Interview #13 - Malindi Elmore

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Malindi Elmore interview by Steve Weiler, Wednesday, May 20th, 2020

Photo: Family time!

Steve Weiler: Hey Malindi, tell me something nice!

Malindi Elmore: I always have said that my priority in life is my kids – but the reality of two working parents, my running goals, and kids in activities, school, etc, we find our days and weeks fly by very quickly and as a consequence, we miss out on some opportunities to slow down and really live in slow motion. Like everyone across Canada, my family has had to make significant changes to our lives in the last few months. I am working on home learning for my older son and I can’t believe how fun it is to work with him and see what kind of learner he is because I actually see it day to day now. I see him learning to read and doing math and I am right now such an active part of this growth so it is so rewarding for both of us. I could honestly say my kids have never been happier and healthier – and it is such a joy for me to be part of this positive experience with them (despite the seriousness of the disease in many parts of the country and world). We spend an hour or two in the morning with focussed learning skills (reading, writing, math) and then the rest of the day outside exploring and playing. We have had the most amazing adventures – my 5 year old walked almost 12 km the other day for a geo-caching hike. We dusted off the old camera and took some nature shots last week and developed the photos. We have also been building a “secret hideout” in the woods which a bunch of kids in the neighbourhood add to when they pass by. We have had water fights and built amazing creative projects – we are doing stuff that we are normally too busy and tired to do in normal living. In so many ways it has me considering what life changes and priorities I need to make going forward to hold on to some of these positive changes. So as much as I look forward to racing again and life more “normal”, I will look back on this current time as a really nice time to re-connect to what truly matters most to me.

SW: It's nice to hear someone else think about it in that manner, i.e. adjusting priorities going forward, in a positive way. What are your earliest memories of Athletics?

Photo: Racing to bed!

ME: I actually remember Joan Benoit Samuelson winning the 1984 Olympics in LA as the first time the women's marathon was contested. I was 4 at the time so I don't remember a whole ton but it kind of sparked an initial interest in racing and after that I used to challenge my 2 year old sister to races all the time. My parents took full advantage of it and so we had nightly races to bed - I honed my competitiveness by trying to be first to bed every night! Haha - it worked well. I try that trick now too. When I was a bit older, we started having school races as part of the Canada Fitness testing in elementary school. I remember in grade 2 I beat everyone but one very tall boy in my grade. After the grade 2 "race", my teacher called my parents and told them that they had to come see me run because they had not seen a "girl" run so fast before. After that, I was very intent on being the fastest runner in the school, regardless of age or sex. I didn't want to have the conditions of "for a girl" or "for a 7 year old". I took all our school based races very seriously which led to eventually joining the local track club.

SW: Races to bed, now that's smart parenting! You touched on something I wanted to ask about: I've seen many articles that preface athletes such as yourself with age, gender, and parental qualifiers, which can at times take away from the focus on performance. How do we, as a sporting community, respect an individual's story while placing adequate emphasis on their performance, regardless of age/gender/etc.?

ME: I don’t worry too much about age-qualifiers, because I do think we should de-emphasize performance for younger athletes. There are too many variables that impact performance, especially when we talk pre-puberty. I believe we need to downplay the young phenom experiences of youth – it isn’t healthy for many of them to have the stress / pressure and in many cases is not long term sustainable. For example, I don’t really care how fast an 11 year old runs – in fact, quite the opposite; I would prefer to see them doing multi-sports and have a variety of interests at that age and would not take a fast running performance as indicator of future running success. In terms of the gender debate, that definitely gets me riled up because professional sport is so male-dominated - the men get the headlines, the front pages, etc - look at any major newspaper or sport channel and you hardly see any women's sports covered. Running is more equal opportunity than many sports, ie with equal prize money and recognition generally distributed, but there still is a bias towards what happens in the men’s sports. In media, the women’s stories often feel like the second paragraph story – what happens on the men’s race is more exciting. Ie when Miranda Carfrae won a 70.3 and so did her husband (intentionally written this way for irony) - the headlines said “Tim O’Donnell wins race, wife wins women’s race”. But – this is where we need to value performance for what it is and without the qualifiers. There have been extraordinary women’s races that are riveting and should be valued for their display of athleticism and competitiveness, regardless of the comparatively slower times against men. Also, most physiology studies are done on male subjects, so the science we get is produced through male subjects but applied to female athletes. I have been interested in this subject and Stacey Sims has a great book (Roar) with the byline that “women are not small men”. I recently did some physiology testing and it was really hard to find good comparative values for elite women – the values we use are derived from sub-elite or elite male subjects in most cases and therefore are not as applicable to my different female physiology. So again, we are trying to compare women to men – instead of being able to value and compare performances on their own.

