© Copyright – 2010 – Athletics Illustrated

Stanford University alumna, Malindi Elmore, from Kelowna, British Columbia, grew up active and very involved in many sports. Early on her primary game was soccer, however, she went on to win three provincial (BC) championships in the 1500m distance and was the top-ranked Canadian junior in the 800m and 1500m distances from 1996 through 1998. Meanwhile she became inspired to commit to running, at that time, from watching fellow British Columbian Leah Pells race in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.

Elmore, 2009 Canadian 10,000m Champion, recently won the Vancouver Sun Run 10k in her first attempt at the event. She ran a personal best 10k time of 33:06, despite a rather cavalier start.

Personal bests:

800 Metres       2:02.69
1500 Metres     4:02.64
One Mile          4:30.70
3000 Metres     8:51.90
5000 Metres     15:12.12
10k road          33:06

The Interview

Christopher Kelsall: You grew up in Kelowna, yes? Was there a good opportunity to play a variety of sports there as a child?

Malindi Elmore: I did indeed grow up in Kelowna and after five years at Stanford and six years in Calgary, I am thrilled to have recently moved back “home”.  It is an amazing place to live with tons of outdoor activity. I am in the perfect place for my post-running career as we are in a bit of a triathlon mecca; of course with Ironman Canada start line 45 min away and fantastic lake swimming and hilly riding out the door. I definitely played a ton of sports growing up – skiing downhill and cross-country since I was 3 or 4, 11 years of highly competitive soccer, tons of recreational sports including mountain biking, hiking, water skiing, field hockey, etc. I still manage to sneak in some good “cross training” through the year living here – it’s just such a great place to be an active person. But don’t tell everyone because at 100,000 people or so it is the perfect size city as it is!

CK: Your secret is safe with me. Do you do much in the way of cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in the winter?

ME: I love skate skiing. Sovereign Lake outside Silverstar (Silverstar Ski Resort) is one of the first to open every fall/winter and a fantastic place to ski. In fact they are opening this weekend again!

CK: What positions did you play in soccer?

ME: I played left defense. Sometimes I played left midfield, which I loved because it involved lots of running.

CK: Does your dominant foot happen to be the left?

ME: …my dominant hand too…and my dominant hemisphere.

CK: Tropic of left. What music is on your iPod right now?

U2. Have been a U2 fan since Grade 8! They are always on my play list…right now it has some Coldplay, Oasis, Fiest, Snow Patrol, Arcade Fire, and Simon and Garfunkel.

CK: No matter how much music U2 puts out, they always seem to come up with a gem. Personally, I like some of their not so super-popular songs. Anyway, nice variety and of course Simon and Garfunkel are about as good as you are going to get – oh! and Graceland, do you listen to Paul’s Graceland much?

ME: Love it! An all time favourite.

CK: Every runner has a favourite beer, usually a quality choice – specific flavour. You will earn character points if you are a fan of a craft brewery beer, one that hits home with you – say after a long run.

ME: I like the local brewery stuff. Right now Tree Brewing Co’s, Thirsty Beaver Amber Ale tops my list. In Calgary it was the Big Rock’s Grasshopper was a favourite.

CK: Yes and Grasshopper is brilliant, likely their finest recipe. When you get a chance, try Vancouver Island Brewery’s Hermannator – best double bock beer in the world.

ME: I will put that on today’s list of things to do.

CK: You have a strong range of fairly equivalent looking personal bests across the middle distances. First thing that jumps out at me though is your two top-25 World Cross-Country Championship finishes. Where do those two world cross results rank personally against your Olympics and other track personal bests?

ME: I have always wanted to be a fast, well-rounded, athletic runner. I love running fast — i.e. as fast as I can over 400m and 800m, right to long 10km road races and really find enjoyment in the training and competition of all these event areas. I think that to be really strong at middle distances (1500m) you need a strong combination of the speed and endurance. That being said, I really love cross-country running as the focus is on competing and the natural elements, versus the specific nature of the track.

I have been really proud of my results in both my world cross-country races. In 2004, we finished third as a team and that was a huge moment for me in my sport career – we always think of running being so individual but we all approached the day as a “team event” and shared the medal finish as a team goal. It was fun to compete wearing a National team uniform and considering all the Canadians as teammates vs. competitors. (Wouldn’t it be great to have distance relays in major competitions?) My personal finishes in 2004 (22nd) and 2007 (19th) always gave me confidence that I can be good over long distances, and that I was competitive among the top middle distance and distance runners in the world. I remember about 2km into my race in 2004 and I looked at the pack I was running with – Shalane Flanagan, Emilie Mondor, Lauren Fleshman and Carmen Douma-Hussar and these were athletes that I really respected and thought were pretty amazing and I was so happy that I could run with them. In many ways, that particular race was a huge breakthrough for me in my confidence and goals to compete internationally.

