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Ben Flanagan — June, 2018
Ben Flanagan is the 2018 NCAA 10,000 meter Champion. At the 2017 NCAA Cross Country Championships Ben placed 20th after winning the NCAA Great Lakes Region title. He is a three-time All-American and has won two Big Ten Conference titles at 10,000 meters. Ben was a four-year cross country team captain and a member of the 2015 Great Lakes Regional Championship team and 2015 and 2017 Big Ten Championship teams. He is four-time USTFCCCA All-Academic and Six-time Academic All-Big Ten. Flanagan competed for St. Mary's High School in Kitchener, Ontario, where he was Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) 7K champion in 2010 and 2012. Ben was a three-year member of the Canadian Junior National Team, finishing third at the 2012 NACAC Championships. He placed second at Junior Canadian Cross Country Championships in 2012 and seventh in 2011 and finished 34th at the IAAF World Junior Cross Country Championships. Ben placed 16th at 1,500 meters at the 2011 IAAF World Youth Championships in Lille, France. His personal best times are: mile - 1,500 meters - 3:50.67; mile - 4:07.05; 3,000 meters - 8:04.12; 5,000 meters - 13:48.58 and 10,000 meters – 28:34.53. Ben is working on his Master’s degree in Social work. He was gracious to spend an hour and 45 minutes on the phone two weeks after the 2018 NCAA Track and Field Championships.
GCR: It’s been just a little over two weeks since you won the NCAA 10,000 meters. Now you’re back in graduate school and you’re working part-time. As you get back into your daily routine, has it sunk in that you’re NCAA 10,000 meter champ and what is the feeling to be on top of the podium?
AA Let me start by saying first that I appreciate your time and I’m grateful to be here. To answer your question, the last two weeks have gone by in a flash. It’s hard to believe that much time has already gone by. And as for the feeling of having sunk in yet - yes and no. I’ve come around to it a lot more. The first week I was on a high and it was pretty tough to acknowledge what had just happened. Two weeks down the road I have a greater sense of it. I feel grounded a lot more. I have a better understanding of the whole situation. But I have to remind myself kind of on a daily basis what really happened because this accomplishment is of a magnitude way higher than anything I’ve done before. I’m trying to stay humble, trying to stay grateful and appreciate the moment that I’m still in now.
GCR: You mentioned how it exceeded by so much what you have done before. You came into the race as only the 19th fastest runner and with a best previous NCAA finish of only 14th place. Despite those on the outside thinking that you were a dark horse based on your credentials, what in your training and mental preparation led you to believe you were ready to compete for medals and a victory?
AA That is a great point that I was about 19th in the field and also my PR was only 29:13 which was actually from the first 10k I ever ran on the track two years ago. So, I knew I was due for a PR. I didn’t really know how big it was going to be. I had a hunch that I could break 29 minutes. From my training there were a couple of things. I was a bit banged up coming off of indoor season so that caused a late start to my outdoor season. By the time the Big Ten Championships came around and things really started clicking together, I felt like my season had just started. When I look back on the 2018 NCAA outdoor timeline, there were guys who ran low 28s back a month before NCAAs and I have to give them credit because it’s tough to do coming off of indoor season. But I can relate to those guys and how difficult it is to stay in a training block that long. To try to peak again at NCAAs is a pretty tough feat. I knew that it maybe wouldn’t take a low 28 minute time to be in the mix. But if that’s what it took, I felt like I was still ready to do that on the day. There was a focus in training that we addressed as we started working on speed work a lot more. I got comfortable running 400 meters in less than 57 seconds which is a speed I wasn’t really that familiar with in the past. Those were difficult workouts and that was a big confidence booster. The Big Ten 10k was a fairly slow race but the last mile we clipped down where every lap was faster and we were able to close in about a 4:16 mile. By the time Regionals came around we were able to get a big negative split in the Florida hear to run my second fastest 10k ever. I closed in a 57 point 400 meters and challenged Abel Kiprop to the line. That was a moment where I was no longer afraid of anybody in the country. I wasn’t sure I was going to win at NCAAs, because I don’t think a win is ever guaranteed, but I did feel very confident that I could go into the race and challenge anybody in the last 400 meters and I knew that in the last 200 meters I was going to have to wait and see just how I felt in that moment.
GCR: Since your Coach, Kevin Sullivan, is a three-time Olympian and four-time NCAA champion, he knows what it is like to be in that position to be race-sharp to run the race of your life. So how did he help you when you needed to be in the moment?
AA That is so true that Sully is a total legend in the track and field world and he just carries this experience that is on another level. Let’s face it – he was one of the best NCAA athletes of all time. But I think what is really important to credit him with is, despite the accolades he has, he doesn’t make the assumption that the exact same recipe is going to work for each athlete. This is a pretty remarkable characteristic to carry. Due to his experience he can tell me what a championship style race is going to be like. He has been there himself. But he caters workouts to a style that fits me best. It may not replicate what Sully did back in his racing days. He took tools that he did under Coach Ron Warhurst and the type of styles that give a runner that mental edge going into the championship portion of the season. But he also made sure to mix in the Ben Flanagan style of workouts that were going to maximize my personal potential. That’s something I really credit him with because that can be challenging to deal with when a coach has had so much success with their own personal development.
GCR: When you go into championship races the tactics can be quite varied. The race can go out fast, there could be multiple surges in the middle or it could be slow with a long, hard last 2,000 meters. What was your race strategy, what was in your mindset based on various scenarios that might present themselves and how did you adjust as the race went on?
AA I had a hunch that the race was going to go out faster than 29 minute pace just because there were so many schools represented in the field that had multiple athletes running. When I looked back to the fall of 2017 in cross country and the way Tyler Day and Matt Baxter of Northern Arizona just absolutely dominated from the front, I knew those guys were going to go in super-confident. It made sense that they would approach the race the same since they had success running that way in the fall. Then there was the Alabama trio, that throughout the entire year from cross country to indoor track and outdoor track, had a tendency to run from the front. Between those two groups I had a feeling someone was going to take it out. I didn’t know exactly who it was going to be. However, I wasn’t banking on it. I didn’t want to get too set on any specific race plan and I stayed adaptable. When the Alabama guys went straight to the front, they went through pretty quick and faster than I was ready to commit to that early in the race. So I found some runners that had had success on the national stage and were well known for their race tactics and I tried to stay them. I stayed as close to Tyler Day and Matt Baxter as I could and just shadowed them. I knew that they were going to be in the mix in the last 400 meters. When they moved to the front it was just about shadowing the leader and staying close to the lead group as long as possible. Then the last 400 meters I was making sure that I was in a position that would allow me to accelerate because I was still feeling like I had another gear at that point. To make a long story short, the name of the game was patience. I knew that my best race was going to be making as few tactical errors as possible so I wanted to stay as relaxed and patient as possible despite running at a pace I’d never done before. Sully reassured me beforehand that we didn’t know what 28:30 felt like – we had done workouts to replicate it, but the important thing was to stay calm if I started to hurt a little earlier than I was used to.
GCR: The last couple points you mentioned lead right into my next question because I thought you looked very relaxed during the race. Did the pace, which averaged about two seconds per lap faster than your previous personal best time, feel challenging or were you as under control as you looked?
