Marathon Talk interview

22 December 2015, 12:12

If you’re a fan of podcasts and you’re not yet sick of hearing my weird transatlantic accent, then you should have a listen to my recent interview with Marathon Talk! I’m super excited to be included on the podcast, because it’s been a constant companion on my long runs for several years now. Martin and Tom interview Proper Athletes like Olympians and professionals, so I was over the moon that they wanted to talk to me!

My interview starts at 54 minutes 30 seconds in (just after the song) and we talk about the World Transplant Games, my bone marrow transplant and recovery, outlook on training, my bucket list marathon, how to get more women running, and how I have zero athletic prowess in my genes!

There’s lots of links in the show notes for this episode if you’ve been inspired to sign up for the bone marrow donor registry or to become an organ donor!

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Live Beyond podcast interview

11 December 2015, 20:29

Last year my friend and sometimes-running-partner Viv went off and ran across Europe. Like, from Poland to the tip of Spain.

Seriously!

She’s recently started a podcast where she interviews people who’ve done some extraordinary things and I was supremely flattered that she wanted to interview me! We talked about my recent successes in Argentina, my bone marrow transplant and recovery, as well as how my journey has changed my outlook about fitness and keeping things in perspective.

You can listen to the full episode above, but please do also visit LiveBeyond.co to listen to the other episodes, too, as I frankly think Emily, Sorrell, and Viv are more inspiring than I am!

And yes, I’m pretty sure my mother will agree that there isn’t an athletic gene in our family, but the stubbornness one is very strong!

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...and now World Record Holder, too!

7 September 2015, 22:03

In my last post I told you all about my first race of the World Transplant Games, but it’s been over a week now and I’ve been too busy relaxing and recuperating in Iguazu and Buenos Aires to tell you all about my final two days on the track – shame on me! The upside, however, is that I’ve got some great photos to share now that I’m home, though I’ve still not entirely mentally processed the results!

My four track events were nicely split up onto two days – the 1500m and 400m on Friday, and the 800m and 4×400m women’s relay on Saturday afternoon. Having had Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday to recover from the road race was also a good thing, especially since I’d tripped before the race and given myself a stiff and sore knee to contend with too.

Friday morning was uncharacteristically cold and windy down at the track, with everyone in the stands huddling under blankets and heavy coats. Since the forecast was warm, I didn’t bring my Team GB sweatshirt and only had my tracksuit over my running vest and shorts – James was freezing, too, so he went out in search of somewhere to buy a sweatshirt or two, and came back two hours later with some, plus gloves and scarves, too – by which point the sun had finally emerged and the Team GB sports therapy unit had already warmed up my muscles with a dolphin rub down, plus loosened up my knee nicely, ready to race. But the wind was still fierce, especially around the back straight, and while watching Ruth win gold in the ladies Race Walk, I watched in horror as a wheelie bin by the stands blew over! And that was in the sheltered side of the track!

So I wasn’t expecting much in the 1500m, but I hit the start line with the other ladies and immediately made a move for the lead and the inside lane. Truth be told, I was really on my own for the whole race, and ran it more like a time trial than the fun strategy game I had with my “nemesis” in Newcastle a few weeks earlier. And every time I ran the back straight and I ran into the wind, it was so tough it felt like I was running uphill, and I could feel my pace hit a brick wall. So by the time I crossed the finish line, I was so convinced that I ran a slow time that I went through the medal ceremony feeling pleased with my gold, but disappointed I didn’t get a good crack at the world record. That is, until about a half hour after the race, when I went to check the official times, noted it down in my “Times to Beat” file on my phone (into which I’d noted my times from the last two British Transplant Games, the winning time from the last World Transplant Games, and the World Record time). Even writing it down, the penny still hadn’t dropped – it wasn’t until someone else on the British team asked what my time was that I actually looked at the line above it in my file and saw that, at 5:36.41, I’d beaten the world record by 1 second!! And that was even with the fierce wind!!

