Lauren Fleshman’s Feminist Approach to Coaching

When the sports activities calendars started to fall sufferer to the pandemic, the athletes of Littlewing, an elite coaching group in Bend, Ore., sat down to discuss operating in a world with out racing.

The group — a gaggle of six feminine athletes together with Rebecca Mehra, a miler who put herself on the map in 2019 with a third-place end on the Fifth Avenue Mile in New York City — had simply knocked off a troublesome exercise on a dust street in the midst of the Deschutes National Forest. The girls arrange garden chairs on the facet of the street, socially distanced solely from their coach, the previous elite runner Lauren Fleshman, who was not initially of their quarantine pod.

Once the ladies had been settled, Fleshman posed some questions: What is operating to you and who’re you if there aren’t any races, no championships, no cash to be made, no efficiency facet in any respect? Then what?

The pandemic prompted the query, however the concept wasn’t new. Fleshman had been asking related questions for the previous few years as a part of her aim of adjusting the best way elite girls view operating. If she may assist athletes see themselves past their pace and their appears to be like — attributes usually valued in feminine runners — she hoped they may keep away from the bodily and psychological risks posed by the win-at-all-costs tradition that has harmed so many previously.

“If you strip away a narrow view of an athlete, what’s left is the freedom to be yourself,” Fleshman mentioned. “That’s where the power lies.”

Earlier this yr, as an example, Fleshman helped the steeplechaser Mel Lawrence map out targets for the yr. Lawrence was targeted on napping and cross-training. Fleshman added an unquantifiable metric: Owning who you’re.

“I carried myself better in practice,” mentioned Lawrence, who joined Littlewing in 2013 when the group first fashioned with 4 athletes. “It affected how hard I pushed, what I put into the workout.”

Studies have shown disordered eating affects up to 45 percent of female athletes, and can lead to Relative Energy Deficiency in Sports, or RED-S, an energy deficiency caused by eating too little for your activity level. The syndrome affects bone density, hormone levels and other crucial health markers that put athletes at high risk for injury and mental and emotional stress, particularly in a sport like running where weight can play a role in performance.

There’s a talent leak in running, Fleshman said. Many strong female athletes fall through the cracks because of injuries and unsupportive training environments. She wanted Littlewing, a team of now seven runners, to be a patch in the system.

Fleshman and Dr. Sarah Lesko, M.D., an elite athlete manager at Oiselle — the women-led sports apparel company that sponsors Fleshman’s team — talk almost daily about each athlete’s physical, mental and emotional health. And while blood tests to monitor key health markers like stress hormones and red blood cells are routine, there are no weigh-ins or comments about weight.

“There’s really no need to talk about weight unless there’s an unexpected swing,” Fleshman said. “In that case, the dialogue would be from a health perspective.”

Irritability and mood swings can be a precursor of RED-S, so Fleshman, who has a bachelor’s degree in human biology and a masters in education, talks often to her athletes about their energy and mood.

“And periods,” said Fleshman. “I ask a lot about periods.” Amenorrhea, the absence of a period, is a marker of RED-S and reported to affect as many as 60 percent of elite female middle- and long-distance runners.

Fleshman began to see the potential in a new coaching model for women in 2010 when she began exploring who she was outside of athletics, by co-founding Picky Bars and co-authoring a training journal. She attributes her performances in 2010 and 2011 to the start of her living and training on her own terms.

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