Founder Pippa's Story

Tags: Athlete Story, FemaleRead time: 4mins
Pip with trainers

When I was describing my problem to a doctor eight years ago, even I could admit I sounded insane. I’d spent the best part of a year visiting healthcare professional after healthcare professional, chasing around answers and achieving nothing other than galloping neurosis. I was willing to work with anyone and do anything it took to fix my problem, but no one could even offer a diagnosis, let alone advice on how to help.

My well-practised appointment pitch went a little like this:

Until recently, I was a 'normal' athlete, full of energy and enthusiasm. Upon starting university life in Birmingham (UK) and seizing a scholarship opportunity in America, I successfully managed high training volumes, achieved my 'race weight,' and embraced the life of the professional runner I wanted to become. From a simple training and conditioning standpoint, nothing seemed suspect—I was a devoted athlete pursuing her goals. However, over the preceding months, a mysterious health condition, characterised by a set of seemingly unrelated symptoms, had infiltrated every aspect of my life.

It had started subtly at first, with the odd cold that took too long to shift; unusually low moods muddled in with homesickness; a growing preoccupation with food disguised as dedication to my sport; and an inconsistent and unfamiliar form of fatigue. It made no sense to me at the time. In the absence of any other abnormal test results, iron deficiency seemed enough to justify the exhaustion, but its inconsistency remained puzzling.


On days when I was too tired to train, anxiety about eating and the fear of gaining weight escalated. I had worked so hard to achieve my 'athletic aesthetic', and I was reluctant to let it slip away. When I could muster the strength to run, I felt so weak that I pushed myself harder—a response fueled by mounting pressure to perform and the absurd notion that this could all be driven by a lack of fitness.

Every doctor's visit heightened my sense of helplessness, and each round of 'normal' test results deepened my confusion. Since I was taking the Contraceptive Pill, didn’t identify with an eating disorder, and wasn’t experiencing any bone stress injuries (yet), the Female Athlete Triad was never mentioned. So, despite knowing full well that something just wasn’t right and that this ‘something’ could be serious, I pushed on, continuing to sail miserably under the RED-S radar for a few frustrating years to follow.


Fast forward...

Fast forward a few years, and I was finally starting to make sense of my experience. For years, I’d been a living, breathing, just-about-running, example of RED-S for years, yet neither I nor anyone else I'd ever worked with had ever even heard of it. Quite the contrary, I’d been repeatedly reassured by doctors that it was normal for ‘someone like me’ not to have periods after coming off the Pill. Who was I to question the experts? So, like a terrifying number of others ‘like me’, I simply stood by to watch my athletic dreams slip away.

When an internet search eventually led me to the information I had needed years earlier, it was via other athletes stories just like mine. Despite its relatively recent introduction by the International Olympic Committee in 2014, it became clear that RED-S was a widespread issue within the exercising population. As I read accounts mirroring my condition, I realised I wasn't facing some rare medical phenomenon after all; instead, it was a common issue shared by countless others of all ages, genders, and abilities worldwide.

In the end, all it had taken was hearing others describe the shattering yet subtle symptoms I was facing in order to line up the pieces of my own RED-S puzzle. For years, I had dismissed many symptoms in ignorance or denial, unable to believe that as a competitive athlete, I could genuinely be suffering from an energy-related issue, experiencing an eating disorder despite eating three meals a day, grappling with extreme fatigue that wasn't psychological, or that the Pill wasn't a suitable substitute for a natural period.

Now, I am acutely aware of how many others are in the same situation I was in back then.

I understand how easily this can happen to anyone at any time. I've witnessed the consequences of overlooking RED-S and how dangerous it is to dismiss early warning signs. I also recognise the difficulty in discussing this issue; it felt isolating at the time, and afterward, I just wanted to forget about it. Talking about it was challenging in a way I hadn't experienced before, as I couldn't imagine anyone understanding the emotional toll or justifying the trauma over losing something as seemingly trivial as sports.

Eventually, I came to realise that problems like RED-S thrive on isolation, and the longer we keep quiet about them, the longer these issues remain overlooked. I consider it a privilege to now contribute to providing resources, sharing advice, and the experiences of athletes, experts, and researchers advocating for change. If you're eager to contribute, we'd love to hear from you.

Feel free to reach out, here.