Hard working, smart training and talented Steeplechaser Mel Lawrence is off to a fabulous 2016 and here at Belle Lap we couldn’t be happier for her. Mel is not someone I know personally, but is someone I admire greatly. Her perseverance through injury and resilience through years of dedication and frustration were rewarded with a PR at the UW husky invite in February. Since then, Mel has opened up her season with an Olympic Trials Qualifier in the 3000m steeplechase, just over 5 seconds shy of the Rio Olympic Qualifying mark.
This is just the start of an incredible come-back for Mel Lawrence and we are really excited to have tracked down this Oiselle Project Little Wing athlete and asked her some Q’s. As excited as we all are for her year to come, Mel is just chilling, enjoying herself and doing her thing on the daily. She’s described by her assistant coach Daniel Goetz as easy-going, understatedly competitive and kind hearted. Sounds like someone we would all love to get to know!
Belle Lap: So you grew up in Reno, Can you fill us in on any childhood memories that have really stuck by you?
ML: We had a very open door policy growing up. The door was always open. Whether my siblings and I were home or not, there were always kids running in out and of the house on a daily basis. It made everything seem more welcome and fun. I hope I can always continue that wherever I live.
Belle Lap: You were an incredible standout highschooler. One of the best in the nation! How did running at a highly competitive level influence the rest of your life outside of track/XC in your teen years?
ML: That’s a good question…I guess I never really got into too much trouble in high school because of it. I didn’t really have the time and I also wasn’t interested in that. I had a job at a running store and a pizza place (owned by the same person), so that helped to balance things out as well.
Belle Lap: We found this Gem…
Belle Lap: You went to UW to compete for the huskies, how was your college experience? could you share a few ups and downs from freshman year through to graduation.
ML: I really enjoyed going to UW, and I had a great college experience, but I didn’t have a well-rounded running career. I had a really successful sophomore year; we won NCAA in cross-country, I got 3rd at NCAA in the steeple that Spring, and had a great cross country season following that. From there, I had a few minor injuries that turned into some bigger injuries and it never turned back around.
Belle Lap: In college you ran a 3km steeple under the Olympic standard your first track season for UW (having redshirted your freshman year) with an incredible 9:40, what do you think contributed to this success?
ML: I think the biggest thing anyone can contribute success to is consistency. I had a really good base going into that year without a single hiccup. I also had a great coach who I got along with really well and was surrounded by a lot of great teammates who had the same goals. Balancing schoolwork with athletics is always tough, but you sort of get into a rhythm after the first year. You figure out how to balance it all a little better as the years go on.
Belle Lap: What were your options upon graduating?
ML: At first I didn’t really have any options coming out of college. I knew I wanted to keep trying to run, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to make that happen
I majored in French in college and applied for this program, TAPIF, where you help teach English to French students in France or other French speaking countries (Martinique, etc). I got accepted into the program, and was set to do that until about 3 months before I was going to start. Oiselle approached me about the group that was starting here, and I knew it was a good opportunity. I really wish I could have done both (train and go to France for 7 months), but I knew it wouldn’t work. So I withdrew from the program and was moving to Bend, OR!
Belle Lap: Tell us a little bit about your Oiselle Little Wing set up, headed by the wonderful Lauren Fleshman.
ML: Back in 2013 when Little Wing first came to be, it was about giving runners an opportunity to do what they loved. On the Oiselle blog about Little Wing it says, “We wanted to start a group focusing on the 5k primarily, but with the flexibility to run the 3k-marathon. Also, knowing this was a “start-up” we were looking for Oiselles who we both knew really well personally, came from “inside the family”, had already displayed overwhelming talent in their running careers, but had pushed through a couple of hard years and were on a come back trail. They also needed to be in a position to chuck everything, take the plunge with us and move out to the middle of the Oregon desert.” (- See more at: CLICK HERE)
And that’s what Little Wind is about. It’s developed a little since then, but still holds the main points and principles. Currently on the team is myself, Collier Lawrence (my sister), and the lovely Jess Barnard. She has been in Bend for about 6 months, and I couldn’t have hand picked a better addition.