AA To be completely honest, the pace felt a lot better than I anticipated. I felt pretty in control much of the race. We went through in 14:16 for the first 5k and I couldn’t have imagined it feeling any better than it did. I don’t know what to think about that. I felt that way on the day and I’m really grateful about that. I was very surprised with how comfortable that type of pace felt. The last 800 meters I was also fueled by the fact that I was in the arena with some really good runners. I was excited to be duking it out for first team All-America honors for the first time. As the numbers dwindled down to fewer and fewer runners and there were just six guys, I knew there was a shot for me to actually be in contention for the win. That was very motivating to allow me to get through that last 800 meters in a little bit of a faster clip.
GCR: Before you got to that final 800 meters, from about 3k to go to 1,000 meters to go, you settled into second or third place within the lead pack of six runners and into a good spot to challenge. What were the main thoughts going through your head as the race wound down? Were you trying to be ready for whenever someone made a move since you couldn’t be exactly sure when it was going to be ‘go time?’
AA That is definitely part of it. I felt enough in control and relaxed that I wanted to avoid making any spontaneous or impulsive moves. You’ll notice if you watch the race tape that I was looking around a lot and trying to stay aware of my surroundings. I tried to make very slow and casual and progressive moves throughout the race to find a position where I was comfortable. That’s pretty tough to do if you are running a little bit stressed and you are starting to red line. But luckily I was feeling good at that stage in the race to get myself into a position that I liked while still staying relatively calm. Sometimes those races just bounce a good way and you find yourself in a good spot the way the race plays out and I was content with my position. Luckily I didn’t get pushed to the back because the race was sort of strung out. If I ever needed to make moves around people, I am pretty vocal in a race. I’ll say, ‘Hey, I need to get by’ or ‘do you mind moving over because I’m going to try to get by.’ Normally runners are responsive to that. I try to be vocal and polite.
GCR: In the final 800 meters several contenders made moves as NAU’s Matthew Baxter moved to the front with two laps to go, then Utah State’s Dillon Maggard took over and finally Alabama’s Abel Kiprop made a strong move on the backstretch of the last lap. What did you do with so many athletes making moves to keep that fine balance of covering their moves while still conserving enough of your own energy for your own final move?
AA It definitely is a balance and it took me a long time to be comfortable with that balance. That type of race strategy is one I give a lot of credit to Mason Ferlic for because I’ve been in numerous conversations with him, particularly after races that didn’t go so well. He’s given me great constructive feedback on energy conservation in the middle of the race. For me, when others are making their moves, it’s important to respond at the bare minimum level. If one guy makes a huge move, most likely other guys will go with him. Rather than challenging and going straight to the front side by side with that first guy, I’ll use another runner who may go with him. If that second guy makes an ambitious move to maintain contact, then I will use his energy to try to move to the front instead of responding as soon as possible. I also have faith in my competitors that they will make decisions that I can use to my advantage as they make decisions for me. They can bring me into a nice position. Ultimately, my goal in the race was to be the last guy to make a full one hundred percent move. That was pretty hard because the move that Kiprop made pretty much put me into an energy level that was topping out at maximum capacity. So, trying to find that last gear was very challenging in that last eighty meters.
GCR: Let’s discuss the final 200 meters of the race. Kiprop got about three to five meters on you and maintained it around the curve until there was about one hundred meters to go and for either of you there was fifteen seconds to glory. What was your mindset as you came off the turn and it was there in front of you?
AA It’s hard to collect it all because a lot of it is a blur now. Honestly, I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. When I was that close to the finish line that late in the race there just didn’t seem to be any option but to give every ounce of energy I had left in my system. Knowing that an NCAA Championship was on the line was what it took to dig that deep and be able to bring out that last gear when I wasn’t sure if it was there or not.
GCR: Down the final home stretch what was it like when you started your drive hoping you could catch Kiprop, then switched to knowing you were going to catch him and then to that final twenty meters, or three seconds, where you knew you are going to win? How did your emotions change over those ten to fifteen seconds?
AA It honestly gives me chills just thinking about it again. I was in a pure fight or flight mode. There were a million thoughts racing through my head and I couldn’t interpret a single one of them except for ‘go!’ When the gap started to close it just fueled the fire more and more. When I got in line with him I was really anticipating a strong resistance so I was trying to not get too excited. When it seemed like that resistance was broken and I had a step on him, that is when it really transitioned to pure joy and excitement and disbelief. I exited the whole race mode and went into a mode of ‘what the heck just happened?’
GCR: When you crossed the tape as NCAA Champion there must have been a rush of emotions from all of those years of dedication and training and sacrifice and thoughts of what everyone in your life did to help you. Was it just a torrent of emotions?
AA It really was. I’ve reflected on it afterward, but I didn’t know where to start. I crossed the line and wanted to thank the crowd, my freshman year roommate, my coach, my family and every single person who had been a part of my career to make that single moment happen. It was just an emotionally overwhelming experience that is hard to put into words of how I felt at that moment. It’s going to be a tough one to ever replicate. It was a very special moment for me.
GCR: What was it like over the next couple of hours to experience congratulations from your coach and competitors, hugs from your family, being on the podium and receiving your award, press conferences, interview requests and the entire whirlwind of excitement after the race?
AA It was pretty insane. I’ve got hugs before. I’ve received text messages before. But I’ve never had anything close to all of that at once. It was nonstop and it was really cool. I am so grateful for how kind and supportive and friendly everybody was. Some of the messages I received put me in awe of how kind they were. It was so awesome how many people reached out. I tried to make sure I touched base with my closest friends and family first. It was a goal for me that for every person who took the time to reach out to me that I made sure I reciprocated and acknowledged I received their message and contacted them back and told them how grateful I was for them taking the time to congratulate me. The interviews were awesome and reflected on my experience in a positive manner. It made the whole situation about more than me and I liked that. It felt like a team effort and that we all got to share it together – my family community, my friend community, my athletic community, the Hayward community, the NCAA community and the running community. It felt like a very cohesive group to share the moment with and that was pretty cool.
GCR: We touched a bit on your speed work leading up to NCAAs, but let’s talk about your training a bit more. What was your average weekly mileage for the four to six months coming into the NCAA Championships and what made the difference as far as stamina workouts or other training that got you ready to be so successful this spring?
AA It’s pretty tough to put my finger on it to be honest. I can tell you what I did but it’s difficult for me to figure out exactly what the difference-maker was, what really flipped the switch. And I don’t think it was in the last six months that it happened. It was development throughout my entire running career that all culminated at this peak. In the last six months my mileage was a little all over the place because we had to account for some setbacks. In the fall I was probably dancing around 75 to 80 miles per week for the most part. I came down to 65 or 70 miles a week during the championship portion of the season. I increased mileage going into indoor season and then, unfortunately, had a setback that allowed me to regroup. I was off of my feet for three to four weeks and then got on the alter-G treadmill and that would have brought us to about February. I got in a couple good workouts on ground and that just went better than expected. Next I decided to pace a race at our new home track and that felt okay. So we decided I was ready to run at Iowa State and that also went better than expected. But then I had another little setback which was the same one I had been dealing with before. We decided to take a very conservative approach and get it down to the root cause so that it wouldn’t reoccur again. That was a great idea that paid great dividends in the future, but it took about six weeks to do. Starting in the spring when I got going again I got my weekly mileage to about fifty miles on the alter-G including doing some time-based efforts. We transitioned to the track where I was building to sixty, then sixty-five and then seventy miles a week coming into Big Ten. Then I dropped down to sixty miles per week for the championship part of the season.
