By Krista DuChene, The 4th Fastest Woman of All Time & Mother of 3.
What do you get when you race a marathon in 2020 after competing in the 1500m at the 2004 Olympic Games and Ironman Triathlons in 2016 and 2017? Did I mention giving birth in 2014 and 2018? In the case of Malindi Elmore, how about a Canadian record of 2:24:50 and a really good chance to return to another Olympic Games?
Malindi Elmore’s Canadian record performance at the Houston Marathon on January 19, 2020—the fastest marathon time ever run by a Canadian woman—was also a third place finish and in no way a surprise for those of us who know what she can do. She already had an outstanding athletic background with incredible potential to do even more—if she chose to. And we’re glad she did.
Elmore, a native of Kelowna, British Columbia, debuted in the marathon as a single event at the 2019 Houston Marathon with a 2:32:11, while her breast-fed six-month-old infant waited for her—I’m guessing rather impatiently—at the finish line. Elmore’s husband and coach, Graham Hood, also a 1500m Olympian (1992 and 1996), travelled with her to the race, where she wasn’t even entered as an elite. She had to carry her own gels and use the fluid provided by the event, rather than being able to use her own bottles like the rest of her competition.“In the two weeks leading into the race, my training started to click and I started to have some breakthroughs in my workouts. I would try to slow down to ‘goal pace,’ but I just couldn’t help running faster than I was supposed to,” Elmore says. “We knew at that point that my 2:40 goal was no longer realistic and we needed to be planning on sub-2:35 pacing. Feeling comfortable running 2:32 showed me I had a lot of room to improve. I thought at this point that the 2:29:30 Olympic standard was quite reasonable and my goal for the following race was to see how far below it I could go.”
How It All Came To Be
Looking back to her track days, Elmore set an impressive personal best time of 4:02.64 in 2004 in the 1500m, making her the sixth fastest Canadian woman of all time. In her debut Ironman in 2016, she clocked an outstanding 8:57, making her the fourth fastest Canadian ever at that distance. Perhaps it should be noted that an Ironman Triathlon includes a 3.86K swim, a 180.25K bike, and a 42.2K run. According to Wikipedia, it is “widely considered one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world.”
No wonder Elmore felt that stepping down to marathon training was less taxing, leaving her with more time and energy to give to her family, coaching, volunteering and other commitments. Malindi’s personal bests in other events are equally impressive. She holds a 1:11:07 in the half marathon (Winnipeg, 2019), a 32:44 in the 10K (Vancouver, 2019), and a 15:12 in the 5K (Mt. SAC, 2007). In a two-year time frame (2015–2017), she successfully completed two Olympic distance triathlons, twelve half Ironman triathlons and two Ironman triathlons. Many of them were podium finishes, celebrated with her firstborn held on her hip at the awards ceremonies.
“I love being an athlete and a mom and find good balance in both,” Elmore says. “I try to ‘stay in the moment’ when I am with my kids or training, and find that being a good athlete helps me be a good mom and vice versa. I have always wanted kids, so it also makes me feel more at peace now that I am at a place in my life where I am 100% content. I wouldn’t change a thing about it.”
Nothing Good Comes Easy
While earning these and many other accolades over her 20+ year career, racing wasn’t entirely without disappointment and setbacks. In 2008, she and Hilary Stellingwerff, with whom she trained and raced, both missed the Olympics during a time when many athletes in their field were later suspended for doping. Although she had the IAAF (now World Athletics) standard, she was 0.07 seconds off the inflated Canadian “A+” standard to assure her selection to the Canadian team. After winning the Olympic trials in Calgary in 2012, Malindi failed to achieve the Olympic standard by less than a second—and it was at this point that she stepped away from the sport for what she considered to be a permanent decision.
“After not making the 2008 or 2012 Olympics, I felt like I needed to focus on other aspects of my life. I was really low and knew that I needed to put my energy into family and career at that point,” she says. “I also changed my perspective from my life revolving around my sport to my sport fitting into my life. I put less pressure on myself now, although I still hold myself to high expectations. It allows me to better balance mentally, physically, emotionally.”
