Saturday Spotlight- Melanie Sweeney

Name: Melanie Sweeney
Age: 35
Hometown: Newton, Iowa
Current Town: Patchogue
Previous: Kew Gardens, Queens & Chicago, IL
Marital Status: Married to Tim
Children: Quentin, 4
Siblings: 1 brother, 1 sister, both younger
Pets: none currently
Occupation: Conflicts Department Manager at Paul, Weiss

“Is this heaven? No it’s Iowa” I grew up there amongst cornfields and the rolling hills that anyone who has ever participated in RAGBRAI will tell you do in fact exist! My hometown is known for being the former headquarters of Maytag Corporation and little else. Iowa is a place that I grew to have an appreciation for and have many fond memories of. Even though I moved away many moons ago, I am still a Hawkeye fan!

No one in my immediate family is a runner, but we were all born with a competitive edge. We would play baseball/softball and challenge each other to every type of race imaginable. Like most people with non-running parents or siblings, my first introduction to distance running was in school with the mile in Phys Ed. Being competitive, I took running the mile in gym class very seriously and tried to be the fastest. For the same reasons, I really loved the field days in school—sprinting and the long jump were my favorite events. I decided that going out for track would be really fun, so in middle school I ran a bit of everything (even the hurdles –THAT was short lived!)

In high school, I continued with track & softball (catcher, third base, & outfield). As a freshman, we would get our event assignments a few hours before a track meet. Did you get pegged for varsity? Are you anchoring the relay team? One day I was shocked to see my name up for the varsity 3000m the first event of the night. I didn’t mind running the 1500 because I could always school the mile thanks to my Phys Ed efforts. But this was double the distance, and I really only ran intervals in practice. I may have run the distance continuously maybe once or twice in my memory. To me that was a mountain of laps & I’m the type of person that loses track of my reps in the weight room! I think it was more my lack of complaining than my talent that I kept running it. I would often run the 3000, 800, & 1500 on meet days. My track coach also happened to be the cross country coach, so I was strongly encouraged to go out for XC the following fall in hopes that I would really improve.

My sophomore year I ran cross country and it quickly became my favorite sport, mainly because of the camaraderie and the sportsmanship that I experienced and witnessed from my teammates as well as the members on the opposing teams. I quickly realized runners are just good people! It was here in these early days that I learned running is the greatest life metaphor.

I wish I could tell you this was the moment I also discovered I was a running phenom, but the reality was I was decidedly average… with enthusiasm. I started to appreciate the longer runs, but still didn’t consider myself an endurance runner. When my softball coach would use running as a punishment, I no longer minded. She quickly realized alternative punishments were needed for weirdos like me that didn’t mind running. (There are definitely worst punishments than running people– try bear/crab crawling to the outfield fence and back?! UGH!) Anyway, this further cemented my love for cross country so I continued my efforts in college located on the north shore of Chicago. It was here my mileage increased a ton, and as a result I experienced my first significant injury. At 18, near the end of the season, a knee injury left me depressed and lost. In hindsight, I lacked a support system, and was probably a bit burnt out. I struggled with negativity, self-doubt and regrettably decided to leave my competitive ‘career’ behind me.

I became a casual runner, I would run alone without a watch or music or any device. I didn’t even track my mileage and it suddenly, for the first time in my life, running (for time) wasn’t as important to me. Admittedly, without the structure of practice and meets I struggled to self-motivate and wasn’t very consistent in my training. However, I was (and always will be) a fan of the sport, so I’d be lying if I wasn’t a bit envious when I heard about someone’s marathon accomplishment. It wasn’t until I moved from Chicago to New York (about a year after graduating from college) that I started training religiously in Forest Park, Queens (respectable hills there as well). I started to enjoy running again for myself. I wasn’t nearly as fast, and I skipped on track work (you shouldn’t do that– but I’m a “do as I say not as I do” type of runner). As I progressed, I decided to start training for my first half marathon. I convinced my fiancé to run the Hamptons half with me. He broke 2 hours, and I ran a 2:22. I remember being so frustrated and disappointed with that race. I knew I could do better.

A little thing called life happened. I got married, I got a new job, I moved to Long Island, I had my son, and then as I was trying to get back into shape running with my little guy in his BOB stroller, I decided that signing up for another half marathon would push me to become more consistent. Since then, I have run six more half marathons and my original PR still eludes me. But as I learned early in my running days “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.” I just need to show up and put in the effort. I know it will take time, there may be set backs, and of course there are no guarantees, but I am convinced I will eventually get there. The hills will help. It certainly doesn’t hurt that I am ever inspired by the many wonderful & dedicated runners of SHW! So, when you see my blonde ponytail out on the hills struggling or shuffling along middle road just know I’m on a mission…with enthusiasm.

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