GCR: What were some of the key training sessions that Coach Sullivan had you doing to get ready to race at 5k and 10k?
AA Sully has very creative workouts and they’re all awesome. He has specific themes to workouts that are similar, but they always vary in terms of the technicalities and details. So it always feels like he keeps us on our toes doing something totally different when in reality we are doing a similar style of workout that we did in the previous two weeks. It’s just tweaked to make us feel like we are doing something different. I love his training. It’s awesome. As far as key workouts, ‘The Michigan’ is a classic. I did one of those indoors and that was a pretty big workout for me to get through heading into the Iowa State meet and to prep me for the sub-14 minute 5k pace for the first time.
GCR: For those who aren’t familiar with ‘The Michigan,’ will you please explain the details?
AA ‘The Michigan’ is a workout that Ron Warhurst used. He coached at Michigan and coached Nate Brannen, Nick Willis and Kevin Sullivan. He developed this workout that has gained national recognition over the years, especially at the collegiate level. We start with a mile typically about 8k to 10k pace and then we do a 2k tempo run. Next we come back on the track for 1,200 meters at closer to 5k pace followed by another 2k tempo run. Then we come back to the track for 800 meters that is closer to 3k pace with a third 2k tempo run afterward. Then we finish with 400 meters that is supposed to be close to mile pace. It’s a good one and we get really excited when we do it here in Ann Arbor. Typically, Nick Willis and other runners come out and watch. It’s a special workout that the boys get pretty fired up for.
GCR: Let’s go back to the beginning of your athletic exploits and then through your prep and collegiate campaigns so people can get a sense of where you were athletically when you were young and then as you developed. First, as a youth did you play a variety of sports?
AA I played a lot of sports when I was growing up. I was raised about an hour outside of Toronto in a city called Kitchener. Inevitably I was a hockey player when I was growing up. I started ice skating when I was four or five years old. I played hockey for about ten years in the wintertime. In the summer was where I switched things up. I started with soccer, played some baseball, played a year or two of lacrosse and found myself playing soccer again. I dabbled in most sports, but never played football and never played basketball. If anyone has ever seen how tall I am there are obvious reasons why I didn’t play basketball.
GCR: How did you become interested in distance running?
AA Before high school when they had the middle school track meet it was something where I was naturally good. I was typically the best in my class and was able to compete with some of the older students in the school. Being that young, that just made me really excited to be good at something at a level that I wasn’t used to. Then when my sisters went to St. Mary’s High School, they had a phenomenal mentor, Krestena Sullivan, who I think was about a seven-time All-American runner from Villanova, and she was their cross country coach. The three of them encouraged me to come out for the cross country team when I got to high school and that’s when I really started to figure out what a legitimate training structure looked like. That benefitted me a lot and I started to develop at a pretty good level and a very good progression.
GCR: What was the impetus that encouraged you to step up your efforts and to also join a track club?
AA I realized that if I got dialed in and took the sport seriously that I might be able to open up some opportunities that I might not otherwise have had. That’s why I joined a track club outside of my high school with the encouragement of Krestena. She guided me to the Tri-City Track Club which was coached by Pete Grinbergs who had coached Nate Brennan, who was an NCAA champion in the 800 meters for Michigan. He coached Nate in high school and he coached guys like Matt Kerr, who won an NCAA title in the steeplechase; Wes Elkin, who had a really good career at Arkansas and a lot of other very good runners. He had an approach to training that really benefitted me and that’s when I started to take off and find myself on the Provincial level and, eventually, the National level which led me to be able to compete at international events when I was in high school. That was very motivational to me to make those national teams and to try to contend for the best high school career amongst a very solid class of athletes. That opened up the doors for me to come to an NCAA college.
GCR: What were some of the key points in training that developed you and sparked your talent at an early age where not all athletes have coaches who have sound programs?
AA Speaking relative to an American high school track and field training situation, Pete’s coaching would be considered quite unorthodox. For me it was in all the right ways. We didn’t ever take splits on the track and we rarely did track workouts. A lot of the workouts were interval days - like a minute on and a minute off twenty times or ten times two minutes on with a minute off or repeats of five minutes on and ninety seconds off. Those were his bread and butter workouts. Or we would do these loops where there wasn’t a specific distance and there was one big hill. We were chasing these arbitrary marks that we heard somebody ran five years ago or was our own personal best from two years ago. So there wasn’t a lot of time-based feedback. I never knew what race pace really meant. I raced mainly off of effort. And Pete was mostly about having fun. He kind of established this low pressure environment that was really good for me at the time because I put enough pressure on myself as it was. So it was refreshing to go to training and have some fun. We would just run as fast as we could for a minute on trails in this forest that was in my hometown. It was fartlek-based training that built strength and grit that I relied on through high school. I would go into races and not even know what the splits meant that coaches were yelling. I’d just run as fast as I could and kind of see what the time was at the end of the day.
GCR: That’s very interesting because I’ve interviewed some of the runners who were coached under Mihaly Igloi like Bob Schul, who won the Gold Medal in the 1964 Olympics at 5,000 meters, and Laszlo Tabori from Hungary who was the third person to run a sub-four minute mile and who just passed away this year. Even though they ran workouts on the track and they knew their times, everything was effort-based. It sounds like, even though you weren’t on the track, your training was effort-based like an Igloi type of system. Did you even know that at the time?
AA That sounds familiar to me and, I’d like to reiterate, that works for me. I don’t think there is one style of training that is going to work for everybody. But for me it was personally a very great fit and I’m thankful that was part of my development. It was what I needed at that time in my running career.
GCR: Let’s chat about your racing in the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations. At the OFSAA Championships you had numerous second and third place finishes. How tough was the competition to get to the top of the podium and how strong was your competition?
AA They were really good. It’s cool because we’d race at OFSAA, which was our Provincial championship, and there was a strong group of guys. Alex Fremantle ran 1:55 in grade nine. He was also always on top of the game in the 1,500 meters. Guys like Ryan Sleiman, Brandon Allen, Matt Stevenson, Troy Smith and Jeremy Coughler were total studs. And that was before Justyn Knight got in the mix because he was a bit younger than me. These guys were just comfortable running close to 9:00 minute mile conversion pace for 3k early in high school in grade ten or eleven. So, there were always great guys to compete with. We’d run against each other all year and then make Team Canada and spend a week in Europe or the Caribbean as teammates. It was really cool because these guys were the best of competitors and then they ultimately ended up becoming really good friends with me throughout my career. I have a lot of respect for all of those athletes. They brought the most out of me in high school. Cross country was the only place I was able to take an OFSAA Gold Medal. On the track I could never do it even though over my four years I improved in the 3k from 8:57 to 8:38 to 8:24 and to 8:17. I had a really solid development, but there was always a guy to beat me out in that 3k every single year.
GCR: Was there anything particular in your training that led to that progression or was it just solid training under your coach that each year led to faster results?
AA Solid training under my coach was a big reason. Having a solid support network was another reason. Despite running with the club, Coach Krestena was always a huge influence. She was an influential mentor in my life and was a large part behind my motivation to always strive for the next level. My family was also always there supporting me. I trained with a lot of older athletes at the track club so that was always good. There would be guys that came back from college who could help me be able to take my training efforts to the next level. I was very internally motivated as well. I became very aware of the track world and what it took to be at the top of the province and to make national teams. I made those my benchmarks. Those were the goals I strived for each season. It was always worth celebrating whenever one of those goals was achieved, but then it was on to the next one. I always tried to maintain a progressive mindset along the way.
