In 2018, Krista DuChene ran the Boston Marathon for the first time in 13 years. At 42 years old the former Olympian was hoping to be top three in the Masters (40+) age category. Instead, she came in third overall.
In her episode of Inside an Athlete’s Head, DuChene talks about balancing parenthood and competition, fighting through injury, and how the hardest part of a marathon isn’t running, but managing your own mind.
CBC: Pressure is a constant for a high-level athlete. What do you do away from running to deal with that pressure?
Krista DuChene: Firstly, I don’t define myself as an athlete, but rather as a Christian, and my faith is what guides me. And I think the other thing, too, is that I have a pretty good balance of activities in my life. Running is obviously a big one, but I’m a mom of three, I’m a dietician, I do public speaking, I volunteer, I coach my daughter’s hockey team. So I have quite a few things that I juggle.
When I became a mom, and I was starting to get more competitive with running, I had to be really clear and concise about the job I was doing at the time. So when I was out for a run, I was out to run, and not feeling like I should be with my babies. When I was with my kids, I was enjoying that, and not feeling like ‘Oh, I should be running.’
CBC: So when did you become seriously competitive about running?
KD: It was a gradual process. My first marathon was just for fun, for recreation. As I kept running, I started to get faster, and I started to work fewer hours as a dietician. As we continued to have more kids, I started to focus more on races that would have prize money that could supplement my income a bit, and I guess my breakthrough was in Ottawa in 2010 when I was a national champion, and I went under two hours, 40 minutes for the first time. That’s when I knew that I still felt fresh in the sport, and I felt that there was a lot more in me.
CBC: That’s a different arc from a lot of athletes, where they get very serious about a sport early.
KD: I ran in elementary school and high school, and played hockey. At the end of high school, I kind of had to pick between the two sports. I chose hockey. I went to [University of] Guelph, because of the great women’s ice hockey program, and the good nutrition program that I wanted to take. I played competitive hockey for four years, and I happily retired from that sport just feeling like it was complete. And then I got back into running again, because you could do it any time, anywhere, it was a sport that I could do with a family. I did a marathon, because, you know, people say ‘Why not try a marathon?’ Then I started doing the math and saying ‘OK, just a little bit faster, increase my mileage a little bit more’ and it grew.
I think people looked at me and thought ‘OK, she’s got three kids, is this too good to be true…? Can they do that again?’– Krista DuChene
CBC: Do you remember the first time you really felt pressure as an athlete?
KD: I think in 2012, when I had my international breakthrough, when I ran 2:32 in Rotterdam — when I was going after the standard for the 2012 Olympics — that’s when I made my mark on the international stage, and I think people looked at me and thought ‘OK, she’s got three kids, is this too good to be true…? Can they do that again? Can they perform at that level again?’ And that was the first time I felt that kind of pressure, but it was a good thing.
CBC: Who is the person in your life you turn to when you feel like you need advice or find yourself struggling?
KD: It’s interesting. I would say my husband and my sister would help me. When I’ve been injured, those have been the times that have been most difficult. When you’re healthy and you’re fit, performance is just a by-product of that. It’s those times when things aren’t going so well that you need support from the people around you. At this level, you can’t let the stress of performance define you or take away from you. Especially in a marathon, where it’s so demanding.
CBC: Why has marathon running become so popular over the last 10 or 15 years?
KD: It’s a sport where anyone can do it, you can go anywhere in the world — every country pretty much has a marathon — you can do it at any stage of life, it’s a challenging goal, you can learn from others, and it’s a sport where you can line up on the start line with the world’s best.
Think of [Eliud] Kipchoge in Berlin, when he set the world record. He was one of thousands of runners in the same race, so there’s not many sports where [an amateur] can say ‘Oh, I was in that race where so-and-so set the world record.’ It brings us together. We’re all out here, running this 42.2 km event.
CBC: What makes the Boston Marathon so special?
KD: I think it’s one of those races where, once you experience it, you understand the significance of it, and it makes you want to go back again. Before I did Boston, once I’d qualified, everyone was like ‘Oh, you have to do Boston! You have to do Boston!’ And I thought ‘Oh good grief! There’s other marathons!’ But I did it, and I was like ‘Yup, I get it now.’ The way the fans are lined up, kilometre after kilometre, you’re never alone. There’s always someone there, cheering for you. You go from these small towns into Boston, so that’s unique. The hills at the end are really difficult. It’s the course layout as well as the deep history that make it such an epic event.
CBC: What made you decide to come back to it after 13 years?
KD: I did it for the first time in 2005, just recreationally, and my time was three hours, 46 seconds, and I remember people saying ‘Don’t you wish you broke three hours?’ I thought that if I continued to get better at the sport, I would love to come back as an Elite. To do Boston, but to do Boston as an Elite, through the John Hancock program, would be amazing. The second thing was that the Masters prize purse is appealing to me. We have a 13-year-old son, and we’ll be putting him in college or university in the next couple of years, so for me, it’s about picking smart courses that can provide an income for our family. And then, when I got third overall last year, that was a huge bonus. I was hoping to be top three masters, but I got third overall, which is pretty crazy.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Season 2 of Inside an Athlete’s Head is now streaming on CBC Gem.