One athlete's fight against the BS of the "weight" game | Mary Kate Vaughn by Dan Fitzgerald
Heartbreaker Flyer Mary Kate Vaughn is a fierce athlete and competitor. She shares much of her quest toward Olympic Marathon Trials qualification on her TikTok account (here). She recently posted on the subject of weight in the running community and opened up about challenges she's faced personally. I really appreciated here openness and honesty so I asked her about it. She was recently in the Boston area and won a 5K in NH.
@mkvaughn Thoughts from today’s run #LENOVOJUSTBEYOU #runner #run #weight #recovery #stupid #marathon #fuel #food #eat #colorado #healthy #fyp #health #fit #fitness #athlete #recover #refuel #college #coach #ohio #happy #healthy #strong #olympics ♬ Track Star - Mooski
DF: What brought you to NH for a 5K?
MKV: I was in Boston for the weekend hosting an information session for my company at Boston College (my alma mater) and visiting some friends so I was very excited to find an opportunity to hop in a sea-level 5K at the Cinco de Miles 5K in NH. I went to BC and lived in Boston for a year post-grad so I had a great time returning to campus, seeing some of my teammates, trainers, and lift coaches, and visiting my friends and roommates. The focus of the weekend was definitely not on the race (it was more so for fun and to break in my new Vaporflys that I picked up at the Heartbreak store!) but I had a great experience. The beauty of not having a structured training program is that it allows you to do fun, impromptu things like that!
DF: How did you get into running?
MKV: I was a big soccer player growing up - I played for many years and dreamed of playing in college. However, come middle school, my mom "forced" me to run one season of cross-country. She is a great runner herself (she has a 3:03 marathon PR!) and had an inkling that I might enjoy the sport as well. Before my first practice, I told her I'd never prioritize running over soccer... but that quickly changed! I fell in love with the sport very quickly but unfortunately got a stress fracture after just a few weeks of practice so my "career" didn't really take off until the 8th grade.
DF: It sounds like you had a challenging collegiate running experience from what you mention in that Tiktok video about running and weight. How were you able to overcome that and find joy in the sport again?
MKV: I had a really rough journey with running throughout high school and college. I had a standout season my freshman year of HS but unfortunately fell into the trap of underfueling, leading to osteoporosis which triggered a string of injuries including two stress fractures in my pelvis. Luckily, I was able to address the way I approached nutrition but much of the damage was already done, as my injuries persisted throughout college. I had 13 stress fractures and reactions and was not able to string together a healthy season for ~7 years. I also struggled with burnout and losing my love for the sport all through HS and college - between the constant injuries, never coming close to PR'ing after my freshman year of HS, and dealing with challenges with some aspects of the collegiate running environment, I never thought I'd want to run competitively again. I am very grateful for my teammates and supporters back home (including my mom's running group, all of whom have been great supporters!), who encouraged me to stick with things and lifted me up time and time again.
It took leaving the college environment post-grad and resuming running on my own terms to find the joy of the sport again. I never planned to do marathons or run competitively - in fact, I didn't run more than ~30-35 miles a week all of last year. I was just running for the sake of running, not doing workouts or long runs and taking as many days off as I wanted, which is what it took for me to find that joy again. I ran my first marathon on a whim, which turned out to be one of the best decisions I've made as it re-introduced me to the world of enjoying competition. I still don't do any structured training, have a coach, or do any workouts, but I'm sure the time will come where I feel ready to pick those things back up. For now, I'm trying to hold onto that joy of running (and running injury free, which I have done since graduating!), using the sport to make friends and using my social media to try and give back and help others who may be dealing with similar issues.
What advice do you have for young women that might help them recognize or navigate an unhealthy environment?
Great question! First, when looking at colleges, I'd make sure you really get to know the coaches and athletes on the team. Spend time with everyone on the team and don't be afraid to ask the "hard" questions about team dynamic, coaching dynamic, injury history, etc. If you hear something that doesn't sit right to you, don't be afraid to explore it further - either with someone you clicked with on your visit, or you could try reaching out to a former team member!
Once in the collegiate environment, it can be really hard to prioritize your needs, especially if your program has more of a "one-size-fits-all" training plan. It's important to be up-front and honest with your coaches, trainers, etc. about how you're feeling and don't be afraid to suggest solutions. I believe that most athletes know themselves and their body best and a good coach will listen to what you're saying and work with you to find a solution. Also, don't be afraid to take rest and recovery days, especially if you're feeling rundown. It won't hurt to run alone for a day or two to make sure that you can go your own pace and truly recover rather than pushing yourself to run someone else's recovery pace. Finally, the hardest thing can be remaining confident and optimistic in a challenging environment. I really struggled with this, especially during the times where there were a lot of adversarial voices in the room criticizing me or tearing me down. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to overlook this and not let it impact my performance and love of the sport, but I think knowing that others go through similar things would've helped me. So, hopefully any athletes dealing with this currently take comfort in the fact that it is sadly all too common - oftentimes, you have to be your own biggest cheerleader and advocate! And, finally, the collegiate system is not for everyone, so don't be afraid to recognize and embrace that. It doesn't mean you can't stay in the system, but realizing this can sometimes reduce stress if you take a step back, breathe, and remember that, at the end of the day, you are there because you love the sport so the most important thing is finding a way to hold onto that.
DF: What's your next race?
MKV: I will be racing Grandma's Marathon in 4.5 weeks in Duluth, MN. This will be my third marathon and my first time racing in the elite section. I am hoping to hit the Olympic Trials Standard!
DF: What's your goal for 2022?
MKV: These days, my biggest goal is always to remain injury-free and run happy since I've spent much of my career injured and/or burnt out! That's my biggest priority for this year, but second to that is to qualify for the 2024 Olympic Marathon Trials. I was hoping to do so at CIM this December but right before the race, USATF announced the window wouldn't open until Jan 1st.