This week, I connected with David Melly. David, a former D1 Steeplechaser and current Chief of Staff to State Rep Carolyn Dykema, runs 100 mile weeks while working a full time job. He’s basically the social keystone of the running community in Boston, and he’s on a mission. He’s training to run an Olympic Trials Qualifying Time (2:19 or better) at the California International Marathon early this December.
With his training ramping up in the beginning of October, he’s looking down the barrel of some serious mileage. For the first time in his running career, he ran 100 miles in 7 days. Why? Because to run 2:19 in the marathon you need a lot of strength, and lots of miles build lots of strength. Achieving the mythical 100 mile week will take his running to a new level, but that much strain must be balanced with recovery.
David, how do your legs feel?
The legs are feelin’ [surprisingly] good. I tend to find that training fatigue usually hits me on a 3-5 day delay, so it might catch up to me, but as of this interview, I just finished my first 100-mile week this morning and I was very pleasantly surprised with how easy it felt.
And where does this OTQ goal come from? Tell me the story there.
When I was running in high school, I never thought I would continue into college. When I was running in college, I never thought I’d continue after. And yet here I am, four years out, and I’m still kicking.
This particular idea - or experiment, or foolhardy dream - came about last summer when I was coming off a very frustrating spring of racing, arguably the worst overall season of my career. I was pretty bummed out about running in general and for the first time since graduating, seriously contemplated “retirement.” I’d been seriously running for about 11 years at that point and, with a few small exceptions, I've been fortunate to have a pretty steady progression in times. But, my 2018 outdoor spring season was the first time since my freshman year of college I didn’t set a personal best in any distance.
So my coach and I decided it would be good to try something totally “new” - although, in some sense, distance running is distance running. I decided it would be fun to take a crack at the Olympic Trials standard - first through the half, although running under 64 minutes is a pretty tall order. [Note: Runners can qualify for the Olympic Trials in the marathon Marathon by running 64 minutes or faster in the half marathon] Over the last year, I’ve improved from 68:58 in my first half to 65:14 this past summer, but that 63:59 still felt too far away for me to consider it a smart goal.
So, we decided to go for the Full Hail Mary, and I just started building up to run my first marathon at the California International Marathon in December in hopes of running the trials standard - sub 2:19 - there.
When you’re doing this much mileage it seems like life just must be sleep run eat run repeat. What does balance look like in your life now that you’ve devoted so much time to your running?
Balance requires effort, and if there’s one major weakness I have, it’s overscheduling myself because I can’t say “no.” But, if you’re stressed and isolated all the time, you can be as dedicated to the minutiae of training as you want and you won’t be as successful as you would be as a happy runner.
On a practical level, I work roughly 9-5, work out a couple mornings a week, and usually do most of my easy running after work. I’m fortunate to have a relatively stable and predictable work schedule, which is critical for developing a successful routine. I’ve also come to terms with the reality that I’ll never fully be a morning running person - it’s a necessary evil for workouts and double days, but on the whole, I’m way happier when I’m not trying to force myself to do something my body and mind don’t ever want to do.
How do you stay sane knowing that a lot of your time has to be scripted around running?
Fortunately for me, running is almost always a social event. I’m a big believer in “positive peer pressure” so I try to make plans to run with friends and teammates as often as I can - even if that means working around work schedules and doing strange things like looping back to the Tracksmith Trackhouse every 2 miles so everyone can hit their preferred distance.
The miles go by a lot faster with good company, and particularly on days when you’re just grinding at work all day and going to bed after dinner, it can be super therapeutic to just hit the river with your pals and shoot the shit with the wind in your hair for an hour.
What are you doing to keep your body together?
I think the biggest part of my routine that’s changed as I’ve gotten a little older is that I do a lot more activation before runs - my glutes and hips (and recently, calves) need to be woken up before I take one step or I’ll end up tiring out or possibly injuring those muscles on something as simple as an easy run.
I’m a big believer in rolling - my implements of choice are the Recover foam roller ????and a good ol’ lacrosse ball. And, I get in Normatec pants whenever I have the chance.
One thing I’m always trying to be more consistent about is incorporating hip mobility into my daily or near-daily routine - I used to do hurdle drills 3 times a week in my steeplechase days, and now that I don’t have easy access to hurdles I need to prioritize hip mobility drills. My most common pains are in my hamstrings, piriformis, and IT bands and a lot of injury prevention in that department comes down to having strong and flexible hip muscles.
What does recovery look like when your averaging 14.3 miles per day?
