NEW YORK — Shalane Flanagan returned to the New York City Marathon finish line at Central Park twice in the 24 hours after she won the race.
She did not sleep in that span.
“I tried, but it didn’t work,” Flanagan, the first U.S. female runner to win the five-borough, 50,000-runner event in 40 years, said Monday morning. “So, at 3 a.m., I was eating pizza, hanging out.”
Flanagan, a 36-year-old, four-time Olympian, upset three-time defending champion and world-record holder Mary Keitany at 11:48 a.m. on a dreary Sunday. She overcame perhaps the most difficult year of her decorated career in what may have been her final race (more on that below).
Nine hours later, Flanagan was back at the finish line to hand out medals to runners who took five times as long to cover the course than she did.
Flanagan was joined by other elites, including Meb Keflezighi, the 2009 NYC Marathon champ who ran his 26th and final marathon on Sunday.
Flanagan awoke Monday for another round of media — “Good Morning America,” “Live with Kelly and Ryan” — followed by a charity-check ceremony next to the finish line.
She spoke as hundreds of finishers stood in line to get their medals engraved.
“I do wish I could go run those last two miles without, like, the scary, daunting feeling of someone stalking me,” said Flanagan, who opened up a gap in the 24th mile and won by a comfortable 61 seconds over Keitany. “I was like, just don’t let it slip through your fingers. … I didn’t hear any footsteps.”
As soon as it felt safe, a few steps from the end, Flanagan let out an “f— yeah!” that was buzzworthy on social media.
“I’ve visualized that finish line, you don’t know how many times,” said Flanagan, who ran her second NYC Marathon, seven years after finishing second in her 26.2-mile debut in New York. “What would I do in that moment? Of course I did nothing of what I thought I would do.
“That [the profanity] wasn’t planned by any means. I could just sense no one was there. Then I felt like, OK, I can celebrate just a little bit and indulge in this awesome moment.”
Before that, Flanagan dug into a list she compiled before the race.
“Of things when I was leaning into that hurt, what was I going to think about,” she said. “I was thinking about the tragedies here in New York. I was thinking about how I wanted to make Meb proud. It was his last race. And I wanted to run and honor all the people that have helped me be here.”
Flanagan teased before the race that she might retire if she pulled off the upset victory, likening it to winning the Super Bowl and walking away.
“I don’t know what it feels like to be Tom Brady or anything, but it’s pretty epic,” she said Monday. “Imagine everyone has an individual goal in their lives that they’re striving for, potentially, and achieving that ultimate goal that seems audacious at times. That seems so far-fetched.”
Flanagan hasn’t had time to think about her future or discuss it with her coaches. She has barely looked at her phone.
“I just want to soak up what I’m doing right now,” she said. “My phone is literally buzzing in my pocket right now, and I don’t know what’s going on.
“I’m 36, I love what I do,” she said earlier on “Good Morning America.” “I’m very passionate about running, but there are other things in my life that I love. … There’s other ways I want to contribute to the sport. I want to teach young women how to eat well and how to take care of themselves. Yeah, I have other passions that are starting to bubble up.”
Flanagan, who with her husband fostered two teenage girls since Rio, will release her second co-authored cookbook — “Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow” — in August. Finding the inspiration to continue a running career in the meantime may be difficult.
“I’d have to really assess what’s going to drive me forward,” she said. “If I do continue to go forward, you have to have a lot of motivation to be in this sport. It’s an all-encompassing lifestyle. It’s not a nine-to-five. It’s literally every single day you’re making decisions. How can I be the best possible athlete? You don’t check in and check out.”
This was certainly Flanagan’s biggest career victory, in her 10th marathon, but was it her greatest achievement? She has an Olympic 10,000m silver medal from 2008.
“It’s hard to compare them,” she said. “But I feel like this has been a long, long process to get here. A lot of ups and downs and disappointments and some heartache. So, in a way, maybe this is more meaningful to me just because I feel like it’s been seven years of a lot of work and a lot of disappointments at times, wondering if I have what it takes. Almost feeling like a sense of really extreme validation yesterday, more so than maybe my Olympic medal. But they’re both treasured, just in different ways.”
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