Shalane Flanagan stormed to victory at the New York City marathon inspiring thousands all over the globe. A pelvic stress fracture in February forced Flanagan to withdraw from her hometown Boston Marathon in the spring. Being the “least prepared in her whole career” the Silver Olympic medalist missed out on selection for the World Championships. 4 of her Bowerman Track Club training partners boarded the plane to London without her (Amy Cragg- Marathon, Emily Infield- 10,000m, Courtney Frerichs- 3000m Steeplechase and Shelby Houlihan- 5000m).
The Bowerman track club brought home 3 out of the 7 distance medals for the U.S. Yet it isn't the only elite team out there. They are amongst several track clubs (Oregon TC elite, Mammoth TC, Boulder TC to name a few), many are products of one of the leading running brands.
Arguably the most famous elite group (perhaps for the wrong reasons) is the formidable Oregon Project. The Chicago Marathon saw USA domination from two members. Galen Rupp broke the tape and Jordan Hasay finished 3rd in 2.20.57 - the 2nd fastest american female ever. This isn't exactly new for 2017. The USA distance scene hasn't been an overnight success. It's been slowly brewing and it's only a matter of time before it will explode.
Why are these elite clubs producing champions?
Whilst avoiding going into the controversial debate about the Oregon Project, it can’t be denied that these elite groups of athletes have been contributing to the rise of american distance running.
It seems simple to me - get a group of talented athletes, put them in a well structured environment with a good coach and you’re on to a winning formula. With positivity and a supportive attitude amongst the team, the group is able to push each other to the next level. Success breeds success - which is clear from the Bowerman Track Club. There’s no petty competitive bitchiness in training, which often plagues both female and male training groups. But instead, respect, inspiration and genuine pleasure in seeing each other do well.
They say running is an individual sport. I disagree. Training is a team effort and the Americans certainly grasp this concept well. Perhaps from it being ingrained in them from the collegiate system - The NCAA's cross country are all about the team position (New Mexico Women and North Arizona Men were D1 champions at this weekends NCAA XC champs).
If it seems so simple why aren’t we doing this in the UK?
A few groups are starting to pop up here and there. But the concept doesn’t seem to be catching on. Instead of British Athletics funding a few individual athletes, why not fund an elite training group? Why don’t the brands sponsor a group of athletes rather than an individual?
Getting the UK’s top distance runners to live and train together under a top distance coach is guaranteed to have a brilliant outcome. Of course not all athletes would be up for it, but I’m sure many would relish the opportunity.
British Athletics and the brands could learn a great deal from the success of the elite distance groups over the pond. With some innovation and external funding, having more emphasis on a team rather than one or two athletes may be the way forward.
More emphasis on teamwork. More inspiring one another, not outrunning each other. Embracing your training partners, not being threatened by them.
Elevate your team mates and you’ll all rocket for the moon.
That's the Shalane effect.
Every single one of her training partners — 11 women in total — has made it to the Olympics while training with her, an extraordinary feat. Call it the Shalane Effect: You serve as a rocket booster for the careers of the women who work alongside you, while catapulting forward yourself.