In 2017, at the height of her elite running career and with a marathon time of 2:36, Tina Muir decided to leave the sport to rest, reset, and have children. Now, the mother of two and host of the podcast Running for Real, Muir is dedicated to finding ways to bring sports and social justice together.
In 2016, I achieved my ultimate goal of representing Great Britain in a World Championship; five weeks later, I ran a personal best at the London marathon. But after fulfilling these dreams, I noticed that my momentum and motivation had slowed. As an athlete – or really as anyone who commits to something – you want to always give your best. Today, we’re told to practice self-care and compassion, but during the years of my elite running career, the message was to dig deeper, put your head down, and grit your teeth.
But nothing was getting me going anymore. I had this sense of, “Wow, is that it? Now what?” I felt lost about what the future held for me. I set out to do a race in Australia along the Gold Coast thinking maybe I needed another goal, but that didn’t help. Then, I signed up to pace the elite group at the London marathon, but that didn’t do it either. My inner narrative became very negative. It was like I was crying on the inside. My heart was telling me it was time for a change, but I hated the idea that people might think I wasn’t mentally tough enough to handle elite running.
Then, my sister had a baby, and I saw this other life purpose that seemed so much more meaningful than just train, race, rest. I always knew I wanted kids, but I also knew that I’d need to have my period to make that happen. The last time I got my period was nine years earlier, when I was 19. My doctors said this was due to my running, so I just wrote it off each month as something I didn’t have to worry about.
By the time I was 25 years old and engaged, I started to become very aware that society expects a certain timeline: people get married, then have kids. My husband is also eight years older than me, so I thought it was probably time to move in that direction. I started to dig around to figure out how I could fix the problem with my period. I went to see an endocrinologist and spoke with a nutritional consultant, who suggested adding more fats and proteins into my diet. I started to make all these tweaks and changes hoping that one of them would work and I could avoid stepping back from running. But nothing happened. Then the disenchantment came, so it was almost this perfect storm of things that pushed me to quit the sport when I was 29.
It wasn’t an easy decision, especially because my husband was also my coach and very much tangled up in my career. He wanted to be a father, but he also knew that taking this step would most likely result in the end of our working relationship, and that was something that he really loved. He kept saying it had to be my choice. He didn’t want to decide for me. I really resented him at the time because I wanted him to take the decision off my plate. But now I really admire the fact that he had the courage to withhold his opinion and not sway me in any way.
It wasn’t that tough mentally to step away, at least not in the way people expected it to be. I felt in my heart it was the right thing to do. I was ready for the weight gain and to see others race while I was doing nothing. I felt at peace – and, in many ways, relief – with both of those things. While I knew what the highs of being an elite runner felt like, I also knew that those were few and far between. The rest of the time, there was a lot of pressure and expectations. It was nice not to have those anymore.
I fell pregnant on my first ovulation cycle 10 weeks after I stopped running. The process made me realize how incredibly efficient and effective our bodies are at figuring out what they need, what is missing, and finding ways around it. Now I’m always looking for indications that something might not be quite right. If I’m struggling to sleep, that’s a sign that something in my life is bothering me enough that it’s not letting me rest. When I’m not resting, I’m not at my best, so I know I need to figure out the source of what is wrong and not just rely on sleeping pills. If my period disappears, that is my body saying, “You’re not giving me enough food and calories.”
I’ve done a lot of meditation over the last year to help me understand what is going on internally. It allows me to feel the physical manifestations in my body – butterflies in my stomach, tightness in the back of my throat, my heart pumping – that are telling me whether or not I am feeling good. It helps me figure out what feeling happy feels like. What’s exciting? What is sad, frustrated, or angry? For me, the key is always listening to my body. If I ever decide to go back to elite running, I will be on the lookout for these indicators.
Writing and doing press about my decision to stop running definitely gave me a bigger platform, but the publicity around my decision has been difficult in some ways, too. People thought I’d have two babies and go back to running. That I should stay in my lane. But as I’ve grown and learned about myself, and taken the path towards empathy and compassion, I’ve really started to move towards this intersection between running and social justice; towards helping others who feel alone like I did. It lines up with the Nelson Mandela quote about sport having the power to change the world. I want to give those who have been previously ignored or discriminated against, or who have been left to fend for themselves, a voice and a platform to make real, meaningful change happen.
I’ve always felt it’s important to share your struggles. I feel closer to people when I express something difficult, and it allows them to let their guard down, too. So, if telling my story can help others, then it will all be worth it.
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