One morning in November 2019, former University of Colorado four-time NCAA champ Sara Slattery and her friend, the two-time Olympian Molly Huddle, went for a run through the desert near Scottsdale, Ariz., where Slattery is head men’s and women’s track and cross country coach at Grand Canyon University.
Talk turned to a prep star whose “messy underside” of a career had been exposed in national media and was being widely discussed in the running community.
As Slattery and Huddle ran and chatted, they agreed that many young, female runners ended up with “derailed” careers, facing obstacles that include “coercive coaching, hyperfocus on weight, underfueling, chronic injuries.” As Slattery recounts in “How She Did It,” her new book co-authored with Huddle, a light went off:
“You know,” Slattery told Huddle, “the success stories are just as important as (the) cautionary tale. We’ve all learned a lot over the years. If the women who’ve made it shared what they know, then the girls coming up would understand the unique issues we face in this sport, and how to navigate them to stay in the game.”
Huddle, 37, and Slattery, 40, have both been in the game for a long time, since they were kids. Both rose through the ranks by showing early talent, winning races, becoming prep and college stars, racing internationally and going on to solid professional careers as sponsored athletes. Along the way, they raced against and met many of the elites profiled in “How She Did It,” written “as a resource for the next generation.”
Or as Huddle put it, this is the book she would have wanted to read when she was a beginning runner, “or during the tough times when I was doubting myself … or just not sure what lay ahead.”
Slattery, who will be inducted Tuesday into the Colorado Running Hall of Fame in Denver, will speak about “How She Did It” at 6 p.m. Monday at In Motion Running, 1880 30th St. in Boulder.
Subtitled “Stories Advice, and Secrets to Success from 50 Legendary Distance Runners,” the book is full of so many good stories that I don’t know where to start.
From the pioneers of the 1960s, women from the following decades are given space to tell their stories — how they got started running, obstacles they faced, training and racing highlights and hard-earned advice to pass along. There are several runners with Boulder connections, starting with Cheryl Bridges Flanagan, the first woman to earn an athletic scholarship, a former world record holder in the marathon, and a survivor of sexual abuse as a child. She trained in Boulder, and her daughter, U.S. star Shalane Flanagan, grew up here. Shalane’s insights are included.
Niwot High grad Elise Cranny, a 2020 Olympic 5000 meter runner, recounts how her Niwot assistant coach, Jason Hartmann, “completely opened my eyes to the world of competitive running,” and how the four bone injuries she suffered while competing for Stanford University were related to her fear of gaining weight, not eating a healthful diet and not having a regular period. Locals Sara Vaughn, Kara Goucher, Emma Coburn and Jenny Simpson are included, as well as runners well-known from the Bolder Boulder, Deena Kastor and Aliphine Tuliamuk. Slattery won the 2006 Bolder Boulder.
Black 800 meter runners Madeline Manning Mims, Joetta Clark Diggs, Ajee Wilson and Raevyn Rogers tell their stories, as do Joan Benoit Sameulson, winner of the first women’s Olympic marathon in 1984. A nice part of “How She Did It” are the footnotes Huddle and Slattery intersperse with the runners’ stories. This helps give the book its cozy, intimate feeling, as if the reader is in a conversation with Slattery, Huddle and each of the 50 runners.
That is all in Part 2 of “How She Did It.” The book’s first section comprises medical advice from a variety of experts, divided into the “Four Keys to Being a Healthy Runner.” There you will read that “girls and women are bombarded with harmful messages about food, exercise and appearance,” messages that can lead to “two common traps: low energy availability (LEA) and relative energy deficiency in sports (RED-S).” Both of these are new terms for me.
“How She Did It” is a celebration of the female runner, with a two-page timeline of the progress made since the 800 meters for women was removed from the Olympics in 1928 (and not reinstated until 1960). There is a nice section called “Laughs along the way,” with some amusing running stories. Locals Edna Kiplagat, Colleen De Reuck and Aisha Praught-Leer are in there, with Commonwealth Games steeplechase gold medalist Praught-Leer recounting her “steeple belly flop.” At a big meet in Oslo, the steeplechase barrier was inadvertently left at the men’s height. Praught-Leer’s coach, former CU runner Joe Bosshard, was among those who ran onto the track during the race to try to lower the barrier to its correct height.
After reading “How She Did It,” I was struck by something 2020 Olympic marathon bronze medalist Molly Seidel, who overcame an eating disorder on her way to the top, told Huddle and Slattery. While her running accomplishments are special, “I feel like it’s almost more about the connections that you make while you’re doing this,” Seidel said. “Running brings so many people together.”
Well said. And kudos to Slattery and Huddle for bringing these powerful female voices together as a guide for the young female runners out there right now, and for those to come. As “How She Did It” shows, they do not have to go it alone.
Follow Michael Sandrock on Instagram: @MikeSandrock