For starters, taking easy days easy. If I hit a hard long run, I’ll usually average around 6 minute pace for 16-20 miles, but on a day-to-day basis I usually run around 7 minute pace, which is the same or slower pace to what I ran in high school. It’s important to listen to your body over the “numbers” of running, and that means not being afraid to take an easy day super slow if that’s what your legs are telling you they need.
After runs, I’ll try and spend at least 20 minutes doing rolling and prehab-type exercises. My roommate and I invested in a massage table last year that has more than paid for itself in our amateur apartment massages. It also pays to have roommates who don’t mind digging their palms into your butt muscles for the sake of recovery. And I try to sleep at least 8 hours a night… which is maybe the part of recovery I’m worst at.
If sounds like investing in recovery has come over time, was there one moment when you realized that you had to invest in recovery even more if you wanted to make this dream happen.
In the fall after I first graduated college, I had a wicked case of plantar fasciitis. And like the hubristic idiot I was, I insisted upon running through it despite the fact that I would be in pain for the first 30 minutes of every run and could barely walk after. It probably stuck with me for close to 3 months when I could’ve taken a week of rest and rehab and sorted it out properly. It was only when a friend told me about how his dad’s plantar rupturing ended his running career for good that I got properly scared into taking a few days off, cross training, sleeping in a Strassburg sock for weeks, and getting Graston therapy on the bottom of my foot, which is one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced. And all because I stubbornly thought I could “tough it out” when it first came up instead of just being smart and methodical with my injury treatment and prevention.
To totally change the subject, I heard once of Tommy Leonard [the founder of The Falmouth Road Race] that, “he could introduce you to everybody in the world and then everybody in the world would then know you.” You’re kindof like the modern day Tommy Leonard except fit and gay as opposed to an R dropping, Boston guy who never ran a step. You know everyone who’s ever run or thought about running. What’s your role in this hyper connected second running boom? Are you going to start a race?
Why start a race when I’ve already pulled the ultimate self-important-white-guy move and started a podcast!?
I like people, always have. When I plan a trip or an activity, who I’m with is way more important to me than where I’m going or what I’m doing. And I’m a big believer in anti-gatekeeping - it almost always costs you nothing to be open and inclusive, and it almost always benefits you in the long run. The awesome thing about living in Boston is there’s such a big running community and the awesome thing about the running community is it’s a “big small” world - there’s so many of us, but if you run into someone wearing a pair of 1-inch split shorts, no matter where you are in the world, there’s a solid chance you have at least one friend in common.
I think a lot of people who ran on teams in high school or college find themselves missing the feeling of having a squad around once they transition to the next phase of life. It’s surprisingly easy to recreate that feeling, you just have to put in a little concerted effort into old friends, new friends, and quality time.
I’ll end this answer with another quote from a great Bostonian - Jack Nicholson’s character in The Departed, who opens the film by saying, “I don’t want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me.”
This has been great, man. Thank you so much. How can the Recover readers and audience support you on this quest?
I have a podcast where I shoot the breeze with my running friends called Run Your Mouth. You can find my aforementioned hot takes on Instagram at @chaserofsteeples or on Twitter at @davidlikesyou, or you can just find me at pretty much any Boston-based running event. I’ll be there, probably with a beer and/or coffee in hand, probably talking the loudest and making a fool of myself.
Try out the Recovery App where david sources his prehab exercises here. You might even see him modeling a few of the exercises!
So to totally change the subject, your instagram stories have to have the highest rate of engagement of anyone in the running world. Full of takes, jokes, and insider behavior in a sport that you know as an amateur. Talk me through your passion.
I guess I have a penchant for being performatively annoying and stubborn enough not to stop!
But for real - I’m an opinionated guy and I’ve never shied away from attention. One of my big things with Instagram in particular is that people, especially runners, are incredibly self-serious about everything they post. Folks - we’re all just running in circles, not curing cancer. I complain to my friends about #sincerecontent - you know, those long-winded, humblebraggy posts about the #journey and the #grind and how great you are for doing the same thing everybody else in the running world is doing. I’m not above doing it myself from time to time, but at least I have the stones to self-identify as the hypocrite I am. So I try to be a little deliberately self-deprecating and silly, maybe even do a little loving ribbing in the comments of friends’ posts, just as a reminder to myself and everyone else that we don’t have to take ourselves so goddamned seriously all the time.
More than that, I just can’t help myself. I’m a confronter by nature and I can’t ever not address the unspoken. So I tend to sound off on things that are important to me or get me riled up, whether or not anyone wants to hear it.