Runner of the Month

Melissa Wu - June 2020

Thank you Melissa for letting us highlight you - and please enjoy the benefits offered by Peak Recovery and Health Center!

At the 2011 Medical Center 6K, with Melissa's Immediate Care photo on the Immediate Care van
At the 2011 Medical Center 6K, with Melissa's Immediate Care photo on the Immediate Care van

I became a runner later in life (after college, med school, emergency medicine residency), having never participated in sports in the past except for throwing the football or basketball around with my brother. When I think back, I knew many runners throughout my life - - my Dad, brother, husband Tyler, friends in med school and residency - - but I was never tempted to join them since "I hated running". I describe below what made me start running, so won't go into that here but, since I had only been running for a few years before Tyler and I moved to NH in 2006, and we joined the Gate City Striders (our 1st time being part of a running club) as soon as we arrived here, I have spent the majority of my running career as a Strider, enjoying the camaraderie of running friends. I am mostly a happy mid-packer, but on a really good day, if the fast people don't show up, I can sometimes place in my age group or earn NHGP points for the team. I have run > 200 races, with distances ranging from 5K to marathon (including 56 half marathons - PR 1:46:47 and 4 marathons - PR 4:01:24). I was running my best times, with PRs in every distance in 2011-2013, until a diagnosis of breast cancer forced me to slow down. My GCS teammates recognized my efforts and honored me with the 2012 Leaps and Bounds and 2014 Bounceback running awards.

Running has improved my health and made me stronger, teaching me that I could challenge myself,

The 2013 Shamrock Marathon, meaningful because Tyler ran it with me, it was a PR, and was the last race I did before my breast cancer diagnosis
The 2013 Shamrock Marathon, meaningful because Tyler ran it with me, it was a PR, and was the last race I did before my breast cancer diagnosis

overcome adversity, and achieve goals that I previously thought impossible (e.g. running a marathon after only training 3 days a week, with max long run of 18 miles; finishing races despite various illnesses and injuries: Achilles tendinitis - Austin Half, huge foot blister - Smuttynose Marathon, plantar fasciitis - Hollis Fast 5K., bronchitis - Shamrock Marathon). I am certain that running gave me the mental and physical toughness to recover quickly from lumpectomy (back to running a race 1 wk post-op) and to have relatively few side effects from radiation and Tamoxifen. When I couldn't predict cancer-related things (test results, surgical outcome, reaction to treatments), running was one thing I could turn to that gave me a sense of control. Breast cancer made me face my own mortality, change my priorities, and vow to do more to give back and to live in the moment - - directly resulting in my decisions to join the Gate City Marathon committee as the medical tent lead (to combine my medical and running families) and to set a 50 state half marathon goal (as a great way to see the country, visit friends and family, make new running friends).

Running has also made me a better doctor for my patients with running and other sports-related injuries. On more than one occasion, I have helped a patient strategize a revised training schedule to accommodate illness or injury and still make it to the marathon starting line.

During the current pandemic, with so much uncertainty, I turned again to running as one thing I could control and started a run/walk at least a mile a day streak (bad knee won't let me do more than 2-3 days in a row of running) for as long as we need to be social distancing. I have been posting my daily runs on Facebook as a way to let friends and family, far and near, know I was doing okay and staying healthy. Some have told me that they look forward to my posts, offering some positivity in the midst of all the darkness, and motivating them to do daily runs with me. Now at Day #90 with no end to COVID-19 in sight, it appears that I may be continuing my social distancing posts for quite some time.

2015 Mill Cities bricks and trophy!
2015 Mill Cities bricks and trophy!

Why do you run?  (e.g. health, fitness, mental/stress relief, competition, etc)

I run for many reasons: to relieve work stress, to stay fit and healthy (I imagine exchanging air with each hard breath and getting rid of organisms that I'm exposed to at work), to have time to think (without music, phone), to process problems and come up with solutions, to set goals and put in the work to achieve them, to race (when I was faster and might earn points for the team, racing started to become kind of stressful and not as much fun; becoming a slower runner actually helped to make racing more enjoyable; when not so focused on times, I could pick races on tough, but beautiful, courses that I knew would not be fast).

