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Fast Women: Courtney Dauwalter's incredible run
Takeaways from the CU investigation that found body composition testing harmed athletes
Issue 243, sponsored by New Balance
Courtney Dauwalter obliterates the Western States course record
Early in Saturday’s Western States Endurance Run, it looked like the race might be a back-and-forth battle between two of ultrarunning’s biggest stars: Courtney Dauwalter and reigning UTMB champion Katie Schide. Just over 10 miles into the race, Dauwalter led by 12 seconds, but at the next checkpoint, 15.8 miles in, Schide led by nine seconds.
Dauwalter regained the lead, but she didn’t open up much of a gap. Thirty-eight miles into the 100.2-mile race, Dauwalter led Schide by only 47 seconds. Helped by the cooler than usual weather, both runners were ahead of course record pace. But from there, Dauwalter’s lead began to grow—gradually at first, and then more dramatically after 100K.
This wasn’t the first time Dauwalter had run the course at record pace. In 2019, she was on pace to break Ellie Greenwood’s record, but 66 miles in, she started to deal with hip pain, and around mile 79, she had to drop out of the race.
This time out, Dauwalter encountered no such problems. She broke the tape in 15:29:33, shattering the 11-year-old course record by a remarkable 77 minutes, 46 seconds. Dauwalter gradually worked her way up throughout the race and finished sixth overall. It was a performance that led people to ponder where Dauwalter’s run ranks among the best ultrarunning performances of all time. (I don’t follow the ultra-distance events closely enough to weigh in on that one.)
Seventy-four minutes later, Schide finished, taking second in 16:43:45 and also dipping under the previous course record. She was followed by Hungary’s Eszter Csillag (third, 17:09:20) Katie Asmuth (fourth, 17:21:06), and Zimbabwe’s Emily Hawgood (fifth, 17:26:22).
There are varying theories about how long one should rest after a long race, but Dauwalter’s throwing all of that—or at least a lot of it—out the window. Next up, she’s planning to race the Hardrock 100 (as in 100 miles) on July 14, only 20 days after Western States. (Race recap from iRunFar | Results)
Thanks to New Balance for supporting Fast Women
After much anticipation, New Balance’s FuelCell SuperComp Trainer v2 is finally available! You can read more about it and order the women’s shoe here and the men’s here. As with many of New Balance’s shoes, they come in standard and wide widths. I haven’t tried them yet, but I’m excited that the updates seem to have made it a more versatile shoe.
Investigation finds CU’s body composition testing negatively impacted a significant number of athletes
The University of Colorado released the report from the internal investigation of its cross country and track & field programs last week, and it contained some shocking details. The full 82-page report has been made public, thanks to reporting from Runner’s World’s Cindy Kuzma, and she summarized the findings here. (I recommend reading that article, along with her earlier pieces on the topic, for all the background and details.)
Among other things, investigators concluded that the “sum of seven” body composition testing performed by registered dietitian and CU’s associate athletic director for performance nutrition, Laura Anderson, supported by coaches Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs, negatively impacted a significant number of student-athletes. Though Wetmore, the program’s longtime head coach, said he did not receive athletes’ body composition data from Anderson, emails show that he lied about that.
Both Wetmore and Burroughs, the associate head coach, told investigators they never mandated body composition testing, but their emails and athletes’ accounts indicate otherwise. And when the testing became optional, one athlete said that Anderson told team members it was their choice whether they did the testing or not, but “not getting your body comp test done is completely asinine.”
Investigators also concluded that the cross country and track & field teams, particularly the women’s program, had an unhealthy environment. Some of the athletes who participated in the investigation used terms like cliquish, sink or swim, cutthroat, emotionally damaging, and meat grinder to describe the team culture. The report emphasized that this was not a misconduct investigation, so the investigators did not make an effort to corroborate their findings, but a lot of the witnesses had similar experiences.
If you don’t have time to read the full report, I’ve summarized some of the parts I found to be most troubling here. I highly recommend clicking through to get a more complete picture of people’s concerns.
Everyone keeps their jobs. It’s concerning that investigators learned what they learned—that they have a program that is causing significant harm to some of their athletes—and nobody lost their job. CU has not done away with the body composition testing either, but athletes will need to jump through a number of hoops, outlined in this summary response, if they want to do it going forward. The summary response also indicates that CU’s athletic department implemented “specific personnel action” to the coaches and staff members involved, but the university will keep the details private.
