A few days after racing the 2016 Olympic Games Marathon in Rio, I knew it was too early to call it a season. I was healthy, feeling relatively fresh and strong, and decided to race the IAAF Gold Label Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (STWM), which would also host the Canadian Championship. My main goal would be to win a national title again.
I told my coach that I wanted to take more risk with my training. Rio was all about being careful with training while completely devoting to preventative maintenance, rest, sleep, and nutrition. It was easy and straight-forward to continue with the latter, once I returned from Rio, because I simply plugged back into the same healthy habits and routine I had in place prior to the Olympics. But we took more of a chance with training, ramping up the mileage and intensity of workouts fairly aggressively. I felt I had nothing to lose and was willing to take the risk; I might get injured or ill but how would I ever know if I did not try? I successfully completed my highest-ever week of 180 km but was only able to log 174 km the following week after simultaneously succumbing to both the cold and G.I. illnesses floating around. I nursed myself back to good health and continued focusing on marathon-pace specific workouts while commencing a slight taper. It was at this time that my left achilles started to give me some grief. Fortunately with great care from my physiotherapist, Paul, and remaining on trail and treadmill soft surfaces, I was able to get through it so that it wasn’t a factor on race day.
In trying to determine pacing needs for the race, it was difficult to give race director, Alan Brookes, a solid number. I knew I was peaking late with my fitness but my 9 week build was so different than any of my other ones. The strongest-ever Canadian women’s field at a national championship was going to include five other women who could likely go under 2:35: Rachel Hannah, Dayna Pidhoresky, Tarah Korir, Leslie Sexton and Erin Burrett. Lanni Marchant would be switching spots with me, doing the broadcast this year, with plans to race New York city a few weeks later. Like any marathon, pace was going to be strongly determined by race day conditions. For the 2 days leading up to race day, the weather was showing a combination of cloud, sun, lightning, wind, and rain. I’ve raced long enough to not obsess about the weather yet also not underestimate the effect it can have on performance, regardless of your fitness level. Media commitments and expo activities kept me busy on Friday but Saturday was free and clear, allowing me to rest and relax comfortably in the hotel. The forecast within the last 12 hours before start time was then consistently showing humidity in the mid 80’s. That was a red flag for me. I once raced STWM with high humidity and it was ugly. Very ugly. On race morning, I figured fast times were not going to happen so it would be my experience, and heat and humidity training for Rio, that were going to give me the confidence to race well.
Dayna and I decided that we would start around the same pace but if one felt stronger, we’d split with our pacers. It was after about the first one or two kilometers at 3:30/km that I knew I needed to slow it down, just slightly. Humidity is a silent killer and I was not going to risk blowing up by starting too hard. Additionally, with no sun and some rain patches, the ground was somewhat slippery. Dayna moved ahead and was in the lead for the majority of the race, just enough ahead of me that I could keep my eye on her. Meanwhile, Rachel was just enough behind that she could keep her eye on me! Being sandwiched was ideal; we all wanted that Canadian title and I had one to catch to get it and one to keep away from taking it. It was my race to win or lose. Around the time I caught up to Dayna at around 32 km, Rachel caught up to me. I continued to press on, staying focused and patient, knowing I wanted that national title more than anything.
The Canadian record and (ridiculous) World Championship finish times were out of reach by this point. So it was about grinding it out. Over the last 10 km I was able to gradually widen the gap and successfully cross the finish line with celebratory arms in the air as Canadian champion. It was a rather emotional finish for me as I thought about my husband and kids’ devotion to my training over the last several months. It is difficult for a mom to put herself first but Team DuChene allowed me to do that, and we succeeded. With the Canadian flag over my shoulders, I shed a few tears and held dearly to the memory of hugging my family immediately upon my finish in Rio. I did it. We did it. We made 2016 my year as Olympian and Canadian Champion. And I have so many to thank.
It has been a bit over 24 hours since completing the marathon. I have smiled and teared up over many congratulatory messages, and enjoyed a few sweets, several cups of coffee, and some precious quiet time in a still house with the kids at school and me not out training. I have several speaking engagements ahead that I look forward to, along with savouring the outcome of this incredible year. As for what’s next, obviously a well-deserved break. A spring marathon will likely be the plan (when I’m 40!) but for now, it’s another cup of coffee and square of chocolate.
To each and every one of you, I thank you. From the bottom of my heart, I truly thank you.