One on One with Melissa Gacek

We caught up with Melissa Gacek, elite runner, who is training to qualify for her 3rd Olympic Trials Marathon in 2016. Melissa tells us how she balances training with the other facets of her busy life. She is a member of Oiselle’s Elite Racing Team, a graphic and web designer, jewelry designer, singer, and mother of two. What you notice about Melissa right away is her enthusiasm, energy and dedication.

DSC07595 photo courtesy Nina Marie Studios

MWE: Many of our readers struggle with balancing their family life and careers and find it difficult fitting in a workout. How does a woman with 2 kids, with all the activities you are involved in, find enough time in the day to fit in the training that you do and are there any tips you can give to our readers?

Well, I love the saying, “if you want to get something done, give it to a busy person…” I feel having a balanced personal, work and athletic life, I am able to create better structure and discipline. I also believe that if something is important to you, you find a way to make it happen. Sometimes that means stopping work at 11 and doing my run, getting up at 5am, or waiting until 8pm, but I do what it takes. I like to set goals and accomplish them, and I also want to get the most out of my life.

MWE: How has being a member of Oiselle’s Professional Elite Racing Team since 2012 and a creative artist for Oiselle’s “Show Your Wings” necklace affected your life?

I have a united family of sister runners who I can socialize, race and interact with. I love the clothing, the story behind the brand and the evolution. The jewelry for me is a way to honor a memory of my talented sister in law, Alyn’s jewelry, who passed away from breast cancer, and gave me my own “PR wing necklace” before the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trial.

MWE: What does a typical training week involve for you?

I work with Mile to Marathon Ron Byland for designing my weekly schedules, but essentially it’s Wed/Sunday Long, med-long, Sat/Tues hard sessions, MTHF easy days, and I try to lift twice a week at Discover Strength. Since the marathon (Lakefront 2014) we’ve been doing base work, hills and speed so my mileage isn’t that high. I’ve also been doing PT/core work for my big toe that has hallux rigidus, meaning it doesn’t bend.

MWE: A lot of parents find it difficult to get their kids to eat healthy and stay active. How do you manage this with your kids?

We eat out at relatively healthy places frequently. I do my best to make good choices. Ivy’s pretty fussy at 3, but at least my kids love smoothies and basics like rice and beans and chicken. We don’t do much exotic cooking when the kids are involved.

MWE: What kind of nutrition plan do you follow?

I prefer “clean” foods (meaning unprocessed fresh fruits, veg, meat) when I can. I love egg whites/cheese, bananas, protein smoothies, rice, potatoes, Thai, Mexican which are great staples. I love the Skratch Labs cookbooks for athlete meal ideas.

MWE: Your husband’s support is obviously essential to your success. Describe your husband and how does he support you with your training?

Jon ran one marathon the year I was pregnant with Vivian. Other than that he’s more of a golfer/fisherman. He’s pretty flexible with letting me run, but I try to make it as easy on the family as possible, so I’ll run while kids are napping, at school, early am or late pm…my greatest tool is my home gym, the treadmill is right there so I can attend to kids if needed.

MWE: Like many runners there are days when we just don’t have it and we convince ourselves not to go for that run or workout at the gym. What do you do to keep yourself motivated?

It can be hard. But if I don’t feel it during the run I’ll cut it short and cross train or take a day off if work/family is busy. I see the big picture, and try and get quality runs in at the very least, and drop the easy runs in their place. I also know if I don’t train, I won’t hit my goals…so it’s up to me.

MWE: Many of us have had a bad race day or suffered an injury that kept us from doing what we enjoy. How have you coped in the past with a similar situation and how did you move past it?

You either win or you learn…right? Sometimes you win but you still might have learned something too. Like after Lakefront I finally decided it was time to deal with my big toe that wasn’t bending, figuring out a therapy plan for getting back mobility.

MWE: Is there a favorite local race of yours and why?

I love the Manitou 15K, low key and in my back yard. Gary Bjorklund ½ is always fun and half the pain.

MWE: What is your favorite pre- race meal?

Oatmeal, banana, coffee, and water and sports drink. If it’s a longer run, I use CarboPro products and Skratch labs sports drink.

MWE: Who has been your most positive role model in your life?

I really admire Meb Keflezighi, especially after Boston. Seeing someone keep pursuing their dreams into their late 30’s, he inspires me to keep going. Plus he’s genuinely so nice and has a family too.

MWE: Is there an athletic background in your family?

I had an aunt who was a runner, and my grandfather would always swim laps. I liked to swim laps when he did…my cousins on that side of the family are bike racers….so there must be something in our blood.

MWE: When you are not running, what one activity do you enjoy the most and why? (I know you probably can’t limit it to one)

I have taken back up watercolor or acrylic painting.

MWE: I saw on Twitter that you signed up for Lifetime’s Indoor Tri. How did you do and are you considering doing more triathlons in the future?

I took 3rd! I was so surprised, I well exceeded my goals for swim and biking and met my goal for the run, that was pretty cool. I’ll keep up the cross training a little, but I’ve got to stick with running if I want to run well.

MWE: As a two time Olympic Trials Marathon Qualifier is Rio 2016 in your future and if so what will be your biggest challenge in getting there?

I am training to make the Trials. That’s my Olympics. It’s going to take a big day, a strong, focused, determined mind, and very fit body to make it, but it’s in there.


