For Shalane Flanagan, Sunday’s New York City Marathon was more than a foot race. In 26 miles, she also found a rush of thoughts running through her mind.
Five days after the city was shaken by a terrorist who killed eight people in lower Manhattan, Flanagan drew upon the inspiration she found running through the five boroughs, lifting her to become the first American woman to win the marathon in 40 years.
“This last week has been really hard as a nation and in New York,” Flanagan said. “We always need a reason to smile in tough times and hopefully I can bring a few smiles to people’s faces today.”
Flanagan, 36, was in the 2013 Boston Marathon, hearing the blast where terrorists killed three and maimed several others by detonating two bombs near the finish line. She was saddened to have missed this year’s Boston race due to an injury.
“Sometimes you don’t realize in the moment when you feel like dreams are taken away that there can be some delayed gratification down the road,” Flanagan said. “I came here full of energy and motivation and desire to put on the best performance of my life.”
Sunday, she made a final push to the lead with about four miles remaining and glanced at the thousands who cheered her victory in 2 hours, 26 minutes and 53 seconds.
“Athletics,” she said, “is a great way to make people forget about the negative things in the world.”
After conquering a hill at 59th Street, Santa Monica’s Megan Guy was thrilled to learn Flanagan had won, giving Guy “an extra boost,” she said at the finish line.
Guy departed LAX Friday and the former New Yorker said she didn’t hesitate to make the trip with a runner friend from Manhattan Beach.
“Not for a second,” Guy said. “I had put in so much work and I knew New York was going to keep going. This was just awesome. It brought the whole city together, such a feeling of community … a great, great day.”
Belgium’s Koen Naert briefly led the marathon before cramping caused him to finish eighth. He called the undeterred event “fantastic” in light of the tragedy — a man is accused of driving a rented truck down a bike and pedestrian path in the name of Islamic State, leaving one Belgian woman dead and another with two lost legs.
“What happened … affected my country very seriously. Everyone is hurting,” Naert said. “I ran with that in my heart and my thoughts. Every single runner here runs for those people who died. It was such a special race for that reason.”
Former marathon winner and UCLA product Meb Keflezighi, 42, agreed.
Keflezighi retired after finishing 11th in Sunday’s race with a time of 2:15:29, behind Kenyan winner Geoffrey Kanworor (2:10:53).
Keflezighi is credited for boosting the success in recent years of American distance running after becoming in 2009 the first American man in 27 years to win the New York City Marathon and then winning the Boston Marathon in 2014 with the names of the three 2013 bombing victims and a slain police officer written on his race bib.
Keflezighi draped himself in an American flag at the post-race news conference after collapsing at the finish line.
“It was pure exhaustion. My goal was to be top-three or top-10, but it was a beautiful victory lap, so to say,” Keflezighi said. “The emotion gets into you … I stopped four, five times. I can say I gave it all I could.”
He did so for New York after its worst terror attack since 9/11.
“Life and marathons are a journey, but sports is a celebration,” Keflezighi said. “This made us appreciate life. New York, it’s their resilience. They mustered the energy to cheer us on and we have to move forward -- somehow, some way.”
As the mass of more than 60,000 entrants representing more than 125 nations began their winding pursuit, starting in Staten Island, moving through Queens, the Bronx and Brooklyn, finishing in Central Park, New York Mayor Bill De Blasio said, “This is the terrorists’ worst nightmare.
“Look at that unity. Look at that amazing sense that people can all get together and live and let live. This race is one of the best examples to all the rest of the world about what’s great about New York City and what’s great about America. It doesn’t matter what background – everyone’s going to be cheering each other.”