Pro Runner Lauren Fleshman Says Marathons Aren't Everything

She may be able to run a 5K in under 15 minutes, but she still needs Salt-N-Pepa to get her through her workouts.

August 18, 2014
Lauren Fleshman

Running wasn't always Lauren Fleshman's favorite sport. The woman who went on to rank 7th in the IAAF World Championships 5K in 2011 (with the highest American finish in history), almost chose softball cleats over running shoes in high school. Luckily, the softball coach convinced her to join the cross-country team, and she hasn't stopped running since.

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Fleshman's other accomplishments include being a member of six World Championship teams (three cross country; three track), leading the USA to a team bronze medal in cross country with an 11th place finish, and winning the USA track and field 5K in 2006 and 2010. 

When Fleshman isn't working out, she's helping to manage Picky Bars, the energy bar company she cofounded with her husband, triathlete Jesse Thomas, and her friend and fellow professional runner Steph Rothstein. 

On top of all that? She regularly writes columns for her website Ask Lauren Fleshman as well as Runner's World, and, oh yes, is also a new mom to her 1 year-old son Jude. 

We chatted with the Oiselle pro athlete -- and today's #MondayMotivation -- about her biggest running challenges and how her "screw ups" have only helped her grow.

What's the best advice you can offer for beginner runners? 
Don't be in a rush to move up to a marathon. There's this misconception that "real runners" do marathons and everyone else is "just doing the half" or "just a 5K." As a professional runner I find this ridiculous! Do a marathon if you are so inclined, but take your time to move up, and do the distances that bring you the most joy and make running something easy to sustain in your lifestyle. The most important thing is longevity, in my opinion, so that means you need to protect your relationship with running by being wise.

What's the biggest misconception about runners?
That running was always easy for us. If you work at it for two months consistently, then you will be able to find your flow, and then one day you will forget you are even running! But it takes discomfort and dedication to earn that feeling and that fitness. That is true for all of us. Even for me -- when I came back after an 18-month injury, and again after a long layoff from pregnancy, running felt torturous at first! It was like I'd never run a day in my life. But it comes back.

When did you start running? Why did you start?
In 8th grade I got punished for being chronically tardy to gym class. My PE Teacher gave me a choice for my punishment: Pick up 150 soda cans from my peers at lunch and recycle them, OR run the 800 and the mile in the junior-high track meet. I chose the latter and got 2nd place in both.

What was the biggest challenge you faced when you first started, and how did you overcome it?
Being small was a challenge. I felt nobody expected anything of me, and deep down I wanted to be a force, a leader, and a performer people could count on, but because of my size (I was 4'10 and 78 pounds as a 9th grader) everyone treated me like a child. I overcame it by being humble and learning everything I could from those with more experience, gradually earning their respect. Growing 10 inches as a sophomore helped a lot too!

To date, how many marathons have you run?
One! New York City, 2011. I was 16th place overall and the second American with a 2:37 finish time. I was on pace to run under 2:30 until mile 20 and then ... yep, you guessed it, I hit "the wall." My experience was written about in the New York Times, and on my blog if you want to read about it!  

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What do you eat the night before a big race?
I try not to get too dependent on any one meal because I race all around the world and may not have access to what I want when it counts. It's important to be flexible. So my general rule is to eat something balanced and simple the night before, with chicken as my first choice of protein, a hearty serving of carbs (rice, quinoa, potatoes are my favorites), and a small portion of cooked vegetables. I make sure there is enough fat in the meal to hold me over, whether its in the sauce, or the way the food happens to be prepped. 

I don't prefer to eat processed wheat, or desserts the night before a race because it makes me feel a bit bloated, but if all there is is pizza, then pizza it is. I'll have a little dark chocolate or fruit if I have a sweet tooth, and if I'm feeling particularly uptight, I'll have a glass of wine with dinner.

What's the most important advice you can give to prevent running injuries?
Don't move up in race distance dramatically without building your core and foot strength appropriately. If you want to train hard, you also need to recover hard, and do some of the little things to prevent injuries like rolling on a foam roller, getting massage at the first sign of pain, and fueling correctly after exercise with 200 calories of balanced food, like a Picky Bar, to make sure you aren't catabolizing your muscle tissue and robbing your body of the things it needs to repair the tissues you are breaking down every day.

How often do you replace your running shoes?
Every 250 to 350 miles, which for me is every 4 to 6 weeks!

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What are 3 guilty-pleasure songs on your workout playlist?
The weirdest song I like to play regularly to get pumped up is "Push It" by Salt-N-Pepa. Justin Timberlake is always a good bet, too. And the entire album "An Awesome Wave" by Alt-J is phenomenal. 

What workout do you absolutely despise?
I don't do anything I despise anymore. If I don't like something that is necessary for me to be my best, I try to see if there is another approach that I like better, and if there isn't, than I figure out a way to change my perspective and like it. This is hardest for me on long tempo runs over 6 miles in length, so I pop in my Blue Buds and listen to music to get me through.

What did you eat for breakfast today?  
Noosa strawberry rhubarb yogurt with some generic granola and some blueberries. And a huge french press coffee with beans from a local place in town, BackPorch. 

What's your most popular content on social media (beginner tips, marathon advice, etc.)?
People seem to appreciate my failures the most. Or times when I'm vulnerable. The times when I'm honest about my shortcomings, or offer a view into how I'm dealing (or not dealing) with disappointment. Before I started a blog, I always wished people at the top of their field would be more transparent about their "screw ups" and "flaws" because those things are critical parts of the puzzle to how they become great. 

But human nature is to hide those things and show only our best side, giving the impression that a life without flaws is the pathway to greatness. And this is a dangerous lie. Greatness is only possible with adversity. You HAVE to screw up to learn. You have to have these learning moments to adapt and grow into who you are eventually meant to become. I've been told that in sharing these learning moments, others feel more comfortable doing the same, which removes this weight we so often carry around thinking we need to appear put together.

How do you use social media to help others? How do you think social media helps people stay on track?
I use social media to share my experiences, honestly -- to make connections with interesting people, to entertain and be entertained, to learn things, to educate, to share the things that make an impact on me, and to encourage others who are living a lifestyle I admire. Liking and commenting on content that puts positive energy into the world is a way we can all encourage the types of behaviors we want to see more of. That encouragement helps people stay on track. And conversely, blocking or avoiding content that is degrading or negative is just as important. It doesn't mean everything has to be all lollipops and roses, but my preference is to use social media in a way that encourages growth.

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Are you a nutritionist, food blogger, or fitness expert with a large social media following? Email us at [email protected] or Tweet us @Fitbie using the hashtag #MondayMotivation to be featured as our next Fitbie Spotlight.

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