The club has more women members than ever before, and with the current surge of new female runners joining our ranks comes a greater responsibility for keeping them healthy and happy. With this in mind, Georgina Wiley, a Kent AC runner and, oncology specialist nurse, initiated what promises to be a fantastic addition to our burgeoning club – a health and wellbeing team – whose launch event, entitled In Discussion: Women’s Health and Running, took place on 28 February.
Longstanding club and committee member Ellie Brown kindly offered the use of her Fitness and Pilates studios in Greenwich Market for the event, and Georgina recruited an impressive team of guest speakers – all runners, of course – who also took questions from the floor.
Georgina’s decision to organise this event was exquisitely timed. The international running scene was still in meltdown following Mary Cain’s distressing revelations and the March issue of Women’s Running magazine cites yet another study about the link between exercise addiction and eating disorders.
This latest study, led by Anglia Ruskin University, examined data from 2,140 participants, and found that people displaying characteristics of disordered eating are 3.7 times more likely to suffer from addiction to exercise.
Among women, in particular, the study will ring alarm bells. We’re all aware of the banter about ‘running for cake’. Indeed, some magazines still run potentially harmful pieces about how far you need to run to ‘burn off’ ‘naughty’ foods like ice cream (summer holiday specials) and mince pies (the Christmas issue). It’s no wonder that running comes to be seen as another stick to beat women with – a punishment for overeating.
It’s against this rather depressing backdrop that sensible advice about food, nutrition and fuelling your running adequately is especially welcome. On the night, it came from guest speaker Ruth Tongue, a nutritionist for various athletics clubs and the Charlton Athletic women’s squad, who also writes, and teaches pilates. She was fielding questions about when and what to eat before, during and after long runs; that age-old quandary about needing to refuel asap following marathon, but feeling more than a little queasy; and dealing with confusion over all the vitamins, supplements, smoothies and superfoods health ‘influencers’ would have us necking for breakfast.
The Anglia Ruskin study about the risk of exercise addiction acknowledged the link between disordered eating and obsessive-compulsive behaviours, which brings me to the work of the next speaker at the event Lynne Drummond, consultant psychiatrist and author of the snappily titled Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: All You Want to Know about OCD for People Living with OCD, Carers and Clinicians. She told me that she started a running group for staff in her department to try to sell the idea of exercise to the compulsively sedentary. Addressing a group of keen-as-mustard female club runners, she was also
eloquent on the subject of how dedication to one’s running tips over into obsession.
Some of us have seen this happen, or even felt the first needlings of obsession as we compare our performances with those of our running sisters and wonder if upsizing our training load, downsizing our fuel or transforming our lives into the sleep/run/repeat (with less eat) model will give us the speedy body we crave. That’s why we need people like Ruth, Lynne and of course, Kent AC’s very own Doctor Kate Williams to dispense the sense. As a gynaecologist for Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust and a very fine runner, Kate has had years of giving expert advice to the likes of moaning me while warming up before cross-country. She has always put my mind at rest, and she did so with some style at the Women’s Health event. She dealt with concerns on the subject of amenorrhea (missing periods, a frequent sign of overtraining in young women), iron levels of women who run, running when pregnant, post natal training and, of course, the importance of continuing to run through the menopause.
It was an informative and upbeat evening. In these uncertain times, when we’re being made more uncomfortably aware than ever before that we cannot take our health and wellbeing for granted, it’s incredibly gratifying to know that there are some wise and generous experts out there – and right here in our athletics club – whose job it is to make us feel better. Here’s to the next discussion. Meanwhile, I’ll open it out to the floor: if any members, male or female, would like to get the ball rolling for the next health and wellbeing event, please get in touch with Georgina!
Piece by Ronnie Haydon
Mentions and resources:
Mary Cain’s NY Times piece: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/07/opinion/nike-running-mary-cain.html
Ruth Tongue: http://www.ruthtongue.com/
Lynne Drummond: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Lynne_Drummond