Malibu Sports Dietician Completes 50-Kilometer Ultramarathon

Melissa Irelandwinning

Melissa Ireland never intended to run an ultramarathon, but the passing of her dog, Puffman, motivated her to finish first in her age group at the Ray Miller 50-kilometer ultramarathon on Nov. 7. 

“I always thought, ‘who in their right mind would want to push beyond 26.2 painstaking miles?’” she said. “What inspired me to sign up for this feat was to cope with the sudden loss of my four-legged friend this past summer. He was my best friend for nearly 10 years and loved being outdoors exploring the world.”

Ireland’s time of 6:07.55 allowed her to finish seventh overall among females and first in the 30- to 39-year-old age group in the 31-mile race, which took place on the trails of Point Mugu State Park. 

Running has been a part of Ireland’s life since age six, when she began playing soccer. She joined her high school’s cross country team her freshman year and took up road races after contracting a knee injury. 

“My first few races were 10Ks,” she said. “The Malibu Half-Marathon was one of my first half-marathons, and I have run four in three different states.” 

Ireland ran her first full marathon after healing from two knee surgeries and taking up trail running.

“I did not find the marathon experience all that enjoyable and was not keen on running another marathon anytime soon,” she said. “Although I had sworn off running another marathon, as the saying goes, ‘never say never.’ Nine months later I was signed up for and ran my first ultra-marathon.”

Pepperdine University is Ireland’s alma mater, and she returned to Malibu a year ago after moving around the country. Malibu trails are her primary training location.

“For my ultramarathon, I trained on pretty much every trail in West Malibu from Zuma to Point Mugu,” she said. “Malibu has the best of both worlds — mesmerizing ocean and mountain vistas. I am at my happiest when on the trails surrounded by the beauty and awe of nature.”

In addition to training, Ireland is Malibu’s only registered dietician in private practice — Perform Well Nutrition. She is a board certified specialist in sports dietetics and counsels athletes on performance-enhancing nutrition programs. 

“I have worked with a spectrum of athletes, from a heavy-weight boxer to a ballerina and everything from high school to professional level,” she said. 

Ireland was able to use her background in nutrition to her advantage by creating her own hydration and fueling plan for the ultramarathon. 

Nutrient-dense foods such as whole grains, dark greens, berries, lean proteins and heart-healthy fats are the main components of Ireland’s diet. She also noted the importance of recovery nutrition, particularly on high-mileage days.

“[Nutrition] is one factor in performance I know will always give me an edge over my competitor,” she said. “Mile 18 is typically when runners start dropping like flies due to dehydration from under-fueling. Of the roughly 200 ultramarathon participants, 50 dropped out.”

Working as a sports dietician in collegiate athletics has always been a dream of Ireland’s, and is one she recently achieved. She will be returning to her alma mater, Pepperdine, next year to work as a sports nutritionist for the university’s Division I athletes. 

“My success at achieving my career goals is attributed to the same unwavering, unrelenting qualities I embody as an athlete,” she said.

As for running, Ireland said she would like to run another 50-kilometer ultramarathon in the near future. 

“I don’t have plans for upgrading the 50K distance yet,” she said. “I try to be wise about my training being that I’ve had two knee surgeries and recent IT band issues. I also don’t want the joy of trail running to be overpowered by the need to compete.”

Ireland plans to continue commemorating her canine friend Puffman in her future running endeavors. 

“I’ll continue wearing my paw print gaiters in memory of him,” she said. “I think he would have been very proud of my 50K performance.”