There was an overemphasis on body composition. It blows my mind how much emphasis Wetmore, Burroughs, and Anderson put on body composition. In a message to the team, Wetmore and Burroughs wrote, “We believe that optimal body composition is second only to serious training in relevance to your racing results.” Remember this Lauren Fleshman tweet from 2019, listing things a coach can work on with an athlete before focusing on body composition? It’s still true today, and in the college environment, I’d put a positive team culture up there as well.
In correspondence among the trio, they callously discussed team members’ bodies, making them sound like race horses or lab rats. In an email to Anderson, Wetmore wrote, “Have you calipered (Student-athlete Q) recently? (Student-athlete Q) is getting difficult and resistant, but is on a very big scholarship. I am not too worried about (Student-athlete Q’s) feelings.”
And in response to concerns about the damage the body composition testing was doing, Anderson told investigators CU Athletics does not run an eating disorder clinic; her focus was on helping student-athletes improve their athletic performance. One staff member who heard a similar comment from Anderson said they were stunned by it.
One current or former team member said that during a team meeting, Burroughs held up a sheet with everyone’s body composition numbers and compared them to a previous year’s national championship team, told them the entire women’s team was too fat, and if they wanted to win a national title, they needed to bring their body fat percentages down.
I would never argue that body composition has no bearing on performance, but when I think about ways to optimize performance, they don’t involve shaming athletes, putting pressure on athletes who already know how to put plenty on themselves, or fixating on body composition numbers.
You can take away the tools, but attitudes are slower to change. Even if CU partially removes Anderson’s ability to conduct body fat testing on athletes, that doesn’t remove the underlying belief that she, Wetmore, and Burroughs have about the importance of being lean. Coaches can still find plenty of ways to convey how important they think weight and body composition are. Four different runners reported being told they needed to lose 10 pounds. One student-athlete said that after winter break, Burroughs would often say, “Someone had too much sugar; we will need to work that off of you.”
The athlete said Wetmore often made similar comments as well, but the athletes were more likely to excuse him because he was considered “old-school” and he was from a different era of coaching.
Other athletic department staff members were concerned. At least four current or former athletic department staff members voiced their concerns about what was going on within the cross country and track & field program. One of them estimated that at least once a day, they talk with an athlete who struggles with body image as a result of their interactions with the coaches or due to the body composition testing. They also said they do not believe Wetmore understands the mental health component of being a student-athlete, and relayed a story about Wetmore joking that with all of the things student-athletes are provided, “if you are not happy here, you might as well kill yourself.” That staff member has considered quitting their job over Anderson’s use of the body composition testing, because they feel it leads to eating disorders.
This wasn’t just “a few disgruntled, troubled people.” In an email to the team last November, Wetmore and Burroughs wrote that the program had “recently been attacked by a few disgruntled, troubled people who were unsuccessful here,” and then tried to influence the investigation by encouraging athletes to contact the administration and support Anderson.
No coach is going to get unanimously positive reviews, but it’s apparent from the report that there were many different people who could see the flaws in the program, including other staff members, and many of the complaints are very serious in nature. The student-athletes don’t come across as a bunch of people looking to complain about anything and everything, evidenced by their unanimous praise for Witness 47, former CU coach Billy Nelson.
When low body fat is what’s valued, of course men will fare better. The report found that women were more negatively affected by the body composition testing, which isn’t the least bit surprising. By nature, men, especially when they are 18 to 23 years old, are more likely to naturally have lower body fat. One male student-athlete pointed out that most of the men were told they were too lean and acknowledged that many of the women might have had a different experience. For most people, “You need to gain a little weight” is a much less stressful message to receive than, “You’re not going to have success unless you lose 10 pounds.”
Some who have spoken out have faced a hostile environment. One recent team member said that many of their former teammates are afraid to speak out for one reason or another. And though the report didn’t include any names, I’m sure it’s not difficult for those close to the program to figure out who’s who. Seeing how Kate Intile was attacked for being the first person to come forward certainly didn’t help. (It especially infuriated me when people tried to undermine her credibility by bringing up her speed.)
