Runner of the Month: Lindsay Khan
Transformation. It’s a loaded word, often touted as the ideological foundation of success, growth, and achievement. Sometimes, the word also implies something magical and “instant”, like Cinderella transforming for the royal ball thanks to a fairy Godmother. But athletes everywhere know that transformation is the outcome of something else entirely–setbacks, disappointments, and struggles.
When Ottawa 10K elite field runner, Run Ottawa member, wife and mom Lindsay Khan describes her relationship with running as “transformative” she’s describing what her 10-year-long evolution from novice runner to Boston Qualifier demanded of her dedication and willpower. (And, sometimes her extra-stubborn-never-give-up mindset, too.)
“Running was a big challenge in the beginning,” she explains. “It wasn’t something that came easily to me.” Maybe hearing such an accomplished runner say this stretches credulity, but you haven’t heard the whole story yet.
STARTING OUT SLOW
An extreme beginner, Lindsay first strapped on her running shoes in 2006 with a simple goal: to run a 5K with her Mom. “I thought, if my Mom can learn to run 5K, so can I,” she says.
On day one, she barely made it to the stop sign at the end of the street. “I was like, OK, maybe I can’t run 5K,” she laughs. “But I just kept trying. I kept going.” For someone who used to sit out gym class to her own dismay in grade school with serious knee complications and asthma, sticking with her modest 5K goal was a huge step.
When she made it to the 5K Canada Day Road Race in Brockville in 2006, it wasn’t the success story she’d been training for. “Halfway through, I needed to stop and take a break. I purposely untied my shoe, so it looked as though I was stopping for a reason…I faked it.”
That decision was what really changed everything. “I was so mad,” she explains. “I had wanted to do that race without stopping, and it set me on a trajectory where I had to be better, and I had to be faster.”
Running also became more than just a competition with herself. After the sudden and unexpected death of her grandmother, Lindsay found running was a coping mechanism, and an outlet for anxiety.
“While attending the University of Ottawa, the Rideau Canal was in my backyard,” she says. “I didn’t know what to do to handle what was going on, so I’d hop on the path and just run.”
GETTING STRONG AND CONSISTENT
Until the birth of her son in 2012, Lindsay hadn’t gotten into a consistent rhythm for her training. She admits she never ran much in the winter, and didn’t love the idea of paying a gym membership to hit the treadmill.
Her son Odin (who is affectionately known as the King of Asgard by his neighbourhood friends) changed everything. The new family moved out of the city to Russell, Ontario just before he was born. Can you guess one of Lindsay’s first purchases for their new home? A treadmill for the basement. “That really allowed me to run consistently,” she says. “And exactly four weeks after giving birth, I walked down to the basement and did the shortest run ever, but I felt like myself again.”
It was the start of a new dedicated approach to running, but little did she know life was about to hand her some overwhelming curveballs.
As any woman who has shared the experience will tell you, a miscarriage is devastating. Lindsay went through that ordeal, not once, but twice before her daughter Lennon (coined for John Lennon) was born. And she wasn’t home free, then, either.
“I almost lost Lennon, too. I thought I was suffering a third miscarriage, so I went to the hospital, and they couldn’t find a heartbeat,” she recounts. “I was confused, because our first baby was no trouble. My body had done this before. Why couldn’t it do it again?”
Once again, running was something Linsday could turn to. “It made me feel like I was strong and I was capable. I had a mistrust in my body after the miscarriages, and I felt a semblance of control when running.”
The night Linsday thought she lost her daughter, she looked at her husband and thought, I’m not going through this again, and almost signed up for the 2015 Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon then and there. Five days later, they got the good news that there was a heartbeat, and she would soon be giving birth to a strong, miracle daughter.
“I’m glad I didn’t sign up for the marathon that night,” she laughs, “But I knew the next year I would run that marathon, and that training would be a celebration that Lennon was born and like a sort of maternity leave project.”
STRUGGLE TO THE START LINE
The next year, training for the 2016 Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon was an intense process. “I think my husband just thought I was crazy,” she says. “I didn’t tell anyone what I was up to, at first.”
It may have been a bit too much too soon, as Lindsay was about to experience her first injury – a sprained sacroiliac (SI) joint – eight weeks into marathon training.
“I thought I was going to have to put the marathon on hold, but I didn’t give up hope. Instead, I shifted my goal from qualifying for Boston, to simply finishing the race, as long as I was cleared to run.”
She attended physiotherapy with a fierce commitment to her recovery. “It was a rough few weeks and I was optimistic, and miserable. By some sort of miracle, I was cleared to run a few weeks before race day.”
Lindsay was apprehensive about running, scared that she could have another setback if she wasn’t at 100% yet. Luckily, her physiotherapist was a runner who had trained for marathons, and helped her come up with a training regimen four weeks before the marathon.
“Our plan was to run 30K to start, and see how I felt, then taper to 20K, while running 10-12K on weekdays, leading up to the race. Marathon day rolls around, and I thought the heat was going to sabotage everything. I couldn’t help but laugh, it was one thing after another,” she says.
Despite all the bumps in the road, Lindsay ran and defied all her expectations.
To say that not only completing her first marathon, but also qualifying for Boston, felt good, is, well, an understatement.
At around the 35K mark, Lindsay knew she had it in the bag. “I knew I was well under the window to qualify for Boston. Even though a lot could go wrong in the final 7K, I had enough time in the bank. I couldn’t stop smiling.”
That last leg went smoothly and Lindsay finished with an incredible 3:17:35 time (well under the 3:35 time to qualify). “I just remember crossing the finish line and throwing my arms in the air and yelling… I was probably incoherent at that point, just totally losing it.”
TRAINING LIKE LINDSAY
Qualifying for Boston had a domino effect, and Lindsay started seeking out more races. In the latter half of 2016, she qualified for the NYC Marathon while setting a half marathon PB, and then went on to run a 37:54 at the Ottawa Cookie Run, which earned her entry into the 2017 Ottawa 10k elite field. In 2017, she participated in the Boston and NYC marathons, as well as several races in Ottawa.
These days, Lindsay runs six days a week, and is currently training for the Chicago Marathon in October 2019. After her SI injury, she regularly incorporates core and strength training into her routine.
After everything she’s experienced, Lindsay has learned to reframe the way she looks at running, training, and her personal goals. “You train for weeks, all to have things boil down to one day,” she sighs. “I’ve had many races, especially in the past two years, where I was disappointed with the result. I try to focus on what I learned during that training cycle, on the things that went well. There’s always going to be another race. As long as we keep showing up, the effort doesn’t go to waste.”
As for where Lindsay loves to run the most? Her favourite route is an old railway line in Russell that has been paved over into a running trail behind their home.
“Its where everything happened,” she says wistfully. “It’s where I spent most of my time, and where I’ve done my best, most memorable training. Sometimes the sun will shine through the gaps in the trees a certain way, and all of a sudden I’ll remember a moment, like running with the stroller with the kids, getting ready for the marathon. It’s special to me, and it’s where home is now.”