An accomplished cross country and track & field runner in high school and university, Rachel Hannah dedicated herself to the marathon in 2015 and ran 2:32:09 at the Houston Marathon in 2016. She made headlines, took bronze in the 2015 marathon at the PanAm Games and was the iRun cover in 2016. Over the ensuing years, she continue to run marathons, but until two weeks ago in Indianapolis, finishing in 2:35:12 and setting the course record, she never came close to her debut time.
Her recent breakthrough, at 37-years-old, she says is the result of a variety of factors.
“I learned from my mistakes—slept more, decreased volume a bit on mid-week workouts and recovered better—but mostly I kept stress down, enjoyed it more and leaned into my community, things I think can make the journey more enjoyable for everyone,” says Hannah, well known to many Canadian racers as she’s popular on Strava, and a familiar face at events like spring’s Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend and the TCS Waterfront Marathon.
“During COVID,” she continues, “having racing and my running friends taken away from me, I realized how much I missed our community. Given what’s going on in the world, I’m just really reminded of what a privilege it is to get to go out and race.”
Racing is something many of us build our training around. It’s good to have goals and it’s important to push ourselves, but the irony of road racing is, sometimes, that the harder we try the worse we end up doing. For an elite athlete like Rachel Hannah, that’s even more acute.
“I’m definitely still learning, but today feel like I’m happier in general and being nicer to myself,” says the recently engaged Barrie, Ontario native. “I think not taking things too seriously and practicing gratitude on low mood days has also been one of the biggest positive changes I’ve made.”
Another huge change that Hannah has made? Taking ownership of her schedule. “That’s been really helpful. I’m saying ‘no’ to lots more things.”
If you’ve seen Rachel on a course over the past few years, you might have noticed her gait—sometimes, towards the end of the race, almost keeled over to the side at a 90-degree angle. To see her racing was unparalleled. It looked like only the world’s toughest athletes could have possibly continued on like that, in such agony, but Rachel has always had the fiercest heart. Now, with her determination mixed with smarter training, balancing her workload and (occasionally) chilling out, she’s finding new success. Rachel says she can run faster than she did in Indianapolis. She’s currently looking for a fast spring race and somewhere warm, Arizona, perhaps, where she can ditch winter to train.
To hear Hannah talk, you’d think the nearly 40-year-old veteran racer is just getting started. It’s a path, chilled way out for us mortals, we should all aim to replicate in the new year.
“I feel lucky,” she says. “Life and running both got better for me when I stopped trying to do too much and instead focussed on only doing quality things.”
Rachel Hannah is also a registered dietician and, in between races, she does nutrition assessments. To find out more about Rachel, and talk to her about your diet, follow her on Instagram.