XTERRA Ambassador Melanie Decker Koehl started running when she was twenty. “I only ran on a treadmill back then,” she says. “What was I thinking?”
Almost three decades later, Melanie is about as far from a treadmill as she can get. These days, when the founder of Soul Runners Hawaii isn’t running off road, she is encouraging other runners up Oahu’s lush trails, or organizing a trail race. In her down time, she manages her own design firm and is the mom of three active kids, including a set of twins, which is an endurance event on its own.
Originally from the east coast, Melanie came to Oahu 18 years ago. “As soon as I returned home from Hawaii, I was planning my next trip back,” she says. “Now I never have to leave. And the trail running community here is wonderful.”
One of the reasons it is so wonderful is because Melanie plays an instrumental role in organizing runs as well as encouraging those who might be otherwise intimidated to veer off the roads. She created Soul Runners Hawaii and its Facebook page as a central hub to post long trail runs and enable local trail runners to connect. Today it has almost 1000 members. “You can find a race or see if anyone will join you for a run. You can even sell your shoes there if you want.” She says with a laugh that punctuates many of her sentences. Her regular Friday morning runs up and down Mount Tantalus (five miles each way) welcome a wide range of runners and paces.
“We usually run between eight to ten miles so people pair off,” says Melanie, “But we never leave anyone behind, and we often stop to wait for people new to trail running. I just want people to love it as much as I do. So many road runners develop a new love for the sport when they head into the woods.”
Melanie became hooked by off-road running after completing her first marathon in Bermuda in the late 1990’s. Now, a marathon is a relatively short race for her. She regularly competes in 50Ks and is preparing for a 40 miler this summer around Mt. St. Helens. And she almost never misses the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship in Kualoa Ranch. “My favorite is technical single track,” says Melanie. “And uphill. The XTERRA World Championship has it all: amazing views, super challenging trails, and steep climbs. I never pass up a chance to do that race.”
Ironically, Melanie attributes some of her ability to stay strong and healthy to the bike. “I really, really enjoy cycling,” Melanie says. “It fits what I like to do and challenges me in new ways.” She hopped on a bike after she fractured her femur during a trail race in 2015. “I couldn’t run for three months and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, how am I going to do this?” Melanie says. “But I started cycling as well as swimming after Bikram Yoga and I got so strong. After three months, I jumped back on the trails and it was like I never missed a beat. I think the bike makes me even better on the hills.”
These days, Melanie balances an intense workout schedule, heavy on the cross-training. “Usually I do an eight-miler on Monday and schedule 12 to 16 on Wednesday and 10 on Friday. “ In addition, she bikes 80 miles a week and takes a day for hot yoga and swimming.
She also is a co-race director for Mango Madness, which usually happens in June. “The fun part is, it’s an undisclosed course,” says Melanie, with a wicked grin. “It’s a ten to twelve mile run but I am the only one who knows where the race is going. Even the race marshals don’t know more than their section.”
The problem – or maybe the beauty – is that Melanie’s race only goes uphill. Some years, athletes have had to do hill repeats in the middle of the race. “It’s become a really big thing,” says Melanie. “And a super hard thing. That’s why I give out good prizes.”