Shalane Flanagan majored in American history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but making history is on her mind this Fourth of July. 

Throughout her decorated career as a professional distance runner, Flanagan has been striding her way into the record books. The 2008 Olympic Bronze Medalist and American record holder in the 10,000m looks to make history again in this year’s AJC Peachtree Road Race Inaugural Peachtree Cup, taking place tomorrow in Atlanta. Coca-Cola is a longstanding sponsor of the race.

New to the 46th annual AJC Peachtree Road Race for 2015, the cup competition features four teams of elite runners—Team Africa, Team Asia, Team Europe and Team USA—led by captains Gebre Gebremariam, Yusuke Hasegawa, Daniele Meucci, and Flanagan, respectively. Six athletes will toe the line for each team, three males and three females, and the team with the fastest cumulative time will earn the $42,000 prize and the inaugural cup.

Flanagan is just coming off of a solid double performance at the USA Track and Field (USATF) Championships last week, where she placed second in the 10,000m and fifth in the 5,000m, qualifying for the IAAF World Championships in Beijing in August. The Peachtree will be her third race in 10 days, but the Flanagan is ready to switch gears from the track to take the road by storm. She spoke to me yesterday about prep for the Peachtree, life as a professional athlete, Taylor Swift, her favorite Coca-Cola beverage and much more.

You’re no stranger to running road races, what does it mean to you to be competing in the Peachtree, the world’s largest 10k?

Not only does it have the tradition of being held for 46 years, but my dad also ran it. He sent me a message today saying that he was 15th when he ran 29:20 back in 1979. I won’t be shooting to break his time, but hopefully I can better his finish. It means a lot to me because it’s the biggest U.S. road race, and it’s on the Fourth of July. A lot of people have it on their bucket list, and it’s definitely been on my bucket list of races to do.

Peachtree Road Race
More than 60,000 runners will hit the streets of Atlanta on July 4 for the AJC Peachtree Road Race.

Nelson Brackin

As Team USA captain for the cup, how have you been leading team, and what are your tactics for Saturday?

The teams were just solidified within the last two weeks, so I didn’t reach out to anyone since a lot of us were actually preparing for the U.S. Championships in track. But I knew once we got all together that would be an appropriate time to sit down and go over everyone’s fitness and what they think they’re capable of. Hopefully we can execute something that’s smart and savvy, and gives us our best chance.

You just doubled in the 5,000m and 10,000m at the USATF Championships. Coming off of those performances, how are you feeling, and what is your goal for the Peachtree?

The goal is to have the team win. So the higher I place, the better chances of us doing that. I’m feeling pretty good, actually. This will be my third race in 10 days, but because I come from such a strength background with the marathon, it doesn’t feel that hard to me. The 10k was a good race for me, but I felt better in the 5k, so I think with each race I’m feeling better and better. I did a little workout on Wednesday before I got here, and I felt surprisingly really good. Hopefully I carry that momentum into Saturday.

Gebremariam-Flanagan-Hasegawa-Meucci at Coca-Cola Headquarters 604
The four AJC Peachtree Road Race Inaugural Peachtree Cup team captains at Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta. Coke is a longstanding sponsor of the hometown race.

You were hindered by a glute and lower back injury in January. What has your training consisted of over the last six months since that setback?

I did a lot of miles leading up to Boston, so February, March and part of April included typical marathon training—a lot of miles. Then I took a short break after the [Boston] Marathon. I only had about five weeks of track training before I ran the U.S. Track Championships, so I feel like my momentum moving into the world championships...I will get fitter and a little bit more track sharp, because I had to quickly switch gears from marathon to track training. I’m excited to improve my fitness over the next month until Beijing.

Do you get nervous for your races? What do you do to quell the nerves?

I used to get a lot more nervous, to the point of almost being debilitated, in high school. I definitely wasn’t able to control my nerves. But as I’ve become fitter, and the more training I’ve done, I have more belief in my training, myself and being able to execute on the day. I still get nervous, but not nearly as much as I used to. I look at my running log a lot before a really big race. When I get nervous, I look back at all of the work that I did. It’s a confirmation that I belong. And the week of a race, I always try not to think about it too much. I catch up with friends and family to distract myself, and remind myself that I have a really great support system.

What about alternate and cross-training? When you’re not pounding the pavement, what do your other workouts consist of?