800m podium

So having had my two best events out of the way and performed better than I had dreamed, I was feeling really relaxed going into the 400m later that afternoon. In the British Games, I run the 200m, but I’m really not as fast across the shorter distances, so I opted to drop it and go for higher quality performances at the World games, but this meant the 400m would now be my shortest, and therefore most brutally fast event. The gun went off, and I basically sprinted this, again dealing with the strong headwind around the back straight finishing first for another gold in 1:09.57 – taking a full 5 seconds off my PB from any of the British games, and only 1 second away from another World Record (damn you, wind!!).

I was initially annoyed that both of my events on the following day were in the late afternoon and only 30 minutes apart(!), but then I’d realised this would allow us to have the first lie-in of our entire trip. So we did just that, and took a taxi to the track from the Games hotel around lunchtime, giving me plenty of time to warm up – only it was hot and sunny and I had to put on sunscreen! I’d say it was the complete opposite to Friday’s weather, but no – that headwind around the back straight was still there, and so again, in the 800m, it was like I was running uphill both times I came around there. I was hoping to have a bit of an opportunity to race with some strategy, but the three other ladies in my age category all pulled out, so I was guaranteed a gold even if I walked it round which of course I’d never do – where’s the fun in that!? So instead I raced the 18-29 year olds, and came in first in 2:42.23, feeling like I’d properly earned it! The 800m is probably the distance I run most often in my track training sessions, and oftentimes I struggle to come in under 3 minutes in practice, so I was really pleased with my time, even if it was essentially just a time trial.

Handing the baton to Emma

I barely had time to collect my medal on the lonely podium before it was time to meet with my teammates for the women’s 4×400m relay – the last event of the day. We had some troubles fielding a team, what with Ruth away playing badminton doubles at the same time, and many of the sprinters unwilling to run a whole 400m, but eventually we pulled a team together… only to find out that none of the other countries did! So for the second time that afternoon, I found myself running unopposed. We tried to persuade the officials to let us “race” against the men, but were denied for some official reason, leaving us with the best view in the house to cheer the GB men on to an extremely close silver finish behind Iran, and then we hit the track all on our own. I persuaded the other ladies (all sprinters) to treat this as a celebration of all our hard work in training, competing, and recovery, as well as the lives we’d been given by our donors, and we did just that. When my turn came, I ran it at “party pace”, with a massive smile on my face, waving the baton to the crowds as they cheered me on. It truly was a victory lap, and the best possible way to complete my first World Transplant Games.

Team GB 4x400m relay team

If you’d like to hear my thoughts about both days of track racing at the end of the second day, you can listen to me speak below:

You can also listen to some of the other Team GB athlete’s stories here

So my total haul for the games was a remarkable six gold medals (four individual and two team), four World Championships, a World Record, and a World’s Best (there are no official world records for the road race due to changing terrain in each host city, but I ran the fastest recorded time of any woman in any year).

Final medal haul

And I got a bouquet of flowers with each gold, so I hope I made the hotel maid (and her mother, sister, friends…) smile, too. It was my first World Transplant Games, and one I’ll always remember – not just for the international friends I made, or the medals I won, or the wonderful people of Argentina, or my chance to finally wear the Team GB vest and represent my country, but because my mom traveled the whole way down from the States and finally got to see me race for the first time. Thanks, Mom.

World Transplant Games, Mar del Plata, Argentina, 23-30 August
5km Road Race, 19:04 – gold, World’s Best time, and team gold
1500m, 5:36.41 – gold and World Record
800m, 2:42.23 – gold
400m, 1:09.57 – gold
4×400m relay – team gold

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World Champion!!

26 August 2015, 22:15

It’s been a surreal few days down here in Argentina, but now that I’ve had a few days’ rest after my first event – the 5km road race – I can finally take a second to catch you up on my triumphant World Transplant Games debut!!

