Olympic Runner Shalane Flanagan on Her 'Unprecedented' First Year as a Coach and New Mom

Like most people, 2020 has been a whirlwind of a year for Shalane Flanagan.

The Olympic medalist and 2017 New York City Marathon winner retired from running last October and has since returned to the track not as an athlete, but as a professional coach.

After feeling "at peace" with her historic and accomplished career, Flanagan tells PEOPLE she was "excited" about her new opportunity to inspire a young group of runners at the Bowerman Track Club, a Nike-sponsored group, in Portland, Oregon.

Flanagan, 39, says she realized she wanted to get into coaching when she started to become more interested in the athletes around her and their running careers as opposed to her own.

"Mine was on the back end of a career, and I just felt excited by their potential more than my own," she explains. "When my athletes do something exceptional, or exceed their expectations for themselves, or [I] see them have personal growth, I get a similar kind of high as to when I would have athletic achievements for myself. It's really rewarding."

Flanagan also adds that she was looking forward to becoming a coach, as professional female coaches in the track and field arena are few and far between.

"I think that my role is to show that other women need to also get into coaching," she says. "It creates a cohesive, well-rounded coaching staff to be honest because there are just different needs that the female athletes have."

However, with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Flanagan's first season coaching has been anything but normal.

"It's been an interesting, unprecedented first year of coaching," she admits. "But that's what athletics taught me a lot, is how to pivot, how to adjust, and just go with the flow and make the best of the situation that's at hand."

Not only has Flanagan taken on a new job at the track, but she's also assumed a new role at home — being a mom.

Flanagan and husband Steven Edwards welcomed their son, Jack Dean Edwards, via adoption in April.

"Not only does COVID upend routines, but so does a young child," she jokes.

While Flanagan is used to a fast-paced life, she says her son has "made [her] slow down and appreciate things around [her]."

"He's growing so quickly," she says. "It's been wild just because life is not normal and there's no routine, so trying to create an environment in my home where I can create a routine has been important."

In balancing her busy schedule as a first-time mom and new coach, Flanagan says she's been doing plenty of planning, and has also been relying on her support system.

As for making time for her own workouts, the athlete is "trying to keep it light and fun" in finding creative ways to break a sweat.

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"If it means integrating your children into that workout, so be it," she says. "Jack has certainly been a part of some workouts within our home recently…[I've been] using him as a squat weight to get some of my physical therapy exercises done that I need for my knees."

"Strive for just getting something in, and not being perfect, I think is the mantra," she adds.

For those trying to stay active while stuck at home, Flanagan says innovation is key.

"[Use] whatever you can find. I'll grab tennis shoes and turn them into weights, or cans of soup or getting a set of stairs and doing some lunges on and off the stairs," she shares. "It's a true test of everyone's innovations at this moment."






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