Megan Flanagan is an avid Spartan and trail runner, personal trainer and co-founder of Strong Runner Chicks, an online community created to educate, empower and connect female runners, proving that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to being a distance runner. Megan ran track and cross-country through college and continues to pursue her passion for health and wellness as she completes he master’s degree in public health. We connected with Megan over our shared mission to empower women and change the narrative around fueling, body image, and running! Get to know Megan a little better with the 9 questions below, then head over to her website to see what Strong Runner Chicks is all about!
Why did you start running and what made you stick with it?
I started running with my first 5k back in the third grade, running a local YMCA race with my parents. I then continued running track in sixth grade, thinking I wanted to do hurdles and shorter distances; however, when I didn’t make the basketball team in 7th grade, I decided to go out for cross country instead. I’ve been hooked ever since!
What is the biggest lesson running has taught you?
This is tough… what hasn’t running taught me?! To me, running is a way of life. Running has taught me that life is an ongoing process, not just an upward trajectory, just as our career path has its ups and downs, ebbs and flows — so does running, so does everything in life. But making progress is about consistency, day in and day out. Showing up each day, even when you aren’t always feeling like it, but also knowing when to back off and take time to rest and recover. Running has taught me that the most valuable relationship we have is the one with ourselves, and that taking time for that is tremendously important, whether it be to go for an hour on the trails to unwind, or simply doing something for ourselves. Of course, being on a team has also led to so many other lessons… I may as well write a book!
We’d read that book! 😉 What is your favorite mile of a run? Why? What about least?
Hmm, I know my least favorite is the first 1-3 miles as it’s tough for me to get going. I’m not one to come off the starting line quickly in races, and it always takes my body a while to get warmed up for training runs. My favorite is the last 60-80% of a run or workout where I’m really in the flow and nearing the finish, but not quite there yet.
Has running impacted your relationship with food? If so, how?
It certainly has, as it is undeniable how much the two are intertwined. In some ways, I started to view food as fuel (looking at a food, thinking, “Is this the optimal carbohydrate to protein ratio?”), which isn’t necessarily good or bad, but it can quickly spiral into becoming hyper-aware of what we’re eating and not only how it’s affecting our performance, but also our bodies. In this way, the running world definitely skewed my relationship to food a bit.
Have you ever experienced disordered eating, or had an eating disorder?
Although I have not experienced an eating disorder, I have fell prey to some disordered eating patterns (mostly restriction of carbohydrates — a runner’s primary fuel source!!) and certainly have faced struggles with body image. This mostly occurred during my early collegiate years of running, looking up to who was winning the high school state titles and going to NCAA’s, and thinking I needed to look like them to achieve those accolades.
Luckily, I began to realize that the whole low carb thing was not working… it was making me sluggish, fatigued, tired… and slower! Not only was I feeling worse, but my performance was sucking. It was a recipe for disaster, which I realized early on. And even more importantly, I learned that looking a certain way does not equate to fast times. Runners of all shapes and sizes are doing well. Strong athletes perform and feel best at their most natural weight, not their lowest weight. Shifting my focus to how I felt versus appearance (how I looked) went a long way.
Can you tell us about your most difficult run/race? How did you overcome that?
The most physically tough: the last two miles of my first marathon (Houston Chevron 2018). The most mentally tough: XTERRA World Championships in 2017, mostly because of the extremely muddy terrain and humidity. The most physically AND mentally tough: probably The Spartan World Championships in 2017 at Lake Tahoe, CA. Between high altitude, rocky terrain, hard obstacles and the longest race I’d ever run (both in hours and miles), this was definitely a difficult experience and had me on the verge of tears in some points. What kept me going was focusing on the next obstacle ahead and running beside others going through the same pain. Needless to say, the Spartan community is pretty amazing!
Tell us about Strong Runner Chicks. How did you get started and what is your mission?
I started Strong Runner Chicks during my sophomore year of collegiate running, after witnessing eating disorders and mental health struggles in our sport that weren’t being talked about enough, or really at all. I got started with the support of my teammates and began sharing their stories on our blog, bringing on more contributors over time. Our mission is to educate, empower and connect female distance runners by showing them that there is no one-size fits all approach to running.
What do you hope to accomplish with SRC and how can women get involved in the community?
I hope to redefine women’s distance running by bringing together our community and make a difference by empowering us to embrace our strength, especially younger girls just getting into the sport. Women can get involved by joining our Facebook group, following us on Instagram @strongrunchicks, liking our Facebook page, listening to our podcast and reaching out to share their story. We also have a summer book club going on and an ambassador program for those who are interested in spreading the message among their team or local community.
What is the single most important piece of advice you’d like to give young high school and collegiate runners?
Don’t be afraid to pave your own path (or be afraid, but face the fear and do it anyway). This could mean that you transfer schools, change up your routine, do a workout that is different from your teammates, choose to not run anymore (if it isn’t for you), spend your time outside of the sport practicing a completely different hobby, pursuing a career path that is unique to you… and in doing so, you become more than a runner. As much as running is a part of who we are, it is not everything. There is so much more to life than being just a runner, and I encourage you to find out what that is.
Two more tidbits: We rise by lifting others and whatever you’re going through, it will get better.
Follow Megan on Instagram at @meginspirefit, where she’d love to connect with you!
National Eating Disorder Association Helpline: 800–931–2236
Submit your essay to Lane9Project@gmail.com.