9 Miles with Andie Cozzarelli, Elite Runner and Raleigh Distance Project Co-Founder

Andie is an elite distance runner for the Raleigh Distance Project, InsideTracker, Athletes For Yoga, UCAN, and AltRed. Andie ran collegiately for NC State where she was a 2x10k All-American and HC-Kennet Female Athlete of the year award winner in 2012. She graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering and now works as a real-estate appraiser and online running coach in addition to assistant coaching a local kids team on the side. She is a co-founder, athlete and officer for the Raleigh Distance Project. In recent years, she has emphasized health, nutrition, and recovery in her running after a long battle with overtraining and secondary amenorrhea. 

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Photo provided by Andie

Why did you start running and what made you stick with it?

I honestly started running because I wanted to beat my sister. We were super competitive growing up so everything was a competition. I loved doing the mile run in school so it came naturally, but it wasn’t my first love. I played soccer for about 14 years (age 4 to 18) before choosing to run in college. I was excited to run in college because it would be the first time I put all of my focus on it. I was excited to see what I could reach. However, by the time I graduated I was running for my self esteem and not for the love of it. Remembering why I run and the people I have met through it are the biggest reasons why I have stuck with it all of these years (about 18 years now!). Joining Oiselle Volee in 2014 gave me a team and I began believing in myself again. I truly love the relationships I have been able to make through this team. 

What is the biggest (life/health/personal) lesson running has taught you?

You are more important than any external or internal goals you set for yourself. Through my work with my therapist and a lot of self reflection, I have realized where my self-identity lies. We all do and connect with a lot of different things but there are parts of us that shape our thoughts about who we are and what things give us value. Right now, body image makes up a big part of my pie chart of self identity. I’m working to change that because who I am as a person is much more important than what I look like or what goals I reach with running. I see running as my mechanism to reach other people and create change but I am not good at that when I put my focus too much in what my body looks like. It affects my self esteem and doesn’t allow me to feel authentic or reach my goals. Additionally, if I had allowed my love of running to fuel my decision making (i.e. rest when needed, and eat what your body is craving) on how I approach training & fueling a long time ago, I would likely be happier and reaching a lot higher goals by now. It’s not helpful to blame myself so I stay away from that, but I like to point these things out so that future generations can learn from my mistakes. I am not perfect and I allow myself to be highly affected by what other people think, which is something I am still working to improve. Knowing how this plays into just about everything in life is essential to keep prioritizing my mental/physical health.

Who I am as a person is much more important than what I look like or what goals I reach with running.

What is your favorite mile on a long run? Why? What about least? 

My favorite mile: definitely the last one. I love the feeling of accomplishment when finishing the last mile of a long run. Some days I feel crappy and that last mile is a testament to my strength and other days I feel great and that last mile gives all the feels. Plus I always look forward to my post run walk. That probably sounds weird but I like to leave a little room at the end of my runs to walk for a little bit. It gives me time to soak it in and stretch out the legs. My least favorite mile is the first. It’s the “getting into the run” mile for me and it never feels great and is always slow. Totally fine with being slow but getting through the stiffness & aches on top of all of the miles ahead of me, I tend to lose some appreciation for why I do it in the first place.

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Photo provided by Andie

You have talked openly about your experiences with underfueling and amenorrhea. What was that experience like for you, how have you (or are you) recovering, and what has your experience taught you?

I am really happy to say that I am recovered and have had my period naturally for a full year. The experience however has been very tough, one that I wish I had understood as a freshman in college. I had convinced myself that not having a period was the norm for distance runners which was reinforced by many doctors that I saw. I ignored it for years until I heard a podcast with Tawnee Prazak, discussing the long term side effects of secondary amenorrhea. After my first marathon at the end of 2016 I decided to try to get it back. I didn’t realize how much was wrapped up in this issue and the biggest thing I have learned since going through it is prioritizing mental health. When I first decided to get to the bottom of the problem I was not mentally ready to solve the underlying reason why I still lacked a period. Underfueling is, I think, a common problem amongst distance runners, both male and female. My underfueling stemmed from a body image issue that I started to have after gaining weight due to undiagnosed celiac disease my freshman year in college. My constant fear of gaining weight led to restriction. The restriction never reached the point that outside observers, including myself, could tell that there was a problem. I was in denial until my therapist this past year put Eating Disorder in as a diagnosis code. Looking back, I have several DEXA scans which show how underfueling impacted my body fat. The underfueling had also affected my metabolism so the process of solving it would require me to challenge that fear of weight gain. My body wasn’t trusting me as much as I wasn’t trusting it. Eating enough and being patient will lead to success if you let it. I have had to gain weight over the course of the last year which has been very uncomfortable. I am happy to say that I am however, now in a place to put my adequate fueling over even my intense body image insecurities because I know it will pay off in the years to come. After my longest break and no restriction, I am at my highest weight but this is just a starting point for a comeback. 

Has your history of underfueling led to injuries? If so, how have you dealt with that and what have you learned?

