Krista DuChene: Canada’s marathon mom

Marathon mom Krista DuChene Canada's second fastest female marathoner in 2012.

half-marathon women's running
half-marathon women's running
Krista DuChene wins the 2013 Scotiabank Vancouver Half-Marathon. Photo: Inge Johnson

This feature story originally appeared in our July/August 2012 issue

Krista DuChene doesn’t let a little thing like a train stop her from getting home to have dinner with her family. DuChene was out for a long run one evening when she was stopped in her tracks by a large, rather long freight train. While other runners might have just taken the opportunity to take a break from running, DuChene picked up the pace and ran around the train to make sure she made it home on time. For her, it was the only option. “I picked it up and went the long way home,” DuChene says. “It was either that, or our dinner would be burned.”

Speeding up to get home to her family is just one thing that sets the Brantford, Ont., runner apart from many other elite runners. For DuChene, 35, running is just one of the biggest passions in her life. The other is being a mom to her three kids: Micah, 6, Seth, 4, and Leah, 1. This marathon mom not only believes that running has helped her be a better mother, but being a mother has made her a better runner.

Certainly for DuChene, that seems to be the case. She made headlines in April when she finished the Rotterdam Marathon in April with a stunning personal best of 2:32:06 – and it’s even more impressive considering she had just finished nursing her one-year-old daughter two weeks before the race.

With a pre-baby marathon PB of 3:00:46, it’s clear that motherhood has brought out the best in DuChene. In 2012, after having baby Leah in 2011, DuChene achieved PBs in the marathon, half-marathon, 30K, 10K and 8K. A fine accomplishment for a woman who has had three babies. How does she not only balance running, her kids and a job as a dietitian? She relies on love, faith and her passion for the sport.

Once an athlete…
DuChene was always an athlete, participating in both track and hockey while growing up in rural Ontario, just outside of a town called Alvinston, located between Sarnia, London and Chatham. In her years at Petrolia High School, she juggled hockey, track and cross-country. By the time she got to her final year, her track coach asked if she wanted to find a track scholarship, a hockey scholarship or stay in Canada for university. “I wanted to go to the University of Guelph for their nutrition program,” she says. “It had a good hockey team, and a great cross country and track team. I started out doing both.”
When DuChene’s mother became ill with cancer while she was at Guelph, DuChene found it too hard to keep up with full-time studies and compete in two varsity sports. She chose hockey, but never lost her love of running. “I ran on the side for fun,” she says. “And after I graduated from Guelph – where I had four really good years of hockey – I got back into running. One day I ran about 18K and thought, well, if a marathon is 42K, maybe one day I could do a marathon.”

Her first attempt at a marathon was in October 2002 – the Casino Niagara International Marathon. She ran a fairly average 3:28:07, placing 147th overall, but did manage to take first in place among women aged 25-29. Still, it wasn’t an auspicious start to her running career. By 2005, she ran the Boston Marathon with a PB of 3:00:46. Later that year, she became pregnant with her first baby – and nothing would be the same again.

The Motherhood Challenge
All three of her pregnancies didn’t stop DuChene from running or staying fit, but she viewed it as a break from competing. “When I take a break, I have a baby, and that gives me a mental and physical break from competing and training,” she says. “I stay in shape – I even ran a half-marathon when I was six months pregnant – but it’s just different.” After her son, Micah, was born in 2006, DuChene competed in a few triathlons. She did the same in 2008, after son Seth was born, and in 2009, she really focussed on her running. In 2009, she broke three hours in the marathon in Mississauga. Since then, she has continued to get significantly faster, culminating in the breakthrough at the Rotterdam Marathon in April.

It wasn’t easy getting back into running after each pregnancy. “Typically, after I have a baby, I work my way up to do some sort of shorter race. Last August, I did the Rock the Road 10K in London… I struggled through the 10K. Struggled.” But she kept her eye on the ultimate goal – Rotterdam in the spring and possibly an Olympic berth. That goal alone helped whip her back into shape.

“You have to have a goal, so that you know what you’re working toward and go from there. Last May (2011), when the baby was two months old, I was probably 15 pounds heavier -you don’t look the same. You don’t look lean like you did before you were pregnant, which is fine. Your boobs are bigger because they’re there for a reason, but I’m there for a reason too. To get that race in so I can go back to my training. The times get faster and the weight comes off.”

It also helps that DuChene is incredibly in tune with her body, knowing when to ramp up her training and when to back off, says her coach, Rick Mannen. “She knows when to work hard and she knows when she needs to back off,” she says. “She’s just really good at listening to her body.”

DuChene credits both her strong faith in God and the job of motherhood for helping improve her times. “There’s obviously the physical changes,” she says. “Your hips loosen up and you’re more agile. But you also have to be very organized and you’ve got a different approach to life when you’re a mother.

