True Grit: Lanni On Find­ing Her Edge

Lanni Marchant gets can­did about women’s run­ning, re­cov­ery and draw­ing strength from her peers.

Canadian Running - - FEATURES - By Caela Fen­ton

The past few years haven’t been easy for Canada’s women’s marathon record­holder Lanni Marchant. Fol­low­ing a his­toric dual per­for­mance in both the 10,000m and marathon at the Rio Olympics, Marchant has faced an up­hill bat­tle with ill­ness and in­jury. Thank­fully, she’s found strength and sup­port within the female elite run­ning com­mu­nity on her road to re­cov­ery.

I thought

I would start this ar­ti­cle with a quip along the lines of “phon­ing one your he­roes is scarier than it sounds.” In fact, it is ex­actly as ter­ri­fy­ing as it sounds. In the age of so­cial me­dia, our ath­letic he­roes can seem even larger than life, like su­per­hu­mans.

But so­cial me­dia wasn’t quite as big seven years ago, when I first be­gan track­ing Lanni Marchant’s ca­reer. There was less writ­ten or broad­cast about Canada’s female elite run­ners at that time. As a teenager get­ting more se­ri­ous about the sport, I re­call hav­ing to ac­tively search out women who were hav­ing suc­cess on the road and the track.

Com­ing from a fam­ily of lawyers, I latched onto Marchant, par­tially be­cause I un­der­stood how crazy it was that some­one could bal­ance both a le­gal ca­reer and elite run­ning, given the im­mense work­load both re­quire.

On the phone, Marchant sounds like the kind of lawyer you’d want: poised, thought­ful and ar­tic­u­late, but not afraid of drop­ping the oc­ca­sional f-bomb. Given that the theme of this is­sue is “find­ing your edge,” the first thing I asked Marchant is what that phrase means to her.

“Find the one thing you have that makes you bet­ter than your com­peti­tors,” Marchant re­sponded. “For me, in col­lege, I was told that I wasn’t su­per tal­ented, just su­per stub­born. Rather than get­ting up­set, I just kind of adopted that as my mind­set. I refuse to give up when things get hard.”

What Marchant refers to as her stub­born­ness man­i­fested at an early age. In fact, it’s what led her to run­ning in the first place.

“I was a fig­ure skater when I was younger. I guess I didn’t have any ta­lent for that,” says Marchant with a laugh. “My sis­ters were al­ways bet­ter, and I was al­ways a bit more re­bel­lious. The pun­ish­ment for per­ceived in­frac­tions at skat­ing prac­tice were laps around the park­ing lot – I turned that pun­ish­ment into a ca­reer.”

Marchant be­gan tak­ing run­ning more se­ri­ously in high school, when she joined her lo­cal club, the Lon­don West­ern Track and Field Club, where she be­gan work­ing with Dave Mills, who still coaches her to­day. Marchant says run­ning was a means to an end – a way for a girl from a fam­ily with­out much to get a schol­ar­ship to university. She re­ceived one from the University of Ten­nessee at Chat­tanooga. Marchant de­scribes her col­le­giate ca­reer as “OK” and char­ac­ter­ized by the el­e­ments of the sport that no one likes to talk about, such as the pres­sure to be thin and the cy­cle of per­pet­ual in­jury.

“It seemed like ev­ery year, I would break, men­tally and phys­i­cally, and then I’d go home for the sum­mer, and Dave would have to put me back to­gether,” Marchant says. While Marchant’s ex­pe­ri­ence hap­pened in the ncaa, she knows it isn’t dis­tinctly Amer­i­can, but some­thing that oc­curs at Cana­dian schools as well. “One girl gets a bit skinny and runs fast, then an­other, then an­other. And the coaches ei­ther en­cour­age it or turn a blind eye. Mean­while, we’re f*ck­ing up our en­docrine sys­tems and bone health,” Marchant says.

I men­tion that in my own brief, in­jury-end­ing university run­ning ex­pe­ri­ence, it was a sort of an un­spo­ken norm that few of us were hav­ing nor­mal men­strual cy­cles. And when it was talked about, it was con­sid­ered a nor­mal sign of “train­ing hard.” “My mind­set back then used to be ‘if you get one pe­riod, you’re slip­ping. Two in a row, you’re get­ting fat.’ It’s only now when I’m old that I re­al­ize how messed up that was,” Marchant says. “Now I try and make sure that I talk openly about re­pro­duc­tive and bone health in front of my nieces, in front of girls at track meets and, hell, clearly even with strangers over the phone!”

We chuckle some­what darkly about the fact that Stacy T. Sims’ book, Roar, which ar­gues that coaches need to ac­knowl­edge that female ath­letes are “not small men,” was only pub­lished in 2016, yet treat­ing women like small men and ig­nor­ing dif­fer­ences in our phys­i­ol­ogy is the modus operandi for many coaches.

Marchant re­minds me that the women’s marathon is, in fact , t he same age as she is. “It seems like a long t ime to us be­cause our gen­er­a­tion is the one do­ing it, but my grandma was only al­lowed to run one lap on the track. They’re just now adding a women’s 50k race walk to the Olympics.”

Sev­eral years ago, when I was still in un­der­grad, the cis (now U Sports) went through a half-hearted at­tempt to pose the ques­tion whether the male and female cross coun­try dis­tances should be made equal. Cur­rently, the women run 6k and the men run 8k or 10k. Act­ing as a note­taker at a coaches’ meet­ing, I was shocked to hear com­ments along the lines of “No one wants to stick around and watch the girls run an­other 2k.”

Marchant sym­pa­thizes, but isn’t sur­prised. She’s been

, was told that wasn t su pe r ta l e nte d, ju st su pe r stu b b or n. Rathe r tha n ge tti ng u pse t, ju st ki nd of ad opted that as my mi ndse t. re fu se to give u p whe n thi ngs ge t ha rd .

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