Born in Vigo, Spain, Carmela began her athletic life as a gymnast before an Olympian coach spotted her natural talent for cross-country running. Since those early days, she’s won medals at regional, national and European championship level before moving to the U.S., where she won the NCAA 10k championship for the Ducks - a first since 1984. But for Carmela, running’s so much more than just winning.
Why running and how did you get started?
I’d been a gymnast for many years when my middle school began a cross country team. The training consisted of running a couple of laps at the park before playing games. My coach, 1992 Olympian Estela Estévez, gave me little workouts while the other kids played. I remember the point at which I realized I didn’t see gymnastics in my future. So I decided to leave the sport, with no intention to commit to another. But my middle school coach had other plans for me, and asked me to try a couple of practices with a club team in my hometown where Oliva Román was the coach. From my first day of practice, I loved the people and kept going back. Not long after, I was at practice every day.
On days where you might not feel like training, what inspires you to get out there?
My team. On the days I don't feel up to it, having a team I can rely on and vice versa gets me out of the door. It changes my mindset from "I don't feel like doing this" to "we have a team that needs to qualify, and times to run, and national teams to make."
Can you tell us about a race that a) taught you a few lessons in this sport or b) you’d want to re-live?
I want to re-live the 2021 NCAA's because it was a fairytale ending to my collegiate career. After many coach changes, a transfer to Oregon, and waiting an extra season due to COVID, I was finally able to win a national title. And I got to do it in front of my home crowd in our new stadium in my last race as a Duck. Being an Oregon Duck is one of my proudest accomplishments, and I got to write a little bit of Oregon's rich history with this win.
Do you have a special pre-race ritual?
On race days, I keep it simple and go back to basics. I like starting the day with a short yoga session and a good breakfast. I usually race late, and get more nervous as the day goes on, so having a big breakfast in the morning gives me the fuel I need before my stomach starts getting more sensitive. Then I usually relax, have lunch, take a nap, and go for my shake-out. In the hours leading to the race, I try to stay relaxed. I typically watch a light-hearted tv show - no scares or drama - as I want to be as calm as possible. Oatmeal, banana, and peanut butter is my usual pre-race meal.
Is nutrition a big focus for you? And what would you say is your go-to meal after a tough run?
Because I push my body so hard during training, nutrition has become another way to show my body love - by fueling it up in the right way while having fun. My go-to meal after a challenging run or workout is a chickpea coconut curry with chicken. I love the mild spicy flavor of the curry paired with the softness of coconut milk; it's super easy and quick to make, so it's a staple for me. If I’m doing take-out, chicken Pho’s my ideal choice. The broth makes it easy to hydrate and has tons of good minerals. But while nutrition is crucial for performance and a healthy body, I really believe in balance and not labeling foods as good or bad.
What are your top tips for a speedy recovery after training?
Re-fuel your body, keep yourself hydrated, and stretch or foam roll. But also, don't overdo it. If we’re trying too hard to recover by doing all these little things, our bodies can get even more stressed. Sometimes, the best you can do is to put your feet up and chill.
Who is your “team”?
My team is my teammates, my family, and my friends. I call myself a “social runner” because I fell in love with running for the people. I loved chatting with my teammates while running or exercising, and making friends at races. At first, it wasn’t about running but about the people I did it with, and the people with me along the way. So having a supportive and fun environment around me is essential, and when I thrive most.
Having the right team is crucial to my success. When I joined the On Athletics Club, I instantly connected with the people. Coach Ritz's personality and approach to training clicked with me and what I need as an athlete to keep developing. It was a great combination of awesome people in a beautiful place with all the right tools.
What’s the best piece of running advice you ever received?
Be “sneaky good.”
In my first year at Oregon, Helen was coaching at San Francisco, and both Oregon and San Francisco had strong chances of making the team podium. While Helen was studying the Oregon team with her assistant, she pointed at my name and said, "if Carmela gets going, Oregon can be a threat; she is sneaky good." She mentioned this comment to me after becoming my coach at Oregon, and has constantly repeated it since. Being sneaky good means trusting I can do big things and run fast without anyone around me expecting it, and without even expecting it myself. It reminds me to trust myself and my moves and sneak my way up to the front when it matters. It's a mindset.
Besides running, what are your passions?
I’m passionate about mental health, and specifically, mental health in sports. I hope my time as a professional athlete prepares me to better understand the challenges that athletes face and how to support them. My future goal is to use sport psychology and research to develop tools to help female athletes transition from high school to college.
What’s your favorite On shoe and why?
I like the Cloudstratus. I like that it’s soft and somewhat thick. It gets me good mileage but reduces some of the body-weight load and toughness of running on hard surfaces.
What’s your favorite piece of On apparel and why?
I love the socks. I’m quite picky about my socks as my skin can be very delicate. The On socks come in three lengths; I usually wear the short ones for lifting or walking around and the mid- and tall-length ones for runs.
Finally, why On?
On is a newer company in the running world, but it’s making a lot of noise. I like that On relies on innovation and has high-quality standards, and I’m excited to be part of it.