It is sometimes tough to keep perspective on top 25 finishes, but when you consider the depth of the fields, it was really competitive. I was not a real true cross-country runner in University and only competed at NCAA Championships my fifth and final year. But at the time being top 25 meant you were “All-American” which was a big deal in the NCAA system. So I always thought about being top 25 as “All Global” or something like that! in terms of other track performances, I would say these performances are ones that I personally cherish but aren’t as quantifiable as track times and performances.

CK: How was attending and competing at Stanford for your long-term development as an athlete?

ME: Stanford was a real mixed bag for me. I think I appreciate more what it did for me as an athlete in hindsight than in real time. I was injured frequently and really struggled to find my balance. At the time I really thought of myself as 800/1500m runner and found the emphasis on strength/aerobic conditioning challenging and at times frustrating – I just wanted to do fast stuff and not do long hard tempo runs! We had so many strong athletes that it made practice always tough, even recovery runs at the time were really tough for me. Making the traveling team for Conference and Nationals, etc was also hard and created a bit of stress, although it forced us to work hard and not take anything for granted. However, I now think that a lot of my post-collegiate success can be attributed to the aerobic base that I developed over the years at Stanford. I really learned a lot at Stanford (besides academics!) and I incorporate many of the strategies and lessons into my training today. The workouts I really struggled with back then are now some of my favourites and I actually ask to have them included in my training program!  I also learned a lot from my teammates and coaches – we had an atmosphere that demanded excellence and we had some amazing role models on the team that I feel grateful to been around. Being part of the Stanford era in the 1996-2003 period was a really special experience and was, although challenging and tough, very rewarding and magical.

CK: I notice that there are two very strong arguments for and against the hot topic of the day: The new Athletics Canada carding standards, what do you think of the new requirements?

ME: I applaud AC for introducing a carding system, which better supports developing athletes, particularly as athletes make the transition from collegiate to post-collegiate success. I have seen many talented young athletes not continue in athletics because the gap at 21 to carding and international success seems too hard and they no longer have support from school, parents, etc, and this is where the development cards will help athletes with potential continue with training and competing. I think that while philosophically I support the intention, I do have some concerns with how soft the carding standards are for very young athletes and how hard they are for older athletes. I do not want to see a system, which discourages and prevents athletes who actually are at or very near world-class performances because suddenly they are 28 and considered “old”. Particularly in the longer events, success often comes with age and it seems to be a system that may give up too early on athletes. In general, I have some real concerns with recent Athletics Canada directions and policies, including carding, team selection, apparent bias against long distance running, self funding World XC teams but not even allowing athletes to go, etc. While I realize their are major funding constraints and a desire/urgent need to produce medal performances, I do not think the general direction of the sport is good for the overall membership and sustainability of the sport.

CK: In regards to the apparent bias against distance running, did you see the Alex Gardiner reaction to Simon Bairu’s new Canadian 10, 000m record? Did you have the same reaction as others did about how he referred to Canada as more of a sprinting and throwing country?

ME: I actually thought that comment explained the whole new philosophy that AC seems to be following. I remember a comment another individual made in the organization along the lines of ‘ we are never going to win medals in long distance events so why bother ‘ to which of course I found to be a loaded comment on so many levels. If you look at our history in the middle distance / distance events we have undoubtedly been at least more successful overall than in our throwing program. And of course we have had outstanding sprint success with the 4x100m in 1996, Donovan (Bailey), the amazing current hurdling women, etc but to write off an entire event area and say we are not a middle distance and distance country is certainly offensive to the many outstanding athletes we have had in the 800m and up events – Angela Chalmers and Lynn Williams won major medals, Gary Reed (or is he a “sprinter”?), and so much depth in terms of recent (last 15 years) top 10 finishes at major Championships with Leah Pells, Kevin Sullivan, Graham Hood, Emilie Mondor, Carmen Douma, Courtney Babcock  on and on.  I think it may be the desire to focus on technical events but middle distance and distance athletes are not going anywhere – just look at the popularity of the event in clubs, universities, road race participation numbers, etc. I look at the success of many born and raised American athletes who are now winning medals at major events and, while we obviously lack the same depth due to population size, we have similar talent, resources and drive to compete on the global level. The men and women’s distance and middle distance program in the US continues to get deeper and more competitive and I do not see any reason why as Canadian’s we can’t proportionally have similar success internationally – of course, if you are constantly being reminded by the National team body that you aren’t good enough and are not going to succeed and do not deserve support (even moral!) then that is a message that becomes deeply ingrained in the psyche of current and aspiring athletes. I could go on at great lengths about this topic as I am quite passionate about it, but we will leave it at that for now!

