It’s a tremendous honor to feature a very special Oiselle teammate on the blog, Maria Elena Calle of Glen Allen, VA. I first “met” Maria Elena online (Twitter and later on Instagram) around the time I joined Oiselle in 2013, and have always loved following this vibrant and speedy runner. Through her words and pictures on the run, at work or at home with her husband and beautiful pup Eva, I have been so inspired by her attitude, hard work and results, especially as she has made the transition into her 40s.
Maria Elena and I finally met in real life this year at the Capital City Classic in Columbus, OH, where Maria Elena took 2nd overall female. The best part? She still had the time and energy to come meet up with me and the rest of the Volee at the awesome post-race party.
This spring, I was thrilled to see Maria Elena’s name added to the ranks of Oiselle’s Haute Volée (our elites). Even better? She’s not only now an elite sponsored by Oiselle and Skechers Performance, but also an OLYMPIAN, running for her home country of Ecuador! Get to know this amazing, friendly and accomplished runner before she runs in the Olympic Marathon on Sunday, August 14.
Maria Elena’s Early Years
Maria Elena is no newcomer to the sport of running, and has been running off and on since the age of nine. As a teenager, Maria Elena was the Ecuadorian national champion and had the opportunity to represent her country many times during the Bolivian, South-American, & World Championships. At 20, she packed up her bags and moved to New York City to pursue her dreams as a runner while also getting a degree.
During her first few years in the USA, Maria Elena lived with her sister while learning English, taking tests, and applying for college. Her hard work paid off: she accepted a full scholarship to attend Virginia Commonwealth University (1996-2001) where she was a six time All-American and still holds 7 school records!
Maria Elena reports that in the early 2000s, there was not many sponsorship opportunities or training groups, so she decided not to pursue a professional running career. Instead, she devoted her time to her career as an occupational therapist, travelled the world and spent time with friends. Maria Elena still enjoyed running for fun; once in a while, she would do workouts and sign up for races.
Return to Running
In 2008, Maria Elena had an epiphany: she owed it to herself to try this running thing one more time! She reduced her work hours to 32-36 hours a week, began training again with her college coach, and committed herself to a new lifestyle where running was her priority.
Yet, it wasn’t easy. From 2008 to 2014, she was hitting PRs in every distance and debuted in the full and half marathon, but was nonetheless plagued by injury. My takeaway from Maria Elena’s description of these years was that it had to be very, very draining on her. Surely it was an exhilarating rush to have those successes and debuts, but the stress of trying to get ready for those key races after significant injuries…that’s a rush of a very different sort. Maria Elena very astutely recognizes that it wasn’t just her going through this physical and emotional pain, but that it really hurt her loved ones to see her upset, sad, frustrated and sometimes hopeless.
The hardest part of this time period came for Maria Elena in 2012 at the age of 37. She dreamed of making the Olympic team that year, and was devastated when she didn't run a qualifying time. In hindsight, she now sees that this was not a realistic goal due to her injuries and inconsistent training during these years, but nonetheless, it was hard to see that Olympic dream fade away.
In January 2014, Maria Elena again found herself injured. This time, she strained her lower back and could barely lift her left leg. Her head was spinning and heart was sinking. She was again injured and without a coach, with everything telling her to quit. Yet there was a little voice that wouldn’t be quiet…it told her to keep trying, just one more time. Maria Elena reports that this voice isn’t new; it’s been with her since she started running as a little girl. So she listened to it, found a back specialist, hired Coach Ben Rosario and got to work in April of 2014.
Something clicked this time. While the first six weeks of training were ugly and everything hurt, she set the goal of making the Ecuadorian Olympic team. She ran Chicago that October in 2:43:26, and crossed the finish line with a heart full of hope (and an exhausted body!) She knew right then and there her Olympic dream was far from dead.
Under Coach Rosario’s leadership, Maria Elena lowered her half marathon PR to 1:15:31 (from 1:16:05 in 2010) and marathon to 2:42:16 (from 2:47 in 2012). This time, the injury gods have smiled upon her, and she hasn’t had a major injury beyond a bout of plantar fasciitis.
