Born to run: Melissa Gacek Dishes on Her Love for Marathons and Her Hope for a World Record

Melissa Gacek stretches before a daily run.

With a hearty dose of Minnesotan modesty, Melissa Gacek refuses to refer to herself as an elite runner. Having said that, she’s qualified twice for the Olympic trials and just this spring held a world-record pace through 12.5 miles of the 13.1 miles required for a world record on the treadmill half-marathon. If that’s not an elite runner, perhaps we define the word differently.

Gacek grew up in Kenosha, Wis., the eldest daughter in a family of four. “We did a school marathon in junior high and I remember wanting to see if I could run the entire time,” Gacek says. “I got a big kick out of being the only kid who ran laps around the parking lot for the full 30 minutes.” In high school she was “mediocre in the 100, better in the 400. During my senior year they put me in the 2-mile indoors and everything clicked.” She had found her calling as a distance runner as she qualified for state finals that year.

She came to the Twin Cities for college at the University of St. Thomas where she majored in journalism/advertising and minored in art history, which led her into a career in graphic design. She currently runs her own web design and marketing agency, Creative Adrenaline. She’s married to Jon Gacek and they have two daughters, Vivian and Ivy.

Given all her family and professional duties, you might wonder how she finds time for so much running. Gacek says she runs “before the crack of dawn” (5:30 a.m.) or after 9 p.m. If she’s reading books or watching TV, she’s running on the treadmill. “I think the running balances me,” she says. “It’s my quiet time, my therapy, my freedom. I think you just have to prioritize the things you want to accomplish. And everyone should exercise, so running for me is just like anyone else who goes to the gym, plays golf, bikes, or does a yoga class. Running helps with being a better mom, wife and creative person.”

For those of us who will likely never run a marathon, we may wonder what the training regimen is like. The answer? A lot of running. “Mostly Monday, Thursday and Friday are easy days, Sunday and Wednesday are long distance and medium-long, and Tuesday and Saturday are speed. One of my coach’s favorite workouts is the two-by-eight-mile at goal-race pace; it’s pretty tough. I’d rather race into shape, as we have such a great circuit of races in the Twin Cities.” (To get some idea of what “goal-race pace” might look like, Gacek’s fastest marathon is 2 hours and 44 minutes, which works out to a blistering 9.6 miles per hour; now imagine that pace for the time it takes to watch Lord of the Rings.)

Runners are a different breed, and Gacek epitomizes it. She’s run “400 or so” races in her career and 27 marathons as best she can figure, and hopes she can continue competing into her 90s. Her partnership with Oiselle (a maker of “feminine fierce” running apparel for women) benefits Healing for Haiti, a faith-based nonprofit started by her brother- and sister-in-law “dedicated to serving the poor, the vulnerable and the disadvantaged.”

Next on the docket for Gacek? Another crack at that indoor treadmill world record. “I’ve got a plan to seal the deal—probably locally, earlier in the morning, and maybe with a door open to outside.”