“I’m always representing my country.” Rachel Hannah, three weeks out from Boston.
30-year-old Rachel Hannah won the Canadian Cross-Country Championships in 2014 and earned bronze at the Pan American Games in 2015, running the marathon in 2:41:06. It was the second time she raced at that distance. Working part-time at Medcan as a dietician, Hannah is gearing up to run the Boston Marathon on April 17. It will be her fifth attempt at the marathon. Ben Kaplan reached out to Hannah to discuss her race plan, training strategy and nutrition in approaching the most famous race in the world. (Please note: Hannah is bouncing back from a foot injury which she explains in detail; that will be available tomorrow, as part II of our chat).
Q) How are you feeling?
A) Better now, I had a setback with my foot, but it’s getting better—not completely gone, but I’m doing everything I can to strengthen it and be healthy. I ran the NACAC cross-country championships is March, and I shouldn’t have gone, I was in too much pain, but it was my learning moment and now I’m turning a corner.
Q) That’s always so interesting when elites make the same mistakes that us middle-of-the-pack schlubs make. Like it’s so hard for all of us to disrupt the training program.
A) It’s such a hard thing, you’re always trying to get better, but you have to learn when to run through something and when to take time off. I’ve learned that your fitness won’t disappear if you take off some time and I feel stronger now, maybe it’s a blessing in disguise, and it definitely applies to everybody. What can happen is you get stuck with a training plan and you want to follow it to a tee, but then things happen. That’s what everyone should know there’s nothing wrong with cross-training and you can come back stronger.
Q) Do you feel like you’re at PB mental and physical strength?
A) I feel good going into this; this winter I’ve done the greatest number of long runs over 30k, nine long runs. And the pace is slower in the winter, but I’ve been putting in the minutes and my workouts have come around and everything is starting to click. We’ll see on race day, but things are looking good.
Q) Can we drill down on your training, just three weeks out from your race?
A) Last Wednesday I did my longest interval workout, now it’s shortening the sessions and refining—on Wednesday, I did three-times 8k at marathon pace; 24k of quality mileage. I’m happy the workout went well and not having wind and it being a bit warmer, that was significant, and on Saturday I did a long run with an hour at marathon pace, and now I’m cutting back volume and focusing on quality sessions this week, then I’ll taper back. I’m grateful to have such a good care team—you need that when running so much mileage.
Q) Who are the folks on your team?
A) Here are the wonderful support crew who keep me healthy! I am so grateful to be working with such caring and smart individuals: Desmond Fung, Physiotherapist; Jim Marando, DCh. Chiropody; Aly Hodgins, Physiotherapist; Patrick Stiles, Registered Massage Therapist; Alex Marion, Massage Therapist at Medcan; Mark Gottfried and Devon Truscott, who were very helpful to me during my NACAC XC trip as they were the IST on that trip, and Greg Lehman at Medcan, who helped me for many years being very generous with his time, but is now traveling the world teaching others his skills and sharing his expertise.
Q) So those folks help get you ready to race. Now that race day is approaching, what’s the game plan?
A) I have to be conservative. The goal always in a marathon is to run as evenly as possible; you’ll have bit more left if you don’t alter the pace. Given the hills, I recognize some kilometres will be a little slower, but I’d like to run anywhere in the range from 3:34-3:38, that’s around 2:35, anywhere in that range would be great.
Q) Given that the female winner stands to earn US$150,000; you’ll be facing the best in the world. What is your ideal outcome?
A) To place well. If the conditions are ideal for a fast time, in the temperature range of 5-8 degrees and no headwind, and I’m feeling good on the day with positive thoughts and if everything falls into place, it would be great to run personal best time…unfortunately, winning the whole thing is unrealistic.
Q) Tell me about Boston. Why this race?
A) Once I got into doing the marathon and liked it, Boston was always a goal. It’s the history of it and the strength and courage of the city, you want to take part of it—it’s almost the Olympics of the marathon, plus the events you get to do and interact with other athletes, you grow as an athlete. There’s actually a funny story of how this even came to be: my mom and her friends from the Running Room were cheering me on at the Pan Am Games and my mom met Boston’s elite director. My mom gave her my information and that’s how we got in touch.
Q) That’s awesome. You have to bring your mom to the race to say thanks.
A) We’re trying, but it’s expensive.
Q) Reality keeps getting in the way of all the best stuff. Let’s talk about diet. You’re a dietician, a few weeks out, what are you eating and what are you not eating?
A) You don’t want to change too much when you’re getting closer to the race; I am cutting back on training volume and intensity, but I keep my calorie intake quite consistent to have extra energy and go into the race feeling strong and well fueled. I will always maintain high quality food choices. I’m focussing on eating properly every single day, making sure I eat right away after a work-out and that there’s no gap of three or four hours where I’m not eating. Plus, I continue to monitor my calorie and macronutrient intake to ensure I am getting adequate carbohydrates.
Q) But it changes a little. How so?
A) A few days beforehand I cut back on fibre in-take, monitor that for sure with tracking using My Fitness Pal and focus on higher carbohydrate in-take: lots of fruit, like bananas, grapes and melons. Other carbohydrate sources include starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and various different breads. Some of my favourites are spelt and buckwheat bread. I also enjoy gluten-free rice crackers that are low in fibre. Oatmeal will always be a staple in my diet as I consume it daily!
Q) Do you have spaghetti like the rest of us the night before a race?
A) I’m actually not a big pasta person since I find wheat does not agree with me. The night before a race I like to keep things simple and I will always bring my own food. I usually have a sandwich with a banana, natural peanut butter or sunflower seed butter and greek yogurt or cottage cheese. I will usually have some crackers too and a Clif bar if I am still hungry. I monitor fibre intake closely especially the day before to make sure it is low.
Q) And for breakfast on the morning of the Boston Marathon?
A) I cook oatmeal ahead of time and have that with greek yogurt, a banana and some almonds. I will usually have another banana 1 hour before and drink Eload. I always start the morning off with coffee too.
Q) I know you’re focussed on Boston, but how far ahead do you plan? Do you know what you’ll do after this?
A) We have an idea. In spring and summer, I want to get back on the track and also do some 10ks. I’ll do the 10K championships in Guelph, and I’d like to do a half, but I don’t know when…maybe in the fall.
Q) Lastly, and thanks so much for your time, but you’ve come on the scene quickly and done well in the sport. What advice would you give to our readers?
A) I’d let people know that the marathon gets easier the more times you try; you learn what to expect and you practice things like how to fuel and your body gets used to it. But it takes lots of practice. I’m still kind of slow at drinking while I run, I think I’ll always be slow at it. I spend a lot of time carrying the bottle.
Q) Good luck, Rachel. Don’t carry your bottle too long.
A) Thanks, and you know, I feel pretty lucky to be at a major race representing Canada on that day in Boston and trying to inspire Canadian runners there, but also back home. I keep that in the back of my mind and try and run my best. I’m always representing my country.
[Tomorrow, Rachel explains exactly what happened with her foot; how she detected the injury; how she treated it; what worked; what didn’t, and what you should do if you suffer from a similar situation.]
April 3rd, 2017