Shalane Flanagan Came Out of Retirement to Run 6 Marathons In 42 Days for Her 'Project Eclipse'

The 40-year-old mom of one came out of retirement with one big goal: to conquer the six World Majors in 42 days. And not only did she do it, but she fell in love with running again along the way.

In 2019, decorated Olympian Shalane Flanagan chose to retire from her successful professional running career. This decision came in the wake of a serious patella tendon tear in her right knee, which required surgical intervention. A mere six months later, Flanagan went under the knife once more for an identical procedure on her left knee. However, these challenges only seemed to fuel her passion, leading to her impressive return to the sport.

Flanagan publicly declared her comeback via an Instagram post, where she expressed her deep-rooted love for running and its integral role in her life. In this heartfelt letter addressed to 'Running', the 40-year-old athlete revealed how the inability to run during her recovery period made her realize its significance. She admitted needing it to truly feel like herself.

In the same announcement, Flanagan introduced her most ambitious venture yet: participating in all six races of the Abbott World Marathon Majors, all within a timespan of seven weeks. The pandemic-led condensation of the annual marathon schedule, typically starting with Tokyo's race in early March and ending with New York City's marathon in November, presented Flanagan with the unique opportunity. Not just content with participation, she also aimed to finish each marathon in less than three hours.


In a telephonic interview with The Washington Post, Flanagan expressed her reasons for taking this step. "The basic answer is because I have the ability to do so." she stated. "Not everyone possesses this privilege. After I hung up my running shoes in 2019, I underwent two knee surgeries that I feared would keep me off the track permanently. So, right now, it's more of a celebration of my regained health and being able to run again. It might seem a little unusual but my 20 years of accumulated running experience and training has prepared me for this. Currently, I'm feeling fit and healthy. Above all, I'm just rejoicing in the fact that I can run again."

Flanagan also acknowledged that the pandemic brought about a revelation regarding her relationship with running. She told The Washington Post, "Post-retirement, accompanied by a year without running, I discovered that I was dependent on running not just for my physical health but significantly for my mental well-being. Running makes me feel whole and I realized its impact on my overall happiness, mental sharpness and mood." (Refer: 13 Physical and Mental Benefits of Running)


Shalane Flanagan in an interview with the Washington Post

Shalane Flanagan kicked off "Project Eclipse" with the Berlin marathon on September 26, finishing with a time of 2:38:32. On October 3, she participated in the London marathon, confessing via an Instagram post that it was the first time she'd ever had to walk during a marathon. Despite this, she finished in 2:35:04. A tough challenge awaited as the Chicago and Boston marathons were scheduled for consecutive days. She successfully completed the Chicago marathon on October 10, just a week after her London run, clocking 2:46:39. The very next day, she triumphed in Boston, the city where she grew up, finishing in 2:40:34. The fifth marathon was a virtual race, held in honor of the Tokyo marathon, which would have taken place on October 16. Sporting a bib labeled 'Jack's Mom', she ran the race near her hometown in Oregon in 2:35:14, cheered on by close friends and family. (To put it into perspective, the average marathon time is roughly two hours longer). On November 7, she competed in the sixth and final race of Project Eclipse, the New York City marathon. She crossed the finish line in 2:33:32, achieving her ambitious goal of running six marathons in 42 days. This remarkable feat comes after two major knee surgeries and ending her retirement. Sharing her experience on Instagram after the New York race, Flanagan wrote, "Over the past seven weeks, I've rediscovered my love for running, racing, and marathons... but today's feelings were beyond anything I could have anticipated." She continued, "It was my quickest. It was the most enjoyable. It was my favorite. Just what I wanted. Fulfilling your goals in a marathon is never certain... but today, I made myself proud."


Shalane Flanagan is determined to empower and inspire others, particularly young women in sports. She believes in the profound connection between physical and emotional wellbeing and wants to motivate people to discover their passions. For her, this passion is realized in pursuing her goals, one marathon at a time.

In an Instagram post, she shared her desire to make others believe they can achieve anything. Moreover, she encourages those who might wish to run a marathon but feel daunted by the challenge. She emphasizes that it's okay to take things slowly, even one mile at a time.

During a press event for Nike on November 5, just before the New York Marathon, Flanagan revealed how she had to walk during her first London Marathon. Despite being an elite runner where walking is generally frowned upon, she found it helpful when she was struggling. A short 30-second walk helped her regroup mentally and physically, enabling her to get back on pace.

She further advised that if runners face challenges with fueling on the go, walking through some aid stations to take proper nutrition can be beneficial. Flanagan now advocates for the underestimated tactic of walking during marathons, insisting that there's no shame in it and could potentially enhance performance.


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