By Paul Gains
As Canadian record holder Lanni Marchant realized her dream of competing in the Rio Olympic marathon and 10,000m, a number of up and coming Canadian distance runners have drawn inspiration from her mighty achievements and are poised to step onto the world stage.
Chief among them is 29 year old Pan Am Games bronze medalist Rachel Hannah who, it must be said, has hardly begun to tap her potential. So, when the resident of Guelph, Ontario lines up for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon this coming October 16 big things can be expected.
Hannah made a cautious marathon debut at the 2015 Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon where she turned heads with a 2:33:30 clocking, the fourth fastest time of the year by a Canadian.
It also allowed her the option of representing the country in either the World Championships or Pan Am Games. She chose Pan Ams so she could run in front of friends and family and, similarly, this is a motivating factor in racing Toronto Waterfront. It helped too that the event is also the 2016 Canadian Marathon Championship.
"I know Toronto Waterfront is going to be custom setup for my needs," she says of the IAAF Gold Label race. "(Race Director) Alan (Brookes) takes such good care of us. That was the main deciding factor.
"And just the strength of the hometown crowd. I was thinking about this when I experienced this during the Pan Am Games. It was incredible, it helps pull you along when it gets really tough and that was evident during the hills and the humidity. I am excited just to be back running Toronto in similar areas and hopeful the energy will pull me along and I will run a PB."
In January she ran the Houston Marathon finishing in a new PB of 2:32:09 a time that puts her at the top of the Canadian rankings for 2016.
At that race she had kept the Olympic qualifying standard (2:29:50) in the back of her mind and when, at the half way point, the pace was slipping, she compensated mentally by breaking the race up into components and not thinking negative thoughts. It is this mindset she hopes to bring to Toronto.
"I do think that because I am pretty new to (marathoning) - I have been doing it only a year and half now - I do think there is a lot in the tank," Hannah declares. "I can go faster. I just have to be really consistent and keep a positive mindset. There so much to the marathon that is all in your head. You know your body can do it if you put in the training and have been consistent. I think sometimes the training is harder than doing it on the day."
The qualifying period for the 2017 IAAF World Championships opened this past January and she clearly has ambitions to wear a Canadian singlet again on the world stage.
"Iíd love to do (the London World Championships)," she declares. "Thatís definitely in the back of mind going into Toronto Waterfront, try to run a really quick time and be in the qualifying window. Iím not sure what the time standard will be but I hope I can get to run in London. That will be a fantastic experience to go and be able to compete."
Hannah graduated from Georgia State University in 2009. It is there she studied nutrition. Up until December of last year she was working full time at MedCan as a dietician, but with the cooperation of her employer has now reduced the number of hours to roughly 16-20 per week, reflecting her growing athletics requirements.
Recently she moved in with her long-time boyfriend Dave Korell, who is also her coach, and so is splitting time between her motherís place in the Flemingdon Park area of North Toronto, which is close to her work, and their home in Guelph. With more time available for training and recovery, she and Korell have been able to compose a program that incorporates some changes. Presently she trains with local runners Cameron Bush, Darren Lee, Eric Bang and Rejean Chiasson.
"We are looking at a twelve week buildup," she explains. "I am going to do a longer tempo in my long runs. So far I have got up to 50 minutes at goal marathon pace during my long runs. This time around I am going to try and go for over an hour. That is one factor that will change. There will more long runs in general. My body is used to getting up to those distances.
"I am going to practice more with (water) tables. Dave will probably set up tables with bottles so I can become more efficient grabbing bottles because I think I lose a few seconds here and there at each station. And, now that I am working part time I can sleep more so thatís another thing I am going to incorporate. Itís so important for recovery!"
Hannah continues to learn from each marathon and is not averse to taking advice from those with more experience. In Ottawa last year she sat down with 2016 Olympian, Krista DuChene, who is also a nutritionist, and asked her questions about fuelling and the marathon in general.
"We were sitting down going over some tips the night before," Hannah reveals. "I remember her telling me, and this really stuck with me, Ďmake sure you are fuelling properly knowing that you are going to feel a little heavy going into it but you are going to be thankful when you get to 35k and have energy reserves.í"
Earlier this summer Hannah won the Canadian 10,000m championship in Guelph, easily beating Canadian Olympian and national record holder, Natasha Wodak, in the process. Winning the Canadian marathon title in Toronto would be a great addition to her medal collection but one thing is even more important: a new personal best.
If the conditions are right she can be expected to tap that potential and follow the path blazed by Lanni Marchant, and toward London 2017.