“How She Did It”: Inspiration from Female Running Icons
By: Leda McDaniel
For runners, race day PRs or podium level performances rarely come without great sacrifices
and diligent preparation and planning. All the way from the female running elites to those of us
who run for fun, fitness, and recreation; we all have value that we glean from this wonderful
expression of human movement. Sometimes, though, the motivation to train or inspiration to
dedicate precious time to an extra strength training or mobility session can seem daunting.
It is at these times that we may turn to the example that other runners set to give us the spark
that we need to engage again fully in running and enjoy the process and the community it can
provide. Hearing or reading running stories chronicling record breaking times, inspiring races,
and charismatic athletes can serve as great motivators for our own athletic pursuits. In the
running world, and more specifically for female runners, the history of our sport has many great
role models from which to glean valuable inspiration, motivation, and knowledge.
Running stories from successful athletes can also hold great power to educate because a well
told story often creates a robust emotional reaction or feeling in us (which can fuel our action
steps!). There is plenty of running advice out there and not all of it is good. Though most of it is
may be well meaning, sometimes it is misinterpreted or uses guilt as a motivator. Additionally,
advice without some context can fall flat. Stories are different. Stories are messy and human in
the best ways. Stories are full of emotions and stories stick with us. So, it was with great
excitement that I first began to read the recent book, “How She Did It: Stories, Advice, and
Secrets to Success from Fifty Legendary Distance Runners,” chronicling stories from female
In Episode #34 of the More Than Miles Podcast, Dr. Kate and Dr. Kacy interview co-authors
Molly Huddle and Sara Slattery who recently published the book, “How She Did It: Stories,
Advice, and Secrets to Success from Fifty Legendary Distance Runners.” Molly and Sara are both
themselves accomplished competitive runners and their book dives into some of the careers of
female runners who paved the way for their success.
As mentioned above, running stories can be useful in a variety of ways. The positive aspects
that stand out to me (and why I HIGHLY recommend you give this book a read!) are that these
stories provide motivation for improving gender equity in running, they serve as motivation in
the pursuit of our own personal running or racing goals, and they also stand out as examples of
how to structure training, nutrition, recovery and other important, “whole health,” factors that
can improve health and performance in running.
The book is quite powerful in capturing some of the key figures in female running history and
letting their stories and accomplishments come to life. The interviews that Molly and Sara
conduct with this stellar group of female runners are quite profound and personal. They
amazingly were able to interview an incredible group of some of the most successful and
influential female runners, including Shalane Flanagan, Joan Benoit Samuelson, Paula Radcliffe,
Lynn Jennings, and Jaqueline Hansen among MANY others!
One of the intents of writing this book was to offer positive and healthy training practices to the
next generation of girls who are entering the sport of running. In the podcast interview, Molly
and Sara expand upon their passion for helping these burgeoning young runners. They talk
about the process of writing the book and trying to highlight some of the health lessons from
successful runners that they wish they had been exposed to as young runners. For example,
they highlight the importance of adequate nutrition and fueling for performance given the high
workloads that competitive running entails. They also discuss the potential health
repercussions of not having a regular menstrual cycle and some of the early misconceptions
that they had due to lack of knowledge about these factors.
Another great motivator for writing the book, was to provide sage advice on training and
recovery practices to runners in the form of success stories from the female runners they
interviewed. As Sara says about her own perspective on acquiring helpful training tips, “We
would get told what to do all the time, but unless we saw it play out successfully in other
people, we weren’t going to listen to it! So, we were trying to drive the messages in those
stories.” As captured in this sentiment, runners are more likely to follow the advice of someone
who has obtained success in the sport than blindly go along with advice given at random or
even statistics from an isolated research study.
Sara has seen this play out not only in her practices and Molly’s training, but now also as a
running coach. In her coaching role, Sara says, “I see it with my athletes too. The biggest way to
get them to do something is telling a story of another person that has gone through that and
dealt with that in the past and then they’re not as resistant to try it and they know it will work.
So, I try to use those stories all the time.”
Another key message from the book and that Molly and Sara communicate in the podcast
interview is that there is no rushing into distance running successes. They explain and utilize
stories from some of their interviews to capture the broad perspective across a career and
across many years of training and investing in the sport of distance running. Both women give
personal testaments to how this has manifest in their own careers and emphasize the virtue of
patience through consistency and how body adaptations and improvements in distance running
are cumulative across years of work. They also caution against advice or practices that may lead
to short term success but later health issues or reduced performance. I hope you will check out
this great read and the podcast episode interviewing these two incredible co-authors!
For the full interview with Molly and Sara check out the podcast episode:
How She Did It Book:
How She Did It Worksheets:
Keep up with Molly and Sara at (Instagram Handles):
The Keeping-Track Podcast: