Shalane Flanigan’s secrets – Mindset, preparation and diet

By Chelsea Ho of Sweat Elite | Nov. 28, 2018, 12 a.m. (ET)


How Shalane Flanagan’s mindset, preparation and diet helped her win the race of her life

Everything finally came together for the 37-year-old as she broke the tape at Central Park. Shalane Flanagan was the first American woman to win the 2017 New York City Marathon in 40 years.


It is every elite runner’s job to bring various elements (e.g. training, recovery, diet) harmoniously together so that they are in peak condition on race day.

However, there are three specific areas which Shalane hits the nail on the head, paving the way to success:


1) She PREPARES well in advance, and is CONFIDENT about it

Preparation is key. Shalane says, “How the actual race unfolds doesn’t mean much. It’s everything before the gun goes off that’s important to me.”

Her training in the lead-up to the NYC Marathon was characterised by unrelenting willpower and laser-sharp focus. She explains, “I was equipped with fitness and a level of training I’d never achieved before. I didn’t feel worried because I knew deep down inside how prepared I was. I’ve always tried to get so fit that I can’t make a bad decision in my racing because my fitness literally won’t allow me to—it will just carry me.”

“[If] you put in the work, you run the race, the clock tells you exactly how good you are…you’re rewarded.”

This was exactly how it played out on 5th November 2017. “I didn’t look at any splits; I didn’t look back…I just put my head down and visualized myself on my training grounds in Portland with my coach. I went to my happy place and executed what I’ve been doing in practice.”

What’s the secret ingredient in her preparation? Unsurprisingly, it’s all about consistency. “I’m most proud of my high-level consistency over 14 years as a professional runner.”

Like Shalane, other elite runners are successful because they continually develop their cardiovascular, muscular and aerobic capacities over many years. With experience and guidance, they are able to discern ways to minimise injury and therefore reduce the risk of unplanned layoffs or breaks.

Careful preparation is necessary, but it’s also important to be confident about it. On pre-race day, there was not a hint of doubt in Shalane’s mind. “I had a general calmness about me.” Shalane said. “The more confident you are in your training, the less nervous you’ll be on race day.”


2) She celebrates the DIVERSITY of food, and even preaches “indulgent nourishment” through her newest cookbook

“I’m not about diets or counting calories or measuring nutrients…I focus on fuelling for training, so I have good energy.”

In fact, Shalane insists that “incorporate[ing] healthy fats and just a wholesome diet has really extended my career…I don’t think I’d be running at a high level [as of today] if it weren’t for the fact that I changed my diet.” In particular, fats have helped her feel satiated and not “hangry” all the time.

Her typical daily morning routine and diet is as follows:

  • Breakfast – coffee with cream, oatmeal with berries, nuts and creamer.
  • Lunch – salad with grains (e.g. rice, quinoa), roasted vegetables, feta, balsamic dressing and a protein like fish, chicken or steak. Sides include bread and butter and tea. Dessert: chocolate peanut butter cups.
  • Dinner – lasagne with salad or sweet potato salmon cakes with avocado cream sauce. Dessert is often a Yasso bar.

Other staple dishes during training:

  • Superfoods Soup: a creamy, Indian-inspired soup full of veggies and chickpeas and designed for immune system and regulation of inflammation. 
  • Turkey Meatballs for protein and satiety
  • Raspberry & beet smoothie bowl for recovery and rehydration after intervals

Pre-race meal: oatmeal with bananas (which are loaded with potassium), almond milk, a pinch of salt, berries, honey and cinnamon.

Post-race celebration: “A burger and a beer.”


3) Compared to other elites, recovery is as basic as it can be

“Recovery, to me, means sleeping and eating well. If I’m not feeling recovered, I’ll sleep and eat more, and that usually does the trick.” Shalane has a regular sleep cycle, lights out at 9pm and wakes up naturally at 6am.

“Maybe I’ll get a massage, but that’s it.”

I don’t use any fancy gadgets or anything like that.”

Only once in her 14-year running career was Shalane forced to take time off after a back injury, but it turned out to be invaluable.

“Having not raced a marathon in over a year was actually really beneficial to me. I hadn’t had a significant break in my entire career, so I think it was mentally and physically what I needed, and I never would have done it had it not been a forced situation. In a way, I’m appreciative that my body took a break, because I wouldn’t have done it myself, and I think it allowed me to have my best possible training segment leading into New York.”