News & Updates

15 September 2022 • Rotorua Marathon

Mel looks to fire in Rotorua return

Mel Brandon is in the form of her life and a strong threat for a podium finish after enjoying the best season of her career (Photo: Sharon Wray)

Mel Brandon hopes to be an inspiration to mums everywhere as she hunts a strong showing in the women’s elite race at the Rotorua Marathon on Saturday (17 September).

The Wellington Scottish athlete is a solo mum to three children and despite only taking up running seven years ago at the relatively advanced age of 37, she is in the form of her life and a strong threat for a podium finish after enjoying the best season of her career.

Mel has romped to PB’s in the 10km (37:41) and half-marathon (1:21:38) earlier this year and believes she is in shape to threaten her marathon best of 2:53.22.

“I’ve now been running for seven years but I still have young running legs which have not been smashed throughout my younger years, and I seem to still be setting PB’s,” explains Mel (formerly known by her married name of Stevens). “I don’t take the sport too seriously, I train reasonably hard. I eat well and give it my best every race.” 

Mel, 44, was the quickest cross country runner at her primary school in Wellington as a youngster but did not continue running through her college or university years. In fact, she only re-discovered running in 2015 at the time she was a mum of three small children.

“Cigna, the company I worked for at the time, sponsored the Round the Bays and I thought I would give it a go,” she recalls. “I started jogging the streets, got the running bug and ran a time of around 1:40 for my first half-marathon.”

She followed this up by posting a similar time in a further two half marathons, but it was after joining Wellington Scottish when her running career started its steep upward trajectory. Learning about the importance of structured training for the first time in 2017 she made her marathon debut in Rotorua, finishing top female in her age group and recording a time of 3:26:23.

But why did she select Rotorua for her first marathon?

“It is such an iconic and historic marathon, and it was also easily accessible living in Wellington,” she adds.

Since that first 42.2km outing she has improved hand over fist in what is her favourite distance event. In 2019 she ran a 2:57:45 marathon in Christchurch and followed this up later in the year with a 2:58:56 clocking in the New York City Marathon.

In 2020 she recorded a PB of 2:53:58 for fifth in the Auckland Marathon and last year trimmed a further 36 seconds from this time to win the Wairarapa Country Marathon in Masterton.

Self-coached, Mel runs an average of 100km a week but given her three children are aged 15, 13 and 11 she has a very hectic life, so she has to be creative with her training.

“My schedule is busy, so I generally train alone,” she says. “If my son is at football practise, I’ll use this one to one-hour-and-half time slot to fit in a speed session. I have to fit in training when I can around other commitments.”

More recently Mel has branched out into trail running and earlier this year posted a 63km women’s course record of 6:31:37 to win the WUU2K but for now her main emphasis is on the road and targeting a second crack at the Rotorua Marathon.

“I am really excited to go back to Rotorua,” she says. “I loved the course there because it is not an out and back route but an entire loop of the lake. It is such an iconic course and I quite like the fact it is a hilly because I quite like the hills.”

So what would the inspirational human resources manager like to achieve on Saturday?

“I don’t know if I’m quite there, but I would love to get under 2:50,” she says. “Although I am realistic and I need to shave four minutes off my PB, which is quite a big ask.”

Yet for Mel running is far much more than about the performance.

“What I love about running is it gives me energy to do what I need to do,” she explains. “At first, I felt it was quite a selfish thing to do when you have other responsibilities as a busy mum. But running makes me feel amazing, it gives me heaps of resilience and the space to think about stuff. I don’t do it for the glory, it’s just about challenging myself. Running is very personal to me.”