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October 30, 2011

Malindi Elmore

Written by Dena Evans
Malindi_3Malindi Elmore has been one of Canada's top middle distance runners for more than a decade.  She enjoyed a successful junior career where she was the top-ranked under 20 1500m runner above the border for three straight years and competed on the world stage in the Junior World Cross Country Championships and Junior Pan-American Games. Malindi then springboarded to the pros from a Stanford career in which her last race was a school record in her favored distance. 

After medaling in the 2003 World University Games and and earning fourth at the 2003 Pan-Am Games, she successfully qualified for the 2004 Olympics in Athens with a win at the Canadian Olympic Trials.  After some ups and downs with injuries that left her tantalizingly close to Beijing qualification in 2008, she is rolling again toward London, recently earning bronze with a hectic sprint finish at the 2011 Pan-Am Games in Mexico. 

Read on to find out about this professional athlete to watch!

Coach: How did you get your start in running and racing as a young athlete?

ME: I always loved running, even before I was into organized racing.  My sister and I were always setting up races and even as a six year old kid I used to have my parents time me while I ran to the mailbox and back.  In elementary school I joined the cross country team - which of course was very casual and we only a couple races a year. In grade 8, my high school coach (and my current coach!) dropped by one of my field hockey games to invite me to join the high school cross country team; however, I found team sports more enjoyable so I decided only to race and to skip training.  By grade 9 I was more committed to running and realized that I might have to train if I wanted to improve and meet my goals.  It paid off that year when I won BC High School Cross Country Championships and set major track personal bests (4:26/2:09) and around that time I started to realize that I was probably better at running than at team sports so I started to focus a bit more on my running.  It was about at this age that I decided I wanted to run for Canada and be on the Olympic team one day. I still kept up other sports until I graduated high school, which I think it helped me keep a balance and make sure that I developed as a strong all around athlete.

Coach: In what ways is the Canadian youth / school system different than the US and how do you feel that helped your development?

ME: The Canadian system is much more "club" focused - while I competed for my high school in certain meets, I trained with a club coach and all the kids in the city irrespective of high school affiliation.  Our club coaches are trained through the Canadian Coaching Association, which offers certification at various levels of coaching depending on the sport and type of athlete (recreation, development, high performance etc). The Canadian system is focussed on the LTAD model (Long Term Athlete Development) which is a big picture approach to developing young athletes so that they do not train too hard too soon.  The LTAD puts emphasis on skill development and speed at an earlier age and is not as focussed on high mileage since the idea is that the aerobic capacity can be trained over years but speed is critical component of long term success in running.  The LTAD model also encourages younger athletes to participate in a variety of sports and events before specializing. As a high school athlete, I did not do significant mileage and focused more on quality track work; over the years I have been able to gradually increase my mileage and aerobic capacity while still keeping my basic high school speed - actually I think I was faster over 400m in high school! However with my aerobic training I can now run almost as fast as a flat 400m in high school as I can in my last lap of a race.

Coach: You have been an experienced competitor at a world class level for many years now.  What is your specific focus as you begin the training process for the 2012 Olympic year?

ME: My focus over the next ten months will be to remain healthy, motivated, and consistent as I train for the London 2012 Games.  Over the years I have learned that there are always ups and downs, but everything is shaping up to be a great year for me.  While I will probably run a few early season 5000m races, my goal will be to qualify for the 1500m at London and be a finalist at the Games. I really love the tactics and distance of the1500m and the fact that every race is different - I think I am addicted to figuring out how to "master" the race!  The 1500m is the ultimate game of strategy with a high level of fitness and speed.  I would also like to work a bit more on my speed this year, as with a finicky injury over the past few years (navicular bone in foot) I was not able to do as much 800m work as it hurt my foot. So, I am excited about getting a bit faster because the 1500m often ends up being a sprint finish.

Coach: At various times, you have worked in urban planning and related fields outside of your athletic experience while maintaining your pro athletic career.  Now you are involved with some community programming and other projects with a more direct tie to running.  How have those projects evolved and what are your goals as you get things off the ground?

