Malindi Elmore rekindles Olympic dreams in third athletic career
Canadian marathoner, Mom of two, coach and a finely tuned running machine
Malindi Elmore is on her third athletic career, and it’s one that is taking her to the highest levels of international competition in a relatively short time period. During high school and university, she was a middle-distance runner and ran the 1,500 in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. Now, almost 17 years later, she is on track to run the Olympic marathon in Tokyo, Japan in 2021.
Last January, in Houston, Texas, Elmore ran her second career marathon. The mother of two and former professional triathlete, ran a smokin’ 2:24:50 breaking the Canadian record set just a few months earlier by Rachel Cliff.
It is an incredible story that began in a Kelowna high school where Elmore began to excel on the track and eventually punched her ticket to Stanford University where she was a five-time All-American track star and competed for Canada in numerous international events.
Upon her graduation in 2004, she competed at the Olympics and began a professional running career punctuated by a bronze medal at the 2011 Pan American Games. But by 2012, Elmore had burned out on the sport, which she says was rife with doping and she called it quits, went into coaching and started a family with her husband Graham Hood, himself a two-time Olympian.
Elmore is sponsored by Saucony
“It was disappointing, and crushing,” she says. “And I think from 2008 to 2012, I had more questions about what I was doing with my life in general, and was ready to move on in 2012. And so I retired.”
She went back to school and got a degree in education and began what she thought would be a lifelong teaching career.
But the competitive fires burn bright and deep with this one, and after trying out some triathlons following the birth of her first child, she kinda jumped in with both feet.
“I started getting into triathlon, and then ended up getting, you know, really passionate about it and wanted to see how far and how fast I could get at that sport,” she says. “And so I actually ended up doing about a three-year stint as a pro triathlete and raced a whole bunch of times over Ironman and half-Ironman distances.”
Although the teaching didn’t last too long, it did evolve into a coaching career, which she continues to this day at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan campus where she heads up the cross-country program.
Elmore retired, once again, this time from triathlon, upon the birth of her second child. But, you guessed it, that wouldn’t last too long.
“I just really picked up marathon running when my second child was a few months old, just as for the love of the sport, and to get outside and to have a break from parenting,” she says. “And then, again, I just got really quickly drawn back into the competitive arena, because I just can't help myself. These are not formal plans. These were just things that happened.”
And what happened was that Elmore decided upon the Houston Marathon, January 2019 to give the whole marathon thing a whirl. Her husband at her side, motivating her and opening her up to the possibilities of what she might be able to accomplish, and also minding a newborn who would be away from mommy for a few hours while she ran quite swiftly around the greater Houston area.
“It went well, I ran to 2:32 for my first marathon, which was a surprise. And it was, after I finished that race, that I realized that I had a shot at making the Olympic team again and that I had a lot of room for improvement in the sport.”
It’s not like it was completely out of the blue. We are talking about a lifelong athlete who had competed in the Olympic Games, been a professional athlete and had an idea of what she might be able to accomplish while she was training. But it took some time to convince her.
“The first few months of my training program for that race, I was really out of shape, because I just had a baby,” Elmore says. “It was about New Year's Eve of 2018, I did a run and I felt amazing. And that's when my husband, who is coaching me, after I did that run, we realized that my goal of just kind of doing a marathon needed to be a little bit more specific time-based.”
After her first Houston race, Elmore ramped up the training with an eye to the national championships and Olympic trials, which were being held in 2019 as part of the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. But, a nagging injury kept her out of the race, and it was time for Plan B and her second trip to Houston, last January.
In March 2019 fellow Canuck marathoner Rachel Cliff smashed the Canadian record in a time of 2:26:56 during a race in Japan.
Less than a year later, Elmore would break the Canadian record again, this time in 2:24:50.
In her third athletic career, after two kids, Elmore is now very likely to be heading to another Olympic Games to run the marathon in Tokyo in 2021.
She thinks it’s hilarious.
“When I finished Houston in 2019, Graham said to me, ‘I think you can make the Olympic team next year, I just thought that was the funniest thing that anyone could ever say,” Elmore says. “But he believed in me. And so he's usually right about these types of things. So I just decided to go along with it. But every time we talked about it, I thought it was just too funny. Like, this is like a dream come true that I didn't even know I had. I had let go of my athletic goals and dreams. When I retired, I wasn't harbouring some sort of regret. It was just, I moved on in life. And now, oh my gosh, I get a second chance.”
Now back training in Kelowna, managing life in the COVID-19 pandemic like we all are, Elmore says she’s feeling good about things. She's also benefitting from a new sponsorship courtesy of Saucony.
"We runners we do this, first and foremost, for the love of the sport," says Elmore. "So having a company that can help us out and help us with our training needs and with the product, you know, some financial support, it really does make a huge difference."
Elmore is confident she will be named to the Canadian Olympic team in May. Canada can name three women to compete, one of which is already the national champion Dayna Pidhoresky.
“The biggest thing will be if there are going to be race opportunities between now and the Olympics. And I'm really in a really grateful position that I had an opportunity to run my Olympic standard last year, so I don't need to worry about that,” she says. “But most athletes didn’t get that chance, you know, since the lockdown started in March. They didn't race last year. And so they don't have an Olympic standard achieved yet. I've qualified for the Olympics, I'm just waiting to be named to the team. So I'm in a really good spot that way.”
Currently, Elmore is logging between 135 and 145 kilometres a week over 10 or 11 training sessions. She’s looking forward to competing in Tokyo, which seems like it will happen, but she understands that it might be that she is there by herself, and it will be a very different experience than one she had in Greece.
Still, that’s allowed the driven athlete to look even further down the road.
“I would love, in a perfect world, for my family, my children to be there. I think that would be just such an amazing experience for all of us as a family if they could be a part of it,” she says. “But I'm inclined to think right now that they're going to be at home while I'm over there. So that leads me to want to do 2024 so that we can go to Paris altogether.”
Go get it, Malindi!