March is National Women’s History Month and the WHOOP community has no shortage of extraordinary women across differing backgrounds, lifestyles, sports, and professions. WHOOP kicks off the month with Leigh-Anne Sharek, 31, who completed the Olympic Marathon Trials this past Saturday in Atlanta. It was one of the most historic and fastest marathon trials of all-time due to the sheer number of women who qualified (more than double the men’s field). See how Leigh-Anne balances a full-time career with her sport, how WHOOP helps her stay on track, and why this was such a special moment for her and women in general.
A Historic Moment in Women’s Sports
This past weekend over 400 women toed the line in Atlanta for the Olympic Marathon Trials, the biggest field history has ever seen. The top 3 finishers would move on to represent the USA at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. The course was hilly, relentless, and a true test of mental strength, requiring the runners to complete 3 consecutive loops downtown with hairpin turns and sharp angles.
Brooklyn Track Club runner, forensic scientist, and WHOOP member Leigh-Anne Sharek, 31, finished the race in a time of 2:49:26, a blistering 6:28/mi. Her time placed her in the middle of the pack with numerous other women equally as competitive as her, while the small lead pack cruised through under 2:30 – all of whom were professionally sponsored runners. The reality is, the majority of women running the trials, like Leigh-Anne, were not professional athletes. They were doctors, educators, mothers, business owners, and more. The 2020 US Olympic Team Marathon Trials, in essence, were a symbol of female accomplishments highlighted on a national, televised stage featuring some of the most determined women in the country.
Becoming a Fixture in the NYC Running Scene
Unlike most elite runners, Leigh-Anne did not run in high school or college. She did, however, have a competitive spirit and years of gymnastics training under her belt, which made her a tough competitor with excellent plyometric strength. When a friend challenged her to sign up for a 5k, she thought, Why not? She ended up running a decent time and beat her runner friend.
“That’s when I realized, I actually kind of enjoy this. It was an outlet, a balance between all my schoolwork and my life. And I was good at it,” she explains. From then on, she had the running itch, and in time would boast PRs of 17 minutes in the 5k and a sub-5 mile. In addition, she went on to co-found the Brooklyn Track Club with Steve Finley, a Virginia standout and Olympic Trials qualifier in the 3000m steeplechase. Together, they built one of the most prominent track clubs in the boroughs, drawing people of all talent and backgrounds.
By the time she found WHOOP years later, she had already run several marathons and qualified for the Olympic Trials with a time of 2:41:59 (average pace of 6:11/mi). WHOOP helped her with 2 things runners are notorious for – not allowing enough time for recovery, and overdoing the easy runs.
“Runners are really good at mileage, pace, distance, how far they’ve run, what their goal pace is,” says Leigh-Anne, who mirrors her disciplined, methodical tactics she uses in her job as a forensic scientist within her training. “But they’re not always good at the recovery aspect – how well they’re sleeping, how their body is recovering. And that can lead to injury and poorly executed workouts.”
By coupling the insights from her WHOOP strap with her GPS watch, she was able to see how her strain and recovery correlated to pace and effort. “WHOOP helped me realize that not every day is going to be a performance day. Not every day is going to be a peak day and you need to have down periods where your body is recovering and resting in order to have the best performance later in the week, or the best long run, or the best workout.”
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In this lull between training cycles I’m having a hard time finding motivation to run. I’m tired, I’m lazy- or I just don’t feel like it. But these ladies make me want to get out and work hard. Some still have marathons to race – and seeing them push themselves each week is getting me back in the zone and ready to focus on what’s next. @bktcwomen @brooklyntrackclub • #mondaymotivation #getoutside #training #brooklyntrackclub #womenrunning #teammates #inspiringwomenrunners #trackandfield #track #workout #nikerunning #nikenyc #projectmoonshotnyc #otq2020 #olympictrials #xc #running #runningcommunity
Criminalist by Day, Runner by Night
In her words, no one lives in New York City to become an elite runner. The winters are harsh, the summers are muggy, and the congested streets make it impossible to finish a run without being interrupted. In addition, while the city is thriving with energy and people, it’s also filled with pockets of darkness and crime – something that Leigh-Anne encounters every day on the job working for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of New York City.
“I could let that stop me, but I choose not to let fear take over,” she says, explaining how she regularly goes to court to testify on her DNA evidence findings. Despite her badass career and athletic achievements, Leigh-Anne doesn’t feel that she’s anything special. In her opinion, this is what women are called to do. They are called to be in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), they are called to be athletic, they are called to chase after multiple goals, and gender should not be a limiting factor.
“Every woman should know that they are capable of achieving whatever they want to do. Whether that’s a successful career, a family, a professional sport, or a passion project, they don’t have to be pigeonholed into a category. You know, there are so many possibilities and as women, we need to all support that dream. We can do whatever we want, and I think that’s amazing.”
Follow Leigh-Anne’s running accomplishments via Instagram, and stay tuned for education on how you can apply WHOOP to become a better runner.