Lauren Fleshman is an unconventional athlete. She cross-trains on an outdoor elliptical, she splits her time between running and two entrepreneurial ventures, she isn’t scared to run her first marathon only nine weeks after the world championships, and she will use the word “balls” in an interview on national television.
Fleshman is best known in the track and field world as a 5,000 meter specialist. At this year’s IAAF World Championships she finished seventh in the finals in 15:09.25 to tie the best finish ever by an American woman.
But to the average runner, Fleshman is the force behind their favorite energy bar, Picky Bars
“People will contact us who are just weekend warriors and saw the bars at their local running stores,” Fleshman said. “But if I can turn people on to the professional running world in some way, if Picky Bars are a gateway for some people into pro sport, then I think that is awesome. As soon as they get introduced, there is so much cool stuff for them to discover and so many great people in the sport that are writing blogs, doing interviews and all of those kinds of things. I would be happy with that.”
Fleshman teamed up with her pro-triathlete husband Jesse Thomas and elite marathoner Stephanie Rothstein to create the energy bars after the 2008 Olympic Trials. Fleshman and her team have seen Picky Bars take off since then. In the past month, more Picky Bars were sold than in the first five months of business combined. Additional employees have been hired recently, bringing the count to five shareholders and five Picky Bar makers. Each bar sold online or in one of 29 stores nationwide is handmade in Fleshman’s kitchen.
“I never envisioned us taking over the energy bar world,” Fleshman explained of Picky Bar’s future. “But we are really trying to do something different.
“We are doing it because it is a cool challenge and it is good to grow in a different way. We want to see how far we can make it by getting in running stores. We don’t really care about grocery stores; we want to be where running communities are. We just want to connect where runners are and also hope that by having a product made by pro athletes in those environments it will connect the recreational running community with the professional running community.”
"I Am Beautiful" Illustration
For most professional athletes, having one entrepreneurial venture in addition to the daily grind of practice, rehab and resting would be enough, but not for Fleshman. Teaming up with Irish Olympian Rosin McGettigan, Fleshman recently launched a new project called “Believe I Am
.” The focus of Believe I Am is to get women to value their story in sport. They have a training journal and a clothing line that feature Fleshman’s inspirational illustrations that include hidden messages to empower women.
For Fleshman, it is easy to spread her time on so many different things, and she feels that having so many side projects actually helps her running.
“I get a lot of people who are like ‘how in the heck are you doing that while you’re running?’”, Fleshman says of her critics. “It is hard to find something that doesn’t take away from your sport and is something that fills you up rather than drains you. It is also hard because you are used to as an athlete doing a lot of things alone, but if you try to do an entrepreneurial project alone, you aren’t going to make it very far.”
However, for Fleshman it seems to work.
“I am running better than I ever have, and I think it is because a lot of these things we’ve defined as absolute necessities to take care of,” she said. “We kind of blow them out of proportion. In my event, it is very clear that the fastest athletes in the world are from places where they do things very simply.”
Fleshman still maintains the little things, but admits that when she devoted entire days to taking care of running she felt miserable and one dimensional.
“That is just how I operate,” Fleshman said. “ I get more benefit by feeding those other parts of me through my entrepreneurial stuff than I would from spending an extra 15 minutes stretching.”
Fleshman’s 2011 year got off to a rocky start as she dealt with a stress reaction in her left foot. She didn’t start training until April and only ran one race before the USA Championships. While she was the defending 5,000m USA champion, Fleshman struggled at the 2011 USA Championship and finished eighth in 15:31. However, Fleshman rounded into form in early August as she won the 5,000m at the Aviva London Grand Prix and was selected to represent Team USA at the World Championships.
Not one to shy away from taking on a new challenge, Fleshman announced in early August that she would be making her debut at the 26.2 distance at the ING New York City Marathon. For a 5,000m runner to extend their race by 23.1 miles is a hard enough task, but Fleshman also squeezed her marathon specific training into only eight weeks.
Fleshman doesn’t worry about what others may think of her training or racing plans. Fleshman wants to run the marathon to build her strength both physically and mentally.
“I want to get out of this marathon an incredible amount of strength from doing the long tempo runs and the marathon specific workouts,” Fleshman said. “I want to get the mindset of a marathoner so I can incorporate that into my toolbox. After 11 years of doing the 5k, it is good to inject something new in there.”
As a runner who caped her marathon training at 80 miles per week, Fleshman tried to supplement her running with cross training. However, as many athletes do, Fleshman tired of the monotony of pool running or being confined to elliptical machines in the gym. Not afraid to do something, Fleshman bought an ElliptiGo, a piece of outdoor exercise equipment that looks like the child of a traditional elliptical machine and a mountain bike. Fleshman turns heads when she takes her cross training to the bike paths of Eugene.
“I love taking it out on the bike paths along the Willamette river and seeing people smile when I go by,” Fleshman said. “Or people make so many comments, they just can’t help it. They’re like ‘whoa, what is that?’ or ‘that is so cool, where did you get that?’ People just can’t help it. It’s awesome.”
Her path to get there may have been unconventional, but Fleshman will be like everyone else thinking only of the finish line at Sunday’s ING New York City Marathon.