How many miles do you run in an average week both during peak and off peak times?

15-30 miles, peak is fall-spring, when maintaining fitness to be able to run a half marathon per month. For many years, due to knee injury, I was doing 3 runs per week, short/middle/long, never 2 days in a row; but in recent years, due to better care of my knee, I have been able to run 4-5 days/week, 2-3 days in a row.

What is your next race?

Melissa with the Gate City Marathon medical tent team
Melissa with the Gate City Marathon medical tent team

Before COVID cancelled races, I had a schedule planned for the whole year, with a new goal of 20 races (including the NHGP series, a few NEGP races, and 6 half marathons - - 4 of which would've been states #34-37 in my 50 state quest). Since switching to virtual races, I have fully embraced the opportunity to challenge myself to do something new - - thanks to the GCS Virtual RTB Relay and 1st Social Distance Series and Charm City Run UniverSOLE races, I ran hard efforts on consecutive days and races on 6 consecutive weeks - - while raising money for good causes (Nashua Soup Kitchen and Baltimore Hunger Project). My next virtual races are the Nurses Are Heroes 5K (to support Nurses House, Inc COVID-19 Fund), Merrimack Sparkler 5K (to support Merrimack high school and middle school track and cross country programs), and Keep Your Distance 15K (to support Tulsa Community Food Bank). While I probably will not achieve my half marathons in states #35-37 this year, the silver lining of virtual racing is that I think I will be able to run my 20 races this year!

Do you follow any runners on social media?

Meb Keflezighi, Des Linden, Bill Rodgers

What has been your favorite club activity since you’ve joined?

Mill Cities Relay, as a participant (8 years, different teams, new friends, sometimes was one of the faster runners and sometimes the slowest, but have always enjoyed the support of the team, cheering and bringing out the best in each other). Gate City Marathon, as a volunteer (exciting to be part of organizing an inaugural race, paying attention to the details that only a runner organized race could do, pulling together and leading the medical tent team).

At the finish line of the 2011 Portland Marathon, with my Bill Rodger's autographed bib
At the finish line of the 2011 Portland Marathon, with my Bill Rodger's autographed bib

How do you motivate when you don't want to run?

It helps if I'm training for something and have a tight schedule so I have to do the run on that particular day/time. I also think how good it will feel when I'm done.

What advice do you have for new members of the club?

If you're like me and never were part of a sports team, it is such fun to wear the GCS singlet and feel like an athlete! Don't worry that you aren't fast enough, might come in last in a race, or don't want to race. You are faster, fitter, healthier than everyone else who isn't out there running. Our running club is such an amazing, positive, supportive family. You can join groups that run at different paces and will encourage you to get faster or will wait for you when you are having a bad day. No one will ever judge you or put you down if your running times are slower than you think they should be; they will just be happy that you are running with them.

What is your favorite race?

I can't pick just one! Any race coming back from illness or injury. My favorite races that I do almost every year: 1st Run Lowell, Merrimack Sparkler, Feaster Five in Andover, MA. My favorite half marathon(s): Sedona (for scenery, but I was sick, so didn't feel that great) and Shamrock in Virginia Beach (my1st half marathon in 2005, which I ran as the 2nd half of 2 person marathon relay, with Tyler running 1st half, allowing me to feel fast and be lead female for much of the race, until each pace group caught up with me). My favorite marathon: Portland, OR (my 2nd marathon, ran with bib signed by Bill Rodgers, much better prepared than my 1st marathon - when I had vowed I would "never do that again", felt great and ran negative splits, took 23 min off my 1st marathon finish time, felt good enough to go hiking the next day).

What is your funniest running or race related memory?

Funniest - Going to port-a-potty at Great Ocean Road Half Marathon (Australia) early in the morning, still really dark, heard someone outside the port-a-potty scratching at it and trying to get in (I couldn't tell if it was a person or a bear). Cutest - When the same family of a mom and 3 kids "adopted"me during the Jackson Hole Half, drove to different points along the course, saw me 3 times during the race, and lined up to high five me each time.

