Brandi Venne runs the 2023 Chicago Marathon.

After a years-long break, Brandi Venne has fallen back in love with the marathon

Brandi Venne’s first road race was a marathon — and she hated it.

Venne started running when she was 19 because her boyfriend at the time ran to keep in shape for hockey. “I started running with him for fun and quite liked it,” recalls Venne, who’s now 42. “I just loved the endurance part of it.”

Venne, who spent her childhood competing in equestrian events, began running on her own and often ran on the treadmills at a gym near her house. A group there was training for the 2001 Saskatchewan Marathon so Venne joined them and signed up for her first race. She was 20 years old on Sept. 3, 2001 when she crossed the finish line in a time of 4:22:46.

“I absolutely hated it,” Venne says. “It was one of the most painful things I ever did. But something inside me said: You’ve got to try this again, it will get better.”

Venne signed up for other marathons and half marathons, obsessed with improving her time and qualifying for the Boston Marathon. Making up her own training program as she went along, she ran more miles, did more cross training on the bike and focussed on tempo runs. When she lined up at the Saskatchewan Marathon for the second time in September 2003 she ran the course a full 58 minutes faster than she had two years earlier, finishing in 3:24:17 to win the race. “I was shocked. I had just wanted to run 3:40,” Venne says.

After that breakthrough race, Venne put her dream of running the Boston Marathon on hold to focus on getting even faster. She began training with the Saskatoon Track and Field Club and the University of Saskatchewan Huskies distance group, where she started doing speed work for the first time. She lined up for — and won — 5km and 10km races on the road and competed in shorter distances on the track.

“It was a different type of being uncomfortable and I really thrived on that feeling of doing those workouts, of being pushed in speed,” Venne says. “And I noticed a difference. When I started doing longer stuff, those paces were easier to hold on to.”

Brandi Venne runs the 2023 Chicago Marathon.
Brandi Venne runs the 2023 Chicago Marathon.

In 2008, Venne was ready to give the marathon another shot and began working with coach Bruce Craven of Craven SPORT Services. That fall, she ran a blistering 2:51:59 at the Chicago Marathon — and then stepped away from running. “I just needed a bit of a break from all the intensity,” she says. Venne coached running clinics through Brainsport for a time and trained for triathlons. She didn’t get excited about running again until 2020, a year after giving birth to her daughter. Once that happened, it wasn’t long before she started dreaming of toeing the line at another marathon.

So, 14 years after they last worked together, Venne reconnected with Craven and he agreed to coach her again. “I am a better student now — Bruce will attest to that,” Venne says. “I follow things right to a T.”

The wisdom of age means Venne is better about eating right and respecting rest days than she was the last time she trained for a marathon. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why, at 42, her body feels stronger than it did in her 20s. Plus, she’s in a better place mentally to follow and find joy in a training plan.

“I have a daughter, I have a busy life, so trying to work my life in with my training — because training means a lot to me, it’s what keeps me sane — takes a bit of figuring out,” she says. “Back in my 20s, I didn’t have any of that; I worked and ran. But still, I’m able to manage myself way better now than I could then.”

Another big change since Venne last trained for a marathon is the shoes. “It’s wild how much they’ve changed,” she says. “Before, there wasn’t a whole lot there. They were stiff and a bit heavier and I think that’s why you’d get really, really sore. Shoes back then were like running on a piece of bread: there was nothing in the sole. And now you have cushion and carbon plates.”

Venne does her speed workouts and races these days in the Saucony Endorphin Pro 3, a carbon-plated racing shoe with a high stack height. The shoe’s cushioning means she doesn’t feel as beat up after a hard effort as she did when she ran in racing flats.

Last fall, Venne lined up for her first marathon back at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon with the goal of running 3:10. She amazed herself by running 3:06. “It was exhilarating; I was so happy,” she says. “It just made me really excited for future goals and I was ready to get back to work, I was ready to get fast and try to figure out ways I was going to do that.” Mere weeks after crossing the finish line, Venne signed up for the 2023 Chicago Marathon.

Venne’s goals for Chicago were to run sub-three hours and not fall apart at the dreaded 35-kilometre mark. She accomplished both, negative splitting the race by more than a minute to finish in 2:56:04.

“I probably had a bit more to give,” Venne reflects. “When I do it again I can be more confident that my body can push, that I can let it go and just see what happens.”

She will get that opportunity this spring. More than 20 years after she ran her first Boston Marathon qualifying time at the 2003 Saskatchewan Marathon, Venne is finally heading to the famed marathon.

It’s a notoriously difficult course, but Venne is optimistic she may still be able to lower the personal best she set when she was 27. “If anything, I’m better now in my 40s than I was in my 20s as a runner,” she says. “I know I can run a personal best next year — and keep running more personal bests.”