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Melin squashing local competition
Russel Melin has a juicy cross country future.
The King's West eighth-grader, 13, already competes with and against high school-aged runners — and beats them, often handily.
He found his running legs sometime during fifth grade when he and his dad, Glen, started running together and participated in local races such as Whale of a Run and the Viking Fest Road Race.
It didn't take Melin long to discover his fast feet.
"I wasn't really super competitive, I was just doing it for the fun of it," Melin said, remembering the local races and father-son runs.
Soon, however, Melin's speed and endurance picked up and he started to run faster than his dad.
"He'd always beat me," Melin said. "He's really been supporting me, and now I'm the one beating him."
Also a track and basketball athlete, Melin's cross country career took flight in seventh grade when he joined the King's West cross country team. He raced against both middle school and high school runners, finding success at both levels.
His coach, Glen Sheline, remembers first seeing Melin run.
"He had talent, but a lot of the kids (who) come through have talent," said Sheline, who is in his 22nd year as a cross country coach. "It's just where they go after that."
Melin went up — way up. So far up, in fact, Sheline is holding him back.
"He's locked in, but we're also trying to keep him back so we don't push him too hard ... he's only in eighth grade," Sheline said.
The maturation of cross country runners, Sheline explained, is different for boys than it is girls. Because of body type, girls generally run faster as freshmen and sophomores, while boys hit their stride as juniors and seniors.
Melin should get faster with age.
"Normally in cross country (boys are) learning during freshman and sophomore year," Sheline said. "Girls are the other way. They normally have faster times at the beginning of their career. The upside (for Russell) is as far as he wants to go."
And Melin's meet times are impressive.
While he has competed in just two 5K races — the Salt Creek Invite and the King's West Invite — Melin has raced many 1.5 mile courses, winning each at the middle school level. His fastest 1.5 mile time in 2008 is 7 minutes, 9 seconds, which he posted at a SeaTac League meet Sept. 25. He posted a time below seven minutes last year.
But it's the 5K, against older athletes and faster runners, that excites Melin.
"I used to always think they were the people who pushed around the little people," Melin said of his high school competitors. "It's been really fun running with the high schoolers ... They're all very determined to do their best, they're supportive, they're just great teammates."
At the King's West Invite, Melin posted a 16:58 in the 5K, the fourth-fastest time of the day including all high school times. Only sophomore Jake Kornbau (16:35, Mount Rainier Lutheran), sophomore Derris Davis (16:48, Klahowya) and junior Gordy Mueller (16:48, Seattle Lutheran) posted faster times. The 30th-place finisher clocked a 22:56.
"Next year I'd definitely like to drop a few seconds off my times at both (the King's West Invite and Salt Creek Invite)," Melin said.
His skills and technique are top-notch, but Sheline says it's Melin's mentality that makes him so good.
"Just his desire, having fun. So long as you're having fun at it, the sky's the limit," Sheline said. "Cross country is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical. He's got the mental side of it."
Mental toughness, however, is multifaceted — perseverance, practice, patience and running with pain, among others — and Melin appears to have it all.
"Fight through the pain," he said. "Keep it on. (When) you hit the wall, just push through the wall and find your second wind."
But Melin attributes his success — and future — to his coach, saying Sheline, who the athletes call "Coach Duckie," prepares him for everything.
"He pushes you, but not beyond where he knows you can go," Melin said. "Sometimes you'll think you can't do something and he'll show that you can, but not in a way that makes you hate him."
King's West cross country practices, Melin added, range from games of frisbee to intensive workouts.
"We'll do long runs most of the days, and then sometimes will do either hill or speed workouts. With all that mixed together, you can pretty much be ready for anything," Melin said. "If it's just one long, flat course you're ready for it. If it's got a big hill in it, that's what the hill workouts help with. If it's a really fast course, not quite a 5k, that's what the speed workouts are for."
Because King's West is a K-12 school, the middle school and high school teams practice together, creating what Sheline calls "one big family."
"The way our team is structured, the middle school is always with the high school... most of the time they're all together, so (Melin) is learning how to race," Sheline said. "He's learning how to do workouts, how to push through, how to run with pain, how to recover, just learning every aspect."
The togetherness is something Melin not only appreciates, but he values.
"It's really been great running with these guys because they're really encouraging and they're always there behind you," he said. "No matter if you're doing better or worse than they are, they'll always help you out."
No high school team would be complete, however, without a little friendly gamesmanship. Especially when the fastest guy on the team is 13.
"I tease them back," Melin said. "They say, 'You shouldn't be running this fast.' I say, 'You should be beating me because you are three grades ahead of me.'"
The joke reflects Melin's outlook on cross country and all sports.
"Just keep it fun," he said. "That's the most important part of sports, to have fun."