I made a routine visit to my chiropractor last August, who also happened to be my running coach for Chicago Marathon. We started the visit with the usual: checking out my posture, alignment, palpating my upper hips, shoulders, and ribcage.
My face went flush when he remarked I lost weight as most marathon runners do. Over the previous weeks I noticed my clothes fitting differently but it wasn’t until it was confirmed that I had lost weight that I allowed myself to believe it.
Strangely, what was intended as an innocent observation by my coach became my obsession. I was on such a high from my coach’s innocent observation and inspected subtle changes in my body as mileage piled on each week… 6 miles on Tuesday, 8 miles on Friday, and 18 miles on Sunday. Every mile was like money in the bank: An investment to maintain thin.
With every additional mile it was like money in the bank that I would maintain the weight loss. An investment to maintain thin.
Meanwhile, in the height of summer I was experiencing flu-like symptoms, taking naps daily as my body often crashed half-way through the day. I pushed myself through nearly all my runs to maintain my training schedule and, as much as I hate to admit this, I liked this new thinner version of myself! I was keeping the weight off by running like a maniac.
Bloodwork showed my iron levels were extremely low, and my doctor cautioned me not to proceed with the marathon training as it could jeopardize my health by pushing myself too hard.
My solution was to take supplements and adjust my diet so that I got enough nutrients. Not once did I deprive myself of food while training. I ate, and still can eat, like a horse. But in the back of my mind I knew this “diet” was also beneficial for weight-loss so, in making this diet change I was in a win-win situation: increase my energy / iron AND keep the marathon weight off or, even better, on a steady decline.
I finished Chicago Marathon and had the time of my life. Thanks to the training program specifically designed for me by my coach I felt strong and capable. In the days preceding the race I got the post-race blues and scrambled for “what am I gonna do next?!”
I love the thrill and challenge of a race and I love running. The training is tough but strengthens me in so many ways beyond physical and there is an exhilaration around race day like none other. My foray into endurance sports has not been entirely a means to a weight-loss, body fat deprivation end.
But as I got off my high Chicago Marathon horse I started noticing something: I was terrified of when the weight would come back on. (I know – the amount of weight is negligible and something few people would notice.) Once my body recovered I started running again and tracked how many days per week I was active and constantly questioned myself, “was it enough?”
About one month out from the race, my jeans tightened around my waistline. I stared at myself in the mirror and said FUCK. It was too late. While I was busy getting my social life back in order, those pounds piled right back on and I said hello to a familiar friend: the bulge around my belly and my expanding, softening love-handles.
I turned to more yoga classes, meditation, and in the hopes that I would find salvation and solution to my “problem” I pinpointed my next race: a half-marathon trail race in mid-Spring.
Meditation took up more of the time that I once filled with running and with the help of that practice I realized how obsessive I became about my body’s softer, post-marathon shape. A trail race is something I have wanted to do for a long time but now I found myself posing the question: is this the healthiest thing for me to do? Is this really the answer?
Once you have an eating disorder you are never wholly “cured” from it. Yoga healed me and pulled me out of a deep, dark hole but I always knew I was never immune to bulimia residue surfacing as I got older and here I saw I was absolutely right. Running and a packed training schedule took the role of purging.
So as I enter into 2016 and consider my “race calendar,” I proceed with caution and curiosity.
Call it a resolution, an intention, or a goal – this year I will mindfully approach the endurance athlete within me. As I visit a race page I will pause and ask myself what are the motivating factors compelling me to click “Register” and hand over the following 4 months of my free time to training.
My body has settled into what feels like my normal shape and size (but then again, what is normal?) and I have voluntarily taken an indefinite break from running and excessive exercise. I’m listening to my triggers and when my boyfriend tells me he likes the softness of my love-handles I do my best to believe him and see my body from a much kinder place.
For any endurance athlete out there, I am not writing this to discount or discourage your sport. I am merely noticing my own experience and how my love of running combined with a “never give up” attitude took me far beyond my limits and into dangerous territory that was no longer serving me. It’s time I take a few steps back and recalibrate in the hopes that I can revisit my running shoes while maintaining a deep love and respect for the shape of my body.
All in due time.