I was the first lady of any age category across the line in a new PB of 19:04, earning myself a gold medal, and to my surprise, helping the Team GB women to earn a team gold, too! So I won two gold medals for one race before 10am on the first day of competition!!

WTG 2015 5k photos

Team GB did amazingly well out of the road race – we earned 7 golds and 3 silvers across the various age categories, plus both the men’s and women’s team golds! The course itself was great – a simple out & back along the Mar del Plata seafront and the sun came out just before the turnaround point so I took the time in amoungst the speed effort to appreciate the sun on my back, waves crashing to my left, and the city in the distance. Epic stuff.

And then the podium experience was some next-level Olympic fantasy wish filfulment – big hefty medals, a kiss on the cheek from an Argentinian official, bouquet of flowers, and people wanting their photograph taken with me (the drone flying overhead getting race footage was an interesting first, too!). And making friends with athletes from all over the world – that was just a bonus.

I recorded the reaction of several of the Team GB runners directly after the race, which you can listen to below:

You can read a bit more about my story in my interview with Runner’s World, which came out two days later!

Or there are loads more personal stories to listen to going up on the Team GB channel throughout the week.

I’ve got another day of rest before the track events start on Friday with the 1500m and 400m, then on Saturday I have the 800m and 4×400m relay. So lots more to play for!!

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Trained and ready

18 August 2015, 16:31

I will be competing for Great Britain at the World Transplant Games in Argentina next week.

I’ll let that sink in for a minute, because I can hardly believe it myself. I received my Team GB selection email all the way back in August of last year, coincidentally on the same day I’d just run Berlin marathon and had my legs up a wall recovering. The first Team GB training was in November, and in January I started training in earnest for the Games, seeing my coach Barbara at Energy Lab once a fortnight for a brutal series of core and strength workouts that, quite frankly, left me sore for days afterwards in the beginning.

weight lifting

Then, as time progressed, and London marathon came and went, I stayed focused on this, my “A” race for the year. I saw loads of improvement, being able to do 10-20 reps of difficult moves like side planks with leg lifts, or jackknifes, when I’d struggled to do a handful at the start. We pared down my diet post-marathon training, too, aiming to get me as light as possible to gain a few seconds on the track. I’ve lost about 10kg in the past 3-4 months, and, in combination with the regular running and strength training, I could see distinct muscles I’d literally only seen in books before.

Energy Lab - roller plank

I became kinda fixated on this photo of myself doing a roller plank (where you start in a plank with your ankles on the roller, moving up into an inverted V with your toes on the roller), as I could see every single little muscle in my legs, arms and shoulders. Was that really me? I’m not really an athlete, I just play one on the internet, surely? I started to tell people just snippets of the Friday training session I’d had, like the time I’d done 100 squats… while balancing on a Bosu ball… while raising a weighted bar over my head. And just watched their mouths drop lower and lower while I kept quiet about the other 80% of that particular session.

Team GB shorts

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’ve worked hard. I’ve trained hard for big races before, but never quite to this length of time, or intensity over such a time period. Part of the reason is that track running and speed work really don’t come naturally for me – I’m a distance runner who prefers half- and full-marathons, suddenly faced with performing at an international level in the 400m. I mean, the farthest I’ll be racing in Argentina is the 5km road race, and I haven’t raced anything shorter than a 10km in over 10 years!

track training sprint

If you’re used to distance running, then you likely have a pretty efficient distance running form that will get you through an hour or more of running while using as little effort as possible. Or at least I did – but the past few weeks have been about teaching my legs and body to “un-learn” all those distance tricks and run instead in a way that’s better for speed but feels like I’m running slower, and less coordinated. But I push on, and have faith in my coach that the training will pay off and my body will remember these sessions when I’m toeing the line next week.

Running with the Union Jack

So the Games may be less than a week away, but I’m still hitting the track and trying to lose a second here and a second there in the few days I’ve got left. There’s always room for improvement, even after eight months of dedicated training.

