Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Quick Clarification

Kevin Beck, Brad Hudson and I recently attended an event at the Boulder Book Store and had the opportunity to discuss our book, "Young Runners at the Top." A few questions from audience members brought up some differing opinions about training and coaching, so I wanted to address at least one of the topics here.

The concept for "Young Runners at the Top" started quite a while ago when Suzy Hamilton and I decided to write a book focusing on young athletes. We felt there were training books written for little kids and those for adults, but those addressing teens who want to compete successfully at a high level were lacking. She wasn't able to continue with the project, so I asked Melody Fairchild to get involved, which she was happy to do until a new coaching opportunity prevented her from having enough time.

In the end, this was somewhat of a community undertaking. I and my coauthors are grateful to all the people who helped create "Young Runners at the Top." The list of people involved includes but is not limited to:

Addie Bracy, Mark Plaatjes, Bobby McGee, Dr. Richard Hansen, Lucy and Nerida Alexander, Bean Wrenn, Melody Fairchild, Ruth Waller, Scott Fry, Greg Weich, Carrie Messner-Vickers, Róisín McGettigan-Dumas, Barb Higgins, Suzy Favor Hamilton, Rebecca Walker and Lorraine Moller.

During our first book signing event, Brad, Kevin and I addressed some important topics. We spent a long time talking about why so few young girls who run well during high school go on to compete at a high level in and after college. Obviously, it doesn't come down to one issue. Some contributing factors include transitioning through puberty; social, peer and self-imposed pressure that leads to increased and prolonged stress; and overtraining and burnout. Our book offers ideas on how to help young runners transition through these difficult times and continue running into adulthood.

While discussing these issues, people used many examples and comparisons, which doesn't resolve or accomplish very much. You can't use others as examples of the proper weight or take a training plan for one person and successfully apply it to someone else without knowing a whole lot about both. When using elite athletes as an example, you never know exactly what methods they use to achieve their success. They often offer a very minimal and possibly skewed glimpse into their lives, so it's easy to make assumptions about what might or might not be occurring. One thing the three of us suggested in "Young Runners at the Top," is to always individualize training programs and diets for each athlete. I'm not sure if we made that clear enough at the event, so I wanted to reiterate it here.

The other issue I wanted to address is weight. Some jokes were made about runners being thin, but ultimately you can't be a healthy runner and have a long and successful career if you are not fueling yourself properly. I have already posted about the seductive grace period and weight loss, so I won't go into it again here. Suffice to say that coaches need to be thinking about their athletes moving through different phases of training and competition in the healthiest way possible, and starving won't allow for longevity in the sport.


  1. Yes. The irony of the "develop into a woman *or* remain a fast female" false dichotomy is that the runners who wind up fighting to preserve a prepubescent body are the ones who don't last at the top level. If you look at the best American MD and LD runners today, you see a lot of very thing women, obviously, but they are readily identifiable as adult women with athletic bodies. No one would look at Jenny Simpson, Emma, Jordan Hasay, Shannon Rowbury, etc. and remark, "Good athlete, but androgynous." Everyone was claiming that Hasay would be cooked because she won FLN as a freshman and was therefore "obviously" prepubescent and on the burnout train, but 2:23:00 at Boston this year is kinda decent.

    The thing I see is that it's very difficult for young women who have been running well as literal girls to transition through puberty without getting psychologically battered. When you've already heard that puberty kills running careers *and* you're not fast enough for you and your body to be scrutinized ruthlessly by a legion of pimple-popping anonymous Letsrun maniacs *and* you're gaining some weight *and* your times are in fact temporarily slowing, it's no wonder that most adolescent runners basically check out at that point. But ultimately, in my experience, talented preteen skinny girl runners can still be pretty fair once different parts of their bodies have caught up with each other. Rachel U. was 5' 1" when she was a freshman and about 5' 9" when she graduated and her senior year she was the national outdoor 800m champion. The main reason girls "fail" in this setting is because virtually everyone tells them they have to.

    1. Yes, this is what I was getting at that night. But the same thing was happening before Let's run. The scrutiny is ingrained in our society. Again, I don't like using anyone specifically as an example, because you never know what tactics she uses to reach a top level. That said, yes, those competing at the top are not going to be the ones who are winning at being the thinnest.


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