Coach Profiles

Chat with Melissa Rittenhouse


Coach Melissa Rittenhouse

Coach Melissa Rittenhouse is at Craftsbury for her second year of coaching in 2011. A three-time Olympic Trials marathon qualifier, she is shooting for her fourth appearance at the Trials next winter. She is an Assistant Professor in Dietetics at James Madison University. Melissa lives in Harrisonburg, VA and she is sponsored by Saucony.

1. Your long term goal is to stand on the start line of the Olympic Trials marathon on 14 January 2012 ready to run a strong and fast marathon. Can you talk about how you organize your training schedule with a goal that is so far out? How do you use interim races so that they advance your fitness forward all while knowing they are not your goal race? Can you talk about the mental strategies you've developed during your marathon career?

In order to prepare for the Trials I have been doing longer marathon pace runs, however that is changing. For the summer I am going to focus on speed work, doing more interval training. I will start training more specifically for the Trials in September by doing 4 weeks of base training and I will follow a 12 week plan. If I follow a schedule longer than that I usually get hurt or peak too soon. Each week of the training plan will include one speed workout, one tempo run, a long run and recovery runs.

I use interim races as pace or tempo runs usually. I think it is good practice to get into the racing environment and to practice details, like getting fluids just as if I were racing. When the targeted race day arrives, those skills are in place and I can concentrate on racing.

Mentally every race is different for me, depending on how many aches and pains I have or if I have had solid training and of course depending on how the weather and how everything plays out on that particular day. I don't get too worked up about anything. I just like to relax and do the best I can. I am pretty good about worrying about the things I can control and letting the other things go. During the marathon there will always be one or two rough patches but I like to just tell myself to keep going, it will pass and it generally does.

2. With the extensive mileage required for marathon training it can be challenging to do the work alone week after week. Are you a solitary trainer or do you work with a group? Benefits to each? Drawbacks?

I train a lot by myself but I like to do my tougher workouts, tempo runs and long runs with a group or at least one other person. Usually the mood is better. When I am happy and enjoying myself the training is much more effortless, which occurs more frequently when I have good company.

I train with the Ragged Mountain Racing team, which is in Charlottesville, VA. It is an Olympic Development team that was started two years ago. I really enjoy the group atmosphere. There are a wide range of personalities; everyone takes their training seriously but also likes to have a good time.

On my recovery and regular runs I usually run alone or with some local running friends. I'm sponsored by Saucony which provides me with great assistance so I have the time and the means to train.

3. As a nutritionist you know the drill of proper eating and fueling. What do you enjoy eating that you would consider a treat? What are your favorite things to eat?

I enjoy almost all food! As long as I am getting food every two to three hours I am pretty happy. I don't really have a favorite treat but I do like chocolate in any way, shape or form. Favorite foods? That's tough because I like everything but I really like pierogies and almost any kind of potato. One of my favorite dishes is shrimp scampi. I like any homemade food, the freshness can't be beat. Fresh tomatoes and strawberries are favorites, too.

4. Any runner who logs lots of miles (and many who don't) inevitably encounters injury setbacks. What have you learned about how to cope when you are sidelined to the pool or bike? What are your strategies for staying positive? What mistakes have you made that you have learned from?

I was never injured before the last 5 years so managing injuries is still new to me. I am just now able to tell when I should stop running, versus when it is okay to keep running. When I have to take time off, my second favorite activity, the one that will keep me sane from not running, is riding my road bike. I find that the fact I still get to be outdoors and moving pretty comparable. Swimming and pool running is another method I use. It maintains my cardiovascular system well, typically I will go swimming for 30 minutes and then I do some pool running. I can work on form and more specific running movements with the pool running. I was sidelined last year for three months and I was surprised how positive I stayed although it stinks when I can't run.

Coach Melissa Rittenhouse

I like to live a balanced life and I think that helps me keep a positive attitude. If all I had was running and no job or other responsibilities it would be harder to stay positive. However, even if I only trained full-time I would do the same thing I do now which is work on doing what I can to get better at that moment. I take each day as it comes and celebrate any little step in the right direction.

5. What mistakes do you see runners making and what would you advise to help a runner change?

The biggest mistake I see runners make is to start their runs too fast. I have seen many people run pretty close to their race pace for the first 15 minutes of their run then just shuffle home saying "the run started out well but then I got tired." If they would just ease into it the entire run would feel better and they would probably end up running faster without the ups and downs.