If you’d like to keep up with my progress during the Games, I’ll be posting updates to my Twitter as well as recording audio updates to the Transplant Team GB channel on audioBoom whenever I get a bit of wifi. Or check back here, where new posts will appear below.

My race schedule is 5km road race on Monday 24 August, 1500m & 400m on Friday 28 August, and 800m (& 4×400m relay?) on Saturday 29 August.

I am Melissa Fehr, and I am on Team GB.

Melissa in Tea GB tracksuit

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An update from the track

23 June 2015, 17:06

The World Transplant Games in Argentina are only 60 days away (thanks to the countdown on the official site, I can freak out on a daily basis!), and my training is into the "serious phase". I've been doing a ton of core and strength training since January, and I'm definitely seeing gains now in my core strength - certain exercises I could barely do a few months ago I'm now able to sustain for several minutes, and combined with the strict training diet, I'm seeing defined muscle groups as well.

New track spikes
My new Nike Rival Zoom D spikes, yay!

But as you'd expect for a track meet, I'm doing a lot of work on the track, too! So as a follow-up to my Transplant Story on audioBoom, I recorded a training update from Mile End track the other week, heavy breathing and all!



I've also seen my lap times come down somewhat, but on the particular night I recorded the above, I found a 3min 800m frustratingly out of reach, no matter how hard I tried. But the following week, I was able to hit them no problem at all, and I couldn't quite figure out the reason, until a friend pointed out how hot and humid it had been on the 10x 800m night! A-ha! So let's hope that along with the cool weather in Mar del Plata, it'll be low humidity as well...

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Like the Wind - My Transplant story

1 May 2015, 10:59

I've been long overdue in posting about Like the Wind magazine, mostly because I wanted to take the time to do it justice. The only thing it has in common with other running magazines like Runners World is that they're both printed on paper, and that's about it.

Their motto is "It's not how to run, it's why we run", and that pretty much sums up what it's all about - each periodic issue is full of incredible, interesting, funny, inspirational, and wonderful stories. Some are written by famous names in the running world, and others are just by regular runners with a story to tell.

Like me.

With Like the Wind

After I taught a "Sew Your Own Leggings" class at their pop-up event last fall, I got to talking with one of the founders, Julie, who said I should write up my story and submit it for the next issue. I finally got around to putting mind to paper, then heard nothing further, until I got an invite for the 4th issue launch party in February, where my story was being published!

Like the Wind isn't just about the stories though - each article is accompanied by specially-commissioned art or photography, which really gives the whole magazine an amazingly rich and varied experience to just flick through (though in reality, it takes me months to read through an issue because I read it cover to cover and savour every article!).

My Like the Wind article

I didn't know it until I got my printed copy, but the artist chosen to illustrate mine was Leeds-based Mark Frudd, who captured my words utterly perfectly. The image of a turmoil-filled woman in the river as a lone runner crosses the bridge, well, it's a lot closer to reality than I often admit. The photo above doesn't do his artwork justice though, so click through here to see a better version of it. I felt like I won the illustrator lottery, as his artwork on the cover of Issue #2 is one of my favourite running images ever!

If you'd like to read the piece I wrote for Like the Wind, you can buy Issue #4 here. The cover price may seem more than you're used to, but there are no adverts, it's printed on high-quality, eco-friendly paper (which smells amazing), and the entire magazine is run as a non-profit, with any proceeds going to charity.

I've also been wanting to make my story even more accessible, as part of a project I'm starting in the lead up to the World Transplant Games, so I've recorded myself reading my Transplant story, which you can listen to below.


(And, by way of a bonus, you can hear my strange, trans-Atlantic, expat accent!)

With London marathon out of the way, I've got a handful of races in May and June, but my mind is firmly on the World Transplant Games, and re-visiting this article has really helped me to remember how far I've come.

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Armbands for Argentina

11 January 2015, 17:39

I had a bit of a stroke of genius just before Christmas, as my bag of lycra fabric scraps was literally overflowing – If I sewed up a bunch of Running armband pockets I could make some space in my sewing room and fundraise for the Argentina World Transplant Games at the same time!