Maria Elena’s Approach to Goal Setting
Maria Elena is a dreamer by nature and thrives on setting goals for herself; mostly of a long-term nature. While injured in 2014, she wrote two BIG goals down: (1) to make the Ecuadorian Olympic team and (2) to run a marathon under 2:40:00. The possibility of reaching these goals keeps her motivated and moving forward. And the first one came true this summer!
Maria Elena’s laser focus on the “little things” and taking one day at a time is likely the reason for this major success. When she began her renewed focus on running, she used a daily spreadsheet where she wrote down everything she needed to do, such as specific workouts, foam rolling, stretching, pre-rehab exercises. She also wrote down everything she ate and drank to make sure she was fueling her body well. Once it became part of her daily routine, her to-do list became second nature and one day she realized she didn't need her spreadsheets anymore.
Goal Races, Mantras and Grocery Lists
I asked Maria Elena what was going through her mind when she raced a key race; whether she had a mantra she repeated to herself, any strategic thoughts…or her grocery list? (LOL) I loved her response “Grocery list?! I wish! Ha! I am still learning to race the marathon.”
She explained that the hardest thing as trying to keep herself from going faster than planned and to stay as calm and relaxed for as long as she can, staying in her zone. She sometimes tells herself “I am relaxed, I am happy.” For the last six miles, she usually takes it one mile at a time. If it starts to hurt, she tells herself that the pain will go away. And guess what? It does! There are miles where she doesn't feel so good, but then all of a sudden, she gets a second wind and her pain goes away, albeit temporarily!
Her Sponsors, Oiselle and Skechers
Maria Elena is a long-term Oiselle supporter and is proud to be a part of the team, first running on the Volée before she joined the #HauteSquad. She admires Oiselle’s love for running, their efforts to make the sport even better and the myriad ways they empower and support women.
After I insisted that she single out a few of her O faves (she loves the design and quality of everything!), she chose the stride short minis, the O-Snap top, and the spandos collection. Good choices! She also shared the story of almost losing a Oiselle favorite during some recent travel. One day, she wasn’t feeling well after a flight from Phoenix to Flagstaff, and just wanted to get off of the plane. A lady nearby tapped her shoulder and asked "are you forgetting this?" Maria Elena almost left behind her beloved holepunch lux sweatshirt, her absolute favorite piece for traveling! She declares it soft, warm, light and just perfect, and would have been very sad if she had lost it!
Maria Elena is also grateful for her association with Skechers, as they have been so supportive of and generous to her since she joined their team. While she was training in Flagstaff, one of Maria Elena’s friends let her try her Skechers out, gave her a pair, and also passed on the contact information of a Skechers company rep. Maria Elena ran in the shoes for a month to make sure they were the right fit for her, then contacted Cheyne with Skechers to report her love for the shoe. Now she’s part of the family, and her favorites are the Ultra Run, the GoMeb and the GoRun.
Becoming an Olympian; Heading to Rio
Maria Elena reports that the Olympic Ecuadorian team is chosen by time, and not an Olympic Trials process like the USA held in February of this year. As per Ecuadorian rules, an athlete had a window from January 1 to April 10, 2016 to meet the IAAF Olympic standard for the marathon (2:45:00) or improve their performances. Further, no athlete was allowed to compete in more than one marathon during that time. The three fastest times made the team, and Maria Elena’s 2:42:16 in Houston this January made the cut! What’s more: this is the first time in history Ecuador has sent a complete team of 3 women for the marathon! That Maria Elena is part of this history while her own Olympic dream is coming true is incredibly special.
The Olympics will mark Maria Elena’s third time in Brazil and second time in Rio. She loves the city’s people, food and amazing views. An added bonus is getting to speak Spanish while she is there, and while the Brazilians actually speak Portuguese, they somehow understand each other.
This time won’t allow for much sightseeing, though. Maria Elena didn’t plan on doing too much in the days before her race beyond relaxing and watching the Olympics from her bed or couch. After the race, she planned to have dinner with her husband, family, coach and maybe even Oiselle’s Dr. Lesko! Maria Elena’s desire is simply to celebrate her supporters and focus on them, which sounds like the making of a magical evening.
I will be watching and cheering on every step of Maria Elena’s marathon on Sunday. Head up, wings out Maria Elena…this dream has been years in the making and I hope you soak up every moment of the experience that you have worked so hard to achieve. XOXO!