It’s been 16 years since Malindi Elmore last graced the cover of IMPACT. In 2005 she was one of the top track athletes of her generation with PBs in the 800, 1500 and 3000 metre distances, plus an Olympic appearance under her belt. No one would have predicted that this track champion would make a success of endurance running years later at the age of 39.
In January 2020 she ran the Houston Marathon not only setting a Canadian record but also making the Olympic qualifying standard. Her time of 2:24:50 was astounding in only her second marathon appearance. The stars aligned for her in what she describes as a ‘perfect day,’ apart from the windy, chilly conditions. “The execution of the race went perfectly, finding myself in the front pack in a great group. My splits were consistent and at 10 kilometres I knew I could run this pace forever – I knew I was going to have an amazing day,” she recalls. “It was cool to feel so comfortable. I just needed to get through the next 32 kilometres and had no doubt that I wouldn’t be able to do it.” The pack split with six kilometres to go, and two kilometres out Elmore’s track experience kicked into gear. “I said to myself you are a 1500 metre runner at heart, you really need to sprint over the next two kilometres.” And she did, catching the lead runner with 200 metres to go.
While the Olympic team won’t be officially announced until early July, the cards are on that Elmore will be heading to her second Olympics 17 years after her first. It was always her dream as a child to run in the Olympics. She loved sport from an early age – chasing soccer balls was a favourite – so running came naturally to her. She specialized in the 800 and 1500 metre distances setting records when she attended Stanford University – some of which still stand.
It was 2004 that became her banner year with personal bests in all three track distances including a 2:02:69 in the 800 m at the International Track Classic in Victoria. In the Canadian Championships, also in Victoria, she clinched her Olympic place by coming first in the 1500 m in 4:04:51. At the Athens Olympics she ran well but just missed the 1500 m semi-final by one spot.
The next few years had some highs and lows for Elmore. Not making the next two Olympics was particularly hard. “In 2008 I made the IAAF standards and had qualified for the Olympics but Canada decided not to send a full team. The situation has now changed which is great, and now if you have qualified Canada will send up to three people per event.”
She was also frustrated with the rampant, systemic doping in a number of other countries that was impacting everyone trying to make qualifying standards.
The pressure of trying to perform coupled with some recurring injuries made her think twice and she stepped back from track in 2012.
Elmore fondly looks back at her track years and cherishes the ‘amazing memories’ it gave her. “I had the opportunity to travel the world and race in amazing places and experience the excitement of racing in great stadiums. I had the ability to do what I love to do and chase my goals which I am grateful for.”
Married to two-time Olympian Graham Hood, Elmore had their first child Charlie in 2014. It was Hood who introduced her to the world of triathlons. He was a competitor and Elmore would accompany him to races, and before she knew it she was training and thoroughly enjoying her new sport. Hood signed her up for the Victoria 70.3 in 2015 and she came second overall behind Xterra champion Melanie McQuaid.
Realizing that she was actually ‘quite good at this’ she competed in her first Ironman in 2016 in Arizona coming third in 8:57:22. “I loved doing the Ironman distance. If I was still doing triathlons I would have moved up to Ironman. I think that set the stage for me to move to marathons, and realizing that I was an endurance athlete.”
“When you are a clean athlete trying to represent your country and seeing what is going on elsewhere it is heartbreaking when it doesn’t work out.”
Looking back she recalls that biking came naturally to her but the swimming was hard. “Swimming was never easy for me. I put the most effort into it over the years, worked with swim coaches and put hours into the pool. I improved but not for the amount of effort I put into it.” Which is one of the reasons that after her second Ironman in Texas she decided not to continue. “I had my second child in 2018 and found I couldn’t balance a newborn and a four-year-old with the training that was required. Ironman training is really a full-time job.”
The move to the marathon distance was a gradual one. Running with Hood one day she casually said that perhaps she should run a marathon. Hood needed no further prompting and wrote her a training program with a view to running the Houston Marathon in January 2019. “I hadn’t run a lot when I was doing triathlons as I was concentrating on biking and swimming and so I didn’t feel prepared or fit. But I kept chugging away and ran a half-marathon in San Diego in December 2018, a month out from the marathon.”
The course had a net downhill of 800 metres and even though she set a PB her legs felt ‘destroyed’ afterwards making her unable to walk properly for two weeks. Thinking they might have to re-visit her goals, her legs recovered and she came back stronger to her workouts.Setting herself a goal of 2:35 she ran 2:32:09. “I felt amazing and had so much fun doing it.”
