Shalene Flanagan was always an athlete. When she wasn’t running cross country and doing track, she played soccer and swam. Flanagan grew up in Massachusetts and attended the University of North Carolina where she received a degree in art. In the 2008 Summer Olympics, she medaled in the 10,000 meters and she holds American records for 3K meters, 5K meters and the 15K road race. She also won the Women’s 2017 New York City Marathon, the first American female to accomplish this feat since the 1970s. She and her former college teammate and chef Elyse Kopecky teamed up to write a couple of cookbooks including the best-selling Run Fast Eat Slow.Flanagan has hundreds of thousands of followers on social media. She is 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs about 113 lbs.
Shalene Flanagan’s Diet
Flanagan says she avoided fat in college, resulting in athletic amenorrhea, which means her period stopped — for 15 years. After moving to Switzerland, she changed her diet from veggie burgers and low-fat yogurt to grass-fed beef and whole milk yogurt and her periods returned, giving her personal insight into the importance of fat in a healthy diet. She now eats a diet rich in whole, natural foods and avoids processed foods and sugar for the most part. She credits her diet with giving her tons of energy and preventing injury. She does not subscribe to any complicated dieting methods, such as count macros, carb- or protein-loading or follow any restrictive meal plans. She believes everyone, even pro athletes, can enjoy real food.
- Medium Protein 30% 30%
- Medium Fat 35% 35%
- Medium Carb 55% 55%
Focus on Quality
Elite athletes often count macros, but Flanagan focuses on quality rather than hitting certain numbers. It’s easier to track macros on packaged foods, but it’s healthier to eat things that don’t come out of cellophane wrappers.
Flanagan’s largest meal is breakfast. Her nutritionist says that if you skimp on the morning meal (or skip it altogether), you’re much more likely to feel hungry and snack throughout the day, leading to overeating.
Flanagan eats 3 substantial, balanced meals each day, along with 1-2 snacks if she’s training hard.
The Well-Stocked Pantry
Like most people, Flanagan is busy, so she keeps meals and snacks ready or almost ready to go so that she’s never caught out when she’s hungry but short on time. Fruit, nuts, and hard-boiled eggs are her go-to snacks.
‘Runger’ is running-induced hunger that can feel insatiable, and potentially cause runners to gain weight. Flanagan combats runger by not shying away from fat or carbs, and making sure all her meals and snacks are nutrient-dense.
Bring On the Sugar (& Grease & Booze)
Flanagan’s secret indulgence is donuts. She also has a weakness for burgers and fries, and a tasty Oregon IPA.
What to Eat
What to Avoid
Flanagan on Her Diet
‘Nutrition is essential and I”m working on improving that.’
Flanagan on Hydration
‘Hydration is huge. Drinking while running is hard, it’s a skill to learn. It’s hard, your GI system is not used to taking in water while running.’
Flanagan on Fat
‘Having a good balance of healthy fats at every meal and snack is going to make what you eat stick with you longer and give you energy throughout the day.’
Flanagan on Butter
‘If you’re using good quality cultured grass-fed butter, it’s really nutritious and is high in vitamins and minerals.’
Flanagan on Health
‘Learn to cook! Spending more time in the kitchen is the best thing you can do for your health.’
Shalene Flanagan’s Fitness Routine
Going the Distance
Distance running is all about long hours on the trail. Flanagan will often run 2-3 hours per day when in training.
Don’t Go It Alone
Flanagan trains with a partner. It helps to motivate her as well as keeping her competitive.
Core & More
Flanagan says a strong core keeps her going at the end of a long workout, and at the end of a marathon. Some of her favorite moves are pull-ups, dips, and medicine ball throws. She also likes squats on the bosu ball, planks and crunches.
When Flanagan is prepping for a marathon, she’ll run 100-120 miles per week, which works out to 14-17 miles per day. She does her long run in the morning and a shorter one in the late afternoon. She also does active recovery stretching each day.
Hit the Gym
In addition to running, Flanagan goes to the gym 3 times a week which she says helps build muscle and prevent injury. She’ll do a combination of stretching, and balance and bodyweight exercises.
Before a big race, Flanagan does a ‘dress rehearsal,’ a long run on tired legs, wearing the clothes she’ll wear to the race, drinking the same fluids, etc. to simulate the real event and prepare her physically and mentally, giving her a sense of readiness and control.
For a 5K
One week before race day, run 1 mile easy, then 2×1 mile at race pace. Take a 2-3 min recovery between intervals.
For a 10K
One week prior to race day, run 2 miles easy and 3 miles at race pace. Do 2-3 min of rest or easy running, then do another mile at race pace. Cool down with 1 easy mile.
For a Half-marathon
Two weeks prior, run 3 miles easy, 5-6 miles at race pace, then 2 more miles easy. Try to run on a route with similar terrain to race course.
For a Marathon
Four weeks out, run 3 miles easy, 10 miles at race pace, then another 2 miles easy. Again, try to find terrain that mimics that of race day.
Flanagan on Running
‘All runners are tough. Every one has to have a little fire in them that, even in tough times, can’t be turned off.’
Flanagan on Training
‘In the midst of an ordinary training day, I try to remind myself that I am preparing for the extraordinary.’
Flanagan on Perseverance
‘It is very rewarding to feel and see progress. I am going to put my head down and keep plugging away. I believe the best is yet to come.’
Flanagan on Excuses
‘No excuses. Just do the work.’
Shalene Flanagan’s Supplements
Unlike refined sugar that has been stripped of its nutrients, blackstrap molasses contains iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamin B6 and selenium. Flanagan uses blackstrap molasses to sweeten a smoothie while enhancing her nutrition.
Electrolytes are important for endurance athletes to help reduce fluid loss, reduce cramping, and stress due to perspiration. Flanagan will often have a drink or a gel while running rather than water.
Shalene Flanagan’s Lifestyle
Flanagan says she goes to bed and gets up at the same time to keep her body on schedule. The lights go out at 9 pm and she wakes up naturally at 6 am.
The Unglamorous Life
Flanagan says that when she’s training for a marathon, she does almost nothing else, and that it’s a lot less glamorous than most people think.
State For the Record
Both of Flanagan’s parents are accomplished runners. Her husband is a star track and field athlete too.
State For the Record
In high school, Flanagan won the National Scholastic Indoor Championship with a time of 4:46 for 1 mile. Her 2-mile record still stands in the state of Massachusetts.
Flanagan on Courage
‘If you have the courage to fail then you have the courage to succeed.’
Flanagan on Winning the 2017 NYC Marathon
‘It’s a moment I’m trying to soak up and savor. This is the moment I’ve dreamed of since I was a little girl.’
Flanagan on Pride
‘I will go through a lot of pain to beat someone. If there’s pride and ego on the line, if I’m desperate, then I’m willing to go to a place where it hurts a lot more.’
Flanagan on Napping
‘I hit a slump in the afternoon and during peak training. I always find time for a power nap.’