at the races The Exquisite Comeback of Lanni Marchant

The Exquisite Comeback of Lanni Marchant


On Sunday, Lanni Marchant, the 37-year-old Olympian and one-time record-holder for fastest Canadian female finishing time, completed the New York Marathon in 2:32:54, fast enough to earn London, Ontario’s gritty racer an eleventh place finish. After a series of difficult years, including the loss of her friend, a battle with sepsis, eating disorders and kidney problems, Marchant says she’s now “running how my heart feels.” iRun editor Ben Kaplan caught up with Marchant yesterday on Instagram Live, which can be seen here, or else read below. 

Ben Kaplan: Wow, man. How are you feeling? 

Lanni Marchant: Sore, but not as sore as I thought I’d be. I thought I’d be walking around like I had shards of glass in my legs, but I just have the standard marathon legs. I haven’t been sore like this in five years. It feels good. 

BK: What was the vibe going into Sunday’s race?

LM: I was going for completion. I didn’t train the way I used to. Typically I was a 160 or 180K-a-week runner, but I was putting in maybe 100K on a good week for the last 6 or 8 months. 

BK: Consistently? 

LM: There were weeks when I maybe did 40 or 50K, or 120K, but I struggled to get back over 130K. I haven’t been able to get there, whether physically or mentally. As we know with the article I wrote for iRun in the spring, I was going through a traumatic and tragic loss of my friend and the circumstances under which it happened: finding him in his apartment that way … it changed everything, life, training running. 

BK: So how did New York come to pass? 

LM: When I got asked to do New York, I originally said no, but my agent said let’s leave it on the calendar, see where you’re at when it comes around. When he asked it was July and I’d  decided to shut down my season. I was mourning the loss of my attempt at an Olympic berth and the thought of lining up at a big, elite race seemed too much. But I’m glad he convinced me to leave the carrot out there. 

BK: How did it help?

LM: It was enough to get me out the door for easy run or rollerblades, all the stupid things I did just to stay active. As the weeks got closer, I knew I’d be able to cover the distance, but I didn’t know what it looked like. So as it got closer to New York, I reached out to the race directors and asked if there was a charity that dealt with addiction and mental health issues. I knew I didn’t want the pressure and the stress of lining up for a comeback or to prove to myself that I was still a high-calibre runner, so I was put in touch with the Release Recovery Foundation and it gave me a quest for the run. When I started, I had no idea how I’d do. 

BK: So the gun goes off. . . 

LM: And Rachel Hannah and I ran the first kilometre or two together, but when we got off the bridge I kind of pulled away from her, but the leaders? I didn’t want to go with them so I was like: ‘you’re just going to run by yourself this entire run’ and I tried to have good songs in my head and listen to music in my mind. I try not to be cocky or ignorant and definitely properly train for a marathon—do as I say not as I did—but it didn’t hurt and I didn’t feel like I was running outside myself. 

BK: How long did that last?

LM: The last two miles everything started cramping. My body was going: you have not run enough to be running this long, and because of everything that happened this spring—including struggling with my eating disorder in the past six or eight months. I’ve lost more weight than I’ve wanted to and have slowly been putting it back on. So that was the other part of not running: I am very aware of what my body has been through in the last five years and it’s hard to put weight on if you’re not eating enough and now you’re going to run a ton of mileage? That’s also why I kept my mileage low. 

BK: How did you navigate that? 

LM: If it was a good eating day I was allowed to run, if it was a bad eating day, I wasn’t allowed to run. It was a lot to navigate, personally, physically and mentally to get to the start line and the last two miles is where I said: you didn’t run all this way not to cross that finish line. Do it for your dad, even if you’re slowing down, you’re still running, do it for anyone struggling. 

BK: How do you measure Sunday’s results with reasonable expectations of where you go from here? 

LM: I have such little expectations for what running is going to do; for a while that was an upsetting thing. I love this thing and thought I’d get to be good at it for a very long time and I haven’t been good at it for a very long time. I don’t have any expectations on what Sunday’s race means long-term and I want to keep doing what I’ve been doing, which is running how my heart feels: am I happy? 

