From the September 2017 issue.
These days, Brianne Theisen-Eaton’s life is looking a lot different than it did when she was training at the highest level in the world. After years as a pro heptathlete, the Canadian Olympian won bronze in Rio, and decided to retire at the start of 2017. Now, she’s adjusting to a less regimented routine.
Days go like this: wake up at 6:30 a.m., take the dog out, answer emails over coffee, work out by 10 a.m. After that, she manages her and her husband, Ashton’s, website weareeaton.com (her husband Ashton Eaton, who competed for the U.S., retired at the same time and is the world record holder in the decathlon). It aims to help others eat right while also giving updates on the couple’s life.
Speaking of updates, here’s the latest: Theisen-Eaton is running a marathon. The Olympian is swapping out seven field and sprint events for the streets of Chicago, where she’ll run her first 42.2k as a member on Team World Vision.
“As a heptathlete, it’s very much about speed and power,” Theisen-Eaton says. “We trained doing 400’s, which is one lap of the track, so it wasn’t for distance,” she says. Prior to this, Theisen-Eaton’s longest run in practice would have been about 1,200 m. “So doing a 10-minute run, I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’”
Athletes are naturally goal-driven. After retirement, Theisen-Eaton felt at a loss. “When you’re done and have nothing, it’s like, ‘What am I even doing with myself?’” she says. While Theisen-Eaton threw herself into other fitness classes, workouts became a challenge, grappling to find a new purpose for physical activity.
Having a marathon on the schedule is filling the void. But don’t assume this Saskatoon-born track queen is setting any lofty time goals. She’s decided not to set a time goal, and not even pay attention to pace-per-kilometre splits. “The pace I run, I have no idea what that means,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to run a marathon – that’s what’s important.”
“When I suck, people are going to say ‘What’s wrong with her? She’s an Olympic athlete!’”
If you’re new to the 42.2, you might be surprised at how much you have in common with her. It’s not every day that an athlete who has stood on the podium on the world stage tells you that less than a year later, a couch-potato-to-runner program is her guide.
Had it not been for the beginner plan, the heptathlete may not have committed to Chicago. She started with the absolute newbie workouts. “I didn’t stay too long in that phase but it made me feel better that if you have to walk, walk,” she says. Ever feel like other runners are judging? Theisen-Eaton has been there. “When I suck, people are going to say ‘What’s wrong with her? She’s an Olympic athlete,’” she says.
When signing up for Chicago, her husband warned her about not letting her competitive side go wild. “After the toll that pro competing took mentally and physically, he said to enjoy this now. I wouldn’t have got that advice if we hadn’t both gone through that together,” Theisen-Eaton says.
When Theisen-Eaton decided to run for World Vision (a cause near to her heart) it was April. At the time of reporting, the marathon is three months out. So far, she has worked her way from 1,200 m to 21k. “I’ve done a half-marathon. That’s my farthest so far,” she says. “I did a 13-mile run, which absolutely killed me.”
Always supporting her is decathlete and husband, Ashton, who is likely to cheer her through the tough stretch, just as he was in the stands in Rio sporting the red Canada hat that brought on a storm of angry tweets from patriotic American viewers (and applause from Canadians). “He saw it and was like, ‘I’ll wear this!’” says Theisen-Eaton. “Little did we know…”
Leading up to her first marathon, Theisen-Eaton’s tone is chipper. Even though working up her mileage has been a grind, she’s in high spirits. “I don’t care if I’m an Olympian and people think it’s slow. I’m doing it for me and for a good cause.”