GCR: There is one OFSAA 3,000 meter race in 2012 that must have been a real battle as the results show you sandwiched in third place with Jeremy Coughler and Yves Sikubwabo ahead of you, Xavier King and Ryan Sleiman behind you and a total spread of just four seconds from first to fifth place. What was that race like with five of you battling and what do you recall of the competition on that day?
AA That was a good race. That was when I was in grade eleven. The way the Ontario system works is that it’s broken up by age group. Grade nines run against grade nines. Grade tens run against only grade tens. Grade elevens, twelves and fifth year runners, because you can take a fifth year of high school in Ontario, all are combined into the final category. So that was my grade eleven year and was the most intimidating year because it was the first time I was exposed to the older athletes. That was pretty much what I expected. I knew it was going to be a tight race and I went for it. With two laps to go I found myself at the front and I think I was still actually leading with about 150 meters to go. It’s funny talking about my kick now at NCAAs because in high school and through most of college I was never known as a kicker and that’s always what kind of held me back from trying to take the ‘W’ in those races. I’d be leading with 400 meters to go and those guys just had another gear and ran away from me. Jeremy and Yves just had better days as they were super fit. I knew I was going to have to be on my ‘A’ game to even contend, so I was pretty pumped to come in third in that race. It was a very strong field. OFSAA was always a showdown. I can’t even pinpoint which race was the best one that I was a part of in those championships because everyone just came to show up. Every single year it was a riot.
GCR: In cross country you were two-time OFSAA 7K champion in 2010 and 2012 after placing third at the OFSAA meet in 2009. Did you like the challenge and variety of cross country courses and what are some highlights of your two big victories?
AA I did like cross country and I think it kind of fit the training style that I was explaining earlier. It was very effort-based with a lot of variability in terrain. I found my element, trusted my fitness and just ripped it pretty much. That’s why cross country suited me better at that part of my career. Both of those years kind of just went smoothly and as good as they could. I was feeling fit every single race and I was fighting to win. I felt like I was getting more fit throughout the season. I had a bunch of people telling me that I had a chance to win OFSAA and that just motivated me more and more. The grade ten year was very special because that was the first year I won any OFSAA championship. It was a satisfying feeling for me as I then felt I belonged at that level. The senior OFSAA title is the one that everyone wants. Having won in grade ten was really special, but the ultimate goal was to win an OFSAA senior Gold medal. I was ready to roll in that final cross country race of my high school career. I was showing up on that day to make sure I was doing everything to take the win and it was a really satisfying day. I broke away probably three to four kilometers into the race and second place was about twenty-nine seconds back. There is a video on Runner Space that shows me running the last hundred meters with a big smile on my face as I couldn’t contain the excitement. I was feeling good that day and was able to enjoy the victory.
GCR: You mentioned how much fun it was to compete with those great high school runners and then to be teammates for Team Canada. As a three-year member of Canadian Junior National Team, you finished third at the 2012 NACAC Championships in Port of Spain, Trinidad, then 34th at the IAAF World Junior Cross Country Championships, and 16th in the 1,500-meter run at the 2011 IAAF World Youth Championships in Lille, France. How exciting was it to put on your national team uniform and what stands out from those trips in terms of the competition, the people and sightseeing?
AA They were such cool experiences. The best way to put it is it just never got old. Every time I would make a national team I would come back even more motivated to make the next one. That was a large part of my high school career – to chase as many Team Canada opportunities as I could get my hands on. I had the privilege of travelling to some really cool places, meeting some neat people and meeting some very inspirational athletes from Canada and from other countries. Each trip stands out for different reasons and they were all incredible opportunities. The first one in Lille, France when I was only sixteen years old and on the Worlds team was an incredible experience. Keep in mind that this was for 16 and 17 year olds and the winner of the 3k was in 7:40, the winner of the 1,500 meters was 3:39 and the winner of the 800 meters was in 1:44. That was my first time being exposed to a whole another level of performance in athletics. It started out as a little bit discouraging, to be honest, but it was motivating as time went on and I started to cut down my times. I still don’t have PRs close to any of those so I still couldn’t have won any of those races. But just being on the line with some of those athletes was really cool. Poland was a great venue to be running on the international stage in cross country. I always had a great time at NACAC Championships because it was each time a battle between Canada and the U.S. I also had the privilege of meeting 5k NCAA champ of 2018 Sean McGorty there running for Team USA. It was cool competing against him. It was a great opportunity to be teammates with guys like Justyn Knight and Mohammed Ahmed and Cam Levins and to see how those guys train to get then to the next level. It was something where I took notes while I was there and tried to apply to my own training when I got back.
GCR: Speaking of Justyn Knight, when I spoke with him last fall after he won the NCAA Cross Country title, he discussed his decision to go to Syracuse and to train under Coach Chris Fox. Which colleges were you deciding between attending, was Syracuse in the mix and did you select Michigan for academic reasons, its distance running program and coach or a combination of both?
AA I actually didn’t have much communication with Syracuse and I can’t give you a reason why. I feel like I didn’t know as much about their program. But when I saw Justyn commit to go there and his progress and development, it was a program I wish I had at least explored a bit more because it seems like it would have been a great place to take a visit and to meet some cool people. I didn’t take all five of my allowed school visits. I went to the University of Michigan, obviously, and I’m so glad I made the decision I did. I love everything about the University of Michigan. I’ve had an amazing experience here and I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity. I also took visits to the University of Wisconsin and the University of Virginia which I also think would have been phenomenal opportunities as well. I was in a very fantastic and complicated situation because there was no wrong answer. I really liked everywhere I visited and that made the decision a difficult one. At the time at the University of Michigan Coach Alex Gibby was here and I got along really well with him. I liked what he was all about and Michigan was closer to home for me which was a plus. Michigan is known for its academics which is great, but Virginia and Wisconsin are also very reputable academic institutions. The decision was tough. I tried to go with my gut and I just really got along with the people at the University of Michigan and I got along with Coach Gibby really well. I liked this character that despite Michigan being known for its academics and athletics, that everyone was down to earth here and that fit my personality well. It was a place that I wanted to be a part of because I thought I would fit in easily.
GCR: In your freshman year at Michigan you had some success in cross country with a 12th place finish at the Big Ten Championships and a 99th place finish at NCAAs before redshirting in both indoor and outdoor track. How was the transition from high school to college athletically, academically and socially and did you sustain an injury that curtailed your track season that year?
AA The transition was pretty smooth for the most part and that was due to the support network that I referenced. My family was literally a phone call away any time of the day and I utilized that as much as I could. I had a girlfriend right out of high school and I communicated with her a lot my freshman year. I always kept in touch with people I was familiar with and that made the transition smooth. I became phenomenal friends with my teammates, and particularly the guys who are in my class. We just got along so well. Every single year that I’ve been here I’ve become more impressed with how cohesive and collaborative and easy-going our class is. It has been an amazing experience because I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to be associated with and to have an influence on my life. The academics were tough so that took a bit of a learning curve. Luckily, there are a lot of academic resources and support to make that transition smooth so that took care of itself. In running I came in with this almost stubbornness that I wasn’t going to let myself not be in the top five on the cross country team. That was my goal as soon as I started cross country because I wanted to contribute in terms of scoring. I did everything I could and I told Coach Gibby my goal and he didn’t act out. He threw everything at me that it was going to take and it was a grind. It was a tough training block, but I made my way into the top five and accomplished my goal. In terms of redshirting, that was just the style of what we did at the time I came here in terms of focus on developing as athletes, as student-athletes, as young men. The focus was to run cross country if you were going to be in the mix to contribute, but then for indoor and outdoor track you take those off to focus on training and having a smooth transition. We focused more on long-term development and the idea is that everyone would come back for a fifth year stronger. More mature and ready to maximize their potential.
