Lanni Marchant was one of the several amazing stories from the 2016 TCS New York City Marathon. I interviewed her for the Excelle Sports coverage of the event. Below is some additional footage on this amazing road runner:
Yesterday, an expected 50,000 racers completed the 2016 TCS New York City Marathon. For the 40th Anniversary of the event, 20 Olympians representing 15 nations competed in the professional athlete field. One of those runners was Lanni Marchant of Canada. After two Olympic distance events, many asked why Marchant picked this fall to run the NYC Marathon for the first time, the response was simple, “why not?”
The part-time criminal justice attorney finished seventh place with a time of 2 hours, 33 minutes and 50 seconds, breaking a 30-year-old Canadian marathon record for the course in her debut running of the iconic race.
NYC Marathon Debut
“[The NYC Road Runners] have invited me down here two or three times before … it’s always been a race I wanted to do, it’s one of the only marathons that I’ve made a point to watch on T.V most years. There’s tons of great marathoners and marathon races out there, but you’re legit when you come to New York and you conquer this course.”
The women’s race started at a slow pace, allowing Marchant to remain with the lead pack of Mary Keitany, Sally Kipyego and Molly Huddle. At the 15-kilometer split, Marchant was in 12th place and roughly 35 seconds behind the leader, “I decided to run my own race at that point, and hope to pick girls off at the end, and it ended up working out, thankfully.”
Her strong finish had to do, in part, with projected one million plus spectators lining the streets of all five boroughs for Sunday’s race, “they welcomed you to each Borough as you ran in [with] people holding signs and the announcers. It was amazing! Of all the marathons I’ve done, the crowd support here was just phenomenal.”
As she neared the finish in Central Park, Lanni surpassed American racer Neely Gracey to finish seventh, “I passed Neely with a mile to go and I thought she was on my heels the way the crowd was screaming … I didn’t realize that was just them welcoming me back to Central Park.”
Lanni ended up beating Gracey by just over a minute, and beating Odette Lapierre’s 1986 NYC Marathon time by 1:43. Marchant didn’t know she had the record until after the race when she looked at Twitter, “it’s fun to come down and be the top Canadian, and it’s fun to have a record like that here because I hope my Canadian teammates have the inclination to come down and chase that record and try to knock me off the top.”
On Her Own Now
However legit Lanni may feel the New York Marathon is, the Canadian Federation has their own standards, and Marchant has not met them. Marchant, born the same year the women’s marathon was added to the Olympics, may have competed in her first, and her last Olympic games. Lanni now finds herself without funding from her federation, “being a 30 year plus female in my sport results in me getting extra requirements on my performances to remain funded with my federation.”
Upon returning from the Olympics, Marchant testified to the Canadian Parliament on girls and women in sport, at the invitation of the House of Commons. One of her topics included the ever-changing qualifying times set for female runners in Canada. In her remarks to Parliament, Marchant described that the requirements to receive a Canadian stipend, as well as to qualify for the Canadian National Team, become more demanding for female athletes as they age.
Despite her latest feat in New York, Marchant did not meet the required time of 2:29:50 to join the World Championships team for Canada. According to The Toronto Sun, Marchant, again the fastest female Canadian distance runner, will have to run two more races before next August to even be considered for Team Canada. Additionally, if Lanni wants to be reinstated for her stipend, or carding status, she must petition her federation and name another Team Canada runner to be removed from payroll. However, the new record holder is not likely to petition under those conditions.
“I don’t know if I’m comfortable doing that. If I’m able to appeal just on the merits alone and not choose an affected athlete, then I’ll appeal. But, if they’re going to force me to pit myself against one of my fellow Olympic teammates, I don’t feel that I can do that with a clear conscious … I feel regardless of how I ran yesterday that I have a strong case.”
And Sexism to Boot
Without her carding status, sponsorships are key for Marchant to continue her career. However, her earning potential is compromised solely based on her gender, “Most contracts and most shoes deals, you tend to get less as a female athlete. I know with my sponsors, I’m paid less than some of my male teammates. You look at my titles, and my records and my accolades compared to theirs and you wonder, ‘why am I being paid less?’”
Lanni has come under criticism at home publicly speaking against the objectification of women in sports while wearing “risqué” running uniforms that have “less material than the average teenage girl’s underwear,” according to online comments. Pundits have also cast her as a hypocrite for posting pictures of herself in cocktail dresses and bikinis on social media while continuing to speak out against sexual harassment in sports. “There’s still this double standard for women and I don’t want my nieces to grow up and [have] the female athletes whom they idolize still be talked about as pretty little girls in pretty little boxes,” she said.
What’s next for Marchant?
While Marchant often claims she is not trying to “poke bears” by demanding more for her fellow female athletes, she is more than equipped to carry the stick. Marchant knows that her younger teammates may not be ready or willing to take on a federation that pays them, “I have my degrees that allow me to argue and I’ve been trained to do this.” However, as long as there are gender differences in Canadian sport, and little girls in need of strong role models, she is up to the task. In addition to her training as a lawyer, Lanni credits her strong will to her grandmother, who was very active in women’s issues as a young woman, “she’s almost ninety and she still out there poking some bears. I certainly will follow in her footsteps [laughs].”
As far as running is concerned, Lanni is looking forward to a well-earned break to heal an ailing left leg, “We’re gonna take November and December and really just to try to figure out what’s going on with that so that I can make better decisions on … when I get back [to] racing. I’m not done yet, and whether my federation is done with me or not, the great thing about being a road runner is I can go and compete on the road and I don’t need [them] to do that.”
With several other marathons on her bucket list and enough passion to continue running for several more years, we may see Lanni continue to make history for Canada, if not with Canada.