And then there were the statements from alumni who support Wetmore. I am sure Wetmore has many great qualities, and I don’t doubt that many people have had positive experiences being coached by him. People are complex. But that doesn’t mean he’s not doing harm. And as Carrie Verdon told Runner’s World, “It doesn’t matter how many people had bad experiences or how many people had good experiences—if someone was told these horrible things, that is impacting their whole life, and that impacted their college career, and that is a tragedy. Even if it’s just one person, that’s enough to be like, ‘Something’s wrong, and something needs to be said about it.’”
Or, as the report concludes, “...when viewed from an individual student-athlete’s viewpoint, it is hard to see a rationale for the team environment/culture when it benefits some student-athletes but harms others.”
It’s also disappointing how few running outlets have covered the topic thus far. The longer I do this, the more I notice publications choosing to opt out of covering certain topics when they’re concerned about burning bridges. I don’t want to burn bridges with CU or its pro-Wetmore and Burroughs alums, but supporting the athletes who had the courage to speak out when they saw something that wasn’t right is more important. I don’t cover the negative aspects of the sport because I enjoy it; I cover them because I want this sport to become better for everyone.
Some athletes believed this was just the price of success. I get strong “this is just what it takes to be successful” vibes from many of the comments in the report. And I’d argue that a positive team culture, and being healthy and happy, plus calculated hard work, is going to take most people a lot farther.
A handful of athletes compared the culture on the CU cross country and track & field teams to other top NCAA programs. Witness 25 said CU was very intense but not as destructive as other distance running programs. I’m sure there are very problematic things happening in other collegiate programs, CU’s program just happens to be in the spotlight right now. But that doesn’t make what has been happening at CU okay.
According to student-athletes’ comments, it seems that Wetmore and Burroughs are relatively hands off when it comes to team culture, and some blamed the women currently on the team for the negative culture. But within a collegiate setting, setting the tone for a positive team culture is one of the most important parts of a coach’s job. Coaches can never completely control the culture, because athletes bring their own personalities to the team, but they can absolutely influence what is valued and how teammates treat one another, and help course correct if things start heading in the wrong direction.
Most of all, when I read the report, my heart breaks for anyone who felt they were the problem because they couldn’t cut it in CU’s program. It also breaks for those who bought in and may not have even realized yet the ways in which they were harmed. It can be hard to question something when it’s all you know.
This piece continues here, and I recommend reading on to learn more about what the athletes experienced.
Other News and Links
Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone put out an excellent 13-minute short documentary about her season opener in Paris. It pulls back the curtain on an athlete who tends to be more private. While in NYC over the weekend, she talked a bit about the film and said it’s been hard to get access to footage and get filmmaker Danny Gevirtz credentialed. “My goal is to help build our sport if we can, but I think track and field has to want to build track and field,” she said.
Two-time defending champion Ruth Chepngetich, London Marathon champion Sifan Hassan, and American record holder Emily Sisson will run the Chicago Marathon, which will be held October 8 this year. The remainder of the elite field has not been announced yet.
After being coached by her husband for six years, Sara Vaughn says she’ll be coached by Amy and Alistair Cragg going forward. She explained the decision here.
Athletes took to Twitter last week to voice their concern about how expensive travel and lodging is for the USATF Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon. Tara Davis-Woodhall, Marybeth Price, and Janee’ Kassanavoid were among those who weighed in, and Alaysha Johnson joked about bringing an air mattress and finding a place to sleep at the track.
CU professor Roger Pielke also wrote about the investigation of the CU cross country and track & field program, concluding, “The university has deeply failed its students in its running program for many years. Our job at the university is to protect our students and certainly not to cause them harm. Whether or not formal misconduct occurred here, the ‘toxic’ culture and the negative impact it has had on many athletes in the running program is a sufficient basis for the university to clean house. Instead, the university’s response is insufficient and embarrassing.”
Helene Elliott wrote a nice profile on Colleen Quigley for the Los Angeles Times. And speaking of Quigley, she has mentioned the project she’s working on to help emerging professional athletes in track & field several times. She, and others, will be hosting an information session Sunday at 5:00 p.m. ET, and you can sign up here.
Sarah Lorge Butler wrote about soccer player Alyssa Thompson, the youngest member of the U.S. Women’s National Team, for Runner’s World. Thompson was a top high school sprinter last year, running 11.69 for 100m, even though she wasn’t able to attend practice often.
This was an interesting look at how much money professional trail and ultrarunners make.