GCR: That plan must have worked well because the next year you had a very solid sophomore cross country campaign and in outdoor track dropped your 5k personal best more than once down to 14:18 before earning the Bronze Medal at the Big Ten Championships at 5,000 meters. Were you getting into the groove as a college athlete and how exciting was it to medal at Big Ten?
AA That was very cool for me and definitely cracks into one of the most special moments of my athletic career. Very similar to NCAAs this year, it was something that wasn’t supposed to happen. No one had me in the mix. I thought maybe it could happen. Coach Sullivan always had this belief in me that carries to this day. He was there alongside the track guiding me and it was the first time I felt part of the elite level at the Big Ten Conference meet. That was really motivating for me. Then my goal that summer was to focus on being one of the better guys in the Big Ten for cross country season and then improved for indoor and outdoor track and for the rest of my athletic career.
GCR: Your junior year in cross country eighth place must have been your lucky place as you finished in eighth individually at Penn State's Harry Grove Spiked Shoe Invitational and at the Big Ten Championships, running a personal-best 23:42.6 at Big Ten, and helping Michigan to team wins at both races and to win its first conference crown since 1998. How exciting was it to compete and to share championships as part of a team?
AA That was the primary goal every year – to win Big Ten in cross country. Wisconsin had this legendary streak of about fourteen straight team titles. We actually thought we won my freshman year because we knew we beat Wisconsin. We turned to look at the scoreboard and Indiana ended up winning and that was a devastating moment for us. It was a devastating moment for the seniors who wouldn’t be coming back. We regrouped to try to do everything to win the next year and the next year Wisconsin won again. That third year we were favorites and the guys knew we could do this. But actually having it happen was such a satisfying feeling. We had guys like Mason Foley, Tony Smoragiewicz, Nick Posada and August Pappas that were all fifth year runners or who didn’t have any more eligibility. It was really cool to share with those guys, especially Mason who gave so much to the program. It was great to give him a team title back. That was a really special moment for us and a very special moment for Coach Sullivan to get his first team title as a coach at Michigan. It was definitely a historic moment for a lot of our careers.
GCR: During the 2016 indoor track season you continued running strong as you ran three personal bests of 4:07.05 in the mile at the Commodore Invitational, 8:04.12 in the 3000 meter run at the Meyo Invitational and 14:02.91 for 5000 meters at the Iowa State Classic. Do any of these races stand out in your memory and do you like the tight tracks and close proximity of the fans when racing indoors?
AA I always love indoor track. It’s a fun time of the year and we take it pretty seriously. It’s a nice transition from cross country to kind of get the legs spinning again. That was a very special time in my career and I feel like I’m saying that many times, but it’s true. At that point in our careers, and I say our careers, because if you look across the board that was the point where there was a massive progression for a lot of us guys, especially in my class in particular. I ran 14:02 from a 14:18 PR. Aaron Baumgarden dropped down to 8:02 for 3k and I don’t know if he even ran under 8:15 before that. Mike Adella ran 14:03 from a 14:20 PR. Connor Moore runs 4:02 from a 4:05 PR, so everybody was running fast. It was great to get those quantitative marks. We could feel good through the entire season, but no one was going to see it the same way until we put up marks on the board. So that was the moment we started to feel like what we always knew was there was starting to shine through. We already trusted Coach Sullivan as a coach, but it was awesome because we were all running fast. That was the time when there was a switch in the team mindset and the team culture as to what was considered good. We had a lot of guys running at a level where we didn’t have as many guys in the past. It became inspirational and motivational and doable for everyone on the team that we could all start hitting these marks. Then we felt like, ‘What’s next? Where do we go from here? We’re not going to sit at fourteen flat and eight flat. Let’s get under these barriers.’ And that’s what the following outdoor season and the next years held.
GCR: After those indoor PRs, when outdoor season came around you really did well at 10,000 meters, winning the Big Ten Championship, placing sixth at Regionals and then earning second team All-American honors with a 14th place finish at NCAAs. How thrilling was it to win at Big Ten and to earn an All-American honor, were you coming into your own as a 10,000 meter racer and was this another step on your running journey toward this year?
AA That certainly was a huge breakthrough for me on a personal level. To be honest, I was trying to push off the 10k for as long as possible. I really wanted to be a lot stronger in the 5k before I started taking on the 10k. But there was something missing. I felt like I was a sub-14 guy for 5k but I didn’t know why I hadn’t run sub-14 minutes. Maybe I just didn’t show up on the day or the race didn’t play out accordingly. I talked to Mason and I talked to Sully and they both said I was crushing tempos all year, cross country had always been a strong suit for me and my 5k was coming around so I should try the 10k to see what I could do. I did that at Mt. Sac to try to get a Regionals qualifying time, worked my way through the field and ran 29:13 which was a really exciting moment for me. Once I did that I knew that the 10k was in the conversation. Matt McClintock made me work for it at Big Ten. Oh my gosh – that was one of the hardest races I ever ran. To get that victory was honestly right up there with that NCAA experience because it was one of those situations where I found that reason for doing it all. I crossed the finish line and this was part of the journey and the moment I’d been waiting for. It was a great experience to share with everyone who was there and they were all kind about it. That gave me a lot of confidence going into Regionals. For Nationals, it was my first time in Eugene and that was an overwhelming experience for me in hindsight. I just ran stressed and anxious the entire time. I never really got comfortable. I raced like I was out of my league and out of my element so I wanted to focus afterward on getting a good base for the following year to come back with some fire.
GCR: In the 2016-17 season you redshirted cross country and then battled with a stress fracture in your back. How frustrating was dealing with that injury after you had been building so well the last couple of years?
AA Now it all worked out right and my feelings are very different. At the time it was the worst thing that could happen. When I had that cross country red shirt I was trying to support my teammates. It’s tough to watch on the sidelines, but it’s what I had to do at the time. Then when things seemed like they were coming around, getting that diagnosis in the winter kind of made my heart sink to the floor. It’s a moment of uncertainty where it wasn’t how it was supposed to go. I was supposed to keep on that linear progression and that trajectory. I was supposed to be first team All-American, not just trying to get to the line at Big Ten. It definitely took some time to digest. I had some conversations with Sully. I was supported by figures in my life to reframe the situation and to dig myself out of this negative mindset of how far I had to go. Instead I had to focus on the victory of every day. This was a situation we’re in, so what can we do about it? When that mental shift happened, which was pretty early in the process, I gained a motivation to just grind like crazy. I had some teammates who inspired me along the way and we had a different set of goals that year. We focused on just getting to Big Ten and then trying to score at Big Ten. When I made the Regional meet it was pretty tough to hype myself up because I knew that qualifying for nationals was going to be a challenge. But I did everything I could and I couldn’t ask for anything more than that… I was the last person to qualify or the second to last person to qualify and I finished twenty-second at NCAAs. So, where the mindset was at, I was chalking up another ‘W.’ I focused on making sure I properly recovered and took all the time I needed while I had some time to go into the fall and to gear up for a strong final year where I wanted to make everything happen that I couldn’t the previous year.