So I took a few days over the holidays and went through my lycra scraps, cutting out as many armband pieces as I possibly could from my collection of wicking and high quality lycra fabrics. Each armband requires two pieces of fabric, so I got to play with different combinations for the armbands, too.

Armband pockets in progress

I then sat in my sewing room and sewed together as many as I possibly could, assembly-line style, so that you’ve got loads to choose from! I figure this is a win all around – you get a great, stretchy pocket that fits on your arm to hold your phone, keys, gels, or other small items, and I get some help in reaching my fundraising goal for the Games, too!

Armband pockets
So many to choose from!

I’ve reworked the pocket size a little bit from my free sewing pattern so the pocket itself is a bit taller – iPhone 4s and 5s easily fit inside, as do iPhone 6s and the Samsung Galaxy phones. There’s a little fold-over flap at the top which keeps the contents from sliding out, but is still easy enough to access while you’re on the move.

Armband pockets - with iPhone 5s
The pocket can hold most modern phones – seen here with an iPhone 5s partially inserted inside (it does fit!)

I wasn’t sure which arm size would be most popular, so I just based it off my own meaty biceps, making the majority of them size Small, but a few XXS and XL ones thrown in as well. I’m hoping I can tell from this first lot which sizes most people want!

Armband pockets - on my hand

I’ve worn mine on both my lower arm and upper arm during races as I find them to be super convenient for gel storage, but others love them for phone storage, too. There’s no excuse to still be still holding your phone in your hand, or even worse, down your sports bra!

Armbands being worn

How do you get one?
For convenience, I’m going to start by offering these at Run dem Crew and our workplaces so I can cut out the postage process altogether. If you’d like one, please bring £10 in cash and you can pick out whichever one you like, first come first served. If these sell well, I’ll make another batch later in the year! All proceeds go towards
my fundraising target for the World Transplant Games – the registered charity is Transplant Sport.

If you see one in the photo you absolutely must have (and I’ll be seeing you in person sometime soon) – drop me an email and you can reserve a particular one with an online donation instead.

Or if you’d like to help get me to the Games but have no need in an armband, you can alternatively sponsor me below!

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

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Get me to the Games!

20 October 2014, 12:37

I think I’ve accepted that I’ll never complete in the Olympic Games. Yes, I think I’m over that particular childhood dream.

But a portion of that dream is about to come true, because I’ve been selected to represent Great Britain in track & field at the World Transplant Games in Argentina next year!!

It still hasn’t quite sunk in yet that next August, I’ll be wearing “Great Britain” across my chest, running around the track on the other side of the world, competing for gold medals and glory, surrounded by other athletes who’s also been saved by life-saving transplants (like my bone marrow transplant 5 years ago). You may recall my performance at the British Transplant Games earlier this year, where I won four golds and a silver on the track, and I’ll be training hard to replicate that success in Argentina.

Melissa running the 1500m

The World Transplant Games are an officially sanctioned IOC event (so my comparison to the Olympic Games isn’t a folly!), with full Opening and Closing Ceremonies, medal podiums, and international competition. But unfortunately the levels of funding are nowhere near its big brother. So in order to actually compete, I need to fundraise to cover the cost of my flights, accommodation, entry fees, kit, coaching, food, and travel to the Team GB training days. This isn’t a holiday – any surplus funds will go towards the Transplant Sport UK Management Team (including physios and coaches) who give up their time to support the team.

If you want to get some goosebumps and see what Plata del Mar, Argentina actually looks like, have a look at the official teaser video for next year’s games:

It goes without saying that the World Transplant Games are my “A” race for 2015. I’m running London marathon again (with a GFA qualification so no fundraising necessary!), as well as the Cambridge half, but these are really just a big warmup for the Games.

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

Please help me get to the start line. I’ll do the rest.

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