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Family photo
Joel and Melanie Flake and their children hike to the "Y" in a snowstorm in February 2010.

HORSESHOE BEND, Idaho — Melanie Flake developed a passion for running at a young age. With the encouragement of her father, a longtime high school cross country coach, Flake ran her first 10-kilometer race in sixth grade. In high school, she went on to become one of the top long distance runners in the state of California and was voted her school’s female athlete of the year. After her freshman year at Brigham Young University, father and daughter ran a marathon together. There was little doubt that running would remain a permanent part of her life.

Her love of running has come back to bless her life spiritually and positively influence her family.

“The desire has always been there,” said the 35–year-old woman. “It’s a big commitment and takes a lot of family support. The kids know mom is going to come home super sweaty and tired, and she’s probably going to fall asleep on the couch.”

The marathons

After running that first marathon, she was back studying at BYU and engaged to Joel Flake. She recalls a conversation between the two where she outlined an important stipulation in their marriage.

“I told him I wanted to run a marathon after every kid,” she recalls. “I didn’t want my life to be consumed by my children. I love my children and love being their mother, but I want them to know I can be a mother and do something that will benefit myself and give them a good example of what they can do with their lives. Also, because I thought if I run a marathon, for sure I’ll lose all my weight.”

Joel and Melanie Flake were married in December 1997. True to her word, Melanie Flake has trained for and run 26 miles for each child she has brought into the world.

After giving birth to the couple’s first child, Joel, in 1998, she ran the Deseret News Marathon in just under four hours in 1999.

Following the birth of a second son, Preston, in 2000, she ran the Park City Marathon in 2001.

The third child was another son, Wesley, and he was honored with Flake’s participation in the 2003 Ogden Marathon.

A daughter, Natalie, finally came in 2004, and Flake ran in the Sauvie Island Marathon in Portland, Ore., in 2005.

The fifth child, Emery, was born in 2006. For him, Flake ran the Salt Lake City Marathon in 2007.

Savannah, a second daughter, became No. 6 in 2008. For her, Flake ran in the Great Potato Marathon in Boise in 2009.

In between kid six and seven, Flake ran the Santa Barbara, Calif., marathon to qualify for the 2012 Boston Marathon.

Then following the delivery of the couple’s seventh child, Caroline, in 2011, Flake crossed the finish line in Boston last month.

She barely made it.

With temperatures approaching 90 degrees, the race was one of the hottest in its history. The heat took a scorching toll on Flake and 800 other runners, all of whom required medical treatment after the race. About 50 participants were hospitalized.

Joel Flake said his wife collapsed with heat stroke after the race but eventually recovered.

“Drawing on my previous eight marathons, I knew I could finish. I had said a prayer before the marathon asking that I be able to perform to the best of my ability,” she said. “Of course … I pushed myself too hard. The last five or six blocks were a blur. I wanted my children to be proud of me and to know that I was strong. It was also motivation to get back to my 6-month-old baby, Caroline, who I knew I would need to nurse.”

A spiritual workout

When she’s not training for a marathon, Flake runs for personal time, as well as spiritual renewal and enlightenment.

“When you have a house full of children, (life is) kind of loud, busy and fun,” said Flake, whose family lives in Horseshoe Bend, a small community about 20 miles from Boise. “But when I go for a run I rarely take an iPod or anything to listen to. We live on a dirt road and there aren’t any cars. It’s peaceful, and I feel like I can commune with the Lord for long periods of time and say prayers in my heart that last several miles long.”

These long runs also serve to reinvigorate her after a long day with kids and housework. Often, her husband will return home from work and send her out for a run.

“He notices if it’s been a few days and I start to get grouchy, he says, ‘OK, it doesn’t matter what you think you have to do, go for a run, I will take care of dinner,’ ” she said. “You just need to go for a run.”

It makes all the difference, her husband said.

“She will go for a seven- or eight-mile run and come back refreshed. It’s a nice release for her to not have the kids, even her husband,” Joel Flake said. “The longer the run, the better she feels when she comes back. For her, there is no physical difference between two miles and eight miles, so it’s how long she was able to be alone with her thoughts.”

