30 Days of Women: Melissa Pizarro
Melissa was one of those unexpected finds, in the sense that I didnt find her at all.
My friend Sean was walking through the city and sparked up a conversation with this amazing woman and boom.
Just like that, we have a connection.
She started talking quickly about her upcoming run and he stopped her mid conversation.
Sent her in my direction and here we are.
Inspiration is all around us, just put down your phone for a moment and you can see it.
Where are you from and what do you do?
I'm from Chicago and I'm a corporate paralegal.
Where do you live?
As of today, I live in Jamestown, CO. My family (boyfriend, our daughter Emilia who is 18 months old and our 4yr old French Bulldog, Jacques) moved from Chicago to Colorado last Tuesday.
You were once 260 pounds, at what point did you decide to make a change and why?
I was 210lbs. InMarch 2010 I was laid off and I decided to take that time to take care of myself. I did some traveling, which exposed me to different things.
I went to Costa Rica for a month and did a week long surf camp with a friend. By that point I had already lost 20lbs. I was so out of shape, It took me 3 days to be able to stand up on the board and ride my first wave. I played sports (basketball, volleyball and softball) in high school, so I knew I was athletic. Taking 3 days to stand up made me extremely frustrated and mad with myself that I was limited by my weight and it was embarrassing.
Those feelings made me realize that I had to work on myself, not just physically but emotionally. I started by being kinder to myself, loving myself and most importantly forgive myself for gaining weight.
What was the most difficult thing about running in the beginning?
Feeling out of breath all the time and being uncomfortable in shorts. At times I felt like people were starring at me and thinking of look at that fat girl running, thats funny. I don't know, but I had those thoughts all the time. It took over a year before I felt comfortable to run in shorts. I don't remember the exact moment, but I remember it being very hot outside and thinking fuck it, I'm wearing shorts, it's way too hot!
How did drinking and smoking effect your weight gain/loss?
One casual drink, led to another, after a couple of drinks came the cigarattes which would lead to a late night which entailed fast food at 3am. Before I knew it, I was doing this 3-4 days out of the week, and this went on for a couple of years. I felt tired all the time and out of breath going up the stairs. I wasn't happy with this lifestyle and where it was taking me so I cut out alcohol for a bit and quit smoking cold turkey. This helped me focus on my nutrition by not having late night anymore and I had energy to work out.
What were the most unexpected health benefits that came from cutting out alcohol?
I didn't realize how much sugar I was consuming in my cocktails until I stopped drinking. By not drinking, I cut out hundreds of calories a week. After a couple of weeks, I noticed my energy level was higher and I didn't have headaches from the sugar crashes I previously had.
How has the running community pushed you? The ultra running community has been a huge part of my motivation/success. (an ultra is longer than 26.2 miles and typically Ultra groups focus on 50k and + races). The vibe in the ultra world is much more laid back and a community feel. People focus less on times, and more on experience and finishing. In May 2013, I ran Ice Age 50 miler in Wisconsin, this was my first 50 mile distance. (I had done a 50 miler the month before, but I broke it down over the span of 2 days as a training run, so the one in May was my first 50 straight miles). The time limit to finish this race was 12 hours and I finished with 6 minutes to spare. I remember approaching the finish line with tears in my eyes realizing that I was going to finish under the cutoff time and I was less than a 1/8 mile from accomplishing my goal. As I turned the last corner to the finish line, my running family was there at the end, cheering and waiting for me cross. Even as I'm typing this, I have tears in my eyes because that experience was so emotional. All these people(some of runners had finished hours before me yet they were still there), waiting for the last couple of runners to come through before the race ends, that vibe is pure of joy and love; people care and they are there for you, that's extremely humbling. Who has been someone influential within the community? I would say Alfredo Pedro, who lost his fight to ALS last year and Scott Kummer. I knew Scott from previously working on the same floor downtown in 2007. I met Alfredo at the gym early 2012 and I found out he was attempting his first 50 miler later that year. I had already been thinking about running a marathon, so I was immediately intrigued by him. It took months before I finally took up Alfredo on his offer to run together. He took me to a group run over the summer over 2012 and there I saw Scott. Alfredo and Scott knew each other from being in the same running group; what are the odds that I would run into Scott again? crazy. From that point we became the 3 amigos. We trained together and before I knew it I did my first 50k Oct 2012 and ran my first 100 miler June 2013. Alfredo and Scott believed in me so much that I never wanted to let them down. They also made me feel that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to and I did just that. In April 2014 I did my first 150 miler (getting 3rd female and 7th overall). Later that summer, we went to Leadville, Colorado for a 100 miler our friends were running (my boyfriend was also attempting that race). I was suppose to run it but found out I was pregnant and decided against running it. 2 days before the race, a couple of us climbed Hope Pass and on the climb up I told Alfredo I was pregnant and he told me he had ALS. The next year, I saw Alfredo becoming less like Alfredo and the decease taking him away from us. On November 8, 2015, I was out running with a friend and we received a call that Alfredo had passed away. http://trailrunnermag.com/people/news/1965-alfredo-pedro-chicago-runner-passes-away We all processed his death differently. I was devastated yet had to hold it together for my daughter Emilia. I think having Emilia in my life, helped me cope with Alfredo's death. I ran with Alfredo in my heart and ran to be a better role model for Emilia. In April 2016, I finished Potawatomi 200 in Pekin Illinois (1st place female and 3rd overall). Alfredo, Scott and I did many training runs on that course throughout our friendship. During that race, I thought a lot about us, the 3 amigos and how much I missed Alfredo. I would not be the runner I am now without Alfredo and Scott, they are family. How was your first marathon mentally compared to the last?
