Prep phenom Marie (Mel) Lawrence was one of the nation's most highly recruited HS runners going into college (she was 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, and 5th in Foot Locker Nationals over her HS career). After a stellar first 18 months at the University of Washington (helping her team win XC NCAA's, running 9:40 in the steeple), Mel ran into an injury cycle that took her 6 years to escape. Mel, now 28, is still improving after PR'ing in 3 distances last year (5K, steeple, and 1500m) and capturing 5th place in a loaded steeple at USA's. Mel carries a quiet confidence and low-key demeanor, which paired with her unique bond with animals makes her an unlikely running ninja. Don't doubt it: Mel gets fierce in races! Mel's story is unique, in that she somehow found a way to hold on to her love of running through the years. We are excited to feature Mel in a new blog series: The Road to Fast, which we hope will be a resource for HS, college, and post-collegiate athletes who may be experiencing the extreme highs and lows that running can bring.
SL: Mel, you burst onto the prep running scene early. How did you get into running?
ML: I 100% got into running because of Collier. I was doing other sports/activities (dancing and diving), and once I got into middle school, where they had a cross country and track team, I joined the team. Collier was good at running and showing a lot of improvement, so I thought 'why not?' Seventh grade was an introduction to it all, but by the following year I was stopping all the other sports to focus on running.
SL: You had success so young. What was freshman year in HS like for you? How did running factor in to the rest of your social life?
ML: Freshman year was pretty normal for me. I was lucky to have my twin brother to go into high school with, and we also had Collier there who was a senior. When it came to running I pretty much just tried to do what she was doing...especially when it came to races. I had the classic rush to prom from a track race moments, but I never felt like running was this big factor when it came to my social life. I would go to practice when I was supposed to, and would hang out with my friends when I could. I never felt like running prevented me from doing that, I just tried to go to bed earlier than my friends.
I felt like I was improving each year because I was getting older and had another year of running in my legs every go around. I never felt like I had huge improvements year to year, but slow consistent improvements.
As a high schooler, Foot Locker was a really really cool experience. 11 was my four year score. I was 2, 2, 2, 5. I don't think I really thought about the pressure until my last year. I had been 2nd for 3 years in a row, and if I couldn't win I really wanted to just get 2nd. They did such a good job taking care of everyone, and made the experiences of the weekend very memorable. Everyone is always a little nervous to race of course, but it felt like there was more excitement around the weekend because it was so fun. All the other runners were always so nice as well, and I think as kids we were excited to meet other runners from different regions. I formed some lasting friendships during those weekends spent in San Diego
SL: How did your family treat your running success? Was there any weirdness associated with it?
ML:I think a great thing about my early success in running was that my parents knew nothing about running. They were happy if I was happy and would be encouraging if I was disappointed. My mom spent her weekends helping my coach drive us to various meets, and was always available to help. My dad was a little more involved in my recruiting process than I realized at the time, and he's the reason I ended up at Washington (which I am SO grateful for). Outside of those moments, they were pretty hands off and only supportive.
SL: What about your HS team and coach...how did they address your early running success? What was to communicated to you from your HS coach. Were there psychological aspects to early success that surprised you or that you can recognize now in retrospect?
ML: First, my high school coach is the best! His name is Bruce, and he's 85 now (he retired when I graduated high school) and he has always been a grandfather figure in my life. He coached me in middle school during the Club season and was already coaching Collier for high school and Club. I think he was excited to have me come out and join the Club team since Collier was already a good runner.
More than just being a good coach, looking back on it, he also taught us a lot about hard work and dedication, and about commitment. He wasn't lecturing us on those things, but I think you learn a lot of that during your early years of sports without even realizing it; and your early coaches are the ones to implement those. I think more than anything, he communicated the value of hard work and commitment.
SL: What advice do you have for families of early achievers in sports? Specifically, for running "phenoms"?
ML: Let your kid have fun. I see it more and more how serious sports are becoming at younger and younger ages. I think one of the reasons I still like running is because it was fun and my parents never put any pressure on me to do it. The first few years we didn't take it too seriously either.
There is so much time to get serious and get on the grind of heavy training, and I feel like it will result in early burnout if taken too seriously. Even if there are signs of being a phenom. Sports can be so pure and raw at a young age if you let them, and I think it's important to experience those moments in sports. Of course, all this being said, some kids excel when they get right into the serious nitty gritty of it all. But have fun with it first, please.
SL: Current training update: What are you doing now?
ML: Right now I'm grinding away at the fall training (Tempos, fartleks, hills...that sort of good stuff), which I like. I always feel like I come off this type of training feeling really strong. I'm running a Turkey Trot in San Jose on Thanksgiving morning, and just did a cross country race in Portland over the weekend to gear up for that.
I'm changing things up with my strength training this year, and one of my PTs (Jay Dicharry) is the brains behind that. Jay has been working on me for the last four years, and he has seen me come a long way in those four years. He knows exactly what and where my weaknesses are, and what problems I've had in the past. Jay is a really reaally smart guy, knows his stuff, and is a miracle worker. When looking at what I was going to do this season in the gym, it just seemed to make the most sense to have him work on that with me. We've started with some basic body movements and mobility to get my body ready for the main gym workouts, which I'll start in another few weeks.
SL: Thanks, Mel! We'll be cheering for you Thursday, and can't wait to talk more on your Road to Fast next month!