ME: I love having a few projects on the go outside of running. If I only have running to focus on, I go a bit crazy. It is great to have a creative and intellectual outlet for the hours between workouts - and many of my best ideas come on my runs.  I have always been in school or worked part time in urban planning.  Lately I have been getting more involved in my local community running scene.  Since I do approximately 100% of my training on my own (my coach does not even live in my city!)  I crave running company!  And regardless of goals and abilities, runners are largely cut from the same cloth - we share a passion for being the sport and challenging ourselves.  I think we all crave "community" and a sense of belonging to something larger than oneself and that as something I really miss about not being on a team or in a training group so I am trying to create that at home through my clinics and seminars.  And as I have been so fortunate to learn from some of the world's experts in areas of sport science, nutrition, physiology etc, it is nice to be able to share some of my knowledge and experiences from the years with a wider audience.

Working with my local runners/triathletes has made me really excited about evolving into a coaching or leadership role after I am done my competitive running.  Ultimately I would love to host camps and to create more "high performance" environments for athletes of all abilities, regardless of their ultimate goals (ie. focus on personal bests and improvements).  My dream of dreams would be to buy nice big property and build a 25 metre pool, with a gym and facilities and yurts for glam-camping so we can train athletes for running and triathlon right from our home - I might need to win a lottery first but it would be so awesome!

Coach: Who have been some of your athletic role-models or individuals who have made a big impact on the trajectory of your career?

ME: My role model growing up was Leah Pells who was Canada's top 1500m runner for years. She inspired me to realize that small town Canadian girls can run with the best girls in the world.  She was always so supportive and encouraging to me through the years and was a great role model and "go to" for me.  It is crazy for me to realize that I have been on the circuit so long that I am now the "mature" runner on the Canadian scene!

The biggest impact on the trajectory of my career has been my coach, Mike Van Tighem, who has been a big part of my running since I joined the Kelowna Track and Field Club in 1993.  We have been so much together and so many ups and downs that we are now more of a partnership than just coach-athlete.  I always felt that an athlete should receive two medals - one for themselves and one for their coach because they put so much time, energy and passion into getting us to the podium - Mike is no exception and I am eternally grateful to what he has done to help me get to this point of my running career.

Coach: If you weren't a professional runner, how do you think you would channel all that energy?

ME: I think being an athlete is in my blood and I can't imagine not channeling my energy into a physical and competitive outlet.  I think I was destined to be an athlete in an endurance sport because as long as I can remember I have been addicted to racing and pushing myself in sports (cycling, skiing, skating).  Right now I am really excited about pursuing triathlon when I am done with my competitive track racing.  Obviously, it is a very different sport from 1500m racing but I have done two Olympic distance triathlons (won Amateur Nationals this year) so I am really excited to see what I can do if I actually train for swimming and cycling. I do, however, have a long way to go in swimming but I am looking forward to a new athletic challenge and one that hopefully will have a steep learning curve!

Coach: What are some of your top tips for recreational athletes just beginning to discover running as a pastime?

ME: I think developing a love of running is the most important part of being a runner. Sometimes this takes a bit of time to develop because running is hard and it can take a while until it feels natural, but it is worth pursuing.  Once you can get in tune to your own running rhythm, moving through space in such a basic and primitive way is exhilarating.   It is only you, your lungs and legs that propel you either fast or slow, up hills, down hills and through all the elements of the seasons.   I would encourage new runners to embrace the feeling - the pain and the challenge of running - as an opportunity to feel alive and in the moment.   Running can be social or it can be immensely private and I never feel as energized as when I am out exploring the world on my own two feet.  No matter how frustrated or high I am with my competitions, I always comes back to my love of running; I think this is what connects runners of all abilities and it would be my advice for new runners too!
Last modified on December 01, 2011
Dena Evans

Dena Evans

Dena Evans joined runcoach in July, 2008 and has a wide range of experience working with athletes of all stripes- from youth to veteran division competitors, novice to international caliber athletes.

From 1999-2005, she served on the Stanford Track & Field/ Cross Country staff. Dena earned NCAA Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year honors in 2003 as Stanford won the NCAA Division I Championship. She was named Pac-10 Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2003-04, and West Regional Coach of the Year in 2004.

From 2006-08, she worked with the Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative, helping to expand the after school fitness programs for elementary school aged girls to Mountain View, East Menlo Park, and Redwood City. She has also served both the Stanford Center on Ethics and the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession as a program coordinator.

Dena graduated from Stanford in 1996.

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