Here is a partial list of the provisions Tifanne Thayme brought along when she ran the Adnoc Abu Dhabi Marathon last month: a water bottle, six GU Energy Gel packs, sunglasses, peeled apple slices, strawberries, blueberries, banana oat pancakes, edamame, a bag of SmartSweets Sweet Fish low-sugar gummies, Post-it notes, crayons, a pen, a Spider-Man action figure, Optimus Prime and Starscream Transformers toys, a Bright Starts toy flip phone, a unicorn-shaped Pop It, a roll of masking tape, wet wipes, a light blanket, a diaper, a small hand pump, an inner tube, and episodes of CoComelon, Hello Ninja, and Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir she’d downloaded onto her iPhone XS.
“I knew that the two things that would really affect my race that I had no control over were the wind and their temperament,” Thayme said, referring to her two children, Ethan, 3½, and Sasha, 22 months, whom she also brought along for the 42.2-kilometre race, packed snugly into a BOB Gear double jogging stroller. “I had all the tricks up my sleeve, just in case.”
In the end, she didn’t need to deploy any of the distractions. “The crowd entertained them, to be honest,” Thayme said the other day during a Zoom call from her home in Dubai, after she’d got her kids down for the night.
Thayme, 36, crossed the finish line in 3 hours 20 minutes 58 seconds, good enough to place 18th in the women’s category and sixth in her age group (31-40), and securing a time which, if verified by the folks at Guinness World Records, will qualify as a record in the category of Fastest Marathon Pushing a Double Pram (Female). She also beat her previous personal-best time – run on her own, without a stroller or kids – by more than two minutes. Which was a pleasant surprise, but it was never the goal. Neither, for that matter, was setting a world record.
When Thayme laced up her shoes in the months after Ethan was born in 2019, it wasn’t just to get some exercise; she was running to find herself again.
Thayme grew up in Mississauga, Ont. “I was athletic as a kid, probably because I was following my brother all the time, so whatever he did, I wanted to do.” She played hockey, soccer, ran cross-country and track. “I wouldn’t say I was particularly good at sports, but I wasn’t bad.”
After high school, the sports largely fell away, but Thayme kept running – nothing competitive, just for fun: it helped clear her head. She ran some marathons. In 2009, she got a job as a flight attendant for Emirates airline and moved to Dubai. She met her husband, Eamon Sallam, another Canadian transplant, and around 2017 quit flying to work with him on a marketing business startup.
“Then I got pregnant, and my focus switched totally to motherhood.”
Thayme is by nature a meticulous planner who leaves nothing to chance. After getting pregnant, she read extensively in preparation to deliver Ethan by natural childbirth. But something went amiss during labour, and he was delivered via emergency cesarean section.
“I was so determined to have this plan that I didn’t even consider what it would be like to have a C-section, or what the recovery would be like,” she recalled. “Then all of a sudden I had this kid, and a C-section, and my body felt broken. I was just all over the place.”
“I don’t think I expected how tough it would be, or how consuming it would be,” she said. “We live thousands of kilometres away from our family, so a lot of the time I felt alone, and just really anxious. I struggled with postpartum mental health.
“You just feel like you’re in this dark tunnel, and there’s no end in sight, and you’re not thinking straight. You don’t feel like yourself, you don’t look like yourself.
“All my mechanisms that I had in place before having kids for coping with life or stressful situations – taking time to myself, or resting, or running – those were not possible anymore.”
In fact, she barely walked. After the surgery, Thayme had read that she might do long-term damage to her body if she pushed herself too hard. It took until about seven weeks postpartum before she began “walking with purpose.” She started with five-minute walks, then 10 minutes, then 15, then began intermittent jogging. At three months, she began jogging on the treadmill – popping down to the gym in her building, but staying close so she could return to feed her son at short notice.
Still, even that felt strange. She’d run all the way through her pregnancy, carrying more and more weight, so her stride and posture had changed. “I felt like I had to tell my arms, like: Okay, move this way. My stride felt so mechanical.” At six months, she says, her bones ached if she pushed herself too much.
Eventually, she hit the streets, sometimes pushing Ethan in a stroller. “The running gave me so much clarity,” she said. “I could feel a distinct difference in myself and my energy on days that I would run. Even if it was just a short, quick run – my whole life was now about him and my husband, and that 20 minutes, even if I had him in the stroller, it felt like it was mine.”
Nine months after Ethan was born, she ran the Dubai Marathon, hitting a personal-best time of 3:24. After Sasha came along in February, 2021, Thayme began taking both of the kids on her training runs, planning her routes so they could also enjoy the outing. She would run past construction sites, “and my son would just go nuts for the excavators and the bulldozers and the steamrollers. I would stop and let him watch for a few minutes, and then sometimes I’d end the run at the park, so they would get their play session, and everyone’s happy.”
She stepped up her training, advised and supported by her husband, who is an ultra runner. Last April, Thayme signed up for a local 10-km race, and decided to take the kids along for the ride. “I loved having them in the race environment. Runners are pretty supportive of each other, and I liked that they could see that, and feel like they were a part of it.” On a lark, she looked up records for long distance running-with-strollers. The times seemed reasonable; she figured, why not just go for it? “If I failed, I failed, but I needed to try.”
If you watch a brief video of Thayme’s Abu Dhabi run that’s been posted online, you can see the stroller wobbling from side to side because of the difference in her children’s weight. “I have to kind of fight it. I’ve actually had sore wrists from holding the stroller,” she says.
Still, that wasn’t the hardest part of pushing a stroller and kids and cargo, which together weighed just shy of 45 kilograms. “The slightest wind, the slightest incline, can feel like a wall,” Thayme says. “If you ask any other runner that day if it was windy, they would say no. But to me, it was.” The marathon course is rectangular, so she hoped the headwind she faced on the way out would help her on the way back, but the wind shifted and became an even stronger headwind on the final five km. “I just had to put my head down, and dig in.”
But if you do watch that video, you’ll also see Sasha throw both hands in the air like the Queen waving at her subjects, and Ethan fist-pumping for the crowd as his mom crosses the finish line.
And though you hear her husband in the background exclaiming: “You did it, Tifanne! New world record!” that was just a goal to help orient her. She was pursuing something bigger.
“This wasn’t really just about running a marathon while pushing a stroller. I mean, you could put a double stroller in front of any elite runner, and they will smash my time, but that was never what it was about. It was about the journey through motherhood, and just the ups and downs of motherhood. Just trying to find yourself in motherhood – or, find some new version of you that you never even thought would exist.”
As she crossed the finish line, Thayme briefly felt the thrill of her accomplishment. And then, embodying the split-brain focus that is the lot of any involved parent, her mind turned to more prosaic matters. “I was thinking: Ethan’s got to have lunch and go to the bathroom, and Sasha’s got to go for a nap,” she says. “I probably should have taken a minute to absorb the accomplishment. I wish I did, a little bit.”