BK: What do you mean? 

LM: There’s been plenty of times I’ve left the house and said on a run, ‘this is friggin’ stupid, I don’t want to do this right now.’ I run on a loop and it gets repetitive, but I do that because if part way through I’m like, ‘forget this,’ I put my rollerblades on and roller blade for a while and just get time outside and fresh air. I don’t want to change that. Look, I am excited. I surprised myself and everyone else with Sunday’s results and, if I do another marathon in the coming future, I will run a bit more.  

BK: That works, the training thing? 

LM: I hear it makes it a lot more enjoyable. But of all the races I’ve ever done and I’ve had great ones—the PanAm Games medal, former marathon record, Olympic performances—but I never walked away from them fully content or happy. I felt I could have done better or I let someone down or I was being mean-girled by other racers, but this time I had Alexi Pappas and Carmen Graves. I train with Carmen in Denver and it was nice having had friends there that were real friends, we weren’t just friendly. When Carmen was training for Boston, she would message me and say, ‘hey, if you want, you can join our run tomorrow.’ I’d always say yes. And I might get dropped terribly, but at least they let me know I was welcome to join. 

BK: New York has always been a symbolic place for you. 

LM: New York was the last marathon I did before everything got really hard and I hope this is the last thing I do before everything starts getting easier. 

BK: Take us back into your actual race. 

LM: I wasn’t there as Marathon Lanni. I was there as Lanni who was going to run. And some of the uphills could get tough, but there was a calmness that came over me.

Even with chasing girls down, I felt like, you’ll get her, stay calm. It’s like treading water. I didn’t have to swim for the shore. I told myself, you’re perfectly safe right now.

It was my most controlled race and if I didn’t cross the finish line in a certain time and people felt it was crap, I didn’t care. I’m at a point in my life where I just want to enjoy what I’m doing. 

BK: What did you learn Sunday? 

LM: That marathoning could actually be fun. It was a lot of fun on Sunday.  

BK: So you’re glad you didn’t throw all your sneakers in a fire? 

LM: I love running and was getting back there this spring, getting fit. The Olympics were always going to be a big ask. Everything would have to be perfect. We have a lot of depth and everything didn’t go perfectly. I thought I could turn things around, but by the end of April, I couldn’t force it. In the summer, I probably drank too many beers here and there and could’ve been more active, but the eating disorder just reinforced that the last thing I needed to be was Olympic Lanni. There were days where I was lucky if I put something into my body and when it gets bad, exercise is the part I can control. 

BK: It’s great that you’re open with your story and it makes it especially sweet when things go well. And today you’re feeling basically all good? 

LM: All good. No kidney failings, no stress fractures. Oh look, someone said: don’t stop drinking beer. 

BK: A Canadian. 

LM: Everyone knows I like my beer. Before races I typically cut back, but I didn’t this time. I didn’t get rowdy or crazy, but I had a beer in my hotel room with Carmen the night before my race and a beer at the airport before I flew to the race. It’s something I like, and it’s carbs, so I don’t see the point in removing it from my life. [See? Natasha Wodak says she drinks wine four or five nights a week!] 

BK: What did you make of Natasha and Malindi at the Olympics? 

LM: The Olympics were hard for me to watch. I didn’t watch the track stuff, but the marathon I had on my computer. I’d peek in, watch it and cheer. I had to separate myself from the Olympics this summer, but it was insane to see Malindi and Natasha and what they accomplished.

Natasha Wodak: You paved the way! 

LM: We’ve come so far. In 2012, Krista DuChene and I weren’t allowed to run. In 2016, Krista and I ran and in 2021, we’re legitimate world-class marathoners. It’s been a bit painful at times, but it’s awesome to see where we’re at with Canadian women’s running.  

BK: Last words, for now, to the universe? 

LM: Thanks for the support. I wasn’t expecting that. I didn’t think that people cared, but it’s nice to know that people do.