Her running career was sidelined for years by three major health setbacks, and her life completely rocked by the drug-related deaths of both her dad and a close friend.
And so, when Lanni Marchant lined up for the New York Marathon last Sunday, she needed her first marathon in five years to be about something bigger than her personal comeback.
“Everything’s been wiped clean. There’s no PBs (personal bests) for me anymore. There’s no records that I want to try and chase, there’s no ‘Lanni was this good in this year, I need to be better than her now,’” Marchant said.
“Obviously going through all the injuries and illnesses started to change that for me … and all these people that I keep losing because they just can’t push one more day. That’s where I’m like, you know, as long as I keep pushing every day, that’s a success here. No one else lining up in that race has had the five years I’ve had, just as I’ve not I’ve not experienced any of their hardships or their losses.”
The 37-year-old from London, Ont., was the top Canadian finisher on Sunday, finishing 11th in two hours 32 minutes 54 seconds.
Dressed in blue and gold “Wonder Woman” shorts she found on Etsy, she ran for Release Recovery, an organization dedicated to helping people reclaim their lives from addiction.
“I reached out to my agent and the race directors say ‘I need a purpose to run for that’s not selfish, and whether I run four hours or not, I’d rather run for something else other than just: Lanni’s running a marathon for Lanni.’
“That’s what I want to do more of is draw attention to (addiction recovery), people just kind of sweep it under the rug. It seems to be an epidemic that nobody really wants to pay attention to or talk about.”
Marchant’s dad Roly died of a drug overdose shortly after Christmas in 2016.
“My dad was an addict my entire life, by the end it was opioids, popping Oxy like they’re Tic Tacs,” she said.
Marchant wasn’t aware of her friend Zachary’s history with addiction. She found his body in his Denver apartment last April.
“That just kind of changed a lot of things,” she said.
Two days after her race, Marchant was back in Denver walking her dog, a 95-pound mutt named Elle, after the character in Legally Blonde (Marchant is also a criminal lawyer). She laughed about how sore her quads were.
Getting to the start line on Sunday, let alone the finish line, was a triumph in itself. The years since the 2016 Rio Olympics, where she ran both 10,000 and marathon, have read like a Grey’s Anatomy script.
She spent days in hospital with sepsis after surgery to remove a kidney stone. She had surgery to repair a torn labrum, bone spur, and nerve impingement in her left hip that she could trace back five years. And then she had surgery for endometriosis.
“It was just kind of all right, everybody’s gearing up for a spring marathon, and I’m gearing up for spring surgery, like this is my new marathon,” Marchant said.
She’d finally turned the corner last year, and had run a couple of solid half-marathons when Zachary died, triggering, among other things, an eating disorder that, like so many endurance athletes, had plagued her for years.
She and her coach Dave Mills decided to shut things down.
“He said ‘I don’t want to write you a program for 18 months,’” she said. “He was like ‘The last five years have just been us constantly fighting to get you back, get you back, get you back.’ And then this terrible thing happens with my friend. And Dave and I both realized, I’ve never gotten to just say: This is enough. I need to rest. I need a break.”
She still has bad days where her hip hurts, but supplements the training those days with roller-blading or CrossFit.
“The goal wasn’t to run every day. It was just to not be sad every day,” she said.
She hadn’t logged as many miles as she normally would to prepare for a marathon. She didn’t know what to expect.
“I did a whole heck of a lot better than I thought I would. I was prepared to stop and drink a beer on the course, I really had no idea what my, my body was going to do,” she laughed.
Marchant ran alone. She wanted to avoid get sucked along with the leaders early and then beating herself up for falling off the pace.
“That allowed me to check in with how I was feeling, and I never felt bad. Usually, I know, around 20 K especially, if (my hip) is going to start bothering me, that’s when it will bother me. But it didn’t.
“It was the most pain-free I’ve ever run a marathon. Up until the last few miles where it was just straight up ‘You did not train enough for this, but you didn’t run all this way not to finish, so come on, just will yourself across the finish line.’”
Marchant broke a 28-year-old Canadian women’s marathon record when she ran 2:28.00 in Toronto in 2013 — a national mark since broken by Malindi Elmore.
She’s not sure what her running future holds, but has a supportive running group in Denver.
“We call ourselves the ‘parking lot beers track club,’ because after our runs we’ll have a beer in the parking lot as we stretch and stuff,” she said.
Her agreement with Mills for the next little while is to run when she wants to. Don’t run when she doesn’t.
“So, I’m just going to use the next six months to just be everyone else’s training buddy if they want someone to jog with. I don’t know for certain if I want to chase world standards or Olympic standards.
“(But) Sunday was the most fun I’ve had in a race in as long as I can remember. So, if I can take that feeling and carry it over a couple more times, I’ll definitely do that.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 9, 2021.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press