Rachel Hannah ran her first marathon this May in Ottawa. Now the Toronto resident has her sights set on the Olympic games.
By Kelly Steele
Rachel Hannah has run competitively for most of her life. So when her coach and boyfriend David Korell suggested tackling the marathon, she jumped at the challenge.
“We made the decision to sign up for the Ottawa Marathon a week before the race,” she said, with a laugh. “I had been focusing on 10K, but had been ramping up my miles and when David mentioned it I thought I’d give it a try. He had confidence in me and my training and my gut was to go for it.”
Hannah’s gut was right. She came across the finish line of the Ottawa race in 2:33:30 and was the top Canadian female finisher. The 28-year-old runner had hoped to run under a 2:35 so she was pleased with her performance.
“I was nervous at the start because I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “I was worried about my fuel and of course about hitting the wall. But it was OK. I had some GI distress which made me feel pretty sick, but there was a lot of positive energy which pulled me through.”
Coach Korell credits one thing to her success. “She is very competitive,” he said. “A lot of people look at her and she comes across as very calm and collected, but the beast comes out of her on race day. She has the drive to get the most of her body.” Prior to the Ottawa marathon, Hannah was already tearing up the 10,000 metre circuit with a handful of notable performances. But Hannah wanted to participate in the Pan Am Games in Toronto this summer and her best chance was the marathon as Lanni Marchant and Natasha Wodak had already claimed the two spots for the 10,000 metre distance.
“We viewed the marathon as a chance for her to qualify for the Pan Am Games and she did that,” he said. “Her long runs leading up to the race suggested she could do it.”
Hannah qualified for a spot in the Pan Am games and last month toed the start line with some of the top athletes from around the world. She crossed the finish line in 2:41:06, which earned her fourth place. “The Pan Am Games was an amazing experience,” she said. “I started to fall off at 25 kilometres and again was battling some GI distress. It was really humid and that along with a very challenging course made it difficult. But the crowd was fantastic and being out front and listening to the cheering was the motivation to get me across the finish line.”
Competing is nothing new to Hannah. She’s been running since Grade 4 when her teacher had the class do laps on an old gravel track. She fell in love with the sport, joined a track and field group and years later accepted an athletic scholarship for Georgia State University. At University she made the decision to become a registered dietician. “I’m really very passionate about teaching people to eat healthier,” she said. “You start to realize the impact and importance of eating healthy, especially if you are an athlete and expect your body to perform.” Hannah has put her dietician background into use and works full time at MedCan clinic in Toronto.
She admits it can be a challenge juggling a full-time job along with a gruelling training schedule, but she finds a way to make it all work. “It definitely is a balancing act,” she said. “I’m lucky that work is very flexible and it works well that my coach is my boyfriend. I pretty much work and train. Often I will start my warm up from work. It’s all about finding ways to be more efficient. You just find ways to make it work.”
Hannah now has her sights set firmly on the Rio Olympics in 2016 and her coach has confidence she’ll be there either for the marathon or 10,000 metre distance. “She is someone to definitely watch,” Korell said. “I’m a big believer in stepping stones and she’s already checking the correct boxes. If she works at it, there’s nothing she can’t do. There’s good things ahead for her.”
For Hannah, the Olympic dream is exciting and she’s not backing down on the work to get there. She’s headed to the Houston Marathon in January. Canada will send three Canadians to the Olympics, fellow runner and friend Krista DuChene has already snatched one spot. In Houston, Hannah needs to run better than a 2:29:50. Her current personal best is 2:33:30. “From the first time I raced I loved it, loved the challenge,” she said. “I love the marathon distance because it’s so mental, it teaches me stuff about myself and especially about not giving up and having patience. It’s all about being in the moment. But most of all I believe running makes me a better person.”
Kelly Steele is the fitness reporter for the Windsor Star.This is her first story for iRun.