she joined fellow elite American runners Des Linden and Molly Huddle in leading a pack of John Hancock employees for an early-morning 2-mile jaunt in Boston that took them to the Marathon finish line. It served as something of a celebration of her decision to run the 2018 Marathon.
It will be the strongest American field since John Hancock’s sponsorship began in 1986, perhaps the strongest field in race history, but Flanagan will shine as the brightest star. At last.
Life has changed dramatically for the longtime distance runner for whom the biggest prize had always been just out of reach. Flanagan, a four-time Olympian, won last month’s New York City Marathon — the first major marathon victory of her career —
But Flanagan wants Boston. And Boston surely wants her. The last American woman to win the springtime run from Hopkinton to Boston was Lisa Larsen Weidenbach — in 1985.
‘I’m really excited but I’ve got a lot of work to do from now until April,” said Flanagan. “I’ve had a really busy last month since New York and a lot of great positive attention and I feel like I’ve had to soak in that moment and not get too focused on Boston yet.
“I’ve just been enjoying the fruits of my work, but I’m getting itchy to get back home and get back to training and do what I do best.”
Flanagan was fourth in 2013 in her first attempt at Boston. Not good enough. She was sixth in 2014, ninth in 2015. She missed last year’s race with a back injury. This is the race she grew up dreaming about, and she wants to give it one more try.
“I just kind of visualized on Patriots Day, if I were sitting in the stands cheering on people versus standing on the starting line in Hopkinton and how do I feel in those two different situations, and I tried to separate them and I had to assess, what in my heart felt right,’’ Flanagan said.
“And I felt like I would be really sad to be not participating and I would rather be on the starting line. I don’t want to have any regrets about passing up the opportunity.’’
Despite a lifetime of success — an Olympic silver medal in the 10,000, American records in the 3,000 (indoor), 5,000 (indoor), and 15K on the road — Flanagan expected a victory in New York would change her life. But it had to happen for her to fully understand.
“I’ve always known this about these major marathons, because they’re epic, and they’re historical, and they’re the pinnacle of what we do,’’ she said. “And I knew, having watched other Americans win major marathons, like Meb [Keflezighi], it really does change your life.
“It’s very positive. You take on a big responsibility now as a role model. You have this great platform to do a lot of great things.
“It is true, my life has changed. I have a lot more opportunities because of what I’ve done in terms of just reaching people, in terms of sponsorship. It’s a greater, bigger role that all of a sudden I’ve been given, which is great, but it’s a little overwhelming at first.’’
There have been dueling influences on Flanagan since New York. Her coach, Jerry Schumacher of the Nike-sponsored Bowerman Track Club in Portland, Ore., told her she could keep on and become the first American woman to run in five Olympics in Tokyo in 2020. Her father wants grandchildren. Her husband, Steve Edwards, is somewhere in the middle.
“Everyone has their own agenda, what they think is best for me, so it’s been a little difficult to sift through and listen to what’s important to me and what I need to do,’’ she said.
“I’ve definitely felt torn at times trying to please everyone but then also trying to listen to myself, when I have a lot of voices.
“The unfortunate part of being a female athlete in this sport is the fact that if you want to have a child, you have to give up at least a year of your running. And that means passing up opportunities that potentially are there to do what you do best and what we’re passionate about. It’s hard to know when to make that call.”
For now, the clarion call is Boston. Flanagan will be challenged by at least three other Americans: Huddle, who has made mincemeat of the BAA 5K and who finished third in New York in 2016 in her marathon debut; two-time Olympian Linden, her best finish a second at Boston in 2011; and Jordan Hasay, who was third at both Boston and Chicago this year.
Defending champion Edna Kiplagat will lead the international field on April 16.
“At this point I’m just excited,’’ said Huddle. “When the field is this good, I feel like we’ll be part of a really exciting day.”
“We’re fired up to get an [American] female on the top step here,’’ Linden said. “Obviously Shalane in New York was really inspiring. It kind of changed how people approach the world marathon majors and these big races and hopefully [got] people believing it’s possible for us.”
Like Flanagan, Linden has a determination to win Boston that is palpable.
“I’ve been second here, I’ve been top four a couple times now,’’ Linden said. “You always want to be a little bit better than before, and so my options are limited here, so why not shoot for the top step?
“Obviously it gets more and more difficult every year, the fields keep getting better, the Americans keep getting better — that’s what you want: You want to win here because you’ve beat the best.”