On October 3, former Queen’s cross country athlete Branna MacDougall ran and won her first marathon in Bracebridge, Ont., Finishing the 42 kilometer race in just 2 hours, 33 minutes and 40 seconds.
With this result, only 25 other Canadian women in history have ever run a marathon faster.
Following his performance statement at the Muskoka Marathon last week, The newspaper caught up with MacDougall to discuss his incredible beginnings as well as his unwavering and at times paradoxical passion for running.
“I do not know, […] I don’t think it’s quite normal for an elementary school kid to go for a run [a] Saturday morning, ”MacDougall said in an interview, describing his unusual debut in the sport.
“I was really bad at all team sports and anything to do with hand-eye coordination.”
Although running has always been a part of his life, MacDougall’s love affair with the sport began small.
Like any other activity, it started out as an outlet for her teenage fantasy. Then, when she started high school, MacDougall joined Physi-Kult, a Kingston-based running club owned and operated by former Queen’s Cross Country head coach Steve Boyd.
Almost ten years later, MacDougall is still running for Physi-Kult, with Boyd still his trainer.
Since then, she has done nothing but excel in the sport, competing regularly for championship positions at the high school and post-secondary level. His accolades include the OUA MVP award in 2017, first place at the 2017 OUA Championships and third place at the 2019 U Sports Championships and a U Sports National Team title in 2019.
After quitting competing as a varsity athlete in 2020, MacDougall continued his mark of excellence on two feet. Ahead of her performance at this year’s Muskoka Marathon, she ran her first half marathon at the same location last year, in which she broke Canada’s Under-23 record for the three-minute event. whole, ending with a time of 1:11: 42.
More than a year later, she still holds the record and sits ninth all-time among Canadian women for her final time in the half marathon.
Despite all of this – and a laundry list plus other running-related accolades – MacDougall nonetheless acknowledges that his relationship to running is anything but simple. Injuries, expectations, pressure to perform – all of these are integral to being a runner at the highest level, and it has certainly strained her relationship with the sport at times.
“I don’t know, it’s almost like this toxic relationship […] it can get you into a lot of depressions, ”she explained.
“But at the same time, it’s also in my mind one of the nicest and simplest things you can do.”
Herein lies MacDougall’s paradoxical relationship to running: on the one hand, she sees it as a form of meditation – a part of her daily routine as unchanging as brushing her teeth – but on the other hand , it is also the source of some of his greatest anxieties.
She is also puzzled by the dynamics.
“He’s so weird […] the actual act of running makes everything so much better in my life, but a lot of things around running have caused me a lot of anxiety, a lot of stress, ”she said.
“Especially since I have been competing at a high level from a young age, it is a difficult thing to learn to sail.
But, as MacDougall later pointed out, his navigation in this relationship is continually improving. Not only has she made greater strides in achieving balance in her life, but she also firmly believes that her new field of competition is conducive to a positive mindset where varsity athletics sometimes was not.
“There is still a lot of pressure […] [but] it’s just different. ”
Speaking about his performance in the Muskoka Marathon, MacDougall noted that his preparation was somewhat hasty before that. In fact, she didn’t even know she was going to compete until the end of August.
Average training periods for marathons typically vary between four and six months. Prior to his “cutback” period – his gradual reduction in training was aimed at preparing his body for the event – MacDougall had only four good weeks of training under his belt.
Yet on October 3, after lacing up her sneakers, she did anything but disappoint.
According to MacDougall, one of her teammates paced her for the first 30 kilometers, allowing her to maintain perfect time for the first three quarters of the race. Despite a slight drop in speed shortly after, she was able to return to her previous pace and finish the race strong.
While this is a race to remember, MacDougall admitted that parts of his journey are slightly blurry in retrospect.
“Honestly, I don’t remember much from the last 10 [kilometers]. I have never suffered so much in my life.
Reflecting on the larger experience, however, MacDougall clearly remembers the help and support she received from close friends and family – and won’t soon forget.
“My roommates and a few of my friends came over to applaud […] My parents and Steve [Boyd] were driving a car and cheering me on, ”she said.
“It was really fun.”