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Molly Huddle on Elevating Other Women—and Finding Her Own Strength in the Process

The longtime champ is giving a voice to those around her.

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Two-time Olympian Molly Huddle expected to spend summer and fall of 2020 either recovering from a successful race in the Olympic Marathon Trials or preparing for the Olympic Track Trials. Instead, she found herself coping much like the rest of us—creating her own unique challenges, and balancing a modified training schedule with hours of Zoom.

Some of those were recording sessions for “Keeping Track,” the podcast she co-hosts with fellow Olympians Alysia Montaño and Roisin McGettigan. Since its launch in October 2019, the show has aimed to highlight female track and field athletes whose full experiences hadn’t been described in mainstream media. 

Huddle measures the show’s impact not in downloads or reviews, but in moving the sport forward. “My version of success is talking to some of these women, then seeing them get more support, more followers, more opportunities to thrive and tell their story and make money,” she says. Field athletes, especially, often don’t earn salaries commensurate with their accomplishments, she notes. But she’s noticed more conversations around changing this, and hopes Keeping Track has helped shift the tides. 

Though the podcast began as a way to lift up others, the collaboration with her co-hosts and sometimes-difficult discussions about doping, representation, and social justice have helped Huddle speak up more herself. In the past year, she’s written about touchy topics, including an editorial supporting an anti-doping law published in her hometown Providence Journal and the Washington Post. Taking a stand can be stressful, she admits, but when young girls read her words about what’s right, she knows it’s worth it.

Huddle’s also stayed busy with dozens of interviews for How She Did It, a book she’s co-authoring with Sara Slattery, a former pro and current Grand Canyon University coach. Slattery proposed the project in December; the pair figured they’d take their time and self-publish. Instead, they landed a deal with Penguin Random House to submit a manuscript early this year, for 2022 publication.

The idea is to compile success stories from around 50 female distance runners into a guide for a sustainable career. “There are a lot of hurdles and pitfalls that can happen to young athletes with a win-at-all-costs mindset,” Huddle says. “We wanted to elevate women’s stories for the benefit of others, teaching them there’s a way to get to high performance and stay in the sport for a long time, in a healthy way.”

The timing proved providential. “It’s been really cool to talk to everyone during quarantine. You’re not seeing your close friends, but you have an excuse to talk to every running idol you’ve ever had,” she says. In a single week, she interviewed Shalane Flanagan, Flanagan’s mother Cheryl Treworgy, Shelby Houlihan, and Lynn Jennings, who won a bronze medal in the 10,000 meters at the 1992 Olympics.

Aggregating their experiences has revealed common themes. Many successful athletes didn’t specialize early, for instance. Even at their peaks, they stressed the importance of interests outside running. As they progressed, they placed an ever-greater priority on rest and recovery.

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These messages hit home for Huddle, as she balances these multimedia projects with the remaining years of her pro career. After a disappointing DNF in the Olympic Trials marathon, she dialed back during the pandemic’s height. Instead of training her hardest or traveling for meets, she staged a unique challenge close to home—a successful attempt to break Nancy Conz’s 1981 American record for an hour on the track, which she did in November by running 11.14 miles. The unconventional goal struck just the right balance of motivating yet possible, and gave Huddle a chance to honor the sport’s history along the way.

Huddle aims to be back in top form by summer, where she’ll compete to make her third Olympic team in the 10,000 meters and possibly, schedule permitting, the 5,000 meters too. “I don’t have that many years left,” she says. But inspired by lessons from her peers and mentors, she knows she can make the most of them. “I plan to train away, hope all the meets come back, and have a really good Olympic year.”

This profile was first published in the Winter 2021 print issue of Women’s Running as part of “Women Who Lead: Power Women of 2021” which celebrates 25 women who are reshaping the running industry for the better. You can see the full list of honorees here.