Realizing that the Olympic standard of 2:29:30 was achievable she and Hood started to seriously consider the Olympic trials in Toronto the following October. This was something that wasn’t in her mind when she was training.
“We hadn’t gone into this with a high-performance mindset, it was a post-partum challenge so we knew there was a lot left on the table and another nine months of training, but we realized that it was a possibility and I could get back into this sport at a level I hadn’t imagined.”
Nine days before the Scotiabank Waterfront Toronto Marathon she pulled a hamstring. Bitterly disappointed, she decided not to run. It was a big blow particularly as all of her workouts had indicated she would have made the standard. But she recovered and didn’t suffer any significant loss of fitness enabling her to run in Houston again the following January – this time making that qualifying time.
When the 2020 Olympics were postponed she dialed back on her training and focused on the family at their home in Kelowna, B.C. Her training resumed in the summer building a base into the fall, and she is now motivated by the fact that the Olympics are only a few months away.
She is keeping sharp by running some races – in March she ran a 10 kilometre time trial in 33:01 followed by a half-marathon in 1:12:14.
Final selection for the Olympic Team will be made on July 2 but she will know if she has made the list on June 4. Dayna Pidhoresky has already been selected so there are two spots up for grabs. “I will be surprised if I am not on the team,” she says.
Although Elmore’s focus is on the Olympic Marathon she is looking to the future and has no plans to retire. At 41 she feels her marathon journey is just beginning. She wants to run some of the major’s such as New York and London and would like to qualify for the Paris Olympics in 2024. “I really feel I still have a lot to learn only having done just two marathons.” She feels she is capable of running a sub 2:20 and doesn’t feel age is a factor. “It’s not like a switch is flicked and one day you have passed your best before date – managing injuries and looking after your body is the key.” She attributes her fitness to the fact that she has taken breaks in her career and mixing in triathlon training has helped her build a strong aerobic foundation.
Coaching is also a large part of Elmore’s life – she is head coach of the UBC Okanagan cross country team in Kelowna and also coaches at her local track club as well as 25 athletes online. She enjoys working with youth and the positive energy they bring but likes the mix of working with all athletic levels.
With athletic parents it isn’t surprising that sons, Charlie now six and two-year-old Oliver, have shown an interest in running. “Charlie wants to be the fastest kid with the fastest shoes, open up Strava and get a Garmin to keep track of his runs,” Elmore says laughing. They do enjoy other sports and she would never pressure them into anything but “it would be interesting if I ended up coaching them,” she adds.
Elmore has made some tough decisions over the last few years. Her resilience in the sport she loves has seen her through some good times and hard times. In 2004 at the peak of her track career, she never envisaged she would become the endurance athlete she is now. In 2012 when she quit track she was thinking of a career in education not a change of sport.
“It’s hard to plan your future – you take your opportunities when you can and where your interests are,” she says. And that is exactly what she has done.
Personal Best Performances
- 800 m – 2:02.69, Victoria, B.C. 2004
- 1500 m – 4:02.64, Rome, Italy 2004
- 3000 m – 8:51.90, Roveretto, Italy 2006
- 5000 m – 15:12.12, Walnut, CA 2007
- 5 km road – 15:40, Carlsbad, CA 2007
- 10 km road – 32:44, Vancouver, B.C. 2019
- Half-marathon – 1:11.06, Winnipeg, MB 2019
- Marathon – 2:24:50, Houston, TX 2020
- 70.3 – 4:15, Calgary, AB 2016
- Ironman – 8:57, Tempe, AZ 2016
- 5-time All American, Stanford University and School Record Holder in 800 m and 1500 m, 2003
- Bronze Medalist, World University Games, 2003
- Bronze Medalist, World Cross Country Championships, Team Short Course, 2004
- Canadian National Championships Record Holder, 2004
- Canadian 1500 m Champion, 2004, 2009, 2010
- Canadian 10 km Road Race Champion, 2009; Vancouver Sun Run Champion, 2010; Canadian Half Marathon Champion, 2019
- 12-time Canadian National Medalist in Track and Field and Cross Country, 2003-2010
- Canadian Marathon Record Holder, 2020
- Olympic, Pan American Games and Commonwealth Games team member
Photos by Jon Adrian
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