On a good day or a bad one, you will always find Melissa Ray running around Red Deer.
Her most recent race, titled Lost Soul, was an ultra marathon run of 100 kilometres in Lethbridge.
“It was really scenic. The first loop was 54 kilometers and the second loop was around 48 kilometers,” she said in a recent interview.
It was one of her good friends, who does ultra marathons, that encouraged Ray to do one.
And so the intense training began, with Ray going off to the mountains consistently, staying there for about three days at a time, running up and down the mountains. She also ran the Elk Valley race, which was 54 kms, running up and down three mountains.
“My legs were jello,” she said with a laugh about the 54 km run. “That set me up really well for Lost Souls. It was so hot – plus 31 degrees – running up the dusty traverses of Lethbridge.”
Her most recent run – Lost Soul – took Ray a total of 20 hours and 56 minutes.
“It was a pretty good run. My friend and I ran together for the first 80k and he told me riddles and we actually just chatted the whole time believe it or not. It actually made 80k fly by.”
Ray fortunately had the help and support from her family, with her fiance pacing her the last 14 kms, while her mom crewed her all night long, making sure she had food and water.
Now, Ray has her eyes on the horizon. Because she finished the race under 21 hours, she qualified to attend the Western State Finals in the United States, a 100-mile race.
“My Western States Finals race I probably won’t do it this coming year because I want to work up to it.”
And she doesn’t train lightly.
Ray runs a few days a week, doing a distance run, interval run and hill run. She also tries to do a long bike ride to Lacombe or Blackfalds, which averages a distance of 30 to 70 kms.
Ray’s journey into running began years ago when she started running to stay in shape for hockey.
Her and one of her good friends used to train together.
“He was an aspiring doctor and he actually passed away in 2012 and that was what made me try and run a half marathon, thinking of how we used to be running buddies.”
Ray later ended up running for the Red Deer College Cross Country Indoor Track team when she moved to Red Deer from Three Hills.
“And I kind of did cross country mainly because I was forced to do it because no one else really wanted to in my school and I was the only runner because I was from a small town,” she said.
What followed were half marathons, marathons and her most recent ultra marathon.
Ray now hopes to be a lifelong runner. Her goal is to go to Boston for a marathon in 2020.
On top of her full time job and running, Ray also works as a run coach for Lululemon, helping others.
“I started training people from all levels, from just starting out to people who competed at the same level as me that were actually people I competed against in other colleges and universities.”
Ray said one of her favourite parts of running is the sense of community.
“And I love inspiring others to not only become runners but make healthy choices for themselves. For example I’ve seen my sister-in-law lose 80 pounds in the last year from running and she’s now an avid runner and she doesn’t just do fitness for herself, she now involves her children.”