NEW YORK — Shalane Flanagan thought about the seven years building to this race, possibly her last. She thought about the running star striding next to her. She thought about her family. She thought about Meb.
With one hellacious holler at the finish, it all poured out.
Flanagan dethroned Mary Keitany on Sunday and became the first American woman to win the New York City Marathon since 1977, potentially ending her decorated career with her first major marathon victory.
Flanagan’s breakthrough came in the last career race for American great Meb Keflezighi. The 2009 New York winner collapsed at the finish line, his 42-year-old body pushed to its limit. Keflezighi finished 11th, about five minutes behind 24-year-old winner Geoffrey Kamworor of Kenya.
This may have been Flanagan’s final race, too, although the four-time Olympian wasn’t ready to commit. But she likes the idea of her and Keflezighi going out together.
“I was thinking of Meb and I was thinking of how I wanted to make him proud,” Flanagan said.
Flanagan ended a dominant stretch in New York by Keitany, a Kenyan runner who had won here three straight years. Flanagan stalked Keitany most of the way, hovering behind her during an unusually slow first 20 miles by the lead women.
Flanagan, Keitany and third-place finisher Mamitu Daska of Ethiopia broke from the pack in the 21st mile and with about three miles left, Flanagan hit the jets. She finished in 2 hours, 26 minutes, 53 seconds, about a minute faster than Keitany.
Flanagan cried and yelled as she approached the finish line without another runner in sight.
“It’s indescribable,” the 36-year-old said. “It’s a moment I’m trying to soak up and savor.”
Flanagan had called Keitany “the alpha racer” and said she was ready to “suffer dearly” while keeping pace with the unpredictable Kenyan. As she went stride-for-stride with Keitany in the middle miles, Flanagan wasn’t sure what she’d have for the final stretch.
“There’s always creeping doubts of whether I was going to have enough to beat the best in the world,” she said.