Ron Marinucci - February, 2020 Column: Melissa Broyles (Part Two)
by Ron Marinucci, Feb. 5, 2020
As noted last month, Michigan runner Melissa Broyles had a late start with running and racing. But she quickly made up for lost time, becoming one of the state’s top female racers.
The 2011 Passion for Life 5K was a watershed for Broyles. “This race is the one that opened the doors to my competitive side and helped me discover that I could be a fast runner if I worked hard enough.” She said her brother, Ryan (See July and August columns), “noticed that I was actually enjoying this new-found running hobby.”
Ryan had begun working with his junior high school cross country coach, Nick Stration. Broyles recalled, “He told me Coach Stration was going to help me as well. I was nervous, yet excited.” Still a relative newcomer to racing, she knew very little about running coaches, training plans, or specific workouts. But the two guys convinced her to try her first marathon. She laughed, “I couldn’t imagine running 26.2 miles; the thought of anything over six or seven miles sounded crazy.”
Broyles, along with husband Jim, Ryan, and some other friends, entered and finished the 2011 Chicago Marathon. “My original goal was to ‘just finish’ and to say I ran a marathon.” But Chicago that year turned into another watershed. “It paved the way to becoming the runner I am today,” she admitted.
Stration worked with her during the 16 weeks of training. He became convinced she could not only finish the marathon, but could qualify for the Boston Marathon, too. She hushed, “We made it my secret goal to train for sub-3:40,” the Boston qualifying time for women in her age-group. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘I have to be nuts.’”
But her coach was right, very right. She blasted the qualifying time, finishing in 3:28! “But the greatest feeling was finding out that Jim and Ryan both qualified as well. Together we did it!”
“I was a marathoner! If anyone would have asked me a few years earlier if I could ever accomplish this on that day, I would have never dreamed it was possible.” Even more special, some of her friends also had qualified for Boston on that Chicago day. “We made jokes afterward about how we were ‘just hoping to finish……’” This started the friends to forming their informal running club, aptly named, The Sandbaggers. “We were ‘just hoping to finish,’ but crushed our goals.”
Broyles ran the 2013 Boston Marathon, the year of the terrorist attack. Jim and Ryan ran it, too, while she lowered her PR to 3:16. More significant to her, though, was the bombing and its aftermath. “Being so far from our young children and so close to the attack on Americans opened my eyes, thinking about our freedoms.” Actually, Jim, Ryan, and a few of their friends “were standing near the finish line at our family gathering area when the explosion went off. It was an unreal feeling, one difficult to explain to people who weren’t there. Instead of celebrating our PRs and finishing, we found ourselves unable to leave our hotel for security reasons.” She recalled “the tears” she had when calling family and friends back here in Michigan to say they were unharmed.
She returned to Boston twice after 2013. “The terrorist attack took away our celebration and therefore I needed to return.” In fact, the 2016 marathon was run in tough, very warm conditions. Temperatures were in the mid- and upper-70s. But she finished among the top ten Michigan women runners.
Broyles has finished a dozen marathons; her times in each qualified her for Boston. Stration continued to coach her for most of those. In November 2017, she set her current PR, breaking three hours for the first time (2:59:18) at the Indianapolis Monument Marathon. Adding Brendan Martin as a coach in 2018, she was the first masters woman finisher at the Wine Glass Marathon in Corning, New York.
In 2014, Broyles found a way to share her love of running and racing. For her local school district’s recreation program,Christi Gow recruited her to teach beginning running classes. For four years she “held two types of classes, ‘Run Mommy Run’ and ‘Fit2Run with Mel.’” Additionally, when several friends and family members began to ask her for advice, she decided to become certified as a running coach in 2015 through the Road Runners of America coaching program.
“I love helping those who are new to running, those who need encouragement and support,” she said with clear enthusiasm. “I enjoy helping them improve and become stronger and smarter runners.” She has provided her athletes with more than training plans with specific workouts to help attain their goals. She also offers “nutrition advice, cross training and stretching support, and access to physical therapy for the prevention of injuries.” Adding a personal touch, she arranges “coach-runner in-person meet-ups for long runs and other workouts.”
Among her athletes has been her younger sister, Crystal. “After seeing Ryan and me run together for several years, she decided to get into racing,” Big Sister explained. “Like me, she was never a runner in her younger years.” Crystal has since run a sub-two hour half marathon and finished her own marathon in Chicago in 2015.
Currently, Broyles has taken a step back from coaching due to responsibilities involved with expanded work opportunities and her growing family. Eagerly she added, “My ten-year old daughter Jillian has found a strong passion for running and is excited about cross country and track in middle school,” which she’ll start in the fall. Broyles stressed, though, that one of her top goals is to return to coaching.
When training for races, particularly half and full marathons, Broyles normally runs six days a week, averaging between 60 and 70 miles. “I like to take one day off a week to give my legs a rest and cross train. Proper recovery and rest is such an important key to successful racing and injury prevention.” Sometimes, though, during “peak marathon training, I may run ten or more days in a row to work on endurance.”
For speed, she “incorporates interval training and track workouts, as well as fartleks and tempo runs. And I love the long run. It’s a great feeling when I’m able to complete a strong 20-mile training run.” One of the most important pieces of advice she’s received from Ryan, Stration, and Martin “is to run easy on the days that are not scheduled workouts.” And, for at least one or two days each week, she leaves her watch at home or at least off, “letting go…and truly running on feel.”
Due to “my complex schedule of work, parent duties with two children who play travel soccer, and life in general,” she usually runs solo. So then, “I really do enjoy when I’m able to find a friend to run with.” When the opportunity arises she likes to run with her brother or members of the Sandbaggers. For group runs, she said, “The Sandbaggers usually meet up in one location, start a warm- up of a few miles together, and then someone takes off,” adding with a chuckle, “usually Ryan.”
From her friends in the Sandbaggers she finds “motivation, help in training, and fun.” She cited Tammy Novik, a leading female Michigan racer in her own right, for personal tips to tackle the three- hour barrier in the marathon. “The Sandbaggers,” she mused, “have some of the best memories and have pushed each other to get better.”
Broyles is eagerly anticipating 2020. She’s looking forward for a return to coaching. And she’s very excited that that her two children, Cullen too, “have discovered their own passion for running.” Although she’s already accomplished a lot in running and racing, she looks for “more to come. My journey still has many more miles and marathons to go.”