As a junior in high school, I won every single cross-country race I competed in followed by an epic track season that got me sports scholarship offers to places like Brown University and the Naval Academy. Being a Montana girl, I accepted a scholarship to Montana State University and signed on as a Bobcat.
Little did I know, the path I was on as a competitive athlete was not sustainable. I was winning races based on the idea that I had to be thin to compete. During my freshman year of high school, I was a promising runner who gained the freshman fifteen, lost it, and got faster, fast enough to win. I also lost my period and my boobs. I believed this to be a good thing. I ran low on energy, didn’t eat enough protein to repair, and depleted nutrients in the bloodstream like iron, calcium, and B12. This was common among competitive runners and remains so today.
If you are a man or woman and a coach don’t be afraid to give words to this function of the female body necessary to produce life and health! Learn to talk out loud with your athletes and kids openly about the impact the menstrual cycle has training and racing and, the health implications associated with not having periods (known as Relative Energy Deficiency in Sports (RED–S) syndrome).
I trained with the guys and I perceived these two milestones of female development (periods and boobs) as slowing me down. After all, the guys I ran with didn’t have to deal with this inconvenience.
After the weight loss, I learned how to keep proper growth and development at bay so I could be a “runner.” Another little known fact was that I also wrapped my chest in ace bandage wrap to keep the boobs from slowing me down. At such a young age, it is impossible to see that what you are doing to your body to run is actually bad for the “long game.”
When I went to college, the idea of being thin to be fast was perpetuated by our male coach doing body fat measurements. I had nine percent body fat and was told: “this is a little high for a female athlete”. My poor eating behaviors centered around eating too few calories to train and compete and eventually I ran myself into the ground.
This is the story of so many female runners who don’t realize they are playing the “short game” that will keep them from both good health and from running just for the love of it. My story is far from unique in the female running world. Yet, it is not talked about. Our college coach did send the entire team to a dietitian after one of our teammates ended up in eating disorder treatment for severe anorexia. The belief that thin equals fit is so pervasive, it wasn’t until adulthood that I was actually able to retrain myself to do what I coached so many athletes to do – eat in a way that makes you feel your best doing what you love. For me, that has always been running.
Today in my work with young athletes the goal is a mindset to feeding and nourishing their superpowers versus leaning up and deprivation.
Today’s share is of strong and talented women speaking up and out about theses issues common to so many female athletes. If you are a man with a daughter, sister, mother, girlfriend or wife, read and watch! There is more to the women in your life than meets the eye.
I Was the Fastest Girl in America, Until I Joined Nike
Mary Cain’s male coaches were convinced she had to get “thinner, and thinner, and thinner.” Then her body started breaking down.