A second mistake I see runners make: they do the same routine every single day. I know some people that may run 45 minutes each day. That is all they do and it's often on the exact same route. If a runner wants to improve then changing up the types of workouts on their schedule is key. Adding in a track workout or a fartlek or short tempo run would be a great way to go. Even just adding strides and drills can do a lot for a runner. Doing the same thing every day will leave a runner feeling stale.

6. Stretching. Do you do it? With what regularity and how much discipline?

Yes, I stretch all the time, before and after every run. Some days the stretching sessions are shorter than others but I get it done. I currently stretch for 10 - 15 minutes but I'd like to stretch for 30 minutes! It takes discipline but I've gotten the habit ingrained now and it's second nature. My latest strategy: I like to pick two days a week and on those two days I tell myself I am going to stretch for 30 minutes. So every Monday and Wednesday I do that and it has become part of my normal routine. It really doesn't take much extra time or effort especially if it's something I believe in.

7. When you were at Craftsbury last summer you logged a staggering 100 miles during our busy All-comers Week. How did you accomplish that?

Yes, last year I did run 100 miles! It wasn't hard because I had a schedule for the day and I could plan when was going to be a good time to get in a few extra miles. Typically I woke up early and ran for 30-60 minutes before meeting the group. Combined with what we were all running as part of camp, I would end up getting in about 10 miles or more every morning. A couple of days I did 30 minute runs in the evening after the other camp activities were over. I enjoyed running the dirt roads so I did the Lake Loop (7 miles) and the Ridge Loop (10 miles) a few times. Shorter runs included the Craftsbury Common Loop (5 miles), or trail runs. I didn't get too adventurous because it was my first time there and I didn't want to get lost!

8. Ice baths? Yes or no?

Yes, I think ice baths are important after hard workouts or races. I think it does help keep the soreness down. They are much easier in the summer than the winter though.

9. What do you love about running? Why are you a runner?

I love running because it is something I can do completely by myself, I can set my own goals and work toward achieving them. It is self-fulfilling because of that. I know if I work at it, I will improve. If I don't, I won't. I am in control of how I do for the most part. I can't control everything on race day but I can control how well prepared I am for the race which gives me confidence on race day because I know all the work I put in. I like the competitive side because it pushes me to try a little harder than I would otherwise and proves that I can do things I am not really sure I can.

I also just enjoy running and being outside. I usually come home feeling a lot better than before I left. I enjoy exploring new places and although I do not like rough trails where I have to really watch my footing I do like being in the woods or other peaceful environments where I can just take in the fresh air and scenery and forget about everything else. Sometimes on workdays though I do the opposite and plan out what I am going to do that day while on my run, so it helps me organize my day and lessens any stress I may have about how I am going to get everything done.

Running is part of me now. I just do it, I don't have to think twice about it, I wake up and I know I am going running.

10. Dispel three myths about nutrition.

"Don't eat after 8 pm."

Yes, it's best to eat your calories throughout the day to keep you fueled; but there is no rule saying you can't eat after 8pm and maintain weight. It is recommended that people do not eat the majority of their calories at the end of the day. That is known as "back loading" and people who do this tend to have a higher percentage of body fat. However, one must keep in mind it is all about a healthy balanced diet so a snack at 8pm is not the main problem when it comes to weight management.

"Low fat products are better for you."

While it is good to chose naturally lower fat options, many low fat packaged products have added sugar and salt so buying a low fat product may not be any better than the initial product. To keep fat consumption in control, focus on limiting foods high in saturated fat and focus more on the naturally low-fat foods. If you opt to have a high fat product be sure to follow the recommended serving sizes and try to get the majority of the fats from unsaturated fats.

"Dieting is the fastest way to lose weight."

Fad diets that typically eliminate whole food groups are not the best way to lose weight because they leave out important nutrients. Although people tend to lose a few pounds relatively quickly, these diets cannot be maintained or sustained and often people have a hard time adjusting back to a normal eating pattern and they gain the weight back quickly. Following a balanced diet and losing weight more gradually means they would get all the nutrients they need. They would then be able to maintain this lifestyle habit forever thereby allowing weight loss for a longer period of time and an easy transition into weight management and lifelong habits.

In addition, for a balanced lifestyle it is recommended to participate in 30-60 minutes of physical activity daily. See an exercise physiologist for a specific plan and always consult your doctor before beginning. Something as simple as walking is a good activity to start with and this has the lowest dropout rate of any other activity.