Grayson Murphy wrote about finishing third in the vertical race at the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships, saying her therapist told her it might help her process the race better and come down from the dopamine high.
Wheelchair racer Susannah Scaroni, who has had a fantastic year, was nominated for an ESPY.
The Atlanta Track Club is reportedly planning to build a $100 million indoor track facility.
I love this: Belgian hurdler Anne Zagré was supposed to run the 100m hurdles at the European Team Championships, but she got injured. Shot putter Jolien Boumkwo, who evidently had little to no experience with the event, stepped in at the last minute, so Belgium wouldn’t have to forfeit the team points.
Gudaf Tsegay moved to fourth on the 10,000m all-time list with her 29:29.73 win at the Ethiopian 10,000m Trials, held in Nerja, Spain. She went through halfway solo, in 14:40, and ran the second half of the race in roughly 14:49. Ejgayehu Taye finished second (29:57.45), and Lemlem Hailu was third (29:59.15). (Results)
Athing Mu made her long-awaited season debut, winning the 800m at the NYC Grand Prix in 1:58.73 (race video). The time was nothing flashy, but she looked great as she pulled away from the field over the final 200m and negative-split the race. Sage Hurta-Klecker finished second in 2:00.77. Ajee’ Wilson had an uncharacteristic off day and faded to last in 2:07.97, but she said she expects to be ready for USAs in less than two weeks. Running her second 400m of the season, Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone went out much more conservatively this time (race video) and won the race in 49.51, a PR. (Results)
Rabbited by Anna Camp Bennett and Michaela Meyer, Sinclaire Johnson ran an impressive 4:00.77 to win the 1500m at Saturday’s Stumptown High Performance Meet in Portland, Oregon (race video). Her closest competitor was Allie Buchalski, who ran 4:10.21. Laurie Barton won the “B” heat of the 1500m in 4:08.68, a 5.52-second PR. Nia Akins ran a strong 800m, winning in 1:59.76, with Camp Bennett second in 2:02.92 (race video). Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands lapped the entire field in the 5,000m, running a solo 14:55.05. (Results)
A little more than two months after winning the Boston Marathon, Hellen Obiri returned to Boston and won the B.A.A. 10K. Obiri ran 31:21 and said she might have gone out too hard considering the hot and humid conditions, but she was able to hold off fellow Kenyans Stacy Ndiwa (31:25) and Sheila Chepkirui (31:27). Emily Sisson finished fourth in 31:35 and said that when she saw the soupy conditions, any thoughts she previously had about chasing the American record went out the window. Liz Willis established a world record in the T61–T64 (lower limb impairment) category, running 52:30. Apparently one didn’t exist before. Yen Hoang won the wheelchair division in 25:25, and Jennifer Herring ran 45:08 to win the T11–T13 (vision impairment) category. (Results)
Jennifer Harvey, 55, set a pending American masters record for the 55–59 age group, running a 5:25.0 road mile at the USATF Masters 1 Mile Championships, hosted by the Monumental Mile. (Results)
Cory McGee was good on Convos Over Cold Brew, and I enjoyed hearing her talk about the mental side of the sport and how she bounces back from disappointment.
Des Linden and Kara Goucher talked about their support teams on Nobody Asked Us, and I could relate when they discussed being pissy towards their spouses while doing hard training with them.
Roisin Willis discussed the insomnia and mental health struggles that plagued her during her first year at Stanford on The Running Effect.
I appreciated hearing ultrarunner Meghan Canfield, 62, discuss what she has learned through her struggle with menopause on Women of Distance. And I love that she said she wants to be the oldest sponsored athlete out there.
Additional Episodes: Aleia Hobbs on the Ali on the Run Show | Carrie Lane, Director of Strength and Speed Development for the Under Armour Mission Run Baltimore teams, on the Track & Field Performance Podcast | Author Christine Yu on The Injured Athletes Club | Sika Henry on Starting Line 1928 | Kim Conley on Lactic Acid | Keira D’Amato and Emma Bates on C Tolle Run | Abby Nichols on The Running Effect | Parker Valby discussed being scammed out of more than $20,000, and other topics, on The Running Effect
Thanks to New Balance for supporting Fast Women this month and to everyone who helps keep this newsletter (and the associated social media accounts) going via your support on Venmo and Patreon. I hope you all have a good week.