I just recently finished Lauren Fleshman's new book, Good for a Girl, and I cannot recommend it enough. I have been a Lauren fan since high school when I came across her blog, Ask Lauren Fleshman, while Googling information on how to be a better runner after having just joined my school's cross country team. I specifically remember pouring over all the questions she received and replied to, soaking in her advice and valuable perspective as an experienced woman in the sport that I was quickly growing to love. She was an elite level, heavily decorated athlete who also exuded this humanistic comfort to young emerging runners. Within that first day of coming across her blog, she became a role model for my younger self who I would continue to look up to as I progressed through the sport myself.
Lauren's book is written in a memoir fashion with bits of research on women's health and sociology of sport mixed in, skillfully tying together her life path with her broader morals, values, and calls to action. She describes her life growing up, her family dynamics, her introduction to and relationship with the sport of running as a child, and her experience as a female athlete as she progressed through high school, college, the professional level, and eventually as a coach, business owner, and mother. She tells her story in a very raw and vulnerable manner including both her highest highs and lowest lows, detailing personal challenges and dark moments that played a role in cultivating who she is as a person and why she holds the beliefs she does.
While it is always interesting to me to read about the lives of elite and professional athletes, I often find it difficult to relate to them. I was never a stand-out runner. I was a mid-packer in high school, never made it to my State Championships, and was not recruited by any colleges my senior year aside from little DIII schools (Note: There is nothing wrong with DIII, I just wasn't interested in any of those particular schools) who were basically sending out the mass fishnet of recruiting letters to see who they could snag. I spent my first two years out of high school at my local community college to continue to train for a couple more years under a good coach before reaching out to the colleges I was more interested in attending and competing for. I transferred in to San Francisco State University, then again to Western Colorado University where I really began to bloom as a runner. I had a lot of success there, but was never a national champion and did not go pro after graduating. Needless to say, many of our experiences and paths don't quite parallel that of your typical professional athlete.
Even amongst these differences, Lauren presents her story in a way that is still incredibly relatable. Regardless of talent and ability, the general narrative of the female athlete is very similar across most individuals once you strip it down to its core. I think a lot of us can identify with the struggle of comparing ourselves to others in the sport, the challenge of navigating the absolute maize of puberty and coming into our women's body (Ie: Getting a period, struggling with maintaining a normal period, developing hips and breasts, etc) and the often hidden or masked gender bias and sexism that is still present in our sport, even in 2023. These biased and sexist tendencies manifest by training young girls and women in the same manner as boys and men, the saturation of white men in the coaching industry, the lack of proper education about the physiological differences of the female vs. male body, and the subsequent blame on women for being weak and not working hard enough when we reach the inevitable - though temporary - performance plateau or dip as we go through puberty and become a woman. If you simply pay attention, it is so obvious that there are social inequities in the female sporting world across all levels. High school girls are fed the lie that they will be slow when they hit puberty, that they aren't tough enough, and that the boys can do more than they can. Professional women athletes are paid less, expected to exude sex appeal to the male eye, and if they make the decision to start a family, have even had their salary suspended during their pregnancy, as Lauren describes Nike to have done in her book.
Lauren has used her platform as an elite runner to not just support, but fight for the rights of women in the sport. She pushes a more holistic approach to training and competing, striving for health and happiness both on the track and in the world outside of running. She describes her path of using this passion to become a female entrepreneur and the gender bias she experienced in this journey in addition to in her athletics, connecting with other women and eventually partnering with Oiselle, the now well-known female-centered running brand that was started by CEO Sally Bergesen (another bad-ass woman!). As an emerging runner in high school just trying to navigate the new sport I found myself in, Lauren provided a light to follow. Now as a young woman who has been through the thralls of competitive running, is still training competitively, and coaches other young women, Lauren still proves to be a role model for me.
Reading this book left me feeling validated in my experiences as well as fired up and angry about the experiences of others. Women in sport will almost certainly relate to the story, and men in sport can take the opportunity to learn about our experiences. Regardless of gender, age, talent, or ability, this would be a valuable read to any and all.