What Flanagan's New York City Marathon Win Tells Us About Supporting Women

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Lisa Ingarfield | @tritodefi

On Sunday, November 5, 2017, I was one of many who tuned in to watch the New York City marathon. I knew many who were competing in the race, an iconic bucket list item for career and casual runners alike. I also knew the competitive field was tough. There had been much pre-race chatter about Meb Keflezighi; New York was to be his last marathon before he retired. Yet, I had not heard a similar level of buzz for the women. This is typical. Women’s sport always play second fiddle to men’s no matter their caliber or skill.

This wet day in New York City, however, was to be an historic one. Shalane Flanagan, born in Boulder, flew through the course, breaking the finish line tape in a blazing fast 2 hours and 26 minutes. As she approached the tape, she fist pumped and said to herself “F*@# yes.” Even without hearing it, it was easy to read her lips. Seeing the emotion in her face and her exhortation as she punched the air made me cry.

F*#@ YES, absolutely!

 
Check out the video of Flanagan's win. 

Check out the video of Flanagan's win. 

 

Flanagan’s time was speedy enough to outrun the NYC marathon three time winner and defending champ, Mary Keitany from Kenya. With this win, Flanagan also became the first able-bodied U.S. woman to seize the number one spot since Miki Gorman did the same in 1977. Forty years. That’s how long it took to get another able-bodied U.S. woman on the first place podium. And it was exhilarating to watch. Tatyana McFadden, a U.S. woman, and total badass, was finally unseated by Switzerland’s Manuela Schar in the women’s wheelchair division. McFadden has won four straight NYC marathons from 2013-2016, five in total.

Exhilarating? Marathon running? I hear you scoff at such a statement, but broads, really, Shalane’s race was awesome. If you haven’t looked up a video to watch her win, I encourage you to do so. And she was born in the great state of Colorado, so even if nothing else, it’ll evoke some home state pride. Yes, I know she didn’t grow up here, nor does she live here now, but I am going to take the fact that Boulder was her birthplace and run with it (pun intended).

What I love most about her win, is how it’s clear she poured her heart and soul into this race. She has other wins, and came 6th in the marathon at the Rio Olympics, a spectacular showing, also. While I do not subscribe to the fallacy that if you try hard enough you can achieve your dreams narrative we so often hear in the U.S., I do believe that her resolute steadfastness and belief in her abilities makes a difference in how she performs. There has been much written about Shalane’s win, but one of my favorites was a commentary in the New York Times explaining what the author, Lindsay Crouse describes as The Shalane Flanagan Effect. And this is what I want to share with you broads, and ask you to think about:

“But perhaps Flanagan’s bigger accomplishment lies in nurturing and promoting the rising talent around her, a rare quality in the cutthroat world of elite sports. Every single one of her training partners—11 women in total—has made it to the Olympics while training with her, an extraordinary feat. Call it the Shalane Effect: You serve as a rocket booster for the careers of the women who work alongside you, while catapulting forward yourself.”

She both competes against the women she trains with and elevates them. She works hard with them, not against them. Often, women end up competing with each other for the limited opportunities available to them. We find ourselves climbing over each other, without so much as a glance over our shoulder or an outstretched hand to those behind us. We forget that to be great, we must lift each other up. We must work to end the oppression of others, so that we ourselves can be successful.

There was an internet meme or phrase doing the rounds not too long ago: Blank does x, y, and z. Be like Blank. I think it is apropos here: Shalane brings women with her. Be like Shalane. Win whatever (metaphorical) marathon it is you’re participating in, and do it with other women, not in opposition to them.