For New York Times journalist Lindsay Crouse, running and storytelling are twin passions.
Crouse has been a strong runner since she started the sport as a teenager. Now, as an editor, producer and writer for New York Times Opinion, she’s also emerged as one of journalism’s most powerful voices reporting on women and gender in sports.
Crouse, who is the co-executive producer of op-docs at the Times, has defined a unique beat over the years. While she publishes stories and columns on a wide range of issues, she is perhaps best known for her coverage of elite running.
Crouse’s stories about female athletes draw on her own deep knowledge of that experience. She’s been a formidable runner since she started competing in her Rhode Island high school. As a teenager, she fell in love with the independence of racing, the control she had over her performance and the intrinsic motivation running demanded.
“I realized the limits of my athletic potential were all decided by me, and I just loved that about the sport,” she said.
Crouse, 38, was fast in high school, then as a member of Harvard’s cross-country and track teams; she got even faster after her years on her college team. In 2019, she came just eight minutes shy of qualifying for the Olympic marathon trial, an experience she wrote about for the Times. She juggled high-mileage marathon training with reporting on female athletes fighting for fair treatment, including an Op-Doc in which runner Mary Cain told her story of the culture of abuse on her Nike team.
For Crouse, reporting stories about sports, like Cain’s, is one avenue into casting light on larger issues.
“They’re just one lens for looking at what really interests me,” she said, “which is social hierarchies, power, ambition, gender to a certain extent, performance and what holds people back from performance.”
Crouse said she sees parallels between the discipline of reporting and the endurance required for distance running.
“What I love about the marathon — and I think this is also true for reporting — is that you shouldn’t run a marathon unless, by the time you get to the starting line, the race is effectively done, because the real experience was your training,” she said. “It’s the same with reporting. You don’t just publish a piece flagrantly; you have to do all the work that goes into it.”
Opinion videos, an innovation the Times adopted in just the past five years, have become a hallmark of Crouse’s career as a producer. Director of Opinion Video Adam Ellick, who created the department in 2018, said Crouse has a unique talent for spotting compelling stories and an instinct for how to tell them in a video format.
“She knows how to curate and acquire really strong films on strong topics that challenge people’s assumptions or can be unfamiliar to audiences,” he said. “Her sensibility is a little bit zany and has a really high bar for solid journalism and solid storytelling, and I think that’s a lovely combination.”
Some of Crouse’s best-known pieces, produced collaboratively in the Opinion Video department, form a series called Equal Play, about the athletes and coaches “dragging women’s sports into the 21st century.” In these videos, women in sports speak for themselves, looking directly into the camera and telling their stories in their own words. Beneath the video, stories written by Crouse back up the videos with additional context and reporting.
Ellick said the video presentation lends added power to the opinion pieces Crouse has produced. Video is strongest when it has flair and voice, he said, making it an ideal medium for the deeply personal stories Crouse reports.
“A lot of her work takes aim at policy — or lack of policy — but does it in a very personal and emotional way,” Ellick said. The results reach bigger audiences than more traditional formats, in ways that can resound enough to lead to meaningful changes.
Ellick said the department is especially proud of revealing Nike’s lack of maternity protections for athletes. While athletics sponsors typically make provisions for injuries, maternity leave was all but unheard of. On Mother’s Day in 2019, track phenom Alysia Montaño shared her experience of telling her Nike sponsors that she wanted to become a mother. Their response, she said, was to pause her contract and stop paying her. Pregnancy was treated like a serious injury by major sponsors and even by the U.S. Olympic Committee, the women said, and athletes risked losing their contracts and health insurance if their performance dipped.
It was a challenging piece to report. Crouse said athletes told her about sponsors’ attitudes toward maternity off the record, while commenting on the record for other stories. Publishing Montaño’s story meant that the runners quoted in the article had to take the risk of breaking their non-disclosure agreements.
In addition to convincing women to speak publicly about their experiences, proving a negative — that Nike did not support pregnant women — was especially difficult. Crouse recalled reaching out to Allyson Felix, assuming the interview would kill her story because she felt sure that the most decorated female track and field athlete in Olympic history would have had Nike’s support during pregnancy.
“When I found out that the opposite was true, that just redoubled my conviction that we had to do this,” Crouse said.
Felix publicly shared her story in an Opinion Video a week after Montaño’s video was published.
The runners’ stories exploded. More athletes spoke out; there was a public outcry; Nike and other companies rushed to announce new policies. Nike updated its policy to guarantee that pregnant athletes would be paid for eight months before their due date and 10 months after.
“That’s the mission and dream of our department: to have an influence,” Ellick said.
Crouse, who now has a young daughter of her own, said becoming a mother changed her perspective on her reporting — particularly the hard, painful parts of motherhood that few people talk about out loud.
“I cannot imagine what any of those athletes were going through, now that I know firsthand how hard it can be to combine motherhood and your career,” she said, “especially when your career is your body.”
Ellick said that Crouse’s journalism is strengthened by her deep knowledge of what it’s like to be a woman in sports and because she’s created a beat at the intersection of personal and professional.
“She is an athlete,” he said. “She’s living and breathing in this space of women in sport and able to network in it.”
As Crouse’s journalism has attracted attention and won awards, more athletes have reached out to her about their stories, trusting her on the strength of her previous work.
“Sourcing is a long game for her,” Ellick said.
Friendship is a long game for Crouse, too. To hear her longtime friends talk about her is to be given a glimpse of loyal relationships sustained across distance and years.
Michelle Behrens, who first became friends with Crouse when the two competed on Harvard’s track and field team, said one of her favorite memories of their friendship was from 2010, when Behrens ran her first half marathon. Behrens, who was a pole vaulter in college, said she was “terrified” of tackling the 13.1-mile race. But Crouse didn’t hesitate to go the distance with her — literally.
“She agreed to fly out to San Francisco and run the whole race with me,” Behrens said. “She could certainly race much faster than I could, but she just ran every step with me. It was one of my most memorable races.”
Willa Kammerer and Crouse have remained close since bonding on their high school soccer team in Rhode Island. She saw Crouse become a runner and turn it into a lifelong personal and professional passion.
“She took it and ran with it,” Kammerer quipped.
She said Crouse has a gift for building close relationships.
“She is such a faithful presence to so many,” Kammerer said. “She shows up and really cultivates friendship with so many people. She’s faithful — to herself, to her passion, and to her friends and community.”
Behrens echoed the sentiment.
“I’m in touch with her all the time, about anything under the sun,” she said. “I trust her so much.”
Behrens has witnessed her friend’s running career flourish over the years. It was Crouse who, in the years after college when they shared a New York apartment, first introduced Behrens to distance running.
For Crouse, long runs feel almost meditative. She said the time and space to clear her mind and think about nothing is something she deeply values, and it’s what she misses most when she can’t run.
“People say that running is good for mental health,” she said. “But I think it makes me smarter, it makes me better, it makes me more creative. That’s sort of what I use running for.”
Now, Crouse is channeling that creativity into a new kind of endurance project: her first book, about the culture of endurance and when it makes sense to quit.