The Dark Side of Distance Running

Part of being a distance runner is that constant struggle of wanting to be as fit as possible and also trying to take care of your body. There has always been this image of what a top female distance runner looks like: long legs, flat chested, no hips, and absolutely zero body fat. Being a girl growing up in this sport, it’s hard to avoid obsessing over this image or to see the negative effect it can have on your mentality and your health. It starts out as leaning out, getting rid of that little excess body fat that you think is slowing you down, getting down to the “perfect” form that will help you win races. Initially, it’s losing a few pounds, but then that becomes a few more and then a few more until you can no longer control it and the number on the scale in the morning is the determining factor of how your day is going to go. The smaller the number is, the better you feel mentally and the the worse you feel physically. It’s a vicious cycle that I’ve found myself in for the past 2 years of my life.

It’s an unspoken rule in the running community that we don’t address these problems publicly. So many girls struggle with eating problems, but we don’t like to acknowledge the ability of this sport to foster their development. This leads to so many of us dealing with the problem internally rather than reaching out for the support that we so desperately need. In my case, it took me two years to swallow my fear of judgment and face what I had been denying for so long: I have an eating disorder.

It was after one of our Sunday long runs that I sat down with my coach and came clean. There were several things that happened that week that lead up to my confession, but it was something that had been weighing heavily on my mind for a while. I was pretty quiet for most of the run, which for anyone that knows me, is a pretty good indicator that something isn’t quite right. Lara pulled me aside and asked me what was up and I said we could talk about it after we got back to campus. I was terrified, but I had made up my mind. I couldn’t deal with it on my own anymore and I trusted her more than anyone else in my life at that point. Telling the truth about my struggles was probably the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It’s uncomfortable. I felt like I was being ripped apart internally as I tried to put into words exactly how I was feeling and what I was doing to myself. For anyone that has ever told their deepest, darkest secret to someone, you know how this felt.

Nobody ever tells you how hard it is to get over an eating disorder. It’s a constant battle with myself over what’s worse: eating and potentially gaining a little bit of weight or not eating and doing damage to my body. It’s exhausting having to fight with myself while also trying to maintain a “normal” exterior so that people don’t figure out what is going on. The scars on my hand, the panic I feel when faced with eating a meal, and the obsession with how I look in my uniform are all things that are part of my daily life and all things that I feel the need to hide. I know that these thoughts and behaviors are not normal or even remotely acceptable, but I can’t help it. For parts of the day, I’m okay. I don’t worry too much about food or how I look and I can just be me. Other times, the eating disorder takes over my brain and it’s all I can do to not have a full-on breakdown. The very notion of eating something and keeping it down is enough to send me into panic mode. I know it may seem ridiculous to think that eating a bowl of pasta or even a salad makes me feel like I’m gaining weight considering the fact that I run 50 miles a week on top of core and lifting, but that’s part of the disorder.

It’s been about six weeks since I told Lara about my struggles. Since then, we’ve been working towards my recovery. I wish I could say that each day is better than the last, but like most things in life, it hasn’t been a smooth process and I still have my bad days. It took me a few weeks to really buy into the program and stop resisting what she trying to get me to believe. It’s not like a normal illness where you can take some medication, drink fluids, and rest up and you’ll be fine in a week. It takes time and patience, the latter of which has never been a strong suit of mine. There’s been plenty of yelling, plenty of fights, and plenty of tears. There have even been some moments where all I wanted to do was lash out and punch her because I wanted control back. It’s a dangerous thing, control. To a certain extent, it’s good. You want to have control of your life and the things that you do, but when it comes to an eating disorder, control is your absolute worst enemy. It’s not you controlling your life, it’s the disorder controlling you and you can’t even see it. Letting go is the only way to get better, but letting go is also your biggest fear.

The easy thing to do would have been to put me in a hospital where I would be forced to eat enough and not exercise until I gained some weight back and was able to take care of myself. However, as a collegiate distance runner who was on the brink of attaining the type of success I had been dreaming of my entire career, this was the absolute worst idea I had ever heard. I love running more than anything and the idea of not being able to do it anymore was enough to reduce me into tears. So my coaches and I made a deal: I could still run, but after every practice I was to sit and eat with Lara for about an hour to make sure I was replacing the calories I had burned during my workout. I also fill out a food log every night. If it’s not approved, then I can’t go to practice the next day. It’s done a pretty good job of motivating me to eat, but it’s definitely not an easy task. I still require distractions in order to eat something of any substance and I still think about food way more than I would like to. I still subconsciously count calories and fear gaining weight more than anything. The logical side of me knows that eating more will only help my running, but the eating disorder side of me still wages that war of if you eat more, you’ll get fat and fat is not fast. I still get anxious around food and I still have thoughts of throwing up anytime I put anything in my mouth. I have to avoid eating alone in my apartment because when I do, it’s all too easy to give in to the disorder.

I don’t enjoy being like this, in fact, I absolutely hate it. I’m not usually one to regret things or want to change anything about my past, but if given the chance, I would change this. If I could, I would take back that very first thought of restricting food because it’s not worth it. Sure, I’ve been running better than ever the past year, but it’s come at a cost. I have to hide part of myself from the people I love, I’m tired much of the day, and I know that it’s holding me back from accomplishing the things I want to accomplish in my sport. Being skinnier is never worth your health and I wish I could have understood this earlier in life because maybe then I wouldn’t have ended up here. Talking about my eating disorder is one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever had to do, but staying silent will get me nowhere. I kept it inside for so long that I became an expert at hiding it. Believe me when I say that this is one of the hardest things I will probably ever face in my life and everyday I wake up terrified that I will never get better. I don’t remember what it was like to have a normal relationship with food and that makes it so much harder to see any sort of progress or remain positive about my journey. My coaches have been so understanding about this and I think without them, I would be lost. Lara’s only been my coach for four months, but she’s wedged her way into my life in a way that I never really expected. I don’t trust people easily, but I had no problem trusting her. She’s helped me to start seeing my worth and my value as a person beyond just my sport. I don’t know what would have happened without her support, but it would not have been good. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all of this, it’s the importance of letting people in. I’ve never been one of those people that lets herself rely on others, but I’m starting to realize that it’s okay to need someone and it’s okay to ask for help. I can’t do everything on my own and I definitely can’t do this on my own.

