Inarguably two of our sports most lauded athletes are Malindi Elmore and Krista DuChene, Olympic marathoners who have rewritten the record book while raising families and promoting—beneath their ferocity—human decency in their approach. After only meeting once in 2019 at the Tartan Ottawa International Marathon, the two icons find themselves weeks away from a second Ottawa reunion: DuChene, calling the colour commentary on the 10K race and the marathon and Elmore, trying to punch her ticket to the 2024 Olympic Games (which would be her third). Elmore, speaking from her home in Kelowna, and DuChene, from her place in Brantford, spoke with iRun editor Ben Kaplan about goals, joy, family, and the surprisingly teachable secret to enjoying endurance in sport.
Ben Kaplan: Too bad I couldn’t find a picture of the two of you together
Krista DuChene: I don’t think one exists.
Malindi Elmore: We’ve only met in person once or twice.
ME: Ottawa Marathon in 2019 is the only time I can recall.
KD: We’re just internet friends.
BK: Are you internet friends, “frenemies,” rivals or is it something different—do you root each other on?
KD: I feel like I’ve known Malindi my entire life. We connected and sort of got to know each other.
ME: People often ask me about the difference between running now and the early 2000s and it’s that social media has changed communication and the ability to connect and feel like you know each other.
BK: How do you use social media to help your running?
ME: I look to inspiration from my peers all the time. Inspiration, and also assurance that I’m doing the right thing. Seeing Krista with her three children and coach her daughter’s hockey and, for me, I’m getting into coaching my son’s soccer and Krista is family-oriented, she works, and so seeing that makes me feel like: it’s doable. I see Krista doing it and it’s hard and a juggling act, but I feel like there’s a community and camaraderie—a positivity, which overflows.
KD: When I saw Malindi return to running I wish I had written my predictions down. She did the 1500, then Ironman, now the marathon? I could’ve put money on her doing big things, but seeing her success reinforced the idea that, of course, we can juggle multiple balls in the air. Sometimes we drop them, but we’re capable of setting big goals like anyone in their 30s and love doing it and appreciate the joy of it—which is why we’re doing it in the first place.
BK: The word joy isn’t used enough with regards to running and I think, forget spaghetti, forget carbon plates, forget Diplo, let’s remember about joy.
ME: Throughout my running career I’ve come back to those values—feeling joyful, but also feeling like you’re doing it for the right reasons. To compete and do your best, sure, but I’ve been pulled away from joy sometimes both from internal and external pressures. That isn’t to say we don’t have big goals, but I always do my best when I’m grounded and racing the marathon next month in Ottawa is part of that. I’ll be racing in Canada where I love to race and not worrying about the outcome.
BK: Even after racing for most of your life, do you still need to give yourself those reminders?
ME: I do. My last race didn’t produce my intended outcome and so I thought, OK, I’m going to take a step backward and get back to how I run well, which is removing expectation, racing and having fun. I still expect a lot from myself, but it’s about shifting the focus.
BK: Coach DuChene, what advice would you give the young runner after hearing her talk like that?
KD: I’m an inexperienced coach compared to Malindi, but I do think you always have to have fun. Of course everyone’s reasons for running are different, but I think gratitude and appreciation, that we can still do it with joy without the need to be earning a certain amount of money to put food on the table, that’s something we can be grateful for.
BK: Have you undergone a mentality shift in your approach?
KD: After the Olympics, I took every race I did—and I did several—as, ‘this can be my last one.’ So every race is like a cherry on top. I did it again and again, and it makes it that much more fun.
ME: Your race last month in Tokyo was awesome. It looked like you took a lot out of that and had a great experience.
KD: That was just perfect. Every race you get into, you finish thinking about what you can fix, but in Tokyo I had a calmness. By now, I know anything can go wrong—but in Tokyo, nothing did. All the years of ups and downs, but in Tokyo, I was like: I’m going to end this on high. And I did!
BK: Malindi, being in the thick of your training, and, conversely, Krista, announcing your peers, I wonder if both of you don’t envy each other’s current running life stage.
ME: Absolutely. I’m sure Krista is at this stage too with her children being a bit older and being career-focussed: running at this level is a huge commitment, and I’m definitely committed through Paris 2024. That’s my goal and my focus for the next year and a half and my family is supportive, but I can feel my kids getting more into their own lives and I’m looking forward to shifting my focus to their sports. Today, it all gets done, but now if mom is running the Sun Run, the whole family comes to Vancouver. I can envision a time when the whole family instead goes to my son’s soccer tournament, and honestly—I can’t wait for that.
BK: Makes sense.