Personal Bests
Half-Marathon 1:18:58
Full Marathon 2:44:10
10k 36:06
5k 17:25

Racing Highlights

Winner Lakefront Marathon 2014
Winner Red, White and Boom ½ Marathon 2014
2nd place, Tallahassee Marathon 2014
US Track and Field Athlete of the Year – Minnesota 2013
4th place USATF 5k Championship Minnesota 2013
1st place & Course Record Midsummer Mile 2013
49th place USA Half Marathon Championship 2013
Olympic Trials Marathon Qualifier 2008
8th place, Grandma’s Marathon 2007
1st place Wisconsin Marathon 2007
5th place, Houston Marathon 2004
Olympic Trials Marathon Qualifier 2004
2nd place, 10,000 Conference Champion 1998
2nd place, Regional Championship and Conference Championship 1996
All American for XC 1996

Two Minnesota Stars Added to Medtronic TC 1 Mile Field on May 14

Former University of Minnesota star Gabriele Grunewald and Winona native Garrett Heath have been added to the field for the Medtronic TC 1 Mile on May 14, when the race serves as the 2015 USATF 1 Mile Road Championships.

Grunewald, a Perham native who later ran for the Golden Gophers, is the 2014 USATF indoor 3000-meter champion and in 2012 narrowly missed making the U.S. Olympic team, finishing fourth in the Olympic Trials 1500m. Grunewald, who has thrived as a professional athlete despite a cancer diagnosis six years ago, is a member of Team USA Minnesota, the Twin Cities-based pro distance running training group. She sports a personal best 4:21.3 for the mile.

Heath, who was an 8-time All-American while competing for Stanford University, returns to the Medtronic TC 1 Mile after a runner-up finish in the 2013 event. In 2014, Heath won the USATF 1 Mile Road title and was the runner-up in the NYRR Fifth Avenue Mile. His mile personal best is 3:53.15. As strong, versatile runner, Heath has twice won the 4K event at Great Edinburgh Cross Country, both times defeating 2008 Olympic 1500m gold medalist Asbel Kiprop of Kenya.

A men’s and women’s combined prize purse of $25,000 awaits the professional fields at this year’s race. Race winners who better the existing event records will earn a $10,000 bonus in addition to the winner’s prize of $5,000. Sara Hall set the women’s event record of 4:30.8 in 2011; Nick Willis set the men’s standard in 2013 at 3:56.1.

The Medtronic TC 1 Mile, organized by Twin Cities In Motion, features an evening of races for runners of all ages and abilities. Action kicks off at 6:50 p.m. CDT and culminates with the USATF Championship races at 7:54 p.m. (women) and 8:06 p.m. (men). Online registration for the event is open at

Top 5 ways to survive a bonk

by Kris Swarthout

One of the biggest spoilers of a great long ride is a “bonk”. A bonk is the point when your body simply starts to run out of fuel. When the glucose levels in your blood serum drop below normal standards your body starts to react as a way of self-preservation. Bonking does not have to signal the end of your ride or your day, these tricks will help get you back in the game and back on your bike.

1. Learn to recognize the symptoms. If you know a bonk is starting to hit you, you can most times fight it off without stopping your ride. Common symptoms or signs that a bonk is knocking at your door are feeling extreme fatigue, hunger, dizziness, light headed or cramping.

2. After recognizing a bonk is starting, you need to first dial back your effort/speed/pace, then you need to get some fuel on board. If you insist on staying with the lead pack or holding your goal pace you will never be able to digest your energy and beat that bonk. The stomach needs blood to process food into energy and if all the blood is going to your legs, your food will simply sit in your stomach, slosh around and eventually come back out the same hole it went in.

3. The best way to refuel is to first get some high glycemic simple sugars in your body. Sports drinks, cola, candy or energy gels are perfect for this. Simple sugars burn like jet fuel in your body, hot and fast. If you planned ahead and packed these in your jersey pocket (yup that is what they are for), in your bento box or saddle bag, great! If you didn’t stop at a store or gas station and get something quick. If you’re at a race or organized ride, stop at the next aid station and load up.

4. Now it’s time to take in some complex carbohydrates to give you longer lasting energy. Energy bars with a 4-1 carbohydrate to protein ratio are perfect for this. A premade sandwich can also serve as a good source of sustaining energy. Avoid consistently taking in simple sugars. It will keep you fueled for a short time, but at some point your stomach will turn against you and fight back. Remember when you were a kid and you ate all your Halloween candy in one sitting? Do you remember what happened next? Yup, we don’t want that to happen again.

5. Don’t forget the water. Your body is made up of mostly water. Without it cramping and worse yet dehydration can set in which could spell the end of your day. Be sure at least half of your bottles are filled with water and always know how much you have left. Think ahead and refill when you can, running out can be fatal. The nice thing about water is you can always spray a little bit on your face to freshen up or cool down; you can’t do that with a sports drink.


Coach Kris has been a competitive presence in triathlons since 2001 completing six Ironman races. From 2004 to 2007 he was selected as a USAT All-American Honorable Mention athlete. Kris is currently the Midwest Regional Chairperson for USA Triathlon and is the head coach of the Minnesota Junior Elite Team. In 2010, 2012 and 2013 Kris was selected as the Official Team Coach for Team USA by USA Triathlon and accompanied Team USA to the ITU World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, Auckland, New Zealand and London, England. In 2013 he was also coach and manager for the Team USA short Course Duathlon team in Ottawa, Canada. Kris has coached athletes ranging from professional to first time amateurs. He strives to help people achieve the ultimate balance of family and sport in their lives.