If everything goes to plan, Shalane Flanagan will cross the finish line in the New York City Marathon sometime Sunday morning, completing her goal of running the world’s six major marathons in a 42-day span.

It has been an odd and dizzying quest for a 40-year-old runner whose career highlights include making four Olympic teams, earning a silver medal in the 10,000 meters at the 2008 Beijing Games and winning New York in 2017. She is retired, she insists, after having reconstructive surgery on both knees, but the compressed marathon schedule resulting from pandemic-related postponements created an intriguing rarity she calls an “eclipse,” and like enchanted sky watchers, she traveled the world on her 157.2-mile journey.

The whole thing is, she laughs, a little crazy, but it’s also “magical,” a journey of miles and of self-discovery. Still, the biggest question surrounding it might be, “Why?”

“The short end of the why is because I can,” Flanagan said in a recent phone conversation. “It’s not a given for everyone. I retired in 2019, and I had two knee surgeries that I thought were going to take me out from running forever, so I’m just, like, in a way, celebrating my health, the fact that I can run again. I know it sounds a little crazy to do this, but I have 20 years of running behind me and all this training, and I feel fit. I feel healthy. I just appreciate the ability to run again.

“After my retirement and a year of no running, I realized that I needed running more for my mental health than actually the physical aspect. I need it to just feel like myself, and I realized how much it played a role in my happiness, my mental clarity and my mood.”

Then an intriguing possibility revealed itself when the world marathon calendar was finalized: Berlin on Sept. 26, London on Oct. 3, Chicago and Boston on back-to-back days Oct. 10 and 11, Tokyo (a virtual race that Flanagan ran on Sauvie Island near her Portland, Ore., home) a week later and now New York City on Sunday.

“I missed having a goal, for sure,” she said. “In the covid abyss of nothingness and no goals, I really, really wanted to have something to kind of set my sights on, and in January, the world majors released their schedule, and I saw that all of them would be run in 42 days. I thought, ‘Oh, man, like, someone should do that.’

“And then I thought, ‘Well, who would that be?’ Nike, who’s been my sponsor for a long time, brought it to my attention that women are dropping out of sports at a younger age, and that made me pretty bummed out because here I am at age 40, I’m enjoying my sport more than ever, and I know just how transformative sports can be for your life. I wanted to use the marathons as a platform to encourage young women that sport is a lifelong thing. It’s not temporary and short. It can be forever and have a huge impact in a positive way.”

Flanagan set a goal of finishing each marathon in under three hours, and she is 5 for 5 so far.

“I’m not a professional athlete. I’m a working mom, and I have a lot on my plate,” Flanagan said. “To me, originally, that was really, really hard to run. Six of them in 42 days under three hours felt like a really audacious goal, and I’ve exceeded my expectations, which is great. But on any given day, anything could happen — like a side stitch or a blister. Things can go awry, so I don’t take for granted the fact that I’ve been able to run them as well as I have.”

Flanagan said she hadn’t really considered how she might feel when she crosses the finish line in Central Park and whether there would be an emotional release beyond what she feels at the end of every marathon.

“I actually haven’t thought of it that way, but I cry after almost every marathon — not all of them, but it’s very emotional. You can’t take for granted completing a marathon, because there’s nothing easy about it, right?”

Flanagan will be inducted into the New York Road Runners Hall of Fame this week, something that she says adds “a full circle moment” in New York with family and friends joining her. So it may well be overwhelming. And she may not be the only one in tears.

“There’s a degree of just such a deep appreciation. People are tired but in the most beautiful way. It’s, like, self-inflicted fatigue that, like, they wanted to go through that, and it’s, like, an emotional journey to get to the start line just in itself,” she said. “Then to get to the actual finish line is like a whole other level of just — I don’t know — there’s something transformative through those 26 miles.”

Although her patellas have hamstring tendons from cadavers, Flanagan has come through the eclipse stronger than she expected.

“I use the Nike Sports Research Lab because I live right near the Nike headquarters, and since they’re my sponsor, they’ve been monitoring me, my tissue grafts to my knees, to make sure I’m not doing anything wrong throughout this whole project,” she said. “And the quads and a lot of the tissue has actually gotten stronger. It’s good to know that I’m recovering well. We’ve been tracking it very carefully.”

Flanagan also has become a successful author, along with her best friend, Elyse Kopecky. Their third book, “Rise & Run,” was published this week as a companion to “Run Fast. Eat Slow.” and “Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow.” The books are the product of a friendship forged at the University of North Carolina, and Kopecky, who also lives in Oregon, will run the New York City Marathon, too.

As for what comes next, don’t expect to see Flanagan in the Boston Marathon in April. Her duties as a coach of the Bowerman Track Club will keep her from that, as will chasing her toddler son, Jack. Besides, eclipses are rare things.

“I don’t know what can top this, so we’re not looking to set another goal other than just use running as a vehicle to connect with communities, connect with my athletes that I serve and help them. And you know, running with my friends is really important to me. It’s a great way to decompress and just elevate our moods, everything.

“I call [running] a ‘better person drug.’ I’m just a better person if I can run, so I’ll do whatever I can to keep running for as long as I can. But in terms of, like, goals like this, I haven’t conjured up any crazy ideas beyond this one.”

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