Book Review: Running in Circles

New and Notable

May 2023

Reading time min

Good for a Girl: A Woman Running in a Man’s World book cover

Despite our celebrating the 50th anniversary of Title IX last year, female athletes continue to operate within a paradigm created by and for men. And though I am eternally grateful for the experiences I had as an early beneficiary of that law, the treatment of female athletes remains neither fair nor equal, and women continue to pay a high price for these opportunities, both physically and mentally. Lauren Fleshman’s memoir, Good for a Girl: A Woman Running in a Man’s World, entwines a compelling personal account with an examination of the challenges she and other female athletes have faced because they’ve been measured—literally and figuratively—by norms that were designed for the male athlete.

The Olympics are full of stories of sacrifice, and I determined that my commitment was simply being tested. I ignored my hunger and called it discipline. I ignored my lost period and called it adaptation. I ignored my loneliness and called it independence. 

Lauren Fleshman, ’03, MA ’04, in Good for a Girl: A Woman Running in a Man’s World, Penguin Press

As one of those “rare” women coaches that Fleshman, ’03, MA ’04, an elite runner, alludes to, I found myself reading late into the night. I had hoped to be both entertained and educated, and I was. Her story brought back memories of my own Stanford experience as a student-athlete and transported me to my days as a professional athlete. I’ve even quoted her to motivate the athletes I coach: “My body was screaming, but it was still working . . . I discovered a new gear, a new level of pain, and persisted.” 

That said, I found it a bit depressing. It’s clear that progress for female athletes has been slow. In 1981, I competed at the first NCAA track and field championships for women, finishing second behind one of my Stanford teammates. Not only was it exciting to be part of that historic moment, it was exhilarating to be a pioneer. We thought we would change the world. Yet all these years after we fought to be included, fought to get professional contracts, fought to be paid while being pregnant—indeed, fought to be treated as more than just “good for a girl”—Fleshman’s experiences feel oddly, and sadly, familiar.

Good for a Girl serves as a warning that these battles are rarely won, just deferred, and that permanent change requires the same level of tenacity and persistence as the competitions on the track that she describes. I commend Fleshman for fighting the good fight, for raising difficult issues that must be addressed, for continuing to use her platform for positive change. And I heartily recommend her book, unless you need a good night of sleep. 

PattiSue Plumer, ’85, JD ’89, is the women’s cross country and assistant track coach at the University of Texas at Austin. A member of the Stanford Hall of Fame, she is an NCAA champion, two-time Olympian, and three-time Olympic finalist, and has held collegiate, American, and world records. Email her at

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