Friday, December 21, 2012

McKenzie Melander on a Dual Track, Juggling Academics and Athletics

Photo courtesy of University of
Like many of her teammates Apple Valley, MN native McKenzie Melander continues on a dual track as both a professional runner and working on an advanced degree in order to pursue a career in Speech Pathology.  Team USA Minnesota founder Pat Goodwin takes pride in the fact that so many of the team members are not only preparing themselves to excel as runners, but also to go on to careers outside of the sport once their elite athletic careers are over.  Below, Melander talks about USATF Club Cross, her goals, and life with a "full calendar."

Down the Backstretch:  I’m told this is finals week for you at the U(niversity of Minnesota) where you’re doing a Masters program in Speech Pathology.  So, you just got done with one big race and you’re tossed into the next one.  But you did get some uplifting news in that you’ll join your Team USA Minnesota teammates on the women’s team at the BUPA Great Edinburgh International Cross Country Team Challenge.  How does it feel to make your first US team?

McKenzie Melander: I’m thrilled to have started off my career with Team USA Minnesota on such a positive note.  I’m very happy to have momentum going into the spring

DtB:  The US women’s team in Edinburgh is almost totally Team Minnesota.  How does everybody feel about that accomplishment?

MM: Obviously it’s exciting to have the opportunity to travel to Scotland, but it’s even more exciting to be sharing the experience with my own teammates.  You have to know that you are doing things right when you see success from others that do the same training as you do.  It should be a very fun race and trip!   

DtB:  What were your thoughts going into the USATF XC Club championships.  You were told that it would be important to start strong because of the muddy course conditions, but was there any other talk about team strategy or a “road map” of what to do, what to be aware of during the race?  How did the race unfold for you?

MM: Going to this race I had no idea what to expect, especially having not raced cross since last fall.  We had been given some advice prior to the race about really getting out since the back of the course was so muddy.  We had an idea of some teams to watch for, but my goal was really to just stay close to my teammates.  The last ¾ of a mile was tough for me, but I just tried to maintain and finish the best that I could. Seeing Meghan, Jamie and Ladia in front of me while I was racing was very motivating for me.  I knew that they were putting it all out there so I felt the need to do the same. 

DtB:  Why did you choose Team USA Minnesota to continue your running career?  What do you hope to accomplish yet with your running?

MM: After I graduated, I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do in regards to running.  I had already planned on moving back to Minnesota having accepted a spot in a graduate program at the U of M.  Pat Goodwin had approached me over the summer about the possibility of becoming a member of the team. I knew that if I were try my hand at professional running this would be the team to do it on.  Team USA Minnesota has produced so many phenomenal runners that I could not pass up such an opportunity.

When I graduated, I had felt like there was just so much more left out of my running career.  As a runner I would like to become versatile with my training and be able to be competitive across a number of distances.  I’ve already learned a lot about training from Dennis (Barker, Augsburg and Team USA Minnesota coach), and I think his approach to training will help me with that. Overall, I would like to see my times continue to progress and reach my full potential as a professional runner.  It is such a great opportunity to travel and compete against some of the best runners in the world.   

DtB:  What do you hope to get out of the meet in Scotland aside from another good team performance?  Have you been offered a spot, and if so are you also considering running the NACAC meet in Jamaica?

MM: At this point in my career I think a lot of my races are going to be about getting experience competing at this level.  Every race is always another great training opportunity both mentally and physically.   Just as with the Club Cross, I would like to be able to stick with my teammates through the race and run as a pack.

I chose not to run at the NACAC race since it is right before Cross Nationals.  Also at that point I would have started up school again, which would make it more difficult for me to travel for that amount of time. 

DtB: What were your feelings about the ‘team processing” experience.  I’m told the top 25 finishers in each race went through the process of filling out the paperwork for team selection, then for most of them the waiting begins, what was that like?

MM: At first when I finished my race, I figured that I too far out to have made the team but I received papers that indicated that I would be a candidate for the team. It wasn’t until I had filled out the paperwork that it hit me that it was a real possibility that I could be a part of the team.  Luckily I was distracted enough the next week to keep my mind off of it, but when I finally got the news I was ecstatic. 

DtB:  What are your goals for 2013?  Will you be mixing up road and track?  Singling out one distance to focus your energies upon or experimenting with different distances, trying new ones?

MM: I’ve always loved being on the track, but I have also really enjoyed the road races that I’ve done.  I like the 5K, but I’m very open to trying new distances. When I started my career at Iowa, I thought I would never run a 10K and then I was tossed into the 10K at Big Tens.  I only got to run the 10K once so I would also like to try that race again. As for specific goals, I would like to get my 10K time around 33:00 and my 5K under 15:40.   

DtB:  It is in some ways the nature of the profession of being a pro runner that one doesn’t put one’s “eggs in one basket.”  You’re pursuing a career outside of running as well as the sport.  You’ve been outstanding in academics as well as athletics throughout your college career, so it’s not a new experience for you, but how will you approach the dual career model outside of school?

MM: Having done this for four years, it wasn’t a huge change to assume another dual role.  This first few weeks of a new schedule always takes some adjusting, but once I got in a rhythm everything seemed to go pretty smoothly.  I know that life will continue to get busier, especially when I start getting practicum placements for school.  

I am a person that really relies on routines and planning so that will continue to be key to managing my schedule.  At the beginning of the year, I had wondered what I had gotten myself into.  But in I’m actually very glad to have something to focus energy on outside of running because helps me enjoy running more.  It allows me to view practice and seeing my teammates it as an escape.   

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