ME: Like Krista says, ‘gratitude.’ I’m grateful to be 43 and doing this. My body is healthy and currently, it’s the longest I’ve gone being healthy in terms of injury, and I don’t even know the last time I got sick. That’s great. But one thing I learned after coming back the second time, there’s always so much pressure about what to do after this ends. When will I have kids? Well, now I have kids and I’m working the job I want to do. There’s not a lot to change. I have my cake and eat it too, that’s pretty awesome. You don’t always need to look so far ahead. You can live in the moment and be grateful.
BK: Are you injury-free because you’re doing less volume?
ME: I do way more volume than when I was 31.
ME: More volume, but less intensity. At 31, I was ripping 45-second 300s on the track. If I did that today my hamstrings would be destroyed. The great thing about the marathon is, overall, more volume and less intensity I think is easier on your body.
BK: What’s your current state of mind?
KD: Looking forward to Ottawa Race Weekend. It’s one of my favourite weekends of the whole year.
ME: I had such a blast in Toronto in the fall. I can’t wait to get to Ottawa. Why not stick to Canada? We put on great races and I’ll run into people I know. I’m looking forward to being out there, and Krista, it will be great to connect.
BK: Let’s pivot for a moment and talk about gender equality and the health of our sport.
ME: There’s more awareness and discussion than there was 20 years ago.
KD: 20 years ago, when I started the marathon, there was always that guy who wants to beat the top female and I think that still exists. When I was 4, I played hockey with the boys so, hey sure, try and take me down—you’re making me a better athlete and providing me with competition. But today I’m more confident to speak out because I stood on that line all those years and had some guy bump me and nudge me and I didn’t say anything—you don’t want to look arrogant and I never cared—but some young girl seeing that, seeing a start line full of men, bugs me. Especially when they’re wearing a snow suit and there’s no chance they’ll finish in the top ten.
ME: I’ve been noticing that for years. When I won the Sun Run in 2010 or 2011, the next year Eric Gillis won, and someone reported: a Canadian won the Sun Run for the first time in 20 years! I was like, no, I won it last year. I didn’t speak out about it because it felt like self-promoting, but that’s sexist and I feel like now we will call that out and it’s not that I’m annoyed for me—not really, more like: I’m annoyed for women, all over.
BK: We’ve all read Kara Goucher’s book and have followed the story at the University of Guelph. A serious question: would you let your daughters pursue track?
ME: I don’t have daughters, but I’ve had a positive relationship with running and coaches and teammates and I would do it all over again. I encourage girls, obviously, and tell them to be mindful of the risks, but I think sports and track can give back a lot in terms of healthy living, goal setting, and giving purpose to your day.
KD: When we had that situation in Guelph, someone made the comment: that’s why I don’t want my girls in sport, and that’s what gave me the passion to speak out. I’ve had conversations with my daughter that are awkward. You have to tell them uncomfortable things. Leah is my youngest and she knows that before she’s the last one in a room or a building, she needs to get out. But that’s not about sports. I think it’s essential we keep young women in sports because they’re so positive. So positive. And we know the drop-out rate with young girls in sport is a problem.
BK: What did you think of The Longest Race?
KD: I’m so glad she had the bravery to speak out. It’s not an easy read and she’s fought some negative feedback over the years, but she knows what happened and wrote her truth and the words she used, there’s no easy way to say them—but I think she’d still want to see girls stay in sport.
BK: Are there young girls you two are looking out for as the next Malindi Elmore and Krista DuChene?
ME: I think we need to deemphasize the success of girls that are prepubescent. There’s still so many challenges ahead and success at 11 isn’t necessarily a strong indicator of their happiness in the sport. So many superstars in middle school or high school don’t pan out to long-term success and we need to pay attention to the mental health toll on young women as it becomes harder and the competition catches up. The drop out rate for young women is really high. It’s easy when you’re young and performing well, but it gets harder on young women when things change.
KD: My daughter runs to be social and as cross-training for hockey. She has no desire to compete. Maybe someday that will change, but right now, she loves it and I’m not putting any pressure on her. People ask her: your mom went to the Olympics, will you do that someday? She just says she likes to run. She’s nonchalant and running for pure joy and that’s what I want. I want it to be character building. You want her to love the sport for life. You don’t ever have to retire from the marathon.
ME: My friend asked me for advice. Her 14-year-old had plateaued in swimming and asked me what I think. I asked her: why do you care? Does your daughter care? Is she having fun? If she is, great. We need to get away from parents living vicariously through their children. It needs to come from within.
BK: Love that. So, before we get out of here: one workout that will make us all run like you?
ME: 200s on the track. Ten or twenty of them, with 45 seconds rest between. My husband (who’s also my coach) says, ‘You don’t need 200s for the marathon!’ But I like it. Plus, I believe marathoners need a variety of skills and quick turnover and hip extension is important—but also it’s just fun to run fast.
KD: For the first time in 25 years, I don’t have either a goal or pregnancy on the calendar. I have no training plan. The other day I went to a local school and ran up and down the hill ten times. I got my heart rate up and felt good. I felt joy and it was enough.