Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"I Think It'sTime"

This is the first of several short stories about Minnesota high school stars who have chosen to run their first 26.2 miler in the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon.

McKenzie Melander(left) and Lindsey Anderson Solheim(right)
When McKenzie Merlander was asked why she was running Sunday's Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, she said :"I think it's time."

Like many of the male athletes who were her contemporaries, Melander began running in high school as a way to stay in shape for her first choice of sports, hockey.  She had the desire to be hockey player, but not the physique.  She was too small and by her junior year at Eastview HS she began to blossom in her second sport.

Melander finished third in the MSHSL cross country championships that year and went on to win a Big Ten championship in the 5K at the University of Iowa.  That caught the attention of Team USA Minnesota, who asked her if she was interested in joining their group.  She was intrigued about exploring the "professional runner" option, but was also committed to preparing for a more traditional work career.

Melander running in high school
" You have to get a Masters to be able to (get a job) as a speech pathologist, so I knew I had that ahead of me."  Thoughts of attempting to see where her athletic talent could take her weren't part of the equation. "I applied in the Fall (for the Masters program at the University of Minnesota).  I was living at (her parents') home, and I hadn't thought much (about a post-collegiate running career)."

When Pat Goodwin of Team USA Minnesota approached her about the possibility, Melander started to consider the about life as a pro runner: "Maybe this is an option," she said,  Shortly after joining the team Merlander qualified to run as a member of the US team that ran the BUPA Great Edinburgh International Cross Country Team Challenge in January of 2013.   That turned out to be the high point of her brief experiment at juggling a Masters degree program  and the training/racing demands of an elite runner.  

"Unfortunately with school I just had too much on my plate," Melander said.  Something had to go, and it really wasn't that tough a choice.  Masters degree or taking a chance on the "starving artist" route available to any aspiring Olympic athlete.      High school standouts, such as Alan Webb and Mary Cain, could parlay their athletic talent into a contract  big enough to pay for college and potentially beyond if they blossomed into Olympians and future Olympic and/or World Championship medallists Even for them, however,  the risk was high and the payoff minimal.  

If you won an NCAA individual championship, as did Elk River and Boise State's Emma Bates did in the 10K, the most one could expect is a spot in a training group and maybe a shoe company willing to invest for a short period of time in your athletic future.  Melander didn't fit either of those profiles. Faced with a choice Melander took the traditional career path, but didn't abandon running.

"My goal was not to run as much, but to do other things to keep myself fit," she said.  Yoga, bar classes, augmented with running, accomplished that.  She had a "training partner" in former Iowa teammate Lindsay Anderson Solheim, who wasalso completing a Master Degree in speech  pathology.  The pair lived near  Lake Calhoun.  "We could walk out and watch the marathon," Merlander said. " We did a lot of running around the Lakes, so we're familiar with that part of the course."

In July they signed up for the race.  "It's something different," said Melander, who was primarily a 5 and 10K runner in college.  She has a training plan set up by her boyfriend.  She's run three long runs(one 22 miler, the other two 20 miles each).  Melander has set a target time of around three hours, but she's not running for time, but rather to enjoy the experience.

College XC
"I still love running," she said.  And now is the time and the Twin Cities the place for her next running adventure.

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