Former European 800m medallist has spotted some alarming trends in youth athletics via her Gracefull Girls programme

At the height of her career in 2006, Becky Lyne ran 1:58.20 for 800m, she won a bronze medal at the European Championships and was voted British female athlete of the year.

Struggling to get the most of our her potential due to injuries, though, she retired prematurely and now, aged 39, she is trying to prevent promising young athletes from making the same mistakes she made through the Gracefull Girls programme that she operates with friend and former 800m rival Marilyn Okoro.

Lyne, who ran for Hallamshire Harriers and is based in the Peak District, began passing on her advice informally to local athletes in the Sheffield area, but more recently she has created the Gracefull Girls athlete support and mentoring business, together with a technical running form philosophy called Gracefull Running.

So since starting the Gracefull programmes, has anything surprised her about the problems and challenges young athletes have?

Two things, she says with little hesitation, spring to mind. Firstly the trolling and cyber-bullying that athletes can experience on social media and, secondly, the prevalence of eating disorders and RED-S, which is even worse than she imagined.

“My best year as an athlete was 2006 but I didn’t even join Facebook until 2007,” she says. “Today there is much more scope for people to make cutting comments and things like that online.

“I was tough in some ways but also quite sensitive as a teenager and I think would have really struggled with that as a young athlete. Teenagers are bombarded now with so much stuff that they’re maybe not quite ready for.”

Marilyn Okoro and Becky Lyne

She adds: “In order to better equip them to deal with such things, we place a strong emphasis on helping them to better understand the workings of the mind so that they can programme effective responses and develop a positive mindset generally. Coupled with this we help to nurture a more enduring sense of self confidence that doesn’t depend on what the stopwatch says, which paradoxically helps them to run better and to enjoy it more.”

On eating disorders, she says: “It’s far more prevalent than I realised. We do surveys in the Gracefull Girls programme and I was quite shocked with the responses I was getting. This could also be linked back to social media.

“Generation after generation we seem to be making the same mistakes. I really do hope that with the likes of Pippa Woolven coming forward and talking powerfully about her own experiences, it might help to cut out some of the misinformation that’s out there that might often come from some coaches.

“Even during my career I worked with someone who had a very unhealthy relationship with food and wasn’t someone to listen to at all in that respect at all. They might tell you want you need to do to be an athlete but they don’t always have the answers. Instead you need to listen to common sense and to people who really do have the expertise.”

READ MORE: Becky Lyne’s five running technique tips

Lyne says her slogan is “grow graceful inside and out” and along with 1:58.45 800m runner Okoro they enjoy helping the middle-distance champions of the future.

“Marilyn is very passionate about mentoring the next generation so it seemed to fit with what she wanted to go into as she’d only recently retried at the time,” says Lyne.

READ MORE: Pippa Woolven on why she set up Project RED-S

In the Gracefull Girls programme there are interactive surveys, weekly strength and conditioning sessions and educational talks. One of the recent themes, for example, was entitled “the art of a comeback”.

In addition to this, Lyne pays visits to athletics and running clubs, she will be appearing at the National Running Show South next month and works with the British Milers’ Club too.

“I wanted to show more support for young athletes,” says Lyne, “but also I did sports science at university and I’ve always enjoyed researching well-being in general so I like to show them the real facts about health and well being.

» Find out more about Gracefull Girls here

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