The first mile: Melissa chavez

Every runner started somewhere. The First Mile is a series by Pacers Running about the unique journey each person takes to becoming a runner.

From the fastest runners in the world to people finishing their first 5K, every runner today at one point wasn’t a runner. Visit The First Mile homepage for more stories, inspiration, and training advice from the team at Pacers and take the first strides to becoming a runner today.

Melissa is a DC runner who has been running since high school. Her running journey is different from most people because she essentially started running twice: once in high school, and again after she finished cancer treatment in 2021.

We met Melissa at Fletcher's Cove along the C&O Canal and talked about what her life as a runner has been like both before and after her cancer diagnosis.

What motivates you to keep running? 

I stay motivated to keep running because it feels great and it gets me into my happy place, the great outdoors.  Also, I run with a couple different running groups and knowing that my running buddies will miss seeing me is a huge motivator!

In 2019, you were diagnosed with cancer and in 2021 you were cleared to run again. How did running help you come back after your cancer diagnosis? What did it feel like to run again after treatment?

Running for me was a huge part in the beginning of treatment for managing not only the stress I was feeling, which was a lot, but also finding a moment of joy just being outside and feeling alive and in my body.

My first run back after treatment was pretty exciting. I knew I was ready to run. I had healed enough to go. I put on my running clothes and I headed out the door. 

Editor’s Note: Melissa’s first run back was a group run with the Ulman Foundation which runs a cancer to 5K program. More information on their program can be found here.

What gets you out the door when you aren't feeling like running?

I’m doing my best to live a life with as few regrets as possible, so I am super motivated to keep moving, connect to my body and have fun.  Even so, sometimes I just don’t feel like getting out there.  I think it is always okay to take a break when you need it, but I have a tendency to skip one run and then another one and then…  My secret weapon to stay in it?  I ask myself if I would be happy if skipping my workout became a habit, and nine times out of ten, I’ve got my sneakers on and I’m running out the door. 

"I’m doing my best to live a life with as few regrets as possible, so I am super motivated to keep moving, connect to my body and have fun."

What would you say to someone who was thinking of starting running but was overwhelmed or intimidated by it?

Don’t be afraid of a little up front investment.  Make sure you have a pair of properly fit running shoes that matches your running gait, style, and primary running surface.  If it is in the budget, get some cute running clothes and a running jacket.  There are lots of places you can go to run with other beginners, and don’t be afraid to take things at your own pace.  

What would you say to someone thinking of coming to a Pacers group run but is unsure?

Everyone is so nice!  Introduce yourself to the run group leaders when you get there and let them know you are new and the pace you want to run/walk.  They will help you feel comfortable, share the route that best suits your desired distance, and also help you meet others who share similar goals. 

What was it like shopping at Pacers the first time?

The first time I went into a Pacers store I was a little intimidated! 

Sometimes, I don't always see myself as much of a runner but they really affirmed that I was running. I think I said that I “shamble” and they were like “no, no, no you're a runner” (laughs).

Shopping at Pacers makes me feel really validated as a runner.

Lastly, what does running mean to you?

Running makes me feel strong, both in my body and my mind.  It is my reminder that I am alive, and today is my day.  Going on group runs gets me out of my comfort zone and helps me meet someone new.  Solo runs help me manage my stress, give me a moment of “me time” to think, relect, and catch up on all of my episodes of Lavar Burton Reads.  When I started running after cancer treatment and surgeries, it was the way I got back in touch with my body and my physical strength, and started feeling like myself again.