Ben Flanagan went out fast this week at the 10K competition in Boston, put on by the organizers of the Boston Marathon. Fresh off winning the 10K championships in Ottawa, Flanagan, 27, from Kitchener, Ontario, knew he felt good and ready to run fast, but he was admittedly struggling as he tossed out his race plan and ran like the dickens during the first few kilometres of his international event.
“I’d like to say I was able to find another gear in the last mile, but I was in total survival mode,” says Flanagan, reached in Massachusetts where he described himself as “a little beat up, but excited to get back at it.”
As for the last few kilometres of his race? “I knew we were in risky territory,” he said.
Flanagan—all of five feet, six inches—ran the 10K race in 28:11, and smashed the previous Canadian all-time record, set by Paul McCloy, in 1987.
The record Flanagan broke had been held for 35 years. “I feel like I found my place among guys I’ve looked up to my whole career,” he says. “Pretty crazy.”
The race was held in blazing heat and Flanagan opened up his 10K by running his 5K pace for the first three kilometres. For anyone curious about the “go-like-crazy-and-try-to-hold-on” philosophy of racing, that was Flanagan’s unintentional approach. Despite himself, it worked.
“I was trying to find the finish line without fighting the body too much and trying to keep from getting complacent,” Flanagan explains, mentioning that the harder things get in a race, the more uncomfortable, the more important it becomes to stay calm.
“It’s about finding the balance between getting comfortable, but not getting too comfortable—it’s about sustainable discomfort, how to cross the finish line fast, without bonking the last few Ks.”
Flanagan was a famous high school and collegiate athlete and he currently trains in Michigan with Coach Ron Warhurst and has been active on the scene for a decade. Still, Flanagan attributes at least some of his record-breaking success to tweaks he made with Warhurst in preparation of his historic race. Despite years of racing, his mechanics needed tweaks.
“One thing Ronnie really pitches is: ‘Don’t fight your body.’ It’s easy to think the toughest one out there wins and grit goes a long way, but not as far as cooperating with your body,” says Flanagan, and then gives out the million-dollar information. So, how did you achieve historic racing success?
“Even when the race gets hard, focus on your arms and keep them high,” he says. “Keep your shoulders relaxed and use your arm swing to carry your legs.“
I asked him if that advice is good for even us middle of the pack, six-pack runners, and he said absolutely. “I think that’s good advice for anybody, and I also think over-striding is probably a very common problem. Shorten your stride for a quicker turnover and you’ll run in a more efficient way.”
Efficiency is something Flanagan has gotten better at, but what he’s never needed help with is his confidence. He says he’s ecstatic with his record. What he’s not, however, is satisfied.
“I want to break records, man. Cam’s marathon record is the one I want the most,” says Flanagan of Cam Levins’s 2:09:25 marathon time, the all-time fastest marathon run by a Canadian man. Ben Flanagan has never run a marathon before. But, to be fair, Levins hadn’t run the marathon either before becoming Canada’s fastest marathon man. “My body isn’t trained yet for the marathon. That’s probably a year away,” Flanagan says. “I want the 5K record and I want the half marathon record. I want all of them, my goals are ambitious. I want to rewrite the record book.”
Flanagan certainly has the experience and the tools to achieve great things, building from his historic showing in Boston where he became Canada’s all-time fastest runner in the 10K. He runs in On shoes, Swiss-engineered sneakers that have been described as running on a cloud. Want to try out his shoes? On is giving away a pair to one male and one female iRun subscriber and all you have to do is guess which record Flanagan will break next. Leave your vote in the comments and you’re entered to win. Results will be announced Wednesday, July 6: good luck, and good luck always to Big Ben.
Top photograph by Benjamin Weingart; second photo courtesy of On.