After a seven-year hiatus, Malindi hoped to run the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October 2019, with her eye on running below the Olympic standard of 2:29:30; however, while on an easy run during her taper, she tweaked her hamstring and was forced to withdraw from the race. She took the necessary time for the injury to heal and resumed training, later completing some stunning workouts in early 2020 that some of her Strava followers—like myself—were very impressed to see. When she returned to race the 2020 Houston Marathon, she had her husband cheering for her again as well several Canadian women competing in the half marathon. When she crossed the finish, now the fastest Canadian female marathon runner of all time, it was a moment she’d been working towards her entire career.
“It is surreal to think I am the Canadian record holder, and that at 40 years old have a good shot of being at the summer Olympics,” Elmore says. “I felt so overjoyed and emotional. It was also so special to share the moment with my husband, who not only coached me for the last year, but has been my biggest supporter for the last 16 years since we met.”
It was a thrilling morning for those at the race, of course, and the rest of us following coverage at home, because not only did Elmore set a Canadian record, but so did Natasha Wodak, running a 1:09:41 in the half marathon. Both Canadian records had been held by Vancouver’s Rachel Cliff, who was also racing the Houston Half Marathon that morning in preparation for the Tokyo Marathon (February 29).
Two weeks later, Andrea Secaffian went on to lower the record in the half marathon with a 1:09:38, further adding to the depth of talent and excitement amongst Canadian women distance runners.
“To be a part of the renewal of Canadian running is so important to me. I think the legacy of Canadian women goes back so many years—Lynn Kanuka, Angela Chalmers, Leah Pells, Megan Metcalfe and many more were all my role models,” she says. “And my track contemporaries back in the early 2000s—Carmen Douma, Courtney Babcock, Hilary Stellingwerff, Diane Cummins—they all played a role in where we are today as trail blazers and role models. I feel honoured to have been part of a few generations and find that I draw so much inspiration from those who came before me and those who are now rising to the top.”
So what brought this World University Games, Commonwealth Games, Pan American Games, World Championships and Olympic Games athlete back to running after retiring in 2012? Elmore says she simply has a deep love and joy for the sport, its simplicity and strong community. With a modest and manageable training plan averaging 145–160K per week and two young boys at home, she felt more relaxed, committed with flexibility and grateful for her strong support team to help her achieve her new goals. The six-time Canadian champion, six-time All American from Stanford University and 2017 inductee in the Central Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame once again put drive to her dreams, but without pressure or having anything to prove. She could embrace her love with passion once again.
The Future Looks Bright
As a mom of three who competed at the age of 39 at the 2016 Olympic Games, I am excited to think that Canada will likely have a mom of two who will compete at the age of 40 at the 2020 Olympic Games—16 years after her Olympic debut. And I’m incredibly honoured that Malindi has included me in her list of those who inspired her return. I only met her for the first time in person in 2019, briefly over lunch at a table shared with other Canadian athletes, at the Ottawa Race Weekend. But our relationship started years ago when Malindi reached out, asking questions about training and racing through pregnancy and breastfeeding.
“Krista has been such a positive example to me and so many others about how you can be fast and serious about your running while still being a good parent,” Elmore says. “I look to her as an inspiration as someone who involves her family as a lifestyle decision.”
I can’t recall the exact advice I gave in our discussions, but do remember she had a tougher time returning from her first pregnancy than her second. She learned from her experience and others’, was more patient and followed her body’s cues for the second time around. In September 2018, when she was three months postpartum, she and Graham came up with the idea to solely focus on the marathon. It worked, because four months later she would clock her 2:32:11, the second fastest debut in Canadian history.
So what is Canada’s marathon record holder doing now? She’s allowing her body to completely recover before resuming training for some shorter spring races on the road (and possibly the track). She continues to keep busy with her family and community, using her education background in urban planning, international relations, coaching and education as a coach and event planner in running and triathlons.
Additionally, she is a coach with the Run SMART Project, University of British Columbia Okanagan and Okanagan Athletics Club. Although May 31 is the final day of the qualifying period where Elmore will know the likelihood of being named to the team, she will need to wait until June 4 to see her name back on that list of Canadians to compete at the Olympic Games.
“The thought that I could be on Canada’s Olympic team is mind-boggling to me, because I honestly thought that ship had sailed years ago!” she says. “It shows me that the process of reinvention, renewal and re-invigoration can bring opportunities that you didn’t even know were out there. I feel so grateful to have this second chance at my running career.”
This article appears in iRun’s first issue of 2020. Read the entire issue here.