By Amy Tennery
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Finishing 13th in the women's 3,000-metre race at the Dr. Sander Invitational Columbia Challenge on Saturday, American mid-distance runner Mary Cain said completing the competition was, for her, a win in and of itself.
Once hailed as an athletics prodigy, 23-year-old Cain dropped a bombshell in an interview with the New York Times in November, in which she accused former coach Alberto Salazar and his staff at the now-shuttered Nike Oregon project of emotional and physical abuse.
"What I have learned in this sport is that it's very easy to feel very alone," Cain told reporters on Saturday.
In 2013 then-17-year-old Cain signed with Salazar, who last October was banned from the sport in October for four years for doping violations.
She told the New York Times she left the training group in 2015 after repeatedly being pushed to achieve an unhealthy weight in an environment she said eventually led her to have suicidal thoughts.
Salazar has denied her allegations and Nike has said it is looking into them.
Cain, who won the gold medal at the Junior World Championships in 2014 and set numerous juniors records, said one of her deepest regrets is not warning another young athlete who joined the Oregon Project after her.
"I never even admitted to her what I was currently going through. And in a lot of ways, it was because selfishly I was still trying to stay on the team," Cain said at an emotional post-race appearance.
"I can't ever forgive myself for not being brave in the past and from here on out, I'm never going to do that again."
Cain, who has battled back from numerous injuries including a stress fracture in 2017 and an Achilles injury last year, said she is unlearning a competitive mindset where winning was all that mattered.
"The coward of the past, the cowardly Mary, never would be racing right now," she said. "Because if there was even a thought in my mind that I wasn't in it to win it, honestly I probably would have dropped out of that race eight laps in.
"I tied so much of my self-worth – and trust me, if you're a runner, you understand this – to my performance."
Cain said she was looking forward to the upcoming outdoor track season while maintaining balance in her life, going for jogs with her boyfriend and chasing her dog Nala, who has a penchant for sprinting after squirrels.
"(Nala) will fly and I think in the past I would almost get so scared to run with her because I'd be like, 'This is extra miles that I don't need,'" said Cain. "(I) let loose with her and I kind of, in that moment, I'm like 'This is really fun. This is why I run.'"
(Reporting By Amy Tennery; Editing by Daniel Wallis)