They say it takes a village to raise a child. It’s also true that it takes a village to build a healthy female runner, something Mary Cain wants to foster for not only pros, but for everyone in the running community.
Team Atalanta formed in June 2021 with Cain at the helm as CEO and founder. It was her vision to create a nonprofit focused on community, education, and movement. “We employ and support professional female runners so they can achieve their highest athletic goals, build career skills, and give back to their community. We serve as mentors to young girls, teaching them our healthy sport curriculum. We enable all of our athletes—from our mentees, training team, to pros—to find a healthy and sustainable balance in their running lives and careers. We want to educate and inspire female athletes to use running and movement in a healthy and lasting way.”
Named after the Greek goddess known in mythology to be a hunter, wrestler, and runner, Atalanta is an all-female team with Jamie Morrissey and Aoibhe Richardson as the first two employed athletes.
The team started off on the right foot, with a strong connection from the get-go. However, each member has had moments in their running career where their village wasn’t entirely full. They recognize how hard it can be to find the right support team and how valuable one can be to succeeding in running and in life. Here are their pillars for recruiting and contributing to an enriching support team.
Pinpoint the Helpers
Chances are you didn’t find your way to this article because you believe you can do it all on your own. You already recognize that tapping into the knowledge of others is necessary from time to time. If you can recognize your weaknesses, you’re already on the path to becoming a better runner.
Nobody can tell you what you need except yourself. Whether it’s hiring a running coach, a physical therapist, a massage therapist, taking a trip to your local running store, or messaging a fellow runner in your Facebook group, each person is going to have different expertise to draw upon.
Along with her coach and teammates, Morrissey relies on her physical therapist. Two years ago she had Achilles surgery. Afterward, she felt like she would never run fast again. “I was questioning everything and I didn’t know what I was doing wrong,” she says. It wasn’t until she moved to New York that she found a PT she clicked with and helped her understand the process of recovery. When she was feeling down about her progress and her perspective, he helped put things into perspective. “He’s helped me mentality-wise of like, ‘You’re building blocks, you know, every single day.'”
Training for something new is a wide-open opportunity to lean on your helpers.
Find People You’re Comfortable Speaking Up With
While relying on the expertise of others is unavoidable, it’s paramount to feel comfortable advocating for yourself and your best interests. Let’s face it, you’re not always going to agree with your village—and that’s OK. What matters is how they respond to your input.
According to Morrissey, Atalanta is the first team she’s been a part of where she’s felt comfortable speaking up. Not doing so in the past cost her valuable recovery time after surgery. “I went to altitude two and a half months after surgery and was back running like 70-80 mile weeks and doing three workouts a week when my Achilles was really not ready for that,” she says. She is still dealing with the repercussions of that intense load today.
“That obviously is on me as a professional athlete to be cognizant and advocate for myself, but at the same time, the last system that I was in, I didn’t feel like I had that much of a voice,” she says.
The people you surround yourself should want to hear your opinions and your concerns. And that leads us to the next pillar:m Your village should want what is truly best for you.
Team Up with Runners Who Have Your Best Interests at Heart
It’s just as easy to lose focus of your goals as it is to push too hard and lose focus on the fun. A good teammate can help (and will want to help) advise and keep you on course.
“Having the team there for you and day to day checking in and making sure that we’re good and just being able to run together is our own sort of home base and it brings us back to what work you’re doing and what we’ve been recruited to do here,” says Morrissey. The dynamic lends itself to autonomy and accountability in balance.
Cain has set a tone of trust and support from the very beginning. “That was a huge reason I wanted to join Atalanta was because Mary is such a big advocate for not pressuring anyone to do anything. Everyone’s on their own timeline. And she’s believed in me since we became friends a few years ago,” says Morrissey.
Really good teammates will be cheering you on even when you move on to the next chapter.
Engage with Friends, Family, and Passions Beyond Running
There’s more to life than running and your circle should reflect that.
“It’s great to have good teammates and friends that are your teammates, but I also think it’s important to have people outside of that bubble who can keep you grounded,” says Richardson. While it’s great to talk with people who understand your goals and how hard a workout was to nail, non-running connections allow us to check out from that pressure and check in with other important life moments. With her other friends and her boyfriend, Richardson can more easily leave a bad workout behind and enjoy their company or other activity.
“The whole premise of our team is to have a life outside of running. If we’re happy runners, we’ll run fast,” says Richardson. “I really believe in that.”
Beyond people, other hobbies and interests have their place too. Exploring passions beyond running not only adds depth to life, but can also lead to other opportunities to pursue in the future.
“I knew there was more Jamie and more to 20-something-year-old me where I wanted to explore different career paths and explore music and explore different friendships outside of running,” says Morrissey about leaving the New Jersey–New York Track Club prior to joining Atalanta. As full-time employees of Atalanta, Morrissey and Richardson each play key organizational roles, allowing them to develop career skills that will translate beyond their running careers.
Lean Into the Greater Running Community
New York City has an active and vibrant running community, which is why it’s surprising that Atalanta is the only professional running team based there. The Atalanta runners have been quick to add the community into their respective villages.
Morrissey and Richardson both say the greater running community is essential to having a happy (and therefore successful) running career. Morrissey goes on weekly group runs outside of the pro-team where the groups meet up at a local bar afterward. “You meet people from all different walks of life and I just happen to share a common interest of running. You can meet some really incredible people and build up your own team in other ways.”
The vibrancy of the community keeps them going and motivated. “It’s a really special place to be chasing your goals and dreams in New York City because people just want it,” says Morrissey.
Whether you’re moving somewhere new or just looking to expand your friend circle, local running groups are a great way to meet people with common interests and, as Morrissey said, build your own team.
This article is part of our three-month 360 YOU program, available free to Women’s Running members. Find out what the program is all about here or head to the collection page to dive into the available training and inspirational content.