"I want them to understand that having a healthy relationship with both the mental and physical sides of running can create an unstoppable athlete. There are not enough environments within distance running that have opened up and addressed the harmful culture that can impact females in distance running."
A lot of us have big dreams in this sport, but there is a very falsely projected, singular path to get there that does not consider the many other factors that play into success.
As I mentioned before, we are constantly influenced by those around us. How does everybody else look, train, eat, and recover? While it is very empowering to have this running community, we all need to remember and learn how to identify in what we need as individuals to be our best.
It is so important that coaches help their athletes distinguish their own individual recipe for success. If we don't address everything that plays into what we need as individuals to be successful, it becomes much easier to focus on external factors like what everybody else is doing, what we are eating, and what we look like. There becomes pressure to do everything we think we are "supposed to do," but this feeling is only based on a comparison to everybody else.
Female In Focus Series:
We make up these things in our head that what our teammate or teammates do is better than what we're doing, or that what we're doing isn't good enough.
But my response to that question is this: Who said that?
Distance running also advertises that the highest mileage and highest intensity training makes the fastest runner. We love to push our bodies to their limits, day in and day out. While this structure of training may work for some, not everybody fits this mold. If we can identify what works best for our bodies, we won't need to play the comparison game, because we will believe in ourselves to follow our plan.
Coaches, we need more support in being empowered to do what's best for us.
Here is an analogy. Running is like a puzzle, and it can be like soup. We have to put all the pieces together in the right way or else it's not going to work. We have to add the right ingredients, at the right time, and in the right order for the soup to be a success. Each runner is a different type of soup, with their own individual recipe. However, you also have the option to not follow the recipe, put the ingredients in at the wrong time, or add in a few ingredients that the recipe didn't call for.
The soup will still be made, but it won't be as good as it could've been if you had followed the recipe. We can view success with this exact same concept: Following somebody else's recipe, or not doing what's best for your body's health, may initially work -- the soup will be made.
But in the end, we are not the best that we could be, had we followed our own recipe. We need to give our body and mind what they need and accept that it will be different than somebody else's. Not following your own recipe will never be sustainable.
The truth is, athletes listen to their coaches more than anyone else. I'm not trying to tell coaches how to coach, or try to say that I know any better. My purpose here is to acknowledge that you have a very important role in helping female runners develop into the most healthy, strong, and sustainable versions of themselves.
I want coaches to not just understand the sport, but understand their female athletes.
I want them to understand that having a healthy relationship with both the mental and physical sides of running can create an unstoppable athlete. There are not enough environments within distance running that have opened up and addressed the harmful culture that can impact females in distance running.
If we can establish relationships between female athletes and their coaches, whether they are male or female, and create positive environments to help boost that empowerment, female distance running could be unstoppable. We need coaches that are open about these topics, prioritize the health of their female athletes and allow their voices to be heard. With all of those things being met, I think that female distance running could become unstoppable.
I once heard a quote that said something like this: Boys feel good when they train well, but girls train well when they feel good.
This means that putting the female athlete's physical and mental health before the sport itself will ultimately create better, stronger, healthier, more durable, and more powerful athletes. Let's start to uncover the potential of female distance running when we do it right, starting at a very young age.
Jessica is a 2019 graduate of Old Saybrook (CT) High School and a sophomore at the University of Delaware. This is the second of a five-part series dealing with the role athletes, coaches, teammates and families have in prioritizing the health of female runners, along with understanding the social and environmental dichotomies that impact how young athletes should balance their well being. Jessica was a multiple-time CIAC State Open and CIAC Class Class S Championship qualifier and placer, and held PRs of 2:22.78 in the 800m and 5:07.42 in the 1,600m.