GCR: Last year in the fall of 2017 you stepped up to another level during cross country season as you won a couple early season races, placed sixth at Big Ten to lead Michigan to another team title and then won the NCAA Regional Championship which was arguable your top cross country result since your OFSAA win in grade twelve. How cool was it to take down the Region title which was possibly your biggest win in five years?
AA Yes, that was so true. When I went to the Big Ten Championship I really thought I could win on that day. But I made some tactical errors. I led with about a mile to go and tried to take on a very difficult course. I tried to make a strong and aggressive move and separated from the field with Oliver Horn and he had another gear. When he went there was this group of chasers and very elite athletes that were able to work together and to hunt me down. Big Ten was tough, but we won as a team and that was the main goal. I came out satisfied with that. But then for Regionals I wanted to show everyone that I knew I could have won Big Ten. But I didn’t do it and I wanted to show them that if I run smarter I had more in the tank. The potential was there and at Regionals I ran a lot smarter and a lot more patiently. I felt myself in the mix with a kilometer to go and I decided I was going for it again. I felt great and winning was new to me. Crossing the finish line first without anyone in front of me was something I was not very familiar with so I was very excited. That was a huge honor for sure.
GCR: At NCAA Cross Country you had an outstanding 20th place finish. What were highlights of that race and did your Region win and high placing at NCAAs prepare you mentally for even greater performances in the 2018 track season?
AA I can say with 95 percent confidence that that cross country race was the hardest race I’ve ever run. It was tough. It was so hard the way that Tyler Day and Matt Baxter controlled that race. I was dialed in from the first moment until I crossed the finish line to do everything I could to be All-American. I was coming down the final five meters and wanted to make sure that twenty guys didn’t pass me in that last five meters. So I was fighting that entire way. The goal was top forty, so top twenty completely exceeded my expectations. To be competing with guys at that level for the first time was very encouraging for me. I was running alongside guys like Jack Bruce, the Stanford duo of Steven Fahy and Alex Oscar, the Portland guys and some of the BYU guys. That was really cool and I felt like I belonged at the elite level. There was still a gap and that was the next step. I wasn’t in the top ten like Johnathan Green and Tyler Day and Justyn Knight and the Alabama guys and that pack. And there was a distinct gap from those runners to a lot of the other All-Americans on that day. I was motivated for the rest of the track season to try to close that gap and to ultimately be able to compete with those guys by the end of the track season.
GCR: The Iowa State Classic was the site of another great effort as you ran a career-best 13:48.58 for second place at 5000 meters. Was that race mentally helpful when you went through 5k in 14:16 at NCAAs in the 10k to know that you had run a 5k about thirty seconds faster and, even though it was fast at 14:16, you had run much faster?
AA I think it is important to consider the context of that race in particular. I was going in trying to qualify for Big Ten indoors and the goal was to run under 14:10. I ended up contending for the win and going up against a BYU athlete, Connor McMillan. I wasn’t sure of my fitness level so to come away with a 14 second PR on that day was a moment of relief. I still had it and all of that cross country fitness I was worried I may have lost during my time training in the pool and on the alter-G treadmill worked and it was still there. It was exciting to break 14 minutes for the first time, to qualify for Nationals and to feel like I could be in a place I’d never been before. I almost made the Canadian international team and felt ‘why couldn’t I compete with these guys?’ Going into the outdoor 10k it did cross my mind that if we went out in 14 minutes that I had run under that so I knew I could do it. Nationals were just all about how I felt on the day. Running the first half in 14:16 wasn’t about rationalizing why it felt good. It just felt good. I was focusing on every moment and every step of that race and trusting my body and my fitness on that day. I put everything in the past to the wayside because I knew I was in a better shape than I’d ever been in before and this would give me the opportunity to showcase that.
GCR: Like two years earlier, you had great efforts at 10,000 meters, winning the Cardinal Classic and Big Ten Championship, before placing third at Regionals. Though you hadn’t dipped under 29 minutes, did your drive to win and your quick 5k time give you a strong focus on NCAAs because you knew it was your last time?
AA That’s a great question. Yes and no. I’ll take you through my mindset. Big Ten was a huge priority this year to try and score ten points for the team. That was a big deal to me. At the Cardinal Classic I placed a premium on it because I wanted to get a good time for Regionals. We took this approach that every race was just focusing on that race and that race alone. I wanted to make sure that when I went to NCAAs that I didn’t make the same mistake that I made the first time. I wanted to feel inside that I belonged there and that getting there was not the accomplishment. So I went to Regionals and the obvious goal was to qualify for NCAAs. But there was also an expectation. I wanted to not just get to NCAAs, but to focus on what I was going to do when I was there. The first time I was so excited about getting there that it took the gun going off to realize that I still had a job to do. This time around the thought process was that I was going to get there and I was going to make sure it happens. I was going to do everything I could at Regionals to make that happen, but when I get there it doesn’t mean anything. Being there isn’t enough – it’s what I’m going to try and accomplish when I’m there. In that sense there was a big difference in mentality approaching NCAAs. But throughout the season it was a progressive mindset to focus on each race one step at a time.
GCR: Let’s circle back to one more thought about your recent NCAA 10,000 meter victory. I’ve talked with many great track and field athletes over the years and their times and distances are surpassed as the years go by. One thing that always rings true though is that championships are forever. Even though it’s only been a little over two weeks, can you reflect on the knowledge that you are now once and always an NCAA Champion and what that thought means to you?
AA It’s so difficult to conceptualize and really sink in. It’s pretty cool to stamp my name along the NCAA historical timeline and to be amongst runners who have done that. There are these athletes I’ve looked up to my entire career and it’s hard to put into words. I’m so grateful and it’s something that I’m never going to take for granted because it was never a given and it is so special it happened on the day. I’m just so fortunate that it happened. You can tell that I’m having difficulty answering that question. It’s still surreal to me. I can’t take it for granted because it is always going to be one of the most special moments of my life.
GCR: With your NCAA eligibility behind you are you planning to become a professional runner, train for World and Olympic teams, pursue work after you finish your dual master’s degree in social work and in information science or to possibly do some combination of both?
AA That’s a great question and most of the plans are in the works right now. I won’t be able to get too specific because I’m still figuring it out. You’re correct that I’m currently working on my first Master’s degree in Social Work and I finish in December. But I then have the opportunity to start on the second one and I’m exploring that option now to see if it makes sense and I can do so in Ann Arbor. But I’m also exploring training groups around the country and what is available. So nothing is for certain past December right now. I’m in school and I’m working as an intern at a clinic here in Ann Arbor called Sunfield Center. I’m enjoying my time there and will be working there through December as well. Those are my academic and professional goals. As for athletics, I really think this NCAA title is the start of everything that I want to build on. I don’t want to settle and I don’t want to stay satisfied with this being my greatest accolade. I’m always going to appreciate this moment and I know how special it is, but I want to make sure that I keep setting higher goals and get myself to the next level. So right now I’m signed up for the Canadian National Championships where I’m going to be able to duke it out with some really strong athletes in the 5k. After that I’ll be exploring some other races this summer that make sense with my schedule. We’re going to take a long-term look at our goals and try to work backwards from there. I would love to continue my post-collegiate running career and I’m currently figuring out what sponsor I hope to represent, but that isn’t figured out. But ultimately I want to go to the Olympic Games and to represent Canada on the international stage. The Olympics is something where I’m going to do everything I can to make that team because that would be a dream come true for me. So that’s pretty much all the information I have right now, but I’m really excited to see it unfold and will definitely keep everybody informed who wants to be involved about the status of it when I become more familiar with what is going on.