Then there is Lauren and she’s an incredible coach, person and runner (working her way back into running after some Achilles stuff), and makes training really fun. There’s a time and place to be serious, and Lauren balances all of that out extremely well. We have amazing trails in Bend, and even better resources. It’s quite the hidden gem.
Belle Lap: What you do to fill the time outside of training?
ML: I work part time at Picky Bars doing customer service. I’m someone who needs balance outside of running, and this has worked out perfectly. It’s something I can do while we’re traveling for races or away at training camps. I’m pretty fortunate it works out so well around running.
Belle Lap: What aspects of having a female coach do you love?
ML: I was fortunate enough in high school and college to have male coaches that I felt really comfortable around and could talk to them about anything I needed to, so I never thought about male and female coaches separately. Having a female coach now is great, because she understands a lot of things about the female body first hand, and has experienced all of it’s complex ways. She’s also a really cool person.
Belle Lap: What ‘vibes’ do you and your group bring to training?
ML: We just try and have a lot of fun and not take things too seriously on a day-to-day basis. There is definitely a time and place for that, but we tend to have a good balance of the two.
Belle Lap: This indoor season you clocked your first 3km PR in 6 years. We think this is an AMAZING and inspiring example of perseverance and would love to know what it meant to you.
ML: Yeah, it’s been a really long time. It was really relieving. I went into this season really hoping for something like this. It felt like I was getting in good shape, but with so many frustrating years prior, I wasn’t even sure if I remembered what it felt like to be in good shape. I knew that if I didn’t get close to the times I ran 6 years ago, I was going to have a hard time justifying continuing to keep going.
Belle Lap: If you could give some advice to your younger self what would it be?
ML: Not to be so stubborn and to slow down. I think that’s part of the reason I got hurt so much. I would get injured, and then as soon as I got cleared to run, I would run hard all the time. I think I thought I would get in better shape faster by doing that. It took me 5 years, and a few stress fractures to learn what a recovery run was.
Belle Lap: Looking ahead what do you have your sights on this outdoor season?
ML: My focus is going to be the steeple, so I definitely want to run the standard and be on the starting line at the Olympics Trials healthy and running well. With that being my focus, I also want to have a few opportunities to run a 5k or a few 1500’s. As Lauren says, “I don’t want to be a one trick pony.”
Belle Lap: When you are not training or working where can we find you?
ML: I really like to balance my running world with regular life. It’s really hard for me to be all in on a single thing. If my schedule allows for it, I really like taking day trips/adventures to go explore something new.
Belle Lap: You and your sister seem to have an amazing connection, what has it been like to train and compete with a sibling by your side?
ML: It’s really awesome having my sister around to train with, and we get along really long. We can communicate and work around each other without saying a word. We have the same goals, and even though we are competing in the same event, we want so badly for the other to succeed. I also have a twin brother who lives in Portland, and the three of us are really really close. John ran in college, and doesn’t run as much anymore, but if I want company on long run, he’s always up for it.
Belle Lap: Can you tell us a secret about yourself that not many people know?
ML: Hhmm I lived on a farm for the first 10 years of my life, so I really like animals and know a lot of about them.
Belle Lap: Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
ML: Ooo hard question. I imagine I’ll still be running. Maybe not competitively, but at least for fun/health. Like the normal answer to this question, I hope to be married and have started a family. I’m also still struggling with that “what do I want to do as a career once I’m done running,” quesso hopefully I have that figured out by then as well. I studied French in school, so I’d like to be using that more.
Belle Lap: What’s next?
ML: I’m gearing up for outdoor season, we just left Boulder for a little altitude training. From here, we have headed to Seattle for 2 weeks and then will be back home to Bend.
Connect with Mel and her team:
Snap Chat: runlittlewing