Coming off of the best year of her career, Olympic 10,000m bronze medalist Shalane Flanagan will run into uncharted territory at Saturday's Reebok Boston Indoor Games, her opening effort of the 2009 season. In her 5000m race where she will attempt to break Marla Runyan's American indoor record, Flanagan will compete for the first time since splitting with her coach, John Cook, and her manager, Peter Stubbs.
"It was a tough decision," said Flanagan speaking on her mobile phone from Boston. "It wasn't one to be hastily made over night or anything. Both Erin (Donohue) and I felt that we didn't see eye-to-eye with Coach Cook on several levels." Drawing a parallel with typical business situation she added: "Imagine if you and your boss didn't have the same goals for your company."
Flanagan's coaching change came as a shock to many considering that Cook, a former professional soccer player, had helped Flanagan break the American records at 5000m and 10,000m and guided her training all the way to the Olympic podium. Flanagan readily acknowledged Cook's contribution, but said it was nonetheless time for a change.
"Chemistry is a huge, a huge part of what we do," Flanagan said the coach-athlete relationship. "I look forward to working with a coach with a little more time; I only saw him six or eight weeks out of the year. It's hard to keep that chemistry."
Flanagan, 27, who grew-up in Marblehead on Boston's North Shore, also intends to focus on longer distances, and was looking for a coach who could help her with that transition. "I would hope to be running a marathon in the future," she said.
While she and Donohue both reached the same decision that they should look for a new coaching situation, they are not looking jointly because of a divergence in their goals and living situations. Donohue will continue to focus on running the middle distances. "I think Erin is trying to find someone closer to where she lives," said Flanagan who lives in North Carolina while Donohue lives in New Jersey. "We've run together for almost 10 years now. We're very, very close. Good friends. We respect each others decisions. If we find the same coach I'd love it."
Flanagan and husband Steve Edwards, who is her interim coach and permanent manager, have called several coaches, but are still looking. She declined to say to whom they have spoken. "I think for right now I'm going to keep it confidential, I guess. There are some great coaches out there."
Her decision to part ways with Stubbs, which was effective on Jan. 1, wasn't a related matter, she stressed. "That was absolutely completely separate," she said. "I just think I kind of waited until I finished the Olympic year. Now that we're in a whole new cycle, I've learned a lot of things. I'm really, really excited to have maybe a little more control of my destiny and my future and have little more input."
For Saturday's race, Flanagan is hoping that her recent altitude training in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, will give her enough aerobic power to eclipse Runyan's eight year old record, set at the Armory in New York City in 2001. Runyan had pacing help only through 2200 meters, then ran solo to a 15:07.44 record, a performance Flanagan admires.
"She's a pretty tough lady," said Flanagan who already holds the USA indoor 3000m record of 8:33.25 which she set at this meeting in 2007.
Sure to have many family members, friends and fans in the stands at the Reggie Lewis Center, Flanagan relishes running in Boston. Although Olympic medalist Ejegayehu Dibaba of Ethiopia will also be in the field, there is little doubt that Flanagan will be the crowd favorite.
"I think I'm addicted to the feeling of being able to share the sport with my family and friends and people who care about me," she said. "I love to see them smiling. They know what it takes to put together these performances."
A meet record, however, is unlikely. That's because it was at this meet in 2007 that Olympic gold medalist Tirunesh Dibaba ran a world record 14:27.42.