We chat with three women runners about overcoming challenges, barriers for women in running, and tips for beginners.
Here’s to strong women
Gender inequality is prevalent in industry, culture and sports — and running is no exception. From endorsement gaps to disparity in female participation in ultramarathons, the running world has plenty of work to do to accelerate gender parity.
To highlight women in the sport, we’re supporting International Women’s Day, a global effort that celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. IWD is also a call to heighten awareness of gender disparity and fundraise for female-focused charities.
In celebration of strong women everywhere, we spoke with three badass runners about overcoming injuries, some of the many challenges women face in running, and uplifting advice for female athletes.
This pro athlete lost her leg to injury but remade herself through running
By age 16, Desirée Vila had become an elite professional acrobatic gymnast. The future was bright for the young Spaniard, but a sudden injury changed her sports career and her life. While practising for the 2015 European Acrobatic Gymnastics Championships, Vila fractured her tibia and fibula. The devastating injury was complicated further by medical negligence, and Vila had to have her leg amputated.
“It took a while until I returned to sports. I needed to recover, both physically and mentally, and learn to walk, which was the most important thing. When I was finally independent and went back to school in 2016, the Olympic and Paralympic Games were happening in Rio. That’s when I discovered adapted sport and decided that I wanted to learn to run like the people I saw on TV. Since then, I have been motivated with desire to compete in athletics again”, Vila says.
Since her injury, Vila has adopted the motto “The only incurable thing is the desire to live”. She went on to represent Spain in a number of championship para events, including the 2018 World Para Athletics European Championship, where she finished sixth in the long jump, and the long jump, and the 2021 Paralympics in Tokyo.
Vila is also a social media star. With 88,000 subscribers on YouTube, 64K followers on Instagram, and 883,000 followers on TikTok, Vila uses her platforms to normalise disability and promote the importance of sports.
Desirée Vila’s advice for women runners
“Look for the opportunity within the change. Be excited by every little thing you do, even if it seems insignificant. The first step I took with my prosthesis after six months using crutches and a wheelchair was an incredible joy. This is how we should take life — with the attitude of that first step, because more will come later.”
Running is a constant for this mum, business owner, and former All-American athlete
Julia Stamps Mallon was on the cover of Runner’s World while she was still in high school. She went from teen prodigy to decorated runner in cross country and track and field, but Stamps shattered her leg in a skateboarding accident in college. She had to re-evaluate her running career.
“I have always loved running. Even from a young age, it was a big part of my life. And from age 18 to 22, I was told three times I would never run again. After my accident, I couldn’t walk for a year. When you’re told by a doctor that you can’t do something again, I think it’s a way of lighting a fire under you”, she says.
Stamps Mallon didn’t care at what level — she needed to run.
“I wanted to feel the wind on my face, the sweat beads on my brow, my breathing change. So, I learned to walk again. Then I learned to jog again, and eventually, I was running the New York Marathon.”
Stamps Mallon is now an accomplished trail runner, a mum to two children, and co-founder of a boutique events company called Eventus Outdoors. Through it all, her motivation for running remains the same — she simply loves to run.
Advice from Julia Stamps Mallon for women runners
Take advantage of enjoying the quiet of running. I think especially now when everything is so hectic, with so much going on in the world, running is that time where you can get quiet and enjoy yourself.
Maryland marathoner preaches the importance of bras, brunch, and body positivity
Marketing expert and run coach Alexandria Williams hates running in the rain. Her aversion to wet weather runs stems from her first Did Not Finish (DNF) in the 2018 Boston Marathon where monsoon-like conditions thrashed participants.
A year after Boston, she struggled with cramps at the end of the Chicago Marathon, but managed to finish. Then a few days later at the Marine Corps Marathon, Williams was tested again by flooding conditions. She panicked before the race, then began to pray for lightning before mile 12. But Williams realised she was further along than she was at Boston and her preparations were paying off.
“I made adjustments. Rainy weather tips were engrained in me now. Saran Wrap on my feet, Vaseline, hydration. My DNF prepared me to successfully complete MCM since I knew what to do now. I took all the tips, mental toughness and endurance, and used them to finish two marathons back-to-back”, she says.
The mental and physical tests of marathon running are far from the only challenges that Williams has faced in the sport.
“I tick different boxes as a minority. I’m curvy. I’m a woman. I’m black. Being all of those and marathoner has come with a lot of adversity. Frequently, I have faced racism and various biases of not being an actual runner based on my size and skin colour. It was important that I found others facing similar challenges.”
Williams now hosts her own sports bra events to help women who have issues finding proper sports bras. She uses the events to offer women practical solutions and to show them that runners come in various shapes and sizes.
“I think choosing a run bra is one of the biggest but most hidden barriers to entry that women face in running. I used to wear two sports bras at once. The options just weren’t there for me. I do what I do because there’s never been inclusivity for women who are shopping for running gear.”
Pace yourself to run your own race. Make sure to enjoy the journey and not place too many expectations on yourself. If you're new to the sport, make sure you take time to learn and focus on the essentials of running, but don't forget to set aside time for new, cute workout gear.