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What Olympic medallist Brianne Theisen-Eaton wishes she knew before her first marathon

Advice for first-time marathoners from an Olympic medallist

Brianne Theisen-Eaton

Brianne Theisen-Eaton is an Olympic and World Championship medallist in the heptathlon. The Saskatchewan native retired in 2016, and following her retirement from professional sport took a stab at the marathon. She ran the Chicago Marathon in October of 2017 and finished in 3:55:08.

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Theisen-Eaton, who’s married to indoor heptathlon world record-holder Ashton Eaton, has seen the highest level of sport, but the former multi-eventer says that the marathon is an entirely different beast. “My dad was shocked when I told him I was going to run a marathon. He questioned if I could even do it. I used to complain so much about any kind of distance running. I had never run more than a mile straight when I started training for the marathon.”

Her nutrition strategy

Theison-Eaton worked with Canadian sport physiologist Trent Stellingwerff, who also helped her with her nutrition plan while she was competing professionally. “I had no clue how to fuel during the race–I needed help with that for sure. I’m really fortunate that I have a very strong gut. I could eat almost anything. I didn’t get the stomach issues that some runners get.” The runner says her race-day plan was to fuel with GU and Gatorade. “I had one GU every hour and a two or three gulps of Gatorade every 2.5 miles.”

Her day-to-day diet remained similar to what she had eaten while training for the heptathlon. “I continued to eat what I ate during the heptathlon because I was accustomed to eating those foods and I knew I could get them down when I was nervous.”


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Her race day experience

Theisen-Eaton says that race day was very different than training runs. “The marathon was very humbling. I did a 20-mile training run leading up to the race, and it felt great. I could’ve run another six miles no problem. After that I thought I was golden. But that training run was on a nice path, Ashton [her husband] was biking beside me, and there were no people around.” She later discovered that this isn’t what a marathon is like. “You have to jump around the course to get Gatorade, you have to avoid people, it’s pretty hectic. At 20 miles into the actual race I was very tired.”

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What she wishes she’d known

Theisen-Eaton describes becoming very negative between mile 20 and 25. “I started asking myself why I was running, I felt like the whole project was such a bad idea. After the race I told people about this experience and lots of runners shared similar stories of extreme negativity towards the end of their race.”

The former heptathlete also said that walking at the end of the race was terrible. “Once I crossed the finish line I started walking and my hips hurt so badly that I started running again. My bones felt like they were grinding against each other.”

She also said that she was shocked at how quickly people go out in the beginning of the race. “My advice is to not go out with the crowd. I was passed by so many people in the first few kilometres. Don’t get caught up by the excitement.”

Theisen-Eaton hasn’t run a marathon since Chicago, but says she’s considering doing another one with her Dad. “I can see myself doing another one with my Dad when he retires. My parents have never been to New York City, so I think running there and hanging out after would be really fun.”