Melissa Gacek, 31 of White Bear Lake, has her sites on getting back to the Olympic Trials Marathon in 2008. She qualified for the 2004 Trials and has run sub-2:46. At the Houston Marathon in January, Melissa ran a 2:52:42. Earlier this Spring she had a health scare, which turned out okay. In the process she realized she had an iron issue. That is in the process of being resolved, as can be seen just by watching her results improve from race to race.
When and how did you get involved with running?
I ran a pledge “marathon” in 7th or 8th grade…we had to run for a certain period of time around a loop (who knows if it was 30 minutes or 3 hours but it seemed like forever) and while everyone else quit or walked, I was determined I would run the whole time and I did.
Take 2: My first long run/road race was sophomore year in high school. I decided to try the Mayor’s 10K Turkey Day run in Kenosha, WI, finishing with icicles dripping off my eyelashes. It was so cool I could run 6 miles!
Were you happy with your 2:52:42 at Houston and your training leading up to it?
All-in-all, I finished happy in that you never know where life is going to take you and you should be proud of/savor each moment that you are healthy and able to do something like run a marathon…especially when you see a breast cancer survivor group cheering you on at mile 18.
Time-wise, of course I wanted to qualify for the Trials, but I just didn’t have the right vibes that day. I stayed with the pack thru the ½ and then fell off mentally. I caught a sinus infection the Friday before the race and that really dragged me down thru the weekend, but I don’t want to blame that alone. I decided I needed to address some things that have been holding me back in training and in attitude and regroup.
You qualified for the 2004 Olympic Trials Marathon. I assume the goal is to get back there in 2008. What do you feel you need to do in order to make that happen?
I plan to qualify and run in the Trials. I need to be patient but also be focused and ready to have that right day when it all comes together – training, motivation and atmosphere. I’m feeling so much better the last few weeks running and racing – I believe it’s now finally the time to get it done.
What is your training philosophy? Do you tend to follow any certain program?
1) Balance of easy runs, intervals and moderate to long runs. I don’t do a lot of doubles or 100+ mile weeks. I’m a busy mom running a design/website/branding business and a household!
2) Have structure/a guide/a goal. Mine is my coach, Kelly Mortenson. Without him, I would either slack off or run myself into the ground trying to make up for slacking off. Kelly’s the realist and knows me, and also can tell me when I’m crazy or when it’s time to go for it.
What are your PRs?
So far this Spring you’ve run some solid races. In March and April you ran 30:15 at Human Race 8K and 1:20:12 at Fetzer 20K. In back-to-back weekends in May you ran 1:22:58 at the New Prague Half Marathon and 1:22:12 at the Fargo Half Marathon. How do you feel about your Spring racing and your current fitness?
Well, considering my PRs, no, those times are not my pride and joy. However, I’m seeing a big change and I know I’m ready to get those times to drop. And as my friend Stacy Bennett would tell me, I have a 2 year old, I work, I should be proud!
I heard you had some iron issues. Have those been resolved?
About a month ago I had a scare with intestinal stuff and they had me go in for a colonoscopy…Everything turned out okay, but my iron was low, and I could feel it. Looking back over the last 8+ months, it makes a lot of sense why I couldn’t run/recover like I use to, why I wanted to take these long naps, why I felt like I was racing so flat…my body wasn’t functioning properly. After just 3 weeks of iron supplements, I feel so amazing. I really think I was on pace to run a sub-1:20 at Fargo, but it was very windy and we (Jen Hess, Kelly Brinkman and I) just slowed down as a pack from miles 7-12. Tactically, no one made a move until the end. My recent races and workouts have felt so different — it’s really exciting to feel like my old self again and feel like I can think about racing.
What do you consider your strengths? Weaknesses?
1) Passion/Drive/Determination/High Energy Level/Spirited: I do really well in longer events and have the drive to follow-through with my goals.
2) Thankful/Blessed: I am a mom of a wonderful 2-year-old, Vivian, who has taught me how precious and short life is and to really be thankful that I am blessed to have her and my family and friends in my life. I put things like races in a different perspective when she came into the picture, and I really appreciate everything more and learn to not take myself too seriously…it’s not all about me…it’s not that important who wins what race…who beat who…it’s celebrating yourself, your abilities, your health and everyone with you.
1) Lack of time: Like most people, finding balance: family, friends, church life, work…it can be hard to fit it all in.
2) Not naturally gifted: Let’s face it; I’m not Deana Kastor. But when I work hard; I get results.
3) Guilt: Since becoming a mom, I feel I have to justify myself when I want to run, or that I’m being selfish. Running/having that outlet makes me a much better mom and person.
What is your fondest running memory?
Running my 2004 Olympic Trials qualifier in Houston. I had no idea I had qualified until the end...Ran with Shelly Larson thru 16, then she took off, having a great day. I held back a bit until around 20. I just saw the 5th place girl and knew that was $1000 if I could catch her. I couldn’t imagine finishing without getting that money.
Do you have a favorite local and/or national race?
Local: Grandma’s Half is the best, the same bang but you can recover faster. Nationally: I love my Turkey Day 10K, Kenosha, WI.
If you could run with any Minnesotan, past or present, who would it be?
I have had the joy of running/training/racing/being mentored by so many great Minnesota runners; Deb Gormley, Sharon Stubler, Gloria Jansen, Stacy Bennett, Kelly Keeler, Shelly Larson, Jan Ettle, plus all our RNF team gals and everyone in the Team Circuit…I am happy to live in Minnesota in the now and experience the energy going around today.
Side-note on the local support we receive from USATF/MEADP/MDRA: The year I won the MEADP scholarship changed my life. I roomed with Blake Russell at Freihoffer’s (I didn’t know people ran a 15 min. 5Ks!) and being around all those talented women in our suite pretty much glued me into the sport for life, knowing they were real people with jobs that got up in the morning just like me and put their own shoes on. I came into this sport really naive and have learned the possibilities are real and right there for you if you reach for them.
Finally, what do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started running?
That you don’t run the same pace for the 2 mile as you run for the 100 meter dash. Seriously.
Take your iron supplements. Eat a lot of protein. Carry TP on training runs and before races.
Or that running would change my life and help define my values and discipline or help me meet all the amazing people I have met in my life, or how good it can feel to “hurt” when your body is performing at its best. How powerful the finish line really is, but also the journey you take to get there.