I can remember the day, the day, that looking back, changed my running career forever.
I had heard about this day, years prior, when I was a middle schooler from my older teammates.
"Oh, just you wait, puberty is no fun."
"I was just like you, small and fast, then I got my period."
I got my first period right before my first track race my freshman year of high school. I knew this day was coming, and I secretly dreaded it.
"I'm supposed to win today. What if I can't, what if... this is it?"
As a young competitive distance runner, weighing in at 75 pounds, four feet and 11 inches, I knew that this day would come. I just didn't think it would come on race day.
For years I had gone to many doctor appointments where the topic of question was my weight, age, and development. As a tiny 15-year-old, who had no developmental sign of her period coming anytime soon, the talk about hormone supplementation was a topic of discussion.
In these doctor's appointments my concern was never my development, but rather:
"How are these hormones going to affect my running?"
"I won't be able to perform well if I gain a whole bunch of weight."
"I'll end up just like ___. She will be right, she was just like me before she got hers."
So, there I was in the bathroom, right before my race, crying. I was upset that this natural thing, this process necessary to form life, had made itself known.
I was lucky. I had a support system that encouraged me. They walked me through the experience I would soon embark on.
I had parents and coaches that did everything right. They actively encouraged me and never placed my worth in my PR's or my performance; instead they did everything in their power to prepare me for the changes that would quite literally, change my running career.
I'm one of the few who had this guidance and I am thankful for it.
Learning to Love Running as a Woman
I was never an athlete that tried to get rid of my period. I didn't try to starve myself to better my performance. I didn't try to challenge my body, but I had friends that did.
I, instead, let this change take full control my mind. I let it define me. I fell into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
"She was right, this is so hard."
"I wish I could race like the eighth grade me..."
For five years, I have been on a journey of learning to love running in my woman's body. I take every day as an opportunity to learn what my body is capable of.
For encouragement, I often refer to former professional runner and entrepreneur, Lauren Fleshman's letter to her younger self, as she details her personal journey to love running in her woman's body. She writes:
"I need you to know, I PROMISE you, that the ultimate star you are chasing is further ahead than any shiny thing you see now. The way you get there is to protect your health and protect your love of the sport above all, even as you reach for the shiny goals right in front of you. You simply do not know and cannot predict your personal path, but you'll get there. It will look different and brighter and richer and more multi-faceted the closer you get."
My dreams of becoming a state champion, a nationally ranked athlete, a division one prospect, a scholarship NCAA athlete did not happen, but that was not because of my period.
My story - my running journey - will simply capture different dreams and different goals, and I am learning that that is okay.
As a woman, in this body, I believe the only limit I have is my mind.
#ItsNormal - Shifting the Way We Discuss this Change
Since that day, five years ago, I strive to work on how I can tell my story that encourages younger females to embrace these changes.
I strive to be a teammate and friend that refrains from scaring others from this change, but rather uplifts and emboldens these athletes so they don't have to learn the "hard way."
The media, coaches, even fellow teammates, will participate in a conversation that does the opposite, and it is important that as a community of female athletes, we refrain from this culture.
We need to champion for these young females. We have the power to foster and rally up a love for running in a woman's body.
I challenge you, if you are a female that has gone through this change, if you are a coach who coaches female athletes, or if you work for the media that discusses this change, shift the conversation from "Why do gifted young female athletes fizzle out?" to highlighting an athlete's triumph story.
Let's highlight their drive, their determination, and their work-ethic. Begin to encourage these qualities about these athletes, as these are the traits that define their character, not their running performances. By doing this, we foster a generation of strong women who just so happen to be strong female runners.
Adair Lyden is the Florida MileSplit editor. She graduated from Orlando's Lake Nona High School in 2016.