I’m pretty into swimming. Whenever I get a chance or if I have an afternoon off, I like to go to the pool and do some laps. I was a swimmer in high school, so that’s probably my favorite form of cross-training. It’s like massaging hydrotherapy to me. And I like getting on a spin bike after my marathons to flush out my legs. Maybe triathlons are in my future, because I love biking and swimming. And we are in the gym quite a bit to build our core strength.

What is your weekly mileage now that the Boston Marathon is over?

I’m not running nearly as much as I was for Boston. I didn’t do as much as I typically do for Boston because I had a shorter window of a build-up. So I didn’t try to cram—I was running around 100 to 110. After Boston, I took a week off with no running. Then I was building back into my fitness. I pretty much hovered in the 70 to 80-mile range. That sounds like a lot, but for me it’s not much at all. When I’m racing right now, in these 10 days, I’m only running six or seven miles a day just to make sure I maximize recovery for the hard efforts. Right now, I’m probably only running 40 to 50 miles per week with these races. But then I’ll ramp it right back up once I’m done with this race and as I’m getting ready for the World Championships.

What is your race regimen, from the day-before running and eating all the way through race morning?

Pre-race day, I typically do a 40-minute light run, super easy. I usually end up doing some strides and drills just to loosen up my dynamic flexibility. Sometimes I’ll get a light massage. And one technique I’ve been using since college is an ice bath the night before. It’s my superstitious thing. It’s a love-hate relationship because I feel pretty good if I do it. So this Friday night I’ll be doing that exact routine. As for food, I just tend to not eat anything crazy. My stomach can handle quite a bit. Typically some type of protein—steak, chicken or fish—with some kind of carbohydrate and vegetables, bread, pretty simple. And then the morning of a race, I like to wake up early. With a 7:30 a.m. start, I’ll probably be up around 4 a.m., just to make sure I’m really awake and ready to go. There’s nothing worse than being groggy on the start line. And my pre-race morning meal is typically oatmeal and some type of fruit, nuts and coffee.

So with a 4 a.m. wake-up, how early will you go to sleep tonight?

I like to get into bed and try to decompress pretty early. So I’ll probably climb into bed around 9 p.m., trying to be asleep by 10 p.m.

And that’s enough sleep for you, 10 p.m. to 4 a.m?

Oh yeah, I’ve run marathons where I’ve literally not slept a wink the night before. It’s amazing what adrenaline and being fit can do. You can always muster through a race.

You ran in 90 degree heat for the 10k at the USATF Championships last weekend. How are you feeling about the humid 'Hotlanta' weather?

I feel a little bit calloused to the heat. The humidity is another factor, but I think that at 7:30 in the morning it will be fine.

So when it’s time to cool off, what’s your favorite beverage?

Actually, this one (gestures to Dasani Mixed Berry Sparkling Water). I love sparkling water, [because] I get so tired of just plain water.

What’s your post-race guilty pleasure?

After a marathon, it’s pretty much tradition—burger and beer are my go-to's, with fries. After the Berlin Marathon, I ate fries all night and drank beer. After this race, probably something very All-American once I get back to Oregon. Hopefully grilling hot dogs.

After the Peachtree, what’s your plan for recovery and celebration? Any special Fourth of July plans?

Recovery will be a few miles of cool down, and then I’ll pretty much head straight to the airport. I’ll be traveling back to Oregon, so I’ll probably have close to a 20-hour day before I go to bed. Hopefully I'll be spending time with my teammates. We have plans to drive out to the coast for the evening and hang out on the beach. It’ll be a long day, but super fun. I don’t get to be home very often... I’m gone probably half the year, living in a suitcase, so I really treasure every moment I can be home. 

Elizabeth Conway and Shalene Flanagan

What are your training essentials in terms of gear?

I’m not too gadgety. I have a Garmin, but I don’t wear it every day because I don’t want to be obsessive about splits. I try to be intuitive. If I’m tired, to not try to hit a certain pace. But it’s cool to see how far I’ve run in a specific day, and how fast I ran. And if I’m training alone, music definitely gets me through my marathon training if I don’t have anyone to run with.

What’s your favorite song right now?

I love anything by Taylor Swift. "Bad Blood" is my new jam right now. 

Elizabeth Conway (pictured at left, with Flanagan) is a summer intern on the Coca-Cola Journey team. A rising junior at Brown University, Elizabeth is a member of both the cross-country and track-and-field teams. She was named New Hampshire high school runner of the year in 2011-2012 and 2012-2013.