Get the latest from TODAY

Sign up for our newsletter
/ Source: TODAY
By Donna Freydkin

It’s the age-old trope, and a very tired cliche — that women are catty and competitive, biting and bitter. Long distance running champion Shalane Flanagan, winner of the 2017 New York City Marathon and the first American woman to do so since 1972, is here to prove otherwise.

She trains in Portland, Oregon. And she does so with a team of runners who serve as each other’s biggest support systems. Yes, they compete against each other. But they also help each other cross finish lines and encourage one another to go just that little bit further. It works.

Just recently, Ariana Luterman helped BMW Dallas Marathon winner Chandler Self finish the race.

“I don’t know that it was a conscious decision,” Flanagan says of her women-centric training approach. “I like working with other women. I find that I enjoy what I do more when I work with other people. The solo pursuit of excellence, it’s hard to do it alone. It wasn’t a conscious decision to be a leader. It just naturally happened. I want to keep including more and more women because I thoroughly enjoy it.”

In fact, she credits healthy competition for her long career.

“The reason that I am still running — and I am 36 — and been doing it so long is because I have a group of women to train with. The accountability and camaraderie — after the New York marathon I had to take a week off to recover. But I was chomping to get back into my running because I get to go run with my friends and gossip and chat.

"With young women, having a group and having inclusion, is huge,” she says.

Plus, even she has off days, meaning those morning she’d rather sleep in and veg out. That’s not entirely doable when you have runners waiting for her.

“The accountability of knowing you have to meet your teammates is huge,” she says.

Parents, take note: sports build confidence and self-assurance. Plus, they keep kids fit. But rather than pushing youngsters into hard-core programs, Flanagan says to keep things pressure-free and fun. It worked for her!

“I was surrounded by running when I was young. My parents are both runners. It’s great if you can incorporate running into other sports. I played soccer. I was a downhill skier,” she says. “I didn’t take running really seriously until my junior or senior year of high school. Like any sport. Incorporate the fun aspect and keep it lighthearted and fun. There’s no real age limit.”