Sometimes you think you do everything right and you still end up injured. That’s the boat I’m in right now.
A few weeks before the NYC marathon I felt a little pain in my foot. Not even pain really, just something I noticed, an area feeling a little off. I took note of it in my training log and ran a couple more days before backing off because the feeling was still there. Once I backed off, the discