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“I Was the Fastest Girl in America, Until I Joined Nike”

Mary Cain was on her way โ€” and quickly. As detailed in a 2015 NY Times piece by Elizabeth Weil, Cain ran a mile in 5:03 as a 7th grader and by the time she was a high school sophomore, ran the 1,500 meters in 4:11.01. Her high school track coach didn’t know how to coach her properly, so when Nike called, she joined a legendary coach training a team of fellow track stars to see how far she could go. And according to Cain, that’s when everything fell apart.

A big part of this problem is that women and girls are being forced to meet athletic standards that are based on how men and boys develop. If you try to make a girl fit a boy’s development timeline, her body is at risk of breaking down. That is what happened to Cain.

After months of dieting and frustration, Cain found herself choosing between training with the best team in the world, or potentially developing osteoporosis or even infertility. She lost her period for three years and broke five bones. She went from being a once-in-a-generation Olympic hopeful to having suicidal thoughts.

This May, at the age of 23, Cain ran competitively for the first time in 2.5 years and won a four-mile race in NYC.

Update: Shannon Palus writing at Slate about Cain’s recent revelations:

Cain’s story might be superlatively horrifying, and her accusations go well beyond simple misunderstanding of female biology. (They include her coaches essentially ignoring her admission that she was depressed and cutting herself. The Oregon Project was shut down in October, after Salazar was banned from coaching for doping violations.) But the treatment of her weight, and the lack of understanding of how extreme workouts were affecting her body, is part of a much broader problem, and not just one that affects women with large brand partnerships. Many, if not most, female runners, from elite athletes to those training for their first 5Ks, will suffer at some point because of a lack of recognition of their physical needs, and how their bodies differ from men’s.

Update: In a Sports Illustrated article published today, eight other athletes corroborate Cain’s allegations of abuse.

Amid the fallout from Cain’s comments, Sports Illustrated contacted nine former Nike Oregon Project members, including Cain, about the culture under Salazar, and their accounts, extending back to 2008, validate her claims and paint a picture of a toxic culture where female athletes’ bodies were fair game to be demeaned publicly. Multiple authority figures appeared to lack certifications. Former team members now describe it, in retrospect, as “a cult.” Now leaders from the anti-doping world and even Salazar’s de facto successor as coach are calling for a third-party investigation of The Oregon Project.

I was talking with a friend about Cain’s story and how challenging the coach/athlete dynamic is. The nature of coaching is to help athletes to achieve things they cannot accomplish on their own, to push them past what they thought was their best. Pushing boundaries implies the need to be vulnerable, to embrace the unknown, to do things that you may not understand or want to do, and to trust your coach to have you do the correct uncomfortable & seemingly impossible things that will help you excel and not the wrong uncomfortable & seemingly impossible things that will damage your body and mind. From the outside or as an athlete in the midst of training, it can be tough to tell which is which. To have that trust betrayed must be devastating.

What’s the best sunscreen?

I went to the beach yesterday and it was the best thing ever. But today is slightly less great because my back is sunburned. I stupidly didn’t reapply after swimming. I need to do better. Shannon Palus of The Sweethome recently surveyed the sunscreen landscape and picked the best sunscreen: NO-AD Sport SPF 50.

At 56 cents per ounce, the NO-AD sunscreens cost half as much as their closest competitors. We liked this one best because it has no added fragrance, is water resistant, and consistently placed among the top three during blind application tests by our six-person panel.

But the main takeaway from the article is that people aren’t using enough sunscreen. We don’t apply it liberally enough nor do we reapply as often as you should.

Related: how to identify and avoid rip currents at the beach so you don’t die.

Update: On the other hand, EWG’s Guide to Sunscreens rates the NO-AD Sport very poorly, mainly because of chemicals that “pose a HIGH health concern”. They recommend buying something like Coola Classic Sport SPF 50 or Coppertone Sport Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30 instead. The Sweethome review addresses such chemicals, saying that protection from the Sun is much more important:

If you are using a sunscreen that is paraben- or oxybenzone-free because you’re concerned about these chemicals, stop letting those be a factor in your decision-making. As we’ll explain in our ingredients section, there’s far too much alarm out there about the supposed harm sunscreens will do to you if you apply it to your skin. We will work through all the reasons why you shouldn’t be worried below. You should be much more worried about the sun exposure that can result from poor and infrequent application.

A couple of years ago, I bought a sunscreen listed on EWG’s guide. It was expensive, gross-feeling, and difficult to use…the bottle actually ended up breaking with about 1/3 of the contents still trapped inside. The Sweethome review hits on something that seems superficial but is really important: buying sunscreen that works, is affordable (so you will actually reapply), and that you’ll actually use is essential. Buying a more expensive sunscreen with fewer potentially harmful chemicals that feels gross, smells weird, and doesn’t make you want to reapply is going to result in skin damage that will far exceed any potential damage done by chemicals. (thx, brian & tom)