What is your favorite post-race food?

Mainly post long race - - medium rare rib-eye steak and a really good, strong, malty stout.

What foods work best for you pre-race?  What did you find didn't work for you?

Best - soy or almond pudding (not always easy to find while traveling, so soy yogurt or soymilk will work in a pinch), banana, cereal bar, Gatorade. Worst - anything dairy, eggs, pound cake.

Do you prefer to run in hot/humid or cold temperatures?

Cold, hands down! 40s-50s is perfect, but I like running in single digit down to sub-zero. Being Type A, I put together a table of temperatures and clothing to wear, helpful on 1st cold weather day of the season to remind me what to wear, so I don't over/underdress. Best advice for new runners for what to wear in cold weather (given to me by wise running friends) - Dress like it's 10 degrees warmer. You should feel cool when you start (if you feel perfect, you are overdressed).

Outside of running, do you cross train and how?

My cross training used to consist mainly of lifting weights a few times a week, but as I have learned from experiences with a variety of injuries (knee, hip, ankle, calf, Achilles, plantar), lifting weights is not enough to correct form and muscle imbalances. More recently, I have added online workouts, doing a lot of core work, squats, lunges, single leg strengthening, and some yoga.

What other hobbies do you have besides running?

I don't know if you would call this a hobby but, up until COVID, I enjoyed planning trips to different states to run half marathons. I liked finding hidden gems that included all the things Tyler and I enjoy - - great brew pubs, farm to table restaurants, breakfast spots, galleries, farmer's markets, hiking spots - - especially if they dispelled preconceived myths about that state.

What is your favorite flavor of gel/GU?

Instead of gels, I like Clif Bloks - favorite flavors are Mountain Berry and Ginger Ale.

Coming over a huge hill during the 2016 Sedona Half, stunning course!
Coming over a huge hill during the 2016 Sedona Half, stunning course!

What made you decide to start running?

Inspired by Tyler training for his 1st marathon and watching runners of all shapes, sizes, and running abilities when I was working in the Baltimore Marathon Medical Tent, I thought, "If they can run a marathon, I can start running," so in 2003 at age 37, I headed out the door and ran my 1st mile. It was terrible! Of course, it didn't help that it was June in sweltering, humid Baltimore. I stuck with it, but didn't really enjoy it. I learned to appreciate it more after I injured my left knee that winter while skiing and couldn't run for a few months. Although that knee injury has plagued me ever since, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise by always motivating me to work harder.

Do you listen to music while you run? If so, any favorite songs/artists?

I don't listen to music, because I want to be aware of things coming up behind me (cars, runners, cyclists), but I do sometimes sing songs in my head. Before my 1st marathon, I planned 26 songs, 1 for each mile associated with a different letter of the alphabet (either song title or artist - - X was a little difficult). When I get to a tough part of a race or run, I sometimes go back to some of those songs. My favorites: Def Leppard "Pour Some Sugar on Me", Journey "Don't Stop Believing", George Michael "Faith", Queen "We Will Rock You, We Are the Champions".

Do you like running in the rain?  In the snow?

I don't mind rain, but it can be tricky to dress correctly without overheating or freezing with temps in the 40s-50s. I love running in snow but footing can be tricky. IceSpikes are the best for running on packed snow/ice!

Favorite junk food? Seriously, the kind you don’t like to admit you eat.

Potato chips, pretty much any kind but especially kettle cooked, could eat a whole bag at one sitting. Also, I love warm, chocolate chip cookies and ice cream.

What is your most useful running accessory? Music player? Article of clothing? Etc?

Fuel Belt, FlipBelt, headband and winter hat with pony tail hole, and during social distancing, buff to cover nose/mouth.

Favorite porta-potty location that's saved your bacon?

I have used the port-a-potty near the soccer fields in Mine Falls Park during emergencies while running there.

How many pairs of running shoes do you currently own?

1 that I currently use, 1 new pair when the current pair wears out, 1 with IceSpikes for running on ice/snow, 2 old ones for working out at home, and a few to donate.