Interview with Melissa Gulli - February 2004

by Trackshark dot com

      Melissa Gulli is a 5 time NCAA All-American, finishing 2nd in the 5K in 
the 2001 NCAA Outdoor and the 2002 NCAA Indoor meets.  She gave birth to her 
and fellow All-American (2003 XC) fiance Andrew Cook's child Natalie in May of 
2003.  After receiving a medical redshirt for last spring, she is back to 
competition.  She and her fiance will be featured on "Sports on Sunday" on Fox
Sports Southwest at 9 PM CST on Sunday, February 22.

1. Coming into this year, you've mentioned that it's somewhat of a no-pressure 
situation.  Does that give you an advantage, where you're more able to have a 
nothing-to-lose attitude in races? 

      I feel that I do not have as much pressure on me this year because my 
coach and I do not know what to expect after having the baby and being out of 
competition for so long. I ran cross country in 2003, but I have not run track 
in 2 years so this year is a trial and error year. I guess I am at an advantage 
in that I feel like I am having more fun this year, but I still feel pressure 
to perform well and will always have high expectations for myself.

2. No pressure doesn't necessarily mean no expectations.  Do you have any 
specific goals for the season, and later on for outdoors and the summer? 

      My goals for the season are to qualify for the Olympic trials and to run 
well at nationals. I am fortunate to have a coach who always peaks me for big 
meets, so hopefully things will fall into place.

3. You continued to run through your pregnancy, which many doctors are now 
saying is much better than not.  Did you still receive any negative attention? 

      I ran through most of my pregnancy under my doctor’s approval and it made 
me feel better. I think I received a little bit of criticism for running cross 
nationals but overall the attention has been positive.

4. Was there ever any doubt about returning to competitive running? 

      Once I found out I was pregnant I just figured I would graduate and be 
done with collegiate running. When my coach asked me to stay and run the next 
year, I just laughed, but had a serious decision to make. If you are given a 
chance to do something that you love to do, why pass up the opportunity? We had 
our families' blessing, and I was able to take time off from school and stay 
home with Natalie. I did not want to look back in my life and think "What if I 
would have done this?" I was dealt a lot of difficult situations, and I feel 
that I have dealt with them all well. 

5. Have there been many unexpected additional challenges to coming back? 

      Getting back into shape was a lot harder then I was expecting. I was 
anemic in the fall and would have a good week and then a bad week, so overall I 
was frustrated. I also felt that people were already knocking me down before I 
even got started. I also now have the challenge everyday of taking care of my 
family so scheduling things can be difficult.

6. Does it help having a running fiance, or does it create more challenges?  
Sharing the same activities is always nice, but can it create schedule 
problems? 

      I love having a partner who enjoys the same activities I do and 
understands when I am tired. Andrew has helped me keep my head up and stay 
positive. Long distance running takes up a lot of time and energy so I was a 
little nervous of trying to figure out our schedules and just having time for 
ourselves. I thought it would be hard to go to school and practice without 
conflicting each one's schedule but it has worked out great. We have awesome 
friends and family who help us out all of the time plus we practice at 
different times. 

7. Do you think the increased responsibility has allowed you to take a 
different approach to running? 

      This might sound untruthful, but running is my second priority now and I 
have so much happiness occurring everyday in my life that I feel that I have 
become more laid back. I do not beat myself up if I take a day off. I can give 
myself a pat on the back and be proud of all of the things I am doing and that 
I never gave up. 

8. Many runners seem to lose their competitive edge after an extended break 
from racing.  You, on the other hand, won your first race back (Bayou Bengal 
3K) by over 30 seconds, and then placed 3rd, both qualifying automatically and 
setting an indoor PR in a loaded field at the PAC-10 Invite 5K.  What do you 
think has allowed you to maintain your ability to compete? 

      I will always be a competitive person, and I love the feeling when I 
accomplish a goal or push my body to its limits. I think running and staying in 
good shape allowed me to lose the weight fast and to keep my strength. Staying 
mentally tough is a huge component to be a successful runner and I never lost 
that. I have dealt with a lot of challenges through college and somehow I have 
come out on top with most situations.

9. Has your training load adjusted from years past?  What is a typical week of 
training like? 

      My sophomore and junior year I started running high mileage and did not 
see results until the end of my junior year. It was hard to run a lot of miles 
at first but I eventually adjusted. After having my baby I found it difficult 
to run a lot of mileage, so it was a gradual climb to where I was before I had 
my child. I have found that my body can handle a lot and now I am running high 
mileage and I feel great. A typical week of training is 2 hard workouts on the 
track and 1 off the track and a Sunday long run. I run about 80-85 miles a 
week. 

10. You've been the NCAA Runner-Up twice, and represented the USA at the 2001 
World University Games.  Does any one experience stand out as the most 
memorable, and why? 

       Nationals in 2001 stands out the most because that was a break out year 
for me and I did not think I would run that fast or get second. Oregon is so 
beautiful and I had a lot of friends come up for the trip so it was a memorable 
experience. Plus, I was ranked to get seventh or eighth, so it was nice to do 
well. 

11. Post-college opportunities for women seem to be expanding quite a bit.  
What does your ideal post-college situation look like?

        I would love to run after college because I think if I put my time, 
energy, and heart into running over the next few years that I have a legitimate 
shot at making an Olympic team. Also, I have to remember that I have a family 
now and I have to do what is best for all of us.