I actually haven’t had a ton of injuries which has been deceiving in the process of coming to realize that my fueling was a problem. I haven’t been injured, until now, but I hadn’t been running as well as I would like. A lot of it had to do with hormone imbalances and fatigue from over-training but a lot of it also had to do with my slowly deteriorating confidence. Not having bone injuries, despite that being common with athletes suffering from amenorrhea and underfueling, made me think that my problem was beyond what I was doing and rather something inherently wrong with me. My only two serious injuries came before I lost my period when I was having absorption problems due to celiac disease. The most recent bone injury felt like a blow, when all things considered, I was finally healthy with a pretty consistent period. Now that I have had more time to process this, I know now that my injury is more consistent with form issues I have had in the past, combined with overall body fatigue. Recovering from this injury has been super challenging but I also truly believe it came at the right time when I needed it most. Sometimes we have to challenge the things that make us the most uncomfortable in order to overcome them. For me that was taking extended time off, with little cross training, and no food restriction. I knew I needed it but I knew it would be triggering and hard. But, that is why I approached my injury recovery in the way that I did. I love running more than I care about the weight gain so I saw this as an opportunity to let go. 

Sometimes we have to challenge the things that make us the most uncomfortable in order to overcome them.

Can you tell us about your most difficult run/race? How did you overcome that?

The 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials was the toughest race for me. I was overtrained, sick with a chest cold the week of, and I had put a lot of pressure on myself to perform. It was my first marathon, it was hot, and I honestly had no idea what I was doing. I had built up that race so much in my head that it felt like what happened on that day was make or break. I dropped out halfway through, just to pass out an hour later from heat exhaustion, requiring an ambulance trip to the hospital. I felt this completely overwhelming feeling that I had let everyone down. I also felt very defeated from the experience. In the days following I remember asking my boyfriend “Will I be okay.” When you have this race that you have trained months for and then the day of you don’t even get to enjoy the full experience, it’s heartbreaking. In some ways, not finishing felt so much worse than simply not having a good race. I had to learn from that experience that prioritizing my health through training is far more important than having the perfect race. I took a month off a while after that race and set my sights on a new debut marathon. I let the feelings of that day go and I trusted the process. I listened a lot more closely to what my body was telling me and relied heavily on InsideTracker. I wanted to finish, whatever that looked like. As a result, I ended up winning my debut in a time that still stands as my PR. Recovery is super important for both your mind and your body. My work with Athletes For Yoga has really helped me to reinforce that. 

What’s the most important thing you want women to know about the sport of running?

Running takes patience but as long as you always listen to what your body is telling you, progress will happen, even if it takes years. Forcing things is never good and I think that applies to life, too. We as women tend to be hard on ourselves in almost all areas of our lives. Not every day is going to be good and that is something I have to keep in mind. Bad workouts and races will happen but they aren’t a reflection of your talent. The better you are at letting them go, the better you will be at seeing improvement. The last couple of years, this concept has been hard to swallow, but my work coaching other runners has helped me to work on this perspective. The other thing that I will say is that women are more likely to experience physical and emotional symptoms of stress. Stress, no matter what type, falls into the same bucket. If you are experiencing a lot of life stress, give yourself a break. Not hitting your mileage one week won’t make or break your training, but allowing the stress, both physically and emotionally, to add up will affect performance and potentially lead to overtraining. Finally, if you lose your period for any reason, get to the bottom of it! A lot of doctors will write it off or prescribe hormones, but finding out why it is happening is extremely important in ensuring long term health and performance. 

Running takes patience but as long as you always listen to what your body is telling you, progress will happen, even if it takes years.

Can you tell us a bit about Raleigh Distance Project and how that came to be?

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Photo provided by Andie

We are an all women’s elite running team in Raleigh, North Carolina and a 501(c)3 nonprofit. We were founded by the 6 women who made up the team when we started, and we all worked together to make it a success. We started because we wanted to increase opportunities for runners looking to reach the next level that may not have otherwise had the opportunity to do so. We also wanted to create more female role models for the sport within our own community. Raleigh has a really great running community and we really wanted to tap into that by creating a team that works with the community to lift each other up. We saw a really high significance in the value of team so we sought to capitalize on that as well. Since starting we have had 4 women qualify for the 2020 Olympic Trials Marathon (one former athlete that qualified while a part of our team and 3 that represented us in Atlanta), and 1 compete in the USATF Indoor National Championships in the mile (only a 12 person field!). Above all else, we wanted to create an environment that fosters growth within a supportive environment. Many elite distance runners don’t have the means to pursue their high level goals for one reason or another and we really wanted to change that by creating a support structure for them. A lot of runners in training groups live cost neutral and very few have living wages as distance runners alone. Our athletes are pursuing their professional goals alongside running but we also have the goal to give them the option to prioritize running. Another big goal as we grow and become stronger is to increase our diversity. We see how impactful having a diverse squad is for young women and we feel lucky and proud to be working with companies like Oiselle & Salomon who share this value and have been good role models for it. You can find out more about us at www.raleighdistanceproject.org 

Where can we find you to support you in your running adventures? (Shameless plugs encouraged!) 

Instagram & Twitter: @Run4ACozz

Website: www.run4acozz.com (can contact me here for interest in coaching!)

Raleigh Distance Project:

Instagram – @raleighdistanceproject

Twitter – @raleighdistance


 

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