GCR: When you just said you are excited about what you will see unfold, it recalled a similar thought from an interview I did years ago. I’m in the Orlando area and have known Jenny Simpson since high school which led to my interviewing her three times over the years. When she first turned pro in 2010 out of college, she said she was excited because she ‘doesn’t know what is going to happen.’ Is that the feeling you have, that there is excitement about the future; you know there are great things ahead, but you don’t know what they are?
AA I think that is pretty bang on there. It does sound very familiar and, if there is any way I can ever be compared to Jenny Simpson, I’m going to take it.
GCR: Earlier you mentioned your work at the clinic. Mental health is an area in which many people are affected, though they often feel some type of stigma. Since you are pursuing this line of studies, what impact do you hope to have on others?
AA That is one of my specialization areas in the School of Social Work. Right now I am working at the Sunfield Center for ADHD, ASD and Behavioral Health. Mostly I’m working as a clinical therapist with individuals diagnosed with ADHD, ASD or other disruptive behaviors. It has been a very rewarding experience for me to apply what I have learned in that setting. I think mental health can be applied in any setting and it is very much relevant to the student-athlete life and the professional athlete life. I don’t know exactly where I’m going to find myself in the field, but I do really hope to make a difference in one way by applying what I’ve learned through my education but also by my personal experiences as a student-athlete with the ups and downs and the emotional roller coaster. I’ve tried to find myself in numerous organizations where I can be influential. I was on our student-athlete advisory committee at the University of Michigan as a mental health representative. I’ve been in contact with the November Foundation to be an ambassador for their foundation. I’m always eager to be involved in any association activity that’s involved with mental health and advocating on behalf of individuals.
GCR: What advice do you have for younger runners to improve consistency, minimize injuries, reach their potential and to keep running as a lifetime sport?
AA First and foremost you’ve got to have fun. I remember seeing that same quote as a high school runner. I got it from Andrew Wheating in one of his interviews and it was something I tried to apply to my own training. It’s hard and can be difficult when things aren’t going well. But if you can find ways to have fun with the sport every day, whether it’s being tight with your teammates and finding those small victories in every workout and every day, having a positive coach makes it such an enjoyable experience. Sometimes that leads to improved performance. Developing a very strong, collaborative relationship with your coach is very valuable, not just because they have an influence on your career from a training standpoint and structural standpoint, but it’s really nice to be able to be honest with your coach and to be able to feel you can say that something in training is too much or you need a tweak here and there. I do think that distance running training is not a blanket approach. It is very specific to each individual so it is very helpful when you can develop some sort of autonomy despite being part of the team. That is helpful as is doing whatever you can to stay healthy. That mostly comes from trying to not overdo training. Trust yourself because you know yourself better than anybody else. If training feels like it is getting too hard, it is always okay to take a step back. Distance runners are tough, tough people and have a tough mindset and they can be really tough on themselves. Developing a good sense of what you can handle and being honest with yourself pays dividends down the road.
GCR: Even though you are only in your early twenties, what are the major lessons you have learned during your life – the encouragement from your family of runners, the discipline of athletics, balancing the many components of life and any adversity you have faced that is summed up as the ‘Ben Flanagan Philosophy’ of being your best in life?
AA I’m trying to figure this all out for myself, so I’ll have to take the advice that I say now. The student-athlete experience is a pretty special one. It is a unique opportunity and it comes with a lot of lessons. Sometimes learning isn’t fun, but it is part of the process. My high school motto at St. Mary’s was ‘Kindness matters.’ I have a token on my key chain that says that because I really believe that. Sometimes it can be harder than it needs to be to be kind on a daily basis. But kindness never hurts anyone. That is what I try to carry each day. Utilize your support network. There are people who are doing everything they can to be there for you. Sometimes we may feel badly about going to them, being honest with them and communicating with them regularly, but they are there to help. Parents, siblings, family members and best friends do care and gain a lot from knowing you trust in them for a supportive role in your life. Utilize your support network whether situations are good or are bad. That is very important. Stay in school and focus on academics because knowledge is key in life. That can be hard to do as a student-athlete but academics are what we should value and prioritize. It is important to find time to study even if it means to sacrifice something else. Always stay in touch with your friends. I am a very social guy and I always depend on my friends. It is very helpful and special to be able to share your personal experience with others and to be able to share their experiences with you. So always keep your friends close.
  Inside Stuff
Hobbies/Interests I’m pretty busy so there isn’t much I do outside of running, school and work these days. I like to spend every minute that I have that is not dedicated to other aspects of my life with my friends. I really enjoy company. I use Facetime with my parents back in Canada frequently and I also do with my sisters and their fiancees. I like to say ‘hi’ to my dog, Callie. I play guitar, not that much anymore, but I picked it up when I had my stress fracture. That was a big coping mechanism for me to try to dedicate my energy and to see progress in another area of my life that wasn’t in athletics. That is how I started with guitar. Some things I don’t do anymore, but I look forward to doing down the road when I’m through competing is I love golfing and playing hockey and rock climbing. I really like doing anything active. These other activities have taken a back seat to my athletics, which is necessary to be the case, but when I am done competing I am definitely going to be all over the place in terms of physical activity
Nicknames I have a lot of nicknames. My name is ‘Ben,’ which is pretty short and sweet, so people like to mix it up a lot. ‘Flan’ is one for sure. Lots of people just call me by my last name ‘Flanagan.’ There are a lot of variations like ‘Flanny’ and ‘Flanner.’ ‘Benny’ is another one. ‘Ben-Jammin.’ ‘Bean’ is another one that I don’t know where it came from. ‘YB’ is another one. I have a hat that I got that embroidered on and that is my favorite nickname now
Favorite movies I loved Disney movies when I was growing up – they were my favorites. I have two older sisters so I watched a lot of chick flicks. I also try to keep up with the new movies that are released. I could probably see a few more classics. My friends give me a hard time about my lack of knowledge of classic movies
Favorite TV shows I love the show ‘Friends.’ I watched that with my sisters when I was growing up and will still put it on Netflix for background noise. I also watch random documentaries or TV series that are hot at the moment
Favorite music When I grew up I was into punk rock. I liked ‘Blink 182,’ ‘Sum 41,’ ‘All-American Rejects,’ ‘The Offspring’ and all that 2000s punk. I do like soft rock and some oldies too. Nowadays I listen to a variety of music. My ‘go to’ pre-workout and pre-race music is pretty hard electronic music. Not too many people know that about me because I don’t like to share that much. I listen to some pretty hard core electronic music before my workouts and races to get me fired up. ‘I’m Pretty Fly for a White Guy’ like the title of the song by ‘The Offspring.’ I’ve heard that song a million times
Favorite books Anyone who checks this out will laugh because they know how tough of a time I have reading. I was famous for bringing the same book to camp every year and only getting through half of it. The book is ‘The Hot Zone’ which is about an Ebola outbreak. I read ‘Sub-Four’ by Chris Lear which is about the University of Michigan and Alan Webb’s time there. I enjoyed that book. I’ve read ‘Chi Running’
