Lanni Marchant can finally see chance to run without pain
Canadian marathoner hoping hip surgery will carry her to 2nd Olympics
Portland. Vancouver. Minnesota. Michigan. Saskatoon.
Lanni Marchant's quest for an answer to an injury that has plagued her for years reads like a medical scavenger hunt.
But Canada's fastest female marathoner can finally see the grand prize: the chance to run without pain, and the possibility of another Olympic appearance.
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The 34-year-old from London, Ont., had surgery on May 15 in Michigan to repair a torn labrum, bone spur, and nerve impingement in her left hip, an injury in hindsight she can trace back as far as five years.
"I had pretty immense hip pain, and I remember 2013, 2014 in training runs wincing, it hurt," Marchant said. "But it was just one of those things where I kept running on it, and I was able to keep running, and I was still running well that anyone looking at me would treat the things around it, like 'Your glutes aren't firing, your quads aren't firing properly, you just have hip tightness.'
"I just shut everything off on that side because then through my build for Rio (2016 Olympics), my biggest issue was I couldn't push off my left side as well, and I just felt like I was working harder to run the same times I'd run even a few months before. And I was as fit if not more fit, but I just couldn't drive through that left side."
Marchant was in Portland this past winter for an appearance with her sponsor Under Armour, and was demonstrating the company's gait analysis system for reporters, when Michael Watts, a sport scientist with Under Armour, "looked at it a bit sideways. He noticed something funky."
They decided to do more in-depth gait analysis a few weeks later in Portland, and discovered Marchant's left foot was merely slapping the ground. She wasn't pushing off with any power.
From there, her medical roadmap took her Vancouver and twice to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Each stop brought her a little bit closer to an eventual diagnosis. Each stop came with a stiff pricetag. The two trips to the Mayo Clinic cost about US$25,000. The surgery cost US$20,000. Because she hasn't been a carded athlete since 2016, meaning she wasn't receiving Sport Canada's monthly stipend for top Olympic athletes, she wasn't able to access any help with her medical bills.
A big breakthrough came during her second trip to the Mayo Clinic. Doctors did gait analysis with nerve conduction, and numbed the the five-foot-one runner's hip. They discovered when her hip was numbed her gait problems cleared up, "everything started firing properly."
The hip surgery was the latest major event in a roller-coaster couple of years for Marchant. In 2013, she broke the 28-year-old Canadian record in the women's marathon, running two hours, 28 minutes. At the Rio Olympics, she became the first Canadian woman to run both the 10,000 (she finished 25th) and the marathon (24th). She was seventh in the New York Marathon three months later, recording the fastest time by a Canadian woman ever in the race.
Bottom fell out
Then the bottom fell out. Her father Roly died suddenly. She spent eight days in hospital with sepsis after surgery to remove a kidney stone. She tried to come back too quickly.
"It was a struggle," Marchant said from Saskatoon, where she's doing rehabilitation work with physiotherapist Bruce Craven. "I think every athlete expects there to be a low after a huge high, but my low just kept going. I was like 'Come on!"' Marchant said. "In April, that's when I had to sit down and go 'You've had a pretty decent career, you've accomplished pretty much everything you've wanted to. You don't have to do this.'
"But then I was like 'You'll be pissed, you won't ever fully know what you could have accomplished if you don't fix this."'
Her coach told her: "Think of how good you'll be running with two legs that work," Marchant said with a laugh. "Thanks Dave."
Marchant has been a practising trial lawyer in Chattanooga, Tenn., for several years, but has moved back to London for her comeback, and still works remotely for her Tennessee law firm. She's targetting either a marathon or half-marathon next spring for her competitive return. There are no guarantees, she said, that she'll ever run in the same echelon she once did. But that big question mark, she said, is part of the fun.
"My family thinks I'm a bit twisted for thinking it's fun, that we won't know if this works for another six to eight months," Marchant said, with a laugh.
Her running goal is two-tiered. She'd love to race at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But even more importantly, she'd just like to rediscover her love of running.
"I was running before anybody in the media, anybody in Canada knew who the heck I was, or what I was doing, it was something I always loved to do," Marchant said. "I wanted to fix my hip, and if it gets me to the Olympics, fantastic. But I also want to be able to go out for a run for an hour and enjoy it and be painfree, and not have to do 18,000 tape jobs, and exercises and everything just to get out the door.
"I want to just put my shoes on and go out for a run like a normal human."