“Say you don’t have the perfect workout or the perfect sleep the night before a race. Well, my whole training season is like that. A couple of weeks ago, I was planning to go for a run and one of my kids was throwing up in the night and my husband had to work. I knew that workout wasn’t going to happen. You have to just go with the flow – I adjusted accordingly and that’s just the way it is.”

That ability to roll with the punches helps DuChene succeed no matter what the conditions before or during a race. Motherhood has also helped her run more efficiently, since she simply doesn’t have any time to waste. “Being efficient with my time is key. If I know we’re going to have breakfast when I get back from a long run, I can’t just fiddle around and take my time getting back. I’m going at a decent pace so I can get home and spend time with my family,” she says.

Finding Balance
It’s not easy balancing motherhood, an elite running career and a job as a dietitian. DuChene is thankful to have the complete support of her husband, Jonathan. He’s also an athlete, playing hockey, volleyball and other team sports. Jonathan and Krista met in university through a faith-based sports group called Athletes in Action. And while he’s run a 5K race, he leaves the distance running to his wife. “He finds what works for him in terms of staying active,” she says. “And he’ll say, ‘Someone’s got to look after the kids when she’s racing on weekends!’ He has the kids in the morning when I do a lot of my mileage.”
For Jonathan, it’s all part of the job. “During race times I try to handle all of the logistics,” he says. “We all wake up early and get to the race to drop Krista off. We bring our Cougar 2 Chariot (bike trailer with kids seats) and cheer her on whenever possible. Ideally all Krista has to do is think about running on race day.”

They go to races as a family and travelled to Ottawa in May for Ottawa Race Weekend. While DuChene competed in the 10K race, her husband and the boys took part in the family fun run. DuChene is extremely organized and makes sure to work her running schedule around her kids. She generally trains in the morning, heading to the Wayne Gretzky Centre gym at least three mornings a week to train while her two youngest attend the daycare and her oldest is at school. She swims for an hour, runs for about an hour and a half, then does weights and stretching for 20 minutes until it’s time to pick up the kids.

It means a lot of treadmill running, but DuChene believes that’s part of her success. “A lot of people only use the treadmill when they have to,” she says. “But it’s great for tempo runs, where you’re hurting just a little bit, but not too much.” Her limited time to train also means she has to be extremely efficient with her workouts. “It’s quality versus quantity,” says coach Mannen. Her training plan includes only quality runs, without any so-called “junk miles.”

Naturally, as a dietitian, nutrition is important for both DuChene and her family. She plans meals ahead of time and prepares meals at home to make sure everyone eats properly. They always eat meals together as a family. Breakfast is a hot breakfast every day, usually pancakes (sometimes made ahead of time, frozen, then reheated) topped with peanut butter and served with fruit and milk. Dinner always includes a salad and raw veggies for the kids. Even treats are homemade, so the family can avoid eating packaged foods.

A bright future
When DuChene ran a massive personal best of 2:32:06 in Rotterdam, she made the Olympic Standard – the IAAF set the mark at 2:37. But Athletics Canada’s guidelines were much more stringent – the Canadian Olympic Standard was 2:29:55. DuChene and Lanni Marchant, who ran 2:31:50 in Rotterdam, appealed to Athletics Canada to be included on the team for the London Olympics. (At our press time, a final decision was pending.)

Despite the challenges she faced in 2012, DuChene has her eyes set on the future. She’s planning to run the world marathon championships in Moscow next year, and hasn’t ruled out trying to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“People have said, ‘well, you’re 35, do you think you can hold on for another four years?’ Well, I do think I can,” she says emphatically. “I still have that hunger. There are no guarantees for anything, but I have that passion.” Mannen agrees. “She never ceases to surprise and amaze me,” he says. “Because Krista is so strong and so dedicated, I think she can lengthen her career and definitely make the Olympic team in 2016.” DuChene saw hardly any role models in the five years leading up to the 2012 London Olympics, but suddenly she has become an example for Canadian female marathoners. “The number of emails and Facebook messages I’ve gotten from people saying you’re such an inspiration… I’m speechless,” she says. “I’ve got the love and the passion and that’s what keeps me going.”

Jonathan DuChene says he’s proud of the inspiration his wife gives to others, and even more so that she is not afraid to share her faith and give it credit for her success. “Krista has used her running to share her faith. I am proud of her for that,” he says. “God has made Krista fast, and she is not ashamed to say that.”

So are there more little DuChenes on the horizon? They haven’t ruled out the possibility of having a fourth baby. “We would like one more,” she says. “But that decision hasn’t been made yet.” When moms-to-be ask her opinion on running and motherhood, DuChene always says the same thing: “Welcome to the best job in the world – running and being a mom,” she says. “It’s what gets me up in the morning. Knowing I can go, run 35K and come home and have breakfast with my family. There’s nothing better than that.”

Alison Dunn is a mom, runner, and online news editor at Canadian Running.