First car Toyota Corolla. It was my family’s car that they let me ride around until I banged it up and we had to get rid of it from the accident. I actually ran into my sister’s car on the highway so that was it for both cars
Current car A black Honda Civic that we got after the accident and that is what I’m currently driving. My parents were nice enough to let me travel around with it in Ann Arbor, so I’ve got it in my driveway right now
First Jobs I didn’t have teenage jobs. I told my mom I wanted to get a scholarship to the States. She asked what I needed to do and I told her, ‘I need to run under 8:20 in the 3k.’ So she let me train instead of work so I could try to get a scholarship and luckily I was able to do it. I did umpire in high school with my dad and I was not very good at it. My dad is a really good umpire. I’m pretty mediocre. It’s a little too confrontational for me as well and is not my speed. I did catering during my first couple years of college in the summers. I went back to Ontario and worked as a caterer for Edelweiss Tavern, a restaurant where my sisters both waitressed in high school and college
Family Michelle Flanagan is my mom. She became pretty well-known in the NCAA world because of my ‘Where’s my mom?’ quote after the race. (I laughed and noted that I was watching on television and that it was awesome). I’m glad you like that because it’s pretty funny how much attention that ended up getting. But mom deserves it because she is a wonderful human being and a very supportive role in my life. ‘Shelly’ is what she goes by. Ron Flanagan is my dad and he has an identical twin named Don Flanagan. Ron and Don were both at NCAAs watching. That was really cool to share that moment with them. They have ten kids in their family so I have a ton of cousins back home. The Flanagan family is all over the place in Kitchener, Ontario so I grew up with my cousins being my best friends. I have two older sisters named Jamie and Kristen. They are the sweetest people you will ever meet in your life – by far the nicest people I know. They have been so supportive in my life in general, but particularly in athletics and that is relevant in this discussion. They’re both getting married within the next two years Jamie is marrying Kyle Decker, who ran at Tulsa and now lives in Kitchener. Kristen is marrying Drew Jansen who ran four minutes flat for the 1,500 meters in high school – a PR to date. He still runs 57 seconds for the 400 meters because he is the most competitive person I’ve ever met in my life. They are both wonderful people and they are steady couples. They are very happy together. I come from a very nice family and I’m very grateful for that
Pets We have a dog named ‘Callie’ and she is pretty big. She’s a fat pup. She lies around and sleeps all day. She’s a mix between a Bassett Hound and a Shar-Pei, so she’s a funny looking thing, though she’s cute. She’s definitely the meanest one in our family. She doesn’t mess around. If you pet her the wrong way she’s going to let you know. But she has a great personality and we all love her to death
Favorite breakfast I’m a big cereal-eating guy. I don’t eat this anymore, but I love Fruit Loops which are definitely my all-time favorite. On a rare occasion I eat them nowadays. I also make homemade banana bread that I eat before all of my runs in the morning. So, that’s kind of my hot meal right now. I also love the McGriddles at McDonalds and that is my guilty pleasure
Favorite meal I love a good steak. That gets me straight fired up if we’re going to have steak any night. But I’m not very picky. I love food in general. I’m pretty good with anything
Favorite beverages Coffee. I love coffee, especially expresso shots. That’s kind of my thing. I also love a good draft beer after a long day. And everything else is just water
First running memory I was in elementary school and my elementary school didn’t have a cross country team. But my dad is an elementary school teacher at a different school and his school did have a team. He knew I liked running and he knew I was good at it. So he said, ‘why don’t you just come and run for our school?’ I did that and I ended up winning the race. I was in grade six. Eventually the District found out that I was not part of their school. They called me and my dad and wanted me to send the medal back so that they could give it to the second place finisher. They eventually got over it and there was no medal exchange. I think they gave the second place kid a medal as well. I didn’t care. I just wanted to go out there and have fun and run. I didn’t need the medal, but that was the first race I ever ran and it came with some drama afterwards
Running heroes First and foremost is Kevin Sullivan. No doubt. I remember going to my first Regional meet with a big head on my shoulders because I just ended up breaking our District record in the 1,500 meters and 3,000 meters. I went straight to the record book before the meet started and I saw Kevin Sullivan’s name for the first time, running a time that was just one that I couldn’t even comprehend at the time. It was unfathomable to me. And then I realized I was going to see Kevin Sullivan’s name at the top of every results page with every record I could think of. Any young or old Canadian runner knows Kevin Sullivan’s name. Fortunately, I have the privilege of not only meeting him in person, but now having him as my coach. Everybody knows his name because he set every record you can think of and he is a Canadian legend. It’s pretty cool that I am actually friends with him now
Greatest running moments There is definitely a series of great moments and I would say they are tied for first like that first OFSAA cross country championship, the first Big Ten Medal, the first Big Ten victory and the NCAA win. But my biggest breakthrough race, one that we didn’t talk about was in my grade nine year. We had a pretty good grade ten team and we ran in age groups. What we did was that I was in grade nine, but I moved up a division to grade ten so that I could help our grade ten team. I ended up winning the Regional meet for grade ten and coming in third at OFSAA in the grade ten division when I was in grade nine. Those were the moments that made me think, ‘Whoa! I didn’t think I was ever going to be this good.’ And that’s when I started to take the sport more seriously
Worst running moments I’ve got a couple of those. I would say my sophomore year in college right before I came in third in that Big Ten championship we were talking about. In the races leading up to that I ran 15 flat for the 5k at Arizona State and followed that up with 8:29 for the 3k at Cal-Berkeley. Those were very discouraging performances considering that they were a lot slower than I ran in high school. I was coming off a bit of an injury, but that was a moment of, ‘Oh my God! Is this ever going to get better?’ And then fortunately things began to turn around and the season ended on a high note. But that string of races was one where we didn’t really know what we were going to get out of that season
Childhood dreams I always wanted to go to the Olympics. That was always a goal of mine since I could remember. I always wanted to go to the NHL. But I wanted to go to the NHL in the winter and to the MLB in the summertime. I thought because the sports were in different seasons that it was feasible and I could make it happen. Somewhere along the way I must have missed the tryouts because I’m not in either of those leagues I’m supposed to be in. I was going to play for the Toronto Blue Jays in the summer, then the Toronto Maple Leafs in the winter and then also make the Olympics so I would represent Canada on all stages. Hopefully we can accomplish the Olympics instead and go one for three on the childhood dreams. My other non-athletic goal was to live to be one hundred. That was a childhood goal
Embarrassing moment We were out for dinner with my team and I wanted to order soup. I asked for ‘Mine Strone soup’ instead of ‘Minestrone.’ So, that was not that long ago which is really, really embarrassing for me to admit. That was one where the whole team never let go. They still give me a hard time about that
Favorite places to travel I love British Columbia. I ran Nationals there a few times in cross country and I always love going there and seeing some family. I love going to Europe and there is a lot of Europe I still want to explore. I’d love to check out Iceland and Norway. I would like to go to Africa. Another goal I didn’t talk about is to travel to every continent at some point in my life. So I still have a coupe to go. Honestly, I really like the act of travelling rather than the specifics of it. I’m always happy to travel anywhere. I’m always good for a road trip. I don’t do well travelling on my own, but I like to travel with a group of people or a good buddy. Spending some good times with good company abroad is what I really enjoy doing