Photo: Bei (Hall), Fleshman, and Elmore representing Stanford University

SW: The women to men comparison is incredibly common. I sometimes like to highlight this tendency by pointing out how we seldom (never?) hear announcers make the inverse comparison, ex. "look at him blow away the field, he could be the next Emilie Mondor!" (or perhaps they should say Malindi Elmore!)

You were part of a strong Stanford team; as you look back from some years later, what memories stand out the most from those years?

ME: Absolutely the friendships! I met the most incredible women - but didn't fully realize it at the time. I just know I loved them and had so much fun with them together. Now I see what they have continued to do with their lives and feel so privileged to have known them personally. My running years were a bit spotty, but I had huge opportunities for growth and development as a person - and also it was nice to get an education!

One of my best memories is running relay teams - Drake Relays, Penn Relays, indoor DMRs, cross country team. It showed me how important a team is to success.

SW: On a strong collegiate team, it can sometimes be a challenge to keep the athletes from racing each other and keep them focused towards the biggest goals. How did your coach(es) during those years help set you up for success, including qualifying for the 2004 Olympics?

ME: I was completely lost for a few years during my years at Stanford. I didn't make our top 10 travel team one year, had 4 stress fractures and definitely felt like I under-performed. What really saved me was a strong relationship with my club coach back at home - Mike Van Tighem helped me keep the big picture and helped me through some bad moments. He basically didn't let me give up my hopes and dreams and still believed in me when I didn't. When I graduated in 2003, I knew that Mike would be my coach again so I moved to Calgary to work with him and that was when we set our eyes on the Athens Olympics.

I think it is really important that NCAA athletes keep a connection to a home coach / club so that they can have an anchor and someone to help see the big picture. The NCAA system is not set up for big picture thinking.

SW: Can you please share some of the things you learned from triathlon training and how you’ve carried them into your current (3rd!) phase of elite competition.

Photo: Malindi Elmore (right) and Graham Hood

ME: I learned so much from triathlon and do not think I would have transitioned to the marathon without my years training and racing in the long distance races. I was able to build a solid aerobic base - something that was always my weakness in running comparatively as I ran low mileage. I realize how much you can actually do in a week if you aren't pounding and how effective cross training can be. I was barely running but biking and swimming alot and could still run a 34 min 10 km road race - so my pace wasn't dramatically impacted I could just go much longer at that threshold. It also put into context what is a big session - I would have been so intimidated by a marathon workout if I had not adjusted to 5 km of swim sets followed by a 3-4 hour bike ride with intervals. Suddenly, a marathon workouts seemed quite reasonable (coming from someone who hated running 90 min long runs as a track runner!). I also learned a lot about execution, patience and being a smart racer. I was used to fast races and decisions and often made moves too early in my track days - triathlon taught me the importance of being patient, engaged, calculated and consistent in training. I have done 2 Ironmans and 2 marathons and my half way splits in all 4 races are practically identical. I think I have learned how to mange effort and that comes from doing a lot of long efforts on the bike and pool. Finally, triathlon also helped me figure out a lot about nutrition and hydration which can be tricky moving up in the distance to marathoning. So yes - I am a big advocate of mixing things up and moving between sports because I think there is alot to be learned by exposing yourself to something new.

SW: Alright, sharpen up your mid-d speed, it’s time for the finishing kick! What is your favourite running route?

ME: Along the Rail Trail that goes from Oyama to Vernon BC (Kal Lake is stunning)

SW: Favourite race distance?

ME: 1500m, marathon and Ironman. Weird, I know. I can have 3 favourites, right ? LOL

Photo: Running on the Rail Trail by Kal Lake

SW: Yes, you've earned that option!

Complete the song lyrics! Please note, I’ve made the answers particularly friendly:
1. (Simon and Garfunkle) Hello darkness, my old
a) friend
b) nemesis
c) best friend!

ME: Friend! Haha.

SW: 2. (U2) You thought you'd found a
a) dog
b) friend
c) safe way to recreate dinosaurs and house them in an island theme park

ME: Friend

SW: 3. (Coldplay) When I need a
a) nap
b) beer
c) friend

ME: Friend...hmm, do I see a theme?

SW: And final question, what is the most valuable kind of ship?

ME: One that stays afloat

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