On approach to her key event for 2011, the September IAU World Championships 100k in the Netherlands, Melanie allowed me to join her during an “easy” training run…her second session of the day. She jogged a 7:30/mi pace maintaining a “conversational pace” that seemingly required no effort. I rode alongside on my roadbike, watching her as she waved and acknowledged other runners in the neighborhood. Oblivious to her resume or capabilities, they waved to a cute, cheerful, mother who also seemed to be out for a daily jog.
Melanie shared with me some of what drives her to train her body and mind for national and international competition.
Q: Melanie, thanks for spending some time with me. Distance running is a relative term and, to those outside the sport, a distance run is something like a 10k or half marathon. You run much longer…and faster than other athletes. You seem to hit your stride somewhere between 30 and 65 miles… So, where does your drive come from?
A: Not sure. I just love to run. I love pushing my body and finding limits and then finding ways to move my limits. Ultra running is the best limit pushing thing I’ve found. For both my mind and my body.
Q: Last month, you ran 4:03:33 at the Greenland Trail 50k. You set a new course record and made it look easy! In the weeks before the race, what was your mindset regarding goals? Were they time based or something else?
A: I must admit that my main goal going into that race was to set a new course record. All my training runs had me feeling sure I could run under 4:20. And I figured under 4hrs was a possibility, too. Mentally, I was ready to race, so I knew I could do well, even if my body decided not to cooperate on race day. Lucky for me, my body played along.
Q: When you are training and a key race is upcoming…do you have a way of measuring or testing your fitness to make accurate assessments about the condition of your racing machine?
A: Just honest self evaluations of my runs and how my body is handling it. Before Greenlands, I ran 25 miles in Cherry Creek State Park at under 7:30 per mile and felt just amazing, even on my run the next day. That is the biggest reason I felt confident going into Greenland’s. Of course, I knew I would be slower on trails (even easy ones) vs. the pavement, etc. But I had a nice gage of current race readiness.
Q: On any given training run…your mind must be filled thoughts…or maybe no thoughts at all. Tell me about what goes through your mind in a long training run when everything is just right….
A: Actually, I pray a lot on the run. I love nature and being outdoors. When I am running, I am so awestruck by creation… the smells and sights and sounds. And the pure gift I have been given in being able to use my body to cover ground and see creation and enjoy…a lot my running time is spent telling God how amazing he is and thanking Him for letting me share in his creation.
Q: High level athletes often get burned out…have you experienced this and what do you do to motivate yourself back into focused training?
A: The last time I would have to say I was close to burn out, I got injured. Having been injured was the most motivating thing to ever happen to me as a competitive athlete. From where I am now I can’t imagine EVER getting to a “enough” point with training, racing or any running. But my coach and I talk about the chance and how to avoid it. For me, I need to make sure I have ‘fun’ runs in my weeks. Running with no thought to pace and alloying myself to go run in any place I want is big. Right now I’m training for a road 100k. So I have easy runs on ridge lines and such, just to get variety and keep it fun.
Q: What about when you are struggling to find motivation during season…what might you do to stay focused when things become obstacles or roadblocks for training?
A: Sometimes, I just need a break. Maybe I have a 55mile run planned and feel crappy. I’ll tell myself that one long run is OK to miss, and 20 miles is OK to run instead. Almost always, I get to 20 miles and want to finish the run. Sometimes I get sick, or I miss a week of training because one of my children get sick. When that happens, I look at the big picture. One week missed is fine. And I hope to have years of training and racing to come, so maybe next year I can train and race better.
Q: What are your immediate running-related goals? What about within two years? Any big plans that you are looking at in the long-term?
A: Right now, I want to run injury free! After 9months of injury, being able to run and race is top priority!In the next two years, I want to do longer stuff. 24hr race and a faster 100 mile race. Also, I want to run a fast 50k and marathon in the next 2 years. Longer term, I’d like to train and race Hardrock. I have it my mind to do that when I’m 35.
Q: Melanie, for me, ultrarunning is a journey. The experiences and people are simply magical. Is there a running moment or experience you can share that remains special in your mind? Please tell me about that…
A: Finishing my first 100. This is personal and I hope others understand that. But it took a lot for me to be willing to do a race as untrained and out of shape as I was for Rocky Raccoon 100 in 2009. I had broken my ankle a few months earlier and was in the worst shape ever for me as a runner. My goal was just to finish. I knew that I could finish, but that finishing would be hard. And I had to not even think about my time, which sucked for me.But I learned so much being out there. I ran the last 5 miles under 8 mins a mile, just whooping and yelling I was so excited to have stuck with it. When I got to the finish line, I turned a somersault over the time mat!
Q: So, I’ve asked you a bunch of running questions…and you are much more than just a runner. Please tell us about what makes Melanie who she is..
A: Well, I’d have to say that running has helped me find myself. Running taught me patience, delayed gratification, how to set goals and be flexible. The importance of trying and being willing to fail. Running has grown my love of nature and people and individuality. I am a soul striving to grow in many ways. The biggest goal I have for myself is to be loving of others. If, when I die, even one person on earth feels like I helped them grow in any way at all, then I get to die happy. I try to think on that goal in long lines at the store or crazy traffic. And most certainly in racing and parenting…though I fall short way too often!!
After the run, Melanie and I spoke on her front porch. She shared with me that she receives strength from God, her loving husband Daniel, and children. She is grateful for a loving family and her health. She told me about the incredible charity she supports, “The Home Foundation” , expressing sincerely her heartfelt appreciation for an honest charity that seeks to eradicate human trafficking.
She expressed her appreciation for her sponsor Champion athletic apparel company, who supports her with products and a financial stipend. She acknowledged Champion as a stand-out company for providing her the support she needs to participate and give back to the community as well.
Melanie, like other elite athletes, is pure and simple in her approach to training. She seeks self-improvement and excitement through dedicated, consistent training. On the whole, she is pure of heart…. and deeply passionate about living life.
“Thank you Melanie.”
Interview by: Jerry Armstrong; Boulder, CO