CK: When you switched to focus on running from all the other sports and serious soccer, what attracted you to the sport – was there one specific defining moment?

ME: To be honest, I had a love / hate relationship with running at first. I loved running as fast as I could – even just down the street – but felt a ton of internal pressure to do well once I realized that I did have potential in the sport. My turning point was competing at Legions in 1996 in Sherbrooke (Quebec), which occurred at about the same time as the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. I won the 800, 1500 and our team won the Sprint Medley Relay and I was pretty hooked after that weekend. I came home from that trip and went to watch my sister compete at the BC Summer Games in Trail BC while being glued to the TV watching the Olympic Games. I was super inspired by Leah Pell’s 4th place finish and from that moment on decided I wanted to explore my potential in the sport as my ultimate dream would be to compete at the Olympics and have a Leah-type race where she ran an amazing race: so smart and patient, and with such a lethal last 150m to set a PB. I remember Leah telling me afterwards that she stood on the line prior to the gun being fired and thought “there is no where else I would rather be”. Now when I am nervous prior to a race I look around and feel so grateful that I have these opportunities to do something that I love and that despite the nerves, I am doing exactly what I want to be doing. Anyways, it was after that weekend that I started scaling back on my other sport commitments and starting exploring my opportunities as a runner – i.e. making junior national teams, planning to run at University, etc.

CK: Does that internal pressure propel you forward or have you developed a coping mechanism?

ME: I guess it would be a combination. Obviously if you are not nervous prior to a race that is an indication you do not care, and that is not an ideal situation either! But the over the years I think I have more or less learned how to deal with nerves in a positive manner.  As a younger runner I would get so nervous before a race that it was not doing me any favours – I landed in medical tents and the hospital a few times from “redlining” and I think nerves were contributing factors. Anyways, now I just try to keep it all in perspective – I train hard, love to race and compete, and while some nerves are healthy, running is ultimately about doing my best on the day so there’s no point in being so nervous that it brings me down. I think that overall I am good at running consistently at my fitness level and I rely on that as a way to give myself confidence that I will run as fast as I can on the day. There is however, no substitute for real confidence, when you just know things are going to click and you are ready to really run fast.

CK: I watched an interview with you and Hilary Stellingwerff where you two talked about a 60-page document that you had prepared to submit to Athletics Canada. Do you feel now that AC has acknowledged some of your suggestions and made steps in the direction you critiqued them on?

ME: In some ways, yes, the standards and qualification window for last year’s 2009 World Championships was more in line with what the IAAF and most other nations followed, although still not exactly the same. I would say my major concerns stem from the Sport Canada “Own the Podium” philosophy, which is so deeply ingrained now in Canadian sport culture that unless you win (or win a medal) then you should not bother with trying. It is a dangerous path to follow, and of course, we are so tied to government funding, so AC follows the money. But the majority of my friends and family members support sport funding beyond obsessing with medal counts. Of course I was as thrilled as any Canadian cheering on the athletes in Vancouver 2010 and our superb performance, but I care about performances beyond gold, silver and bronze and really cringe at all the obsessiveness with quantifying sport that way. Sport, sportsmanship, teamwork, personal best performances, goal setting, health, fitness, role models are all very important aspects of sport and they seem to be lost by focusing so exclusively on podium performances. I think Athletics Canada has some challenges organizing a sport as diverse, de-centralized, and as large as athletics, but there are many opportunities too and their current governing guidelines (carding, selection, National Training Centers, etc) could damage the sustainability of the sport.

CK: You wanted your own Leah-type race. You are almost there having competed in the Olympics already. Do you think chasing standards in the summer has effected your pursuit of that goal?

