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Have you ever wanted to train for a race?

It’s something that many of us strive for at some point in our lives. But most certainly easier said than done… and first things first, where do you start?

Well, I went down to Next Level Running (at the heart of HARBORCENTER) – a group that specializes in helping individuals gain strength and endurance and specifically train for upcoming races, and it was a fantastic place to start.

Melina Buck, the owner, has set up a specific system of training that is designed to help each individual reach his or her goals in time for their next race. Before doing anything, runners meet with Melina, to go over what it is they want to accomplish (and by when). She then sets runners on a specialized program to help them get there, including a personalized training plan and the choice of group runs and strength training. It’s this system that has her group members coming back and setting new goals after each big race. As one member put it, “It’s already all laid out for you, you don’t have think, you just show up and do it… it’s easy.”

Easy? Heck, why not give it a shot? I decided to meet up with the group at HARBORCENTER.

We started with a series of warm up drills, led by one of the Impact Sports Performance professional trainers, with whom Melina is partnered. It was a great way to get everyone moving together, while getting the enthusiasm up. After our warm up, each individual looked at their personalized training plans and routes before heading out. Melina designs runs all over the city, so runners are never sure what the route is going to be.

On the day that I attended, we headed to a nice stretch of empty road along the marina. Everyone ran their designated intervals at their own pace, as Melina timed and encouraged them.

You couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful late winter evening. The sun was setting behind the lighthouse, and the city looked beautiful – a perfect distraction from the workout. This is Buffalo after all… from picturesque sights to unexpected snowfalls. Sure enough, 10 minutes later a blizzard blew in. We are getting pelted with large snowflakes and high winds off the lake. I thought we would pack it up, but the group had other plans. They pushed on through the madness. After all, this is why they were there… goals must be met!

When our intervals were done, we headed back for a cool down run back to HARBORCENTER. On the way back I asked one runner what it was about being a part of the group that helped her increase her own running skills. “When you’re in a group, you don’t cheat yourself because others are in it with you. You think I would be out here pushing myself in the snow all alone? Absolutely not.”

After a short recess and regroup back at the gym, it’s time for an optional 30 minute strength training with another professional athletic trainer.

We worked through 8 strength training exercises that were core focused in order to stabilize the less used muscles that would likely wear down during a long run. Once that was completed, our workout was over.

The whole process was extremely well organized and specific. I asked Melina what level of runner she caters to. She explained that it doesn’t matter what level someone is, she will design a program for that person. As for the types of runs? She has trained people for everything from international marathons, to people training to be in the DEA, to people who just want to get out and have some fun.

If you’re a runner, and you’re eager to get after it, but don’t know where the starting line is, Next Level Running will help you find it.

Group runs and classes are open to anyone for $5/run and $8/class drop-in fee. Please email Melina if you are interested in taking part –

A calendar of upcoming group trainings can be found at Also see Group Run to Welcome Spring on Facebook.

Written by Evan Thompson

Evan Thompson

Evan Thompson moved from Melbourne, Australia to Buffalo, New York when he was 13 years old. After consistently relocating to different countries around the world, his family fell in love with the charm of the City of Buffalo and the people who call it home.

After high school, Evan attended Indiana University and studied politics. Upon returning to Buffalo he became an Adult Education Instructor for BOCES before teaching ESL to refugees in the Buffalo Public Schools. Evan then taught and volunteered abroad living in South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.

He currently works in adventure tourism and plays music in local bands.

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