This week’s Mary Cain story reminds us that there are still too many myths about what it takes to be a good distance runner, especially for girls and women. There are sadly few fact-based guidelines for athletes and coaches, (one here from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) but the truth is, we can all contribute to undoing these harmful myths. Here are seven of the most common myths about girls’ and women’s running.
Please help us spread the word, and chime in with other myths that need debunking!
Myth 1: Your peak running years are in high school and college
False. Physiologically, ages 18-22 are a very difficult time for women’s bodies to reliably respond to training stressors. Some women are able to run fast during these years, but for the vast majority of women their fastest times will be after age 22, due to natural hormonal states. Don’t despair if your running declines or plateaus during your teens or early 20’s: the best is yet to come!
Myth 2: Losing your period is a sign of good fitness
False. Losing your period is very dangerous, and a reliable indicator that your body is not tolerating the training. The longer amenorrhea lasts, the more lasting damage can be done to your bone density and endocrine systems. Once incurred, bone health may never catch up to what it should be, so protect yourself for the future.
Myth 3: The less you weigh, the faster you run
False. The stronger you get, the more you will weigh as you gain muscle. A number on a scale has zero predictive abilities to forecast your race results. What predicts your race outcome? Physical and mental training, adequate fueling, and a positive outlook on racing. If it helps, put the scale away. Focus on the fundamentals, and your appropriate weight will happen.
Myth 4: High mileage is the best way to get better
False. There is no weekly mileage that is best for all runners. Some runners thrive with higher mileage, some have their peak performances at lower mileage. Each training plan should be designed with an individual athlete’s physiology in mind. Don’t get caught up in the mileage game…find out what works best for you.
Myth 5: “Eating clean” means you’re a dedicated athlete who will run faster
False.All athletes need to ensure they are taking in adequate fueling throughout the day for training. This includes adequate carbs, fat, and protein at regular intervals. An athlete’s focus on “eating clean” may put them at higher risk for Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S).
Myth 6: The more lean and muscular the athlete, the better they are
False. Bodies look a lot of different ways. Athletes achieving at the highest levels often have developed very lean physiques. But this happened over the course of years, often a decade, of smart and conservative training that didn’t traumatize their body. Focus on the work your body can do, not what it looks like.
Myth 7: You have to be miserable to be a good runner
False. A key marker of over-training is lack of enjoyment of running. It’s fine to have a few low motivation days, but if you are reliably dreading running, something is wrong. Running should be an enjoyable pursuit!
Head up, wings out! And have fun kicking ass!