Running your first marathon? Here’s advice from former record holder Lanni Marchant

In the summer of 2018, Lanni Marchant was looking for a physiotherapist.

The 34-year-old Olympian and former Canadian women’s marathon record holder from London, Ont. had hip surgery in May 2018 to repair a torn labrum. Coming out of the operating room, she wanted to rehab her hip and address the compensation patterns she’d adopted over several years as her injured left hip lost power. Marchant was referred to sport physiotherapist Bruce Craven in Saskatoon and flew out to meet him in August 2018. She has been travelling to the Bridge City roughly once a month since to work with Craven, who is helping the elite runner improve her running technique and build strength.

Marchant spoke with the Brainsport Times to share some of her running wisdom and stories with the city’s running community. This week she talks about the experience of running her first marathon and offers tips for those who are preparing to line up for their first 42.2-kilometre race.

Marchant ran her first marathon in Ottawa in May 2011 in the hopes of breaking 2:50, which came with prize money that would allow her to pay for law school.

It was a realistic goal; Marchant had been running seriously since high school. She ran with a track club in London and her running earned her a scholarship University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. While a student athlete, she won conference titles in the steeplechase, 5,000-metres, 10,000-metres and cross-country. After graduating from UTC, she went to law school at University of Ottawa and began focussing on road racing.

Marchant clocked a 2:49 at the Ottawa Marathon and got the money, but the race “was awful.” Her calf cramped and she tripped over a drifting garbage bag around the 30-kilometre mark.

“It was such a weird experience because I wasn’t used to not going hard from the gun, You have to run controlled and, even as controlled as I ran, your body still starts to shut down and do things you don’t want it to do,” she said. “It hurt and I crossed the finish line and I couldn’t even walk over to the tent after. But immediately I had the bug, immediately I was like I know I can do that better.”

Marchant is focussing on building strength on her trips to Saskatoon.

Marchant had spent much of her collegiate running career battling with stress fractures and so had been hesitant to put in high mileage leading up to the Ottawa Marathon. She was only running between 60 and 80 kilometres a week, whereas some people clock more than 100 kilometres when training for a marathon. Her longest run leading up to the race was 25 kilometres.

When Marchant began training for her second marathon, the Chicago Marathon in October 2011, she upped her weekly mileage and made her long runs longer. She ran 2:44 in Chicago and felt better about the race.

Marchant spent some time training in Kenya in early 2012 and then ran a blistering 2:31 at the Rotterdam Marathon in April 2012. The following year she broke the long-standing Canadian record in the women’s marathon when she ran 2:28 at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October 2013. She later represented Canada in both the 10,000 metres and marathon in the 2016 Rio Olympics, where she finished 24th in the marathon with a time of 2:33.

With that wealth of training and racing experience, Marchant has a few pieces of advice for first-time marathon runners that she wishes she could have imparted to herself while she was training for the Ottawa Marathon in 2011.

1) Consistent training is important; make sure you put in enough miles before the race — but don’t panic if you have to miss a workout.

“Be patient enough with yourself to know that training might go sideways,” Marchant says. “If you’re doing a marathon build, after your base training or just your general fitness, you’re looking at 12 weeks of a committed training plan. You’re an idiot if you think those 12 weeks are going to go perfectly so you just have to be patient with the process.”

2) Having a race plan matters. Know what pace is realistic and don’t start too fast. 

“You have to run controlled,” Marchant stresses.

3) Give up control. 

“You can prepare your body perfectly for the day and on the day your legs just don’t want to respond, your guts just don’t want to tolerate the gels you’re taking in, you can’t control the pace that other people are running, you can’t control if somebody’s having a great day and running faster than you that you can normally beat,” Marchant says. “The most fun thing about racing is it’s all out of your control just as much as it’s in your control. And I think you don’t become a marathoner without being a little bit of a control freak, but you have to learn to just let it go and go for the ride.”

4) Have fun and don’t forget to celebrate.

Now that Marchant has been struggling with injuries and recovery for the past two years, she says she wishes she’d taken more time to celebrate her performances.

“I would give anything to go back and celebrate actually at the finish of a race because I didn’t do enough of it. I didn’t actually do it really at all,” she says.

“It might go completely ass backwards or sideways in the race, but it’s going to be fun regardless … Enjoy what you can. Hopefully you enjoy all of it.”

— Andrea Hill (Editor, Brainsport Times)