There were several exciting performances to watch at the New York City Marathon on Sunday, but the one that got Canadian fans out of their seats was that of Lanni Marchant, who, after five years of absence from the marathon scene, made an incredible comeback, running 2:32:54 for 11th place. This result is even more remarkable considering when she stood on the start line the 37-year-old from London, Ont., wasn’t even sure if she could finish the race. We sat down with Marchant to find out how she overcame adversity and setbacks to get her name back on the leaderboard.
Marchant’s last race was exactly five years earlier at the same event, where she finished seventh in 2:33:50. Six weeks later, her father died of a drug overdose. Over the next five years, she would undergo multiple surgeries to fix injuries, a bout of sepsis in 2017 and endometriosis. From 2017 to 2019, she was sidelined by injury after injury. “The last five years have been hard,” she says. “It was frustrating to constantly be running and getting in shape for surgery, while my competitors and teammates and friends were all having these great performances.”
Throughout that time, she was also going through an emotionally difficult time, watching the people around her deal with addiction and mental health struggles. All of this culminated with the death of her friend Zachary, whom she found dead in his apartment after an overdose.
After the death of her friend, Marchant and her coach, Dave Mills, decided to call it quits and to stop trying to chase fitness. Instead, she spent most of July and August running only if she wanted to. Whenever she felt like it, she would join her training partners near her current home in Denver, Colorado, for workouts, but spent a lot of time rollerblading and doing CrossFit workouts instead. “My training leading up [to the marathon] was inconsistent at best,” says Marchant. “My mindset in the summer was run if it makes me happy, engage with friends if it makes me happy, be alone with my dog and cry if that actually makes me happier.”
Going into Sunday’s race with half the training she was used to, Marchant had no idea how it would go, but she was determined that no matter what happened, she would make it to the finish line because she was running with a larger purpose. She ran in support of the Release Recovery Foundation, co-founded by Bachelorette star, Zac Clark, which provides support and funds for individuals who are trying to get treatment for addictions and substance abuse. “I had no strategy going into the race, I didn’t go with the leaders because I didn’t even know if I would finish this thing,” she says, “but I was going to try because I didn’t want to let the foundation down.”
Early into the race, Marchant realized she was feeling good and made her way through the streets of New York, one water station at a time, in what turned out to be an inspiring and beautiful comeback story. As the dust has begun to settle after Sunday’s race, her plans for the next couple of months haven’t changed: she’ll run when she wants to, and won’t when she doesn’t. She and Mills will reevaluate in the new year to decide what’s next, but for now, her main focus is still healing from the last five years of trauma, heartache and setbacks.
“That’s why running in New York was so cool,” says Marchant. “That was my last marathon before everything got flipped upside down on me… it was a nice way to close the circle and hope that this chapter of five years is done and I can have five better years going forward.”
Finally, when asked to give advice to others who are struggling with setbacks, mental health or other life circumstances that are holding them back, she had one answer: “It gets better. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be good — I’m still striving for things to be good — but it gets better. Hold out for tomorrow, and find one thing tomorrow to make it a bit better.”