Running six marathons in six weeks

Olympian Shalane Flanagan aims to finish the last of six marathons this Sunday in New York City.

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6, 5, 4, 3, 2… and now 1. American Olympian Shalane Flanagan on Sunday aims to finish the last of the world's six World Marathon Majors within six weeks. 

Two years after retiring from professional running, Flanagan began her journey at the Berlin Marathon on Sept. 26. Since then, the 40-year-old runner has traveled the world, finishing the marathons in London, Chicago, Boston and Portland, Oregon, where she ran a virtual version of the postponed Tokyo Marathon. On Sunday, she plans to complete this self-made challenge by competing in the New York City Marathon, a race she won in 2017. At the time, she became the first American woman to win that race in 40 years.

If Flanagan is successful in her endeavor, it will be an accomplishment unlikely to be repeated. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the three marathons typically held in the spring — Tokyo, Boston, and London — were pushed to the fall, putting all six races within an unprecedented six-week stretch.

If running all six major marathons in just 42 days were not enough, Flanagan, who has an 18-month-old son, also set a time goal for herself. So far, she has been successful in completing each marathon in under three hours. 

In 2014, correspondent Anderson Cooper spoke with Flanagan as she prepared for that year's Boston Marathon. While talking about her marathon strategy, Cooper found a woman who had the sport of running steeped in her DNA, a woman who accepted the sport's physical -- and mental -- struggles.

"When I start to feel fairly uncomfortable, it's all about embracing it and realizing it's inevitable," she tells Cooper in the video above.

"Embracing the pain?" Cooper asks.

"Embracing it, yes," she says. "So if I'm uncomfortable, I usually know my competitors are uncomfortable. If they're straggling behind, that's kind of the time when I say I'm going to put the screw in. I can tell that they're either struggling mentally or physically. So I'm going to just push it and just see if I can break them."

Shalane Flanagan in 2014 CBS News

She almost broke all her competitors in her very first marathon -- New York City in 2010. Remarkably, she came in second place, just 20 seconds behind Kenyan Edna Kiplagat, and completed the 26.2 miles in 2:28:40. It was the best finish by an American woman in New York in 20 years.

But Flanagan comes from a family of impressive race times -- both of her parents were accomplished marathon runners. Her father ran 11 minutes off the world-record pace at the Boston Marathon in 1980, and her mother set a women's world marathon record in 1971.

"I thought everyone's parents ran," she tells Cooper. "I thought everyone got up and went to the, you know, Sunday long run."

A champion cross-country runner in college, Flanagan won a bronze medal in the 10,000 meter race at the Beijing Olympics. But it wasn't until 2009, when she was 28, that she began training for a marathon.