This week, I’m doing something a bit different. Holly is an incredible athlete, with what I think is the ideal mindset surrounding running, rest and nutrition. Following on from last week’s blog post, there’s a bit on amenorrhea as well as how Holly thinks we can potentially promote a healthier relationship with the sport in the future. A great read so I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
A little bit about Holly
If you’re a young athlete, chances are you’ve heard of Holly. She’s what you call a “bnoc” (big name on campus) in the junior running world 😉. Holly convincingly won the English Schools XC Championships in 2018, as well as qualifying for the world juniors for the 3000SC (“despite decking the heats”). Over the years she also achieved two second places and a win in the English Schools 1500SC. She also has a 16:52 parkrun PB, and has admirable strava elevation gains. Oh, and she’s also a fellow #hare at Edinburgh with me. Okay, I’m done fangirling – over to her.
1) Can you tell us a bit about your experience with amenorrhea & how you have felt since overcoming it?
A few skipped periods didn’t seem like much of a big deal until I read Bobby Clay’s wonderful article in Athletics Weekly. It was six months since my last period and there was definitely a big red flag in my head. I immediately broke down my whole lifestyle to work out what the problem was. I have never had any sort of eating disorder or under fuelled and I’ve never been one for silly mileage either. As for stress, it was just the standard GCSE/AS level stuff (not much I could do about that one sadly). At the time my GP wanted to put me on the pill, but I thought that that would just be masking the issue. If I wasn’t having periods then I wanted to get to the root of the problem.
After discovering that I’m gluten intolerant *tragic*, big diet changes were made to actually get food in me that would get properly absorbed to fuel running properly. It took a couple of months living with these changes for my periods to return but it was such a relief to have them back. I would 100% say that my running has improved since they’ve returned. It’s hard to put into words how much confidence having regular periods brings along with healthy bone scans and blood tests. It means you can dig deep training and racing without having any doubts that your body is going to give up on you at any moment or in future.
2) Typically, at the top level of athletics there is seen to be a “runner’s body” which the majority fit into. Have you ever felt the pressure to look a certain way? And if so, how have you dealt with it?
I can’t say I’ve ever felt any pressure to look a certain way. As long as I know that I’m healthy then that’s all that matters to me, regardless of anyone else. I feel if I lost weight, I wouldn’t be as strong to keep up my weekly mileage or to withstand the impact of steeplechasing – I’d inevitably get injured. I also love food and the thought of restricting my diet to lose weight would probably ruin my mental well-being. Running is not worth sacrificing your bone health and future fertility for.
3) Do you think there is a future in athletics where amenorrhea is no longer promoted at the top level? If so, how can we go about achieving this?
I would love to see British Athletics include criteria about having regular periods or having a healthy BMI or healthy hormone levels in blood tests in their selection policies. It would certainly obliterate the lighter equals faster mindset, because it doesn’t. Obviously it’s hard to prove you have periods without invading privacy and the logistics would have to be worked out, but I’d definitely support a change like that.
4) Broad question I know, but what does running mean to you?
To me, running is a hobby. I love training, racing and the social side of it. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it and I’ve always made sure it has come second to uni/school work. At the start of last season I told myself just to focus on A-levels, use training for stress relief and not worry about how I performed. I didn’t expect to take 34 seconds off my PB and end up at the World Juniors – that came as a bit of a shock really.
5) Where do you see yourself with running in the future?
To keep running and being injury free! Although if you’re talking steeplechase, I would really like to break the 10 minute barrier for the 3000mSC in the next year or so. Eventually I want to make the transition to mountain running, which is ultimately what I see myself doing (sadly where I live in London doesn’t really offer that one, but moving to Edinburgh for university has changed that).
6) One piece of advice you wish you’d been told as an U11 athlete?
However competitively you take running, it’s important to enjoy it, not let it stress you out and just to see where it takes you. You’ll have a big mix of good and bad races but it’s all about building up training and experiences slowly that you can take forwards to the U20 age group and beyond.
7) Any parting thoughts/ words?
As we say in our training group back home in Dartford, if you just love running, aim to peak for the veterans 70 category – you’ve just got to be healthy and still loving running to make it 😉
I just wanted to round off this post by saying a massive thank you to Holly for taking the time to answer these questions (mid-exam season). I hope you’ve found this as interesting as I have, and have taken on board her wise words.