PROVIDENCE — By now, the pitfalls that can trip up young female runners are all too familiar: Coercive coaching, a hyper-focus on weight, chronic injuries.
So Molly Huddle, Providence’s two-time Olympian and a six-time American record holder, has co-authored a book, “How She Did It,” providing expert advice and inspirational stories from more than 50 accomplished distance runners.
On the Rhode Island Report podcast, Huddle talked about writing the book with her friend Sara Slattery, a two-time NCAA champion and current NCAA cross-country coach. She said they both competed in the Foot Locker National Cross Country Championship in high school, and they realized that many of the talented young female runners they met there ended up quitting the sport within four or five years.
“It’s almost just like a normalized phenomenon in young women’s running,” Huddle said. “The boys become stronger and stronger as they become men, and they kind of don’t get filtered out of the sport at higher level as the girls do.”
So Huddle and Slattery set out to interview legendary runners such as Joan Benoit Samuelson and Kathrine Switzer, Deena Kastor and Kara Goucher, collecting their insights about the challenges and rewards of running.
“We really want to hit that young female athlete just as she’s getting serious about the sport and just want her to have like a really healthy approach and a long, healthy relationship with running,” Huddle said.
The book includes input from runners such as Amy Yoder Begley, who recalled her coach Alberto Salazar telling her she had a “big butt” and should weigh less. Begley said she proved his theories wrong, and Salazar has since been permanently banned after SafeSport concluded he had committed violations involving emotional and sexual misconduct.
“It just represents one of the biggest mistakes in women’s running, which was being reinforced, and that’s under-fueling,” Huddle said. “We want to transition to building strength, being a strong runner, having good durability, being resilient, avoiding injury, and getting away from what you should look like.”
She said her message for young female runners is based on the knowledge she gained as a “science nerd.”
“I would just tell them the things that make you a good runner,” Huddle said. “You can’t see you can’t see your blood cells. You can’t see your muscles, you can’t see your mitochondria. You can’t see all those powerhouses inside. So there’s a lot of different body types that can be fast. You need to be strong. You need to be healthy, and you need to have the things that fuel you to run well.”
One young female runner who has a copy of the book is Sophia Gorriaran, the 16-year-old junior at the Moses Brown School in Providence who set a new Under-18 women’s world record in an indoor 800-meter race at Boston University on Feb. 11.
“She’s really exciting to watch race,” Huddle said. “She’s definitely who this book is for, so hopefully she enjoys meeting some of the women we have in there. And I know she’s got a lot of people rooting for her.”
Huddle talked about the female runner emoji that she called for back in 2015. She talked why so many top-notch runners can be seen tearing it up in Providence. She talked about how she and her husband, Kurt Benninger, just had a baby three weeks ago. And she talked about how she would like to run a marathon in the fall.
Hear more by downloading the latest episode of Rhode Island Report, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player above.