Four-time Olympian and Bowerman Track Club coach Shalane Flanagan reflects on her transition from athlete to coach — and what motivates her as she brings her best to serving her athletes and the Nike Run Club community.
Why not me?
It’s a question I asked myself often as a professional athlete. Running 130 miles a week, training at altitude and living away from family for months at a time, you need a deeper purpose. You need something that gets you out the door on the days when you don’t feel like heading out, and something that drives you to keep digging deep in the hardest workouts — day after day, week after week, buildup after buildup.
For me, it was a vision of success that would pop into my head midway through mile repeats, or in the quad-shredding late stages of a hard tempo run. I would visualize breaking past the pack on Boylston, or breaking the tape in Central Park, and ask: why not me?
As a coach, that question still drives me. But now, my sense of purpose is grounded in serving others and helping my athletes succeed. It’s grounded in sharing my love for running — and being the change I want to see.
The morning after announcing my retirement from professional running and officially beginning my new role as a coach for the Bowerman Track Club, I showed up at the track, as usual. The typical pre-practice chatter morphed into cheers and backslaps for “Coach Shalane.”
It sounded funny, that word: “Coach.” But it also felt so right. As the team spread out to begin the warm-up, I walked down to the track, emotions surging. Yes, there was some sadness in closing a chapter of my life that had brought me such joy and meaning, yet relief in knowing that my head, heart and body were headed toward a new goal.
To me, coaching begins with leading by example. I believe we need more women in the arena of coaching, because we can’t become what we don’t see. We need positive role models for girls and young women at all levels of sport. We need caring, compassionate and inclusive leaders who create communities that lift and inspire — which is why I’m so excited about resources like the Made to Play Coaching Girls Guide, which provides coaches and caring adults with the tools to make sport fun for girls.
I believe we need more women in the arena of coaching, because we can’t become what we don’t see.
Coaching is about understanding athletes as people first. It’s about more than fartleks and tempo runs, writing and delivering workouts — it’s about showing that you care. It might sound simple. But when I think about the coaches who made the greatest impact on my career, it’s the coaches who cared the most about who I was and who I could become, not just how fast I could run.
Coaching is about patience and adaptation — something I’ve learned so much about over this past year, as our team has navigated training through a global pandemic and conditions we could have never predicted. If there's anything I can share from my experience as an athlete, it’s the necessity of focusing on what you can control, and staying positive as you let go of what you can’t. You don’t always get to pick your moments. But if you can hold on to what matters most, that belief and purpose will always carry you through.
For 15 years, I dedicated everything to becoming the best athlete I could be. In the process, I discovered the power of surrounding myself with excellence — and pulling others along with me. When we push each other to realize our collective potential, we can each rise even farther. That’s a philosophy that I carry with me from my days as an athlete, and it’s why it means so much now to reach even more members of the running community as a coach.
Why not me? It’s a question I’ll continue asking for a long time to come. Only now, it’s not just for myself — but for the runners I’m so proud to coach, and the community I’m so honored to serve.