Lanni Marchant: A road through and a road back

Canada's Lanni Marchant celebrates after winning the bronze medal in the women's 10,000 meter run at the Pan Am Games in Toronto, Thursday, July 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey). Mark Humphrey/AP Photo

Lanni Marchant is about as tough an athlete as you can find anywhere.

She regularly puts her body through workouts and competitions that would make the car in your garage exhausted.

Marchant has represented Canada internationally in just about every high-level event that exists. She has been to the Olympic Games and the Commonwealth Games. The Londoner captured bronze for Canada in the 10,000 metres at the 2015 Pan-Am Games that were held in Toronto.

We tend to picture Marchant in her element: her running shoes pounding into the pavement, her arms pumping vigorously as she works for every stride over 10 km or 20-km or the 42.195 km of a marathon.

What we can’t even begin to see is what takes place outside each race course or outside the lines on every track.

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In 2016, Marchant was ramping up for the Rio Olympics and got the opportunity to do something never accomplished before by a Canadian female athlete.

“The plan had always been the marathon and then all of a sudden I started running decently fast in the 10,000 and qualified in that event first,” Marchant said ahead of the 2016 Games. “Then I qualified for the marathon and everyone was asking, which one are you going to do? [I ended up saying] why do I have to pick? If I’m able to do both and as long as I’m not stealing a spot from anybody, let me line up.”

That’s the kind of attitude that gets you to the places Marchant has gone.

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She went to Rio and she competed in “The Double” alongside fellow Canadian Krista DuChene. They became the first Canadian women to complete both the Olympic Marathon and the Olympic 10,000 metres.

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Marchant ran what she described to as the “smartest marathon she had ever run.” She also described how difficult it was. Her bib was ripped off early in the race and she suffered a scratch on her back. Water stations were often blocked by other runners.

Still, Marchant cracked the top-25 in the world in the marathon, finishing 24th in a time of 2:33:08 and she did that less than 48 hours after running the 10,000, in which the world record was broken by Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia.

What no one saw during any of that was what Marchant was going through away from competition and what she would go through after the Olympic Games ended.

“I had been dealing with some kidney issues through the Games,” Marchant admits. “Afterward it became more serious. I went in for a day surgery that resulted in me going septic and staying eight days in the hospital in Toronto at St. Mike’s.”

As frightening as that was, Marchant came out of the hospital, prepared to get going again, but the task of that challenge was compounded by something unexpected.

“I’m definitely your typical Type-A personality,” Marchant explains. “I know the way I get through things is to put my head down keep forging on and that’s not always the best approach. It served me well. It got me through the Olympics but soon after the Olympics we lost my dad who had dealt with depression, anxiety and addiction issues and it kind of was a wake-up call for me in that there was a lot I was sweeping under the rug in terms of my own mental health and wellness. … Once the high [of the Olympics] went away and with losing my dad, … the bottom was very real.”
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Marchant was able to step back a bit. She had gone through the challenges that come with being an athlete and a runner before, but this ended up being different.

“As a female athlete, there are body image issues that I dealt with as a teenager and into my 20s. As a professional athlete, there are issues with how my hormones affect me and the stress and anxiety of representing Canada and even becoming an Olympic athlete. By the end of 2016 and 2017, the bottom kind of fell out.”

READ MORE: Canadian runner Lanni Marchant cleared to race 10,000, marathon double at Rio Olympics

When that happens, no one ever knows exactly how they will react. It caused Marchant to make some changes.

“I’ve always been able to push forward and that results in you not dealing with your stuff,” Marchant says. “I’ve actually learned a lot about myself and my body and my sport in general that I think when I build back and when I get back I will be that much better than before.”

Marchant began competing internationally later than many of her teammates and competitors. She owns two law degrees, one from the University of Ottawa and one from Michigan State University. Her education meant that competing for Canada didn’t begin until 2013 when she was 28 years old, turning 29, and Marchant believes that she has been able to use that.

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“I’m resilient and I think being a quote-unquote, ‘older athlete,’ I have a different perspective coming in. When I have hard times or injuries or issues that come up, I have that life experience that kind of gives me the tools that allow me to research what is going on with the injury, what is going on with my health, my mental health and with running. Being a little bit older makes me that little bit wiser.”

That has permitted Marchant to deal with her current road back to competing differently.

Through a partnership with Shopper’s Drug Mart, Marchant has introduced and made use of a program that helps to set a baseline for a Mental Self Check and it has been one of the tools she has made use of as she builds back to top competition levels.

One of the others is time.

“I’ve already checked all my boxes,” Marchant explains. “I’ve had a great career up to now. The old Lanni would have rushed back before I was ready. The new, well-rounded Lanni wants to make sure I’m doing everything correctly.”

READ MORE: Olympian Lanni Marchant scores major endorsement deal

At 34, Marchant needs only look to her Team Canada teammate Krista DuChene, who was 39 in Rio, to know that she still has years of high-level competition left if she so desires.

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“I’ve learned since the Olympics that moving my body isn’t just to make me a professional athlete, it’s to make me a more well-rounded and happier person.”

Since she is back living in London on a full-time basis now, don’t be surprised if you happen to see the five feet, one inch, dynamo out on the paths, trails or roads in and around the city. If you do, make sure you look closely. The toughness and all-out determination of the world-class athlete is still there, but from all she has been through since the Olympics in Rio, there is something new in Lanni Marchant: a newfound respect for both her physical and mental health that will no doubt have her striving for and reaching new heights in all facets of her life.

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