By Steve Virgen
5:07 PM PDT, April 5, 2013
Melissa Mead says she likes to run. She especially enjoys longer distances.
She thrives on long courses. It's as if she finds extra energy when the ground converts from pavement to grass, to dirt, to hills toward the finish line.
She's also no stranger to change and transformation away from running. There were dreams of being a star runner at Iona College in New York, where she received education for her initial desired interest to become a doctor.
But just as the road turns during those long distances, so did her life. There has been adversity and triumph, uncertainty and accomplishments, all leading to another goal and to where she is now.
Mead, 23, a former Newport Harbor High standout, is preparing for the Boston Marathon. It's a goal she's always had, especially after finishing up at UC Irvine in the spring of 2012. Boston will be her second marathon. She qualified for the prestigious race in her first marathon, the 2012 OC Marathon.
As a runner, she's learned to adapt to her surroundings, the course, the weather, the competition. It's hardly different from the challenges she faced after graduating from Newport Harbor in 2007.
She never got to compete for the Gaels at Iona. As an 18-year-old freshman she suffered a stress fracture in her right leg in September, before she could ever log one race for Iona.
"I was pretty distraught," said Mead, who now lives in Costa Mesa. "I was one of the top freshmen going in that got recruited that year. I was in the top seven [for Iona] and on the travel team. I was really bummed out because I was done for the season."
Mead also soon realized she was done with Iona. She missed Southern California and in 2008, she found a home at UCI. She said Vince O'Boyle, who coaches cross-country and track and field at UCI, took her in and really supported her desire to compete for the Anteaters.
Mead took pride in competing as an NCAA Division I runner and completing personal-best times each year in cross-country and track and field.
She had come a long way from her stress fracture that left her rehabilitating for a year. And a long way from Newport Harbor, where she first had aspirations to become a volleyball player.
There went that "change" thing again.
Back then she only competed in track to stay in shape for volleyball. But before her junior year, she decided to become a full-time runner and competed in cross-country. She helped lead the Sailors to back-to-back runner-up finishes at the State Meet in Division 2. In her senior year, she led Newport Harbor with her sixth-place finish in Division 2 and 17th overall placement at the state finale.
Mead was at home with the Sailors in Newport Beach, where she grew up. She attended Mariners Elementary and began to compete in track and field at Ensign Intermediate. Her younger sister, Katelyn, is a junior at Newport Harbor, where she is a runner. Mead's other younger sister, Coleen, is a junior who plays basketball at Penn State of Beaver County. Coleen also played at Newport Harbor.
Mead didn't feel at home at Iona. Even studying biology didn't feel right. At UCI, she switched her major to literary journalism.
Last year she was up for trying something new again when she set her sights on the OC Marathon. She said she signed up for the race just four weeks before it took place.
"It just felt right," Mead said of competing in the marathon that goes through Newport Beach and into Costa Mesa. "I showed up that day before the sun came up and I took the bus to the starting line. I just let it go. Let it rip."
Mead said she finished in 3 hours, 2 minutes and was not aware of the qualification time for her age group, which was 3:35.
"It was nuts," Mead said. "I finished fifth for the women. I hadn't run a road race in a while. I was kind of shocked. But I was really happy with it."
Mead later turned her attention to the Boston Marathon. These days it's all she thinks about, as she balances two jobs, training and some sort of a social life. She leaves for Boston with her mother, Margaret, next week.
She works part time as a barista at Starbucks and is also a social media coordinator for FutureSense, a consulting firm specializing in the areas of organization and management.
Through her balancing act, she has learned a great deal about time management.
She runs just about every day of the week, seven to 10 miles each day. On the weekends, the runs will be a bit longer, maybe 16-18 miles.
She does a lot stretching and recently she's added Bikram yoga to her training. The yoga, which requires performing exercises in heat over 100 degrees, has helped her, she said.
Mead does most of her training in solitude. She is not a part of a running club and does not have a coach. She doesn't mind at all to be by herself while training.
"I really enjoy it by myself," Mead said. "It's a time when I can be within my own thoughts. But I still get a lot done. I feel that it's productive, but it's also some time to myself."
Mead has also done research of the Boston Marathon course. She calls herself, "kind of a dork," for watching videos on YouTube of the course.
She just wants to be ready.
"I'm still in shock and I'm just really excited to be in the race," Mead said. "I'll see how I react that day [of the Boston Marathon]. I'm pretty competitive when that gun goes off, so we'll see."