Rachel Hannah’s love for running developed about an hour north of Toronto in Barrie, Ontario, where she grew up. It all began on a 200 meter gravel track in fourth grade, where she and her classmates counted laps with popsicle sticks they had decorated, until they had run the equivalent of a trip around the world.
Twenty years later, she’s a graduate of Georgia State where she ran D1 cross-country and track, a Canadian national champion, and a registered dietician. In 2015 she ran her marathon debut, finishing in 2:33:30. She’s settled into a new hometown, Toronto, where she trains with New Balance Canada to represent her country in races like Monday’s Boston Marathon. There, Rachel was the only Canadian running in the elite field and she finished in 2:41:22, 23rd woman overall.
Rachel is someone who’s long inspired me and I’m pretty sure she’ll inspire you too.
Maple (SR): Why do you run?
Rachel: I run because I love the way it makes me feel. During a run you can focus on your body moving freely and get into a rhythm with your footsteps. Running makes me a better person. It always enhances my mood, helps me to become more focused on other cognitive tasks, allows me to connect with my community and gives me a voice I can share with other runners to motivate them to reach their own athletic goals.
SR: What’s your current running goal?
Rachel: My primary running goal is to keep getting faster. This would include a range of distances and I target setting new PRs from 5000m to the marathon. I have enjoyed running in a variety of environments from track to cross country to road racing as I believe it keeps the sport fresh and exciting.
SR: What’s a typical week of training look like — not just the workouts but all the #ExtraSalt?
Rachel: A typical training week includes quality workouts on Monday and Wednesday and a long run on Saturday. Tuesday and Thursday are mileage runs for recovery and Sunday is also longer but recovery pace. I strength train in the gym with both weights and plyometrics on Thursday and Saturday. My weekly mileage ranges from 100-170k per week depending on the time of year and what I’m building up towards.
I get physiotherapy maintenance treatment usually every Tuesday evening and often a massage or foot manipulation on Fridays. On Fridays for training I typically take every other Friday completely off or go for a short run approaching it as a warmup for Saturday’s big effort.
Absolutely, doing the detail things like physio, massage, daily stretching, compression socks at night, iron supplementation, strength training in the gym, are all activities designed to keep me healthy so that I can get the most out of my running efforts. Thus far in my running career I have only done singles, meaning not more than one run per day, so room for improvement does lie in running in more bouts throughout a week at better quality.
SR: Winters are tough in Canada. Do you rely on the treadmill much?
Rachel: For most cases I run outside all winter. Only when it gets very slippery under-foot I will usually go to Monarch Park indoor track in Toronto for repeats or the pool for pool running. Thus far in my career I have done all my training domestically in Canada and have not yet experimented with training camps in warm areas or at altitude.
SR: Who do you train with?
Rachel: I am a member of the University of Toronto Track Club (UTTC). Recently our training schedules have not matched up due to my marathon training plan.
I do the majority of training on my own (most recovery and long runs) but I have been training with Darren Lee consistently for over three years now and we will meet up on Monday and Wednesdays most weeks for our workouts in Toronto.
Darren runs with the Black Lungs Toronto group but is generous with his time and will meet up with me often. We are both training for marathons most of the time so it works out really well. Plus we are really good friends so it makes every workout more enjoyable together.
SR: Why Boston?
Rachel: Boston as a World Major is an amazing opportunity to race with the world’s best and learn from the complete experience. It helps set up competition in international championships. Also, while Boston is not always noted for fast times, it worked out well for me to race it this spring with already having some quality times from 2016 which may help in 2017 team selections.
After the 2015 Pan Am Games I was fortunate to have the invite to race in Boston, and while it didn’t work out in 2016, I’m excited to be here in 2017! To spend time with the world’s best and the legends of the Boston Marathon this week is teaching me more and more every single day. These experiences help set up future moments of excellence, I believe.
SR: What are you most excited about for Boston?
Rachel: Boston is Boston, it’s the “marathoner’s marathon” as they say. I’m excited for the crowd, the energy, and the momentum to carry that through towards running fast. It is an unmatched experience in a city with such heart and courage. It is a chance of a lifetime.
SR: Do you use mantras or visualization for your races?
Rachel: I always try to visualize the course if I have seen it. I will try to run the course in my mind the day before and picture myself feeling strong, confident and in control on it. When the race gets tough I try to repeat some key words and phrases to myself like focus, relax my arms, cadence and foot strike, lifting my knees and embracing the pain.
SR: Any pre-race rituals?
Rachel: Routine, routine, routine. I don’t do anything too quirky or unique other than a prescribed plan that is repeated in both training and racing.
To eat like Rachel does the night before a race, try a Rachel Sandwich:
- 2 slices spelt bread
- natural peanut butter or sunflower seed butter to taste
- jam to taste
- 1 banana
Spread nut butter and jam on the bread and slice a banana on top. Combine. Enjoy with Greek yogurt or cottage cheese on the side.
SR: Favourite post-race food and beverage?
Rachel: Coffee! I crave healthy food to optimize recovery and always enjoy a large salad with many different vegetables, nuts/seeds, fruit and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes. For protein I will top it off with beans and a boiled egg and grilled tofu. This type of meal can be easily assembled at the Whole Foods salad bar.
SR: Right, you’re an expert in sports nutrition! What’s the best nutrition advice you have for runners?
Rachel: Consult with a Registered Dietitian if you consider yourself a “novice” in the area of nutrition and feel your diet could be improved. It is important for sports nutrition to be individualized so it is hard to give general advice to all.
One tip is to try to be as consistent as possible and never go longer than 3.5-4 hours without eating. This will help with energy levels and appetite control. Endurance runners need a significantly higher amount of carbohydrates in their diet compared to sedentary individuals so it is important to know your general goals for carbohydrates and align this up with your training and competitions to ensure you are optimally fueled.
SR: What are your thoughts on the state of women’s marathoning in Canada?
Rachel: I feel like women’s marathoning in Canada is in a good place. Lanni and Krista have definitely inspired a bunch of us to follow in their footsteps in running with the word’s best and chasing fast times. They have definitely been women marathoners I look up to.
With increasing Canadian XC distances it will get more athletes close to the fitness needed to make the bump up to the marathon. Chatting with a lot of young women runners, there is more desire to chase the distance, which can only yield a deeper pool of talent. The marathon is its own beast though and takes a special mindset. I’m always excited to talk and share with young women runners who wish to dialogue on the distance.
SR: What in your life helps you dream big and encourages you to keep going?
Rachel: Both short term and long term goals serve a purpose to motivate me daily. The long terms goals include qualifying for major championship races, setting personal bests and being able to represent Canada at the 2020 Olympics.
The short-term goals that will get me there are staying true to my values of working hard each day, paying attention to the details, staying healthy and accomplishing my daily training plan. I have a very supportive coach who motivates me each and every day to not only achieve my target times in workouts, but become a better athlete and person in the process.
Each day I learn and grow a bit more. I also love the way running makes me feel so this makes it easy to do each day. I am much happier when running daily!
A huge congratulations to Rachel on Monday’s Boston Marathon and a big thanks for being so generous with her time to answer our questions! We will continue to cheer for you in whatever comes next!