This past January, it was difficult for Rachel Hannah, one of Canada's most talented runners, to imagine competing in another marathon.
She had been off her feet for much of the previous six months, diagnosed with a stress fracture in the fourth metatarsal bone of her right foot just 10 days before the start of the world track and field championships last August in London.
Hannah resumed running after eight weeks, but two months later was felled by a stress reaction — a precursor to a stress fracture with weakening of the bone — near her left femur, or thighbone.
"It took me a month just to be able to train fast again," says Hannah, who is entered in the 45th annual Berlin Marathon that will be live streamed at CBCSports.ca on Sunday at 2:30 a.m. ET. "It's such a joyful feeling to be healthy and strong again.
"This [race] is kind of a celebration of good health and the work that went into preparing over the summer."
The 31-year-old will share Sunday's 42.2-kilometre journey through the streets of the historic German capital with fellow Canadian runners Sasha Gollish, Rachel Cliff, Catherine Watkins and Lyndsay Tessier, with whom she trained in her marathon build.
Taking a step back from competition allowed Hannah to focus on her health and rebuild. Following the stress fracture, the five-time Canadian road-racing champion was told to gain weight to help with her bone density and energy availability — the energy obtained through oral nutrition minus energy expended during exercise.
Hannah, who splits time living and training in Toronto and nearby Guelph, Ont., has become better at balancing an increase in calories so her hard training sessions are well fuelled and she recovers well. The registered dietitian also takes a calcium supplement and Vitamin D, both of which are important to bone health.
"I've changed to two big workouts a week from three, doing more hill work followed by a moderate run on a Monday, and I can come back on Wednesday and have a better workout," says Hannah, who cut her build for Berlin to 10 weeks from the usual 12. "I'm strong now and feel a lot more powerful."
Anything under 2:35 would be a fantastic day. I'm not stuck on a certain time. — Canada's Rachel Hannah on Sunday's Berlin Marathon
Hannah is also a lot happier after having the quality of her summer training sessions elevated by the presence of more partners, including Krista DuChene, the 2016 Olympian from Brantford, Ont., who put on a late charge to finish third in the elite women's race of the Boston Marathon in April.
Hannah ran Boston last year, her first of the Abbott World Marathon Majors, a series of the most renowned races with Chicago, London, New York City, Tokyo and Berlin. The first of her five marathons took place in 2015 at Ottawa, where she posted the second-fastest debut time by a Canadian female at two hours 33 minutes 30 seconds.
Hannah, who plans to run the Toronto Waterfront half marathon in October, is aiming for a strong and healthy race in Berlin, where the goal is to run at a fairly even pace throughout.
"Anything under 2:35 would be a fantastic day," she says. "I'm not stuck on a certain time."
Hannah, who improved upon that personal best at the Houston Marathon on Jan. 17, 2016 with a 2:32:09 clocking, is "excited" to share in Gollish and Cliff's marathon debuts on Sunday.
Cliff, 30, is the Canadian-record holder in the half marathon (1:10:08) who has set five other PBs this season in the 5,000 metres, 10,000, 5K, 8K and 10K. The Vancouver native also placed ninth in her Commonwealth Games debut in the 10,000.
At 36, Gollish topped all Canadian women at the World Half Marathon Championships on March 24 in València, Spain, with a season-best 1:11:52, less than 50 seconds off the Toronto runner's personal best of 1:11:05 achieved at Indianapolis, Ind., in November 2016.
The 40-year-old Tessier prepared for Berlin with a 16:50 PB in her hometown at last weekend's Canadian 5K Road Racing Championships in Toronto. Earlier this year, she PB'd in the half marathon in Houston in 1:14:29 while her marathon best of 2:36:55 was set during a silver-medal performance at the Canadian Marathon Championships last October.
Legendary women's mark
Watkins' 1:18:18 performance at the Edmonton Half Marathon on Aug. 19 ranks 31st among Canadian women this season. The 47-year-old from Vancouver won the Eugene Marathon in Oregon two years ago in a personal-best time of 2:42:35.
With an expected temperature of about 15C at race time Sunday, Paula Radcliffe's 2002 world record of 2:15:25 could fall in Berlin, where an astounding 10 world marks have been shattered.
Defending champion Gladys Cherono, who finished in 2:20:23 last year, will attempt to lower her 2:19:25, set in her debut Berlin Marathon three years ago.
Ethiopia's Turunesh Dibaba, the 2017 Chicago Marathon champion, could pose the biggest threat to Cherono and fellow Kenyan Edna Kiplagat, who upon finishing would become the first elite able-bodied woman to complete all six world major marathons.
Women's world records at Berlin
- 1977: Christa Vahlensieck, West Germany — 2:34:48
- 1999: Tegla Loroupe, Kenya — 2:20:43
- 2001: Naoko Takahashi, Japan — 2:19:46