My guest today is professional distance runner Mary Cain. She’s currently 24 and living in New York. For those of you not familiar with her story already, we’ll take you back for a moment to 2013 when Mary was a 17 year old track & field phenom. She was breaking records left and right and signed with what was then considered the best track team in the world – the Nike Oregon Project. To the surprise of many, Mary’s performances actually began to decline after training with the Oregon project full-time. She eventually left the team, and last November Mary came forward with her story of training with Nike in what we now know to be an abusive, destructive training environment, characterized with the coach’s obsession with lowering her bodyweight to improve performance.
To quote the New York Times article on her story from last fall, “Cain found herself choosing between training with the best team in the world, or potentially developing osteoporosis or even infertility. She lost her period for three years and broke five bones. She went from being a once-in-a-generation Olympic hopeful to having suicidal thoughts.” I’m sure this is never an easy experience for her to discuss, so I really appreciated her openness and her positivity. It’s so important for the sport to have positive voices like Mary’s, and we shouldn’t take those for granted.
Recently, Mary signed on with the Boston-based running brand, Tracksmith, not only as a sponsored runner, but as an employee. I was excited to ask her about this new form of brand athlete relationship, and of course about what her life has been like since coming out with her story. As a fan of the sport and as a fan of Mary’s, this was really a privilege for me.
3:30 – Taking a Step Back “I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to help people.”
8:30 – Thinking About Mary’s Running Career “[The article] ended up being the number one read and watched opinion piece in the New York Times for 2019. I remember sitting down with my parents and I told them, ‘I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to get a contract again.’”
19:45 – Who’s Reaching Out to Mary “I’m both saddened and also glad that my story was able to hit men, women, runners, non-runners, people of all sorts of different backgrounds.”
25:00 – TrackSmith “I think it was very smart because neither of us felt like we were entering into some sort of contract that was the other person’s idea. It just so happened we did want the same thing.”
32:00 – What Mary’s Day Looks Like “Going forward, if you want to make the time for something that you’re passionate about, there are always more hours to the day. It just means cutting out that 30 minutes you realized you’ve been scrolling through Instagram or waking up 30 minutes earlier every day, or just little fixes like that.”
44:00 – Learning from Past Experiences “I still wasn’t in a great relationship with my body. At that point I was pretty negative about it. I was self-hating about the way I looked. It’s been interesting – as my running has improved and I’ve maintained health, there has still been this sort of urge to fall back into the patterns of wanting to find improvement by looking a different way. It’s been really helpful to kind of snap out of it by looking back and being like, ‘We know this doesn’t work. You have to feel your body. You have to eat right. Some days if you want that glass of wine or the fries, you can do it. Don’t be so self-critical.’”
55:00 – Change in Sports Programs “At least in the case of the NCAA, the coach’s job is more about the team winning championships and that’s really cool. As an athlete you want to be apart of that, but sometimes the drive to win supersedes the drive to keep an athlete healthy or progressing at their own rate.”