I wish I could say that I’m recovered or even partially recovered, but I know that I have a long way to go before that happens. What I can say is that I’m trying. I have my bad days and I have my good days, but I’m finally buying into the process and believing that I can do it. I’m not ashamed to admit that I have a problem anymore. For anyone that thinks they might have an eating disorder, I urge you to tell someone. It doesn’t matter who, but don’t keep it inside because it will destroy you. More people struggle with EDs than you think and it helps to know that you’re not alone. I’ve finally started to see this and it’s done more to help my mentality than anything else. I’m nowhere near where I want to be with my fight, but I’m still fighting and that’s enough for me for now. It will take time, but I will get through this and that is a fact.


Find Your Passion

As I sit at a picnic table outside the Lindner Center, I’m struck by the fact that we leave for the AAC Conference Championships in 9 days. 9 FREAKING DAYS. This is insane. It feels like just yesterday that I was starting my month-long break after outdoor season and now I’m preparing for the biggest test of my running career thus far. Over the past month and a half or so, I’ve emerged as something that I never thought would ever be possible and  that is the number one runner on a cross country team. We’re a pretty good team at that too. We’re not nationals bound or anything, but this is the best team that UC has seen in years and I’m proud to be a part of that.

After having a slight mental breakdown over a sickness that caused me to miss pre-nationals, a bout of low confidence, and questioning why I stayed at UC in the first place, I’m starting to feel more ready than ever and I’m excited to step off that plane in North Carolina and show the rest of the conference that I’m here to stay. A big part of my steadily growing belief in myself has been Lara. While I was struggling to feel like I belonged on a cross country course, she was constantly there to talk me through it and show me how far I’ve come. My head coach is awesome and he’s helped me make some huge steps in the right direction, but my biggest obstacle has always been my head and Lara has helped me begin to overcome that. I never thought I’d have goals in cross country bigger than scoring for the team, but she has the confidence in me that I’ve never had in myself. It’s wonderful and everything I needed. It’s so hard as a female distance runner to believe in yourself and having that person that can talk you through it and break down the barriers you subconsciously build is so crucial. So once again, thanks Lara. You’re the best.

Over the past two months, I’ve fallen even more in love with running than ever. I didn’t think it was possible for me to love my sport more than I already did, but it is. So much more so. The fact that I ever contemplating walking away from this crazy and intense sport has come to be a mind-blowing piece of information as I now can no longer picture my life without it. It’s my defining characteristic. It’s my talent, my everything. So many people talk about how arduous and isolating the professional runner lifestyle is, but as of right now, I think it sounds like utter perfection. To be able to center my life around the sport I love more than life would be the best thing that could ever happen to me. I love school and I love learning, but there is just so much unadulterated joy that comes when I’m running that I could live for one hundred years and never do anything else and still be 100% fulfilled. I’m lucky to have found my passion in life when so many people do not.

So that’s my point in today’s post. Find your passion in life. I don’t care if it takes you a day, a month, a year, or 50 years, never stop searching for your passion. I fought so hard against becoming a distance runner and that is one of my biggest regrets in life. How much better would my high school life had been if I had fought the negative chatter in my life and accepted that distance running was what I was meant to do. Don’t listen to the critics in life. They are there only to bring you down to their level and it’s up to you to rise above that. It doesn’t matter if one person tells you that you can’t cook, or in my case can’t be a good distance runner, if that’s what you love to do then go after it! You never know what you might learn about yourself in the process.

Until next time, keep on keepin’ on.

The Very Best Day

June 3, 2015 a.k.a the best day of the year a.k.a National Running Day!

I’ve been running for almost half of my life and arguably the most important years of my life. It hasn’t always been sunshine and rainbows and fast times, a majority of that time was actually spent crying, injured, and/or wishing I had picked a different sport. I wouldn’t trade the countless hours spent on the roads, woods, and track for anything though because at the end of the road, it’s all been worth it. It’s been a long and tough journey to get where I am today and this is only the beginning. I’m more in love with my sport now than ever before and I can’t wait for my break to be over so that I can get back out there and log some miles. Running has taught me so much so I thought I would share some of these nuggets with you in honor of today.

So here they are, the “golden nuggets” of running:

  1. Whether you come in first or whether you come in last, you still beat everyone who never showed up to the line.
  2. The pain you feel now will be the reward you feel later.
  3. Smile. Chances are you’ll get one back. It’ll make you feel 10x better.
  4. Water is the true elixir of the gods. You need it. Drink it.
  5. You’d be surprised how early you can make yourself get out of bed when the reward is watching the sun rise while on a run.
  6. Addiction is a real and difficult thing to overcome. I’m glad I’m addicted to running and not drugs.
  7. Watching track/cross country is just as exciting as running it. But I’d still rather be running.
  8. There’s nothing more relaxing or grounding than a run through the woods.
  9. The people you meet through running will be some of the best people in your life.
  10. You can do so much more than you think.
  11. The human body is an amazing thing. Cherish it. Treat it with the respect it deserves.
  12. You were born to run.

Happy National Running Day everyone!