ME: A loaded question! I would say yes, not only for me but also for most of the Canadian athletes. If you look at our best performances through the recent years, very few Canadian MD/Distance athletes are having their best performances at the major Championships, and in personal conversations with many of these athletes, they would also point towards the physical and mental stress of “chasing standards” all spring and summer to qualify. This was particularly evident at the 2008 Olympics when we had so many standards and repeat performances necessary to qualify for the Games. What was required of Canadian athletes to qualify for the Olympics was not being achieved in the early part of the year by the eventual Olympic medalist; very few of the top performers in Beijing were running as fast in May and June as Canadians needed to in order to make the team. And for our athletes who did meet the rigorous qualifying standards, with the exception of Megan Metcalfe (who qualified as a rising star, so actually did not need to get all the A+/A standards) none ran seasonal or personal bests at the Olympics. I think Leah’s race in 1996 was brilliant because she ran a life-time best at the most important race of her life, and many factors made that possible, notwithstanding her own personal preparation, talent, focus and hard work. But I think that the overall AC system in the 1990s through early 2000s focused athletes on peaking at the Championships, rather than peaking in order to meet tough standards. The notion of “performance on demand” clearly does not work all year and goes against the whole notion of periodized micro/macro planning.

CK: So is the solution to relax standards a little, to allow athletes through the door to international competition, so they can peak later? If so, was this in your 60-page proposal?

ME: That would be the basic premise, and certainly what we, and the majority of coaches and athletes advocate. We looked at the top 16 in all the men’s and women’s events in the MD/Distance events and basically analyzed who did what leading up to the Olympic Games to try to figure out what trends the top athletes followed in the preparation for the Olympic Games. We found some very interesting trends that for us showed how much an athlete could improve over the course of a few months to be in peak condition at a Championship. In fact, many of top performers were not even competing in May/June, which was our most important period for qualifying since the qualifying period ended July 1st – 6 weeks prior to the Games.  I think even more than the standards, the reduced qualifying period is a major obstacle in many events and made peaking even more difficult due to lack of competitive opportunities.  Anyways, I hope the specific scenario of selection for 2008 is our past and I think that AC realized that the outcome of the Games was not as expected.  We shall see how the criteria for 2011 and 2012 evolves, but I hope that standards and qualifying periods will be designed for peaking at the Championships.

CK: You mentioned that you developed an aerobic base at Stanford. Did you avoid indoors to work on mileage or were you running larger steady volumes between the three seasons?

ME: My mileage was actually pretty low overall at Stanford (40 mpw about) for most of my time and I didn’t do double days or very long runs (usually 35-45 min) to try to manage injuries. That being said, I came from a high school program where I did 2-3 workouts a week on the track and then if I ran another 1-2 days for 30 min that was a BIG week, so it still was a step up to running 6 days a week.  So basically when I say I was developing aerobic base at Stanford it was in the form of the workouts, which were longer and harder than I was accustomed to. Of course now when I look back it doesn’t seem too hard because I can handle a much larger work load, but at the time it was a big step up from what I was doing in high school. So basically doing things like 4 mile tempo runs, and 1-2km repeats, and track workouts that involved (gasp) more than one lap at a time without a break was a bit of a change for me and took some adjusting. And keep in mind I had Lauren Fleshman (Thomas), Julia Stamps, Erin Sullivan (Lane), Sally Glynn (Hauser), Alicia Cragg (Shay), Sara Bei (Hall), to workout with who were the top girls out of high school in their respective years and most of the girls were pretty much aerobic animals who were very strong and made workouts quite challenging for my 800/1500m type self!  In terms of chasing mileage or volume, that has never really been a focus in my approach to training although I definitely run way more now than I did in University.

CK: It was good to see you finally get the opportunity to race the Vancouver Sun Run. I understand you ran a 3k road personal best.

ME: Well actually I thought it was 8:51 through 3000m but then people told me that the 3km marker was short so that explains the time. I knew the first mile or so was going to be fast but still when I looked at my watch at 2km – 6:02 and a mile 4:43 and 3000m 8:51, I was kind of like whoa time to settle a bit! And then at 4km two friends (men) passed me that I should not be in front of so I kind of laughed to myself. But honestly it was so great to finally do the Sun Run…I think in BC you are not a “real” runner until you do the Sun Run. And we could not have ordered a more glorious day – Vancouver at its finest. Bit of a shout out to the excellent organizing committee and sponsors for their efforts.

CK: How about the energy of the 50,000 almost caged runners waiting for the gun?

ME: I love road running for basically the reason you described above. I love the energy of participating with the mass of people. And I am always inspired that people are out trying to run personal bests, or win an age group, or finish a 10km, or walk, or run in someone’s honour. Road racing is also more about competing and less about exact time and splits and just about running hard against other people. That being said, yes, I would love to run a sub 33-minute 10km on the roads!

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