Mentally I was a mess and struggled. I was focused on the miles and had a hard time having fun. Last marathon, which was Milwaukee Oct 2, 2016, I hadn't really trained because I was focused on moving to Colorado. Physically I struggled after 14 miles but mentally had it together, so I was able to enjoy the race. What helps to get you in the right mindset?
I count to 30 and repeat until my mind is clear. Sometimes that takes minutes, other times I find myself doing this for hours during a race. Once I'm in that zone of peacefulness, I focus on my breathing and take it from there. When I struggle during a race, I go back to my counting, breathing and repeat this process.
What goes through your mind while running, whats you drive, that push that gets you past the finish line? Sometimes nothing, I am so relaxed and in the moment, that I am just exploring the trails; this tends to be my favorite, because I feel like a little kid and the trails are my playground. When I struggle, I rely on the mental strength training that I do (entails visualization, breathing and/or focusing). I use those tactics to focus on my goal and get me across the finish line. I think a lot about my family and how far I've come. You'vementioned having climbed mountains, what was the most challenging part about the climb? Training in Chicago, you don't have much of elevation, so you are basically training on flat terrain. Everything about the mountain is challenging, the up and the down. But the views are incredible that you forget about how uncomfortable you are.
After completing a run that no other woman ever has and only 3(correct me if i'm wrong) other people have finished, how do you look at all other challenges in your life? Potawatomi 200 in Pekin, IL has been held for 2 years so far. Last year 5 men finished and no women finishers. This year I was the first and only woman finisher along 4 men who also finished ( I finished 3rd overall). If I could do this, I can do anything. You go through so much physically, emotionally and mentally with these type of races. Finishing this race prepared me to take on the challenge of relocating to Colorado. My entire support system is in Chicago; my family, my best friend who is my sister, and all my close friends, they are all in Chicago. Moving away from that has been the hardest thing I have done to date. Do you feel your strength as a woman has given you an advantage to finish? Absolutely! I am completely empowered as a woman and see those strengths translate into long distance running. We go through struggles that most men aren't aware of just because of our gender. People say phrases like "oh that was pretty good for a girl" or "you throw like a girl" and it has a negative connotation. I'm giving "like a girl" a positive meaning. Women are standing strong all across the world and I want to do my part. I want to be a role model my daughter and women around me. My motto has been, anything he can do I can do as well. My boyfriend finished Potawatomi 200 in 2015 and I told him I was going to beat his time the following year. Although I did not beat his time the following year, I did finish and became the first female to finish that race. That is so empowering as a woman to be able to compete with men. More than anything, it is truly inspiring to see other women (and men for that matter) go after similar goals, because they saw that I finished and they could do it as well.
What is your next big goal?
My next big goal is a race next May in Goshen, Vermont called Infinitus 888k. It's a figure 8 course, the first part is 7 miles and climbs up one peak and the second part is 20 miles and climbs up Moosalamoo Mountain. You do this for about 20 loops and have 10 days to complete it. The race has been around for 2 years, only one person has completed it each year. No woman has completed this race and I hope to be the first. The race director Andy Weinberg is an individual who likes to push people to their limits and thinks of the toughest races to put on. I'm going to devote everything I have into my training to be finish this race.
When is it?
Whats your training schedule like, do you train with a team? While living in Chicago, I trained with my running group "Flatlander Ultrarunners in Chicagoland" I did most of my weekend miles by myself and on the weekends I would run with the group.
We do floater runs on Sunday, so we would schedule runs in different trails (either up in Wisconsin or Central Illinois) I've been in Colorado for less than a week, right now I am just exploring trails and will be designing my training schedule in the next week or so.