Bridget Franek, 2012 London USA Olympian in 3000 m Steeplechase

A personal message from Bridget Franek, a professional runner for the Oregon Track Club (OTC) Elite who competed for the United States Olympic Team at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London

Bridget Franek is currently a professional runner (Primary Event: 3,000 m Steeplechase) competing for the Oregon Track Club (OTC) Elite in Eugene, Oregon under a contract with Nike. Bridget recently competed in the Final of the 3,000m Steeplechase at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London.

Bridget became a professional following a successful college career at Penn State University. A 10-time NCAA All-American from Hiram, Ohio, she joined the OTC Elite in October 2010 and was excited about this excellent opportunity to train in one of the top running clubs in the world. She looked forward to working with Mark Rowland, a bronze medalist steeplechaser at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, and also, training with other professional/post-collegiate athletes.

Bridget has run as long as she can remember and accredits her early participation in the sport to her parents, who were both avid distance runners themselves. She participated in several high school sports- soccer, basketball, swimming, cross-country and track. Bridget won 4 state track titles in her senior year of high school and still holds the Division II Ohio State High School records in the 1600 (4:50.10), and 3200 (10:16.50) events. Bridget was recruited by Penn State as a miler, but it was the steeplechase that became her passion. Bridget was a standout athlete in her 1st season being named Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Her college training regimen involved practicing around 45-50 miles/wk and racing almost year-round. She competed in Cross-Country in the fall followed by Indoor and Outdoor Track in the winter and spring months. She would also travel overseas to compete during the summer months, which she describes as the toughest season in terms of performance.

She became aware of the importance of healthy and optimal nutrition early in her career. She placed an emphasis on refueling before, during, and after training and competition to ensure she achieved her top performance. When her body weight would decrease in the summer months, Bridget noticed she had less energy to put forth her best efforts during training and she struggled during her races. Additionally, Bridget experienced irregular periods since her freshman year of college, and she made it her priority to seek information about the implications of menstrual disturbances for her athletic career but more importantly for her overall health. In college she was advised to go on birth control. Additionally, her physician suggested getting a bone density scan to see if her menstrual problems translated to poor bone mineral density. Her bone mineral density was within the expected range for her age and ethnicity, which she was pleased about but she still was concerned about her lack of a period. When she started experiencing some negative side effects from the birth control, she reevaluated being on the treatment. Her physician told her that since she was not losing any bone as a result of her menstrual problems, she should be fine with coming off of the pill. However, the physician strongly recommended that as long as her period was absent, she get annual bone density scans to monitor for any bone loss.

Despite her frustrations with her absent menstrual cycle and unsuccessful attempts to restore regular menses using the pill, Bridget continued to make an effort to look into non-pharmacological solutions for her absent period, to include increasing her calories and gaining weight. To date, she has not been successful in resuming her period on a regular basis. At times this is extremely discouraging for her, but since her performance goals are high and she is hesitant to make any drastic changes to training, she continues to monitor her nutrition and bone health to avoid any more detrimental health outcomes. Bridget has luckily never experienced a stress fracture or any serious injuries and makes her physical health a priority. Due to these experiences, Bridget felt it was important to make the most of her resources at Penn State. She took it upon herself to be as educated as possible by contacting nutritionists, exercise physiologists and sport medicine professionals to become better informed on nutrition and proper training and its implications for her performance and general health. Bridget also fostered a supportive relationship with her coach and communicated her health, nutritional and training goals very clear, which she found to be a major contributor to her successful performance as a college athlete and led to her current position as a professional athlete. She describes her first year with the OTC Elite as a learning experience as she transitioned to higher mileage and much more intense training workouts combined with the greater competition amongst athletes within the club. In her second year with the club, Bridget is much more confident and is thankful that she now has a year of experience behind her. She has already set a P.R. (personal record) in the 3000m indoors and has run very near her best times in the 1500m and 5k- all great indications for a great season of steeplechasing to come!

She currently works with the company Orreco, made up of a team of elite sport performance specialists including world-class nutritionist, hematologists, and physiologists. Nutritionally, her current focus is taking in adequate carbohydrate for energy during training and increasing her protein consumption for better recovery post-training. She also pays close attention to her glucose levels, concentrating on keeping it as consistent as possible throughout the day. With the guidance of the team, she has added Omega-3 Fatty Acid supplements to her diet as well as probiotics to help with her recovery and immunity. This is meant to prevent her from getting excessively run down by the high amount of training that she does. Bridget recognizes that she is burning a very high amount of calories and needs to refuel to maintain her body weight and provide adequate food intake to support her vigorous training. She has noticed that eating smaller meals more frequently is an optimal fueling pattern for her training regimen, which involves up to 2 practices/day 7 days/week. To monitor recovery between sessions, she is taking daily measurements of body weight, resting heart rate, mood state, muscle soreness, and sleep quality. These give her and the team a more thorough picture of her physical health and well-being and how it fluctuates. Ideally, she will compete into the next Olympic cycle (4-5 more years) and possibly transition into Triathlons and marathons.

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