With one of the family’s border collies running at her side, Melanie Flake sets her pace. As she runs, she ponders each one of her children, her husband and their marriage, her current church calling and her future.

“As I run and reflect, I will frequently pray about my calling, what I need to know, how I need to do it,” she said. “I’ve gained a lot of insight through my runs on how I need to treat other people, how to act, how I can have the Spirit with me and really be an instrument in the Lord’s hands.”

‘Run and not be weary’

Having the right diet is part of maintaining the stamina to run mega miles.

Flake uses Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants — “The Word of Wisdom,” the health code of the LDS Church — as her guide. She grinds wheat and makes weekly loaves of bread. She feeds her family a steady stream of fruit, vegetables and whole grains. She doesn’t eat a lot of meat. A treat is a smoothie with tons of berries, yogurt and spinach.

“I know these (foods) provide me with a lot of the essential nutrients,” she said. “I never feel like I’m depleted. I feel like I run and I’m not weary, as long as I’m eating healthy.”

She leads by quiet example, her husband said, which makes it hard to eat a box of Ho-Hos while she’s peeling an orange.

“She isn’t obnoxious about it. When you live with someone like that, it’s hard to be a slob. Eventually it wears off on you,” Joel Flake said. “You realize that if the Lord cares about us not drinking coffee or tea, smoking cigarettes or chewing tobacco, then surely he cares about what we consume. ... If your body is really a temple, aren’t you supposed to take care of it? And so we try.”

A powerful tool and example

Melanie Flake’s healthy lifestyle has led to missionary opportunities.

She occasionally runs with women in her town who aren’t members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Once she went on a 13-mile run with one woman who peppered her with questions about the LDS faith.

"Boy, when you have a captive audience for 13 miles on a dirt road, Flake said. “I feel like I discussed the basics of our entire church. I invited her to church and gave a Book of Mormon. It was a really nice experience.”

Her way of life has also rubbed off on her family, especially her husband. During eight years of their marriage, Joel Flake was consumed with law school and establishing his career. He stopped taking care of his body and gained more than 80 pounds while his wife continued to run a marathon for each child.

A few years ago, a doctor warned him that his blood pressure was getting too high. He made a joke and the doctor didn’t laugh.

“She got mad and said, ‘I’m surprised your wife has allowed this to happen,’ ” Joel Flake said. “It was a wake-up call.”

He determined to take up running, even though he hated it. He began to change his eating habits and started huffing and puffing for one mile on a treadmill. He persisted and eventually ran a 5K. With time, he did a 10K. In the process, he dropped most of the 80 pounds.

“The one person I am most proud of is Joel,” Melanie Flake said. “I’m glad I inspired him to start doing that without telling him ‘you should run.’ ”

Although he prefers running the treadmill in front of SportsCenter, running appealed to Joel Flake because he could do it with his wife and kids. Running also resurrected a lost spirit of competition in his life.

“She loves it when we run together. She runs my speed. I can’t talk while I run, but she loves to talk so I just listen to her. Then I will give her a whole bunch of answers when we’re done with our run,” said Joel, who tries to run about 15 miles a week. “I compete against myself, keep track of my times. They aren’t great, but I try to beat them.”

The running has also been good for the Flake children. A favorite family activity is going to the high school track. The family has also dressed up in BYU gear to participate in Boise State’s “Beat Coach Pete” 5K and Walk, a fundraiser for athletic scholarships where participants compete against football coach Chris Petersen. Hiking is another favorite venture.

“As a parent I felt a responsibility to be a better example. We don’t force-feed things down our kids' or other people’s throats because losing weight has to come from within,” Joel Flake said. “But it’s been good for our family … one thing we do together.”

As for more kids and marathons, Melanie Flake didn't mince words.

“There will be more marathons, there will probably not be any more children,” she said. "We're pretty busy with the seven that we have."

The marathon mom

Idaho mother Melanie Flake has run one marathon for each of her seven children. She inspired her husband Joel to lose 85 pounds and take better care of himself. She strives to set a positive example for her children. In this video interview, she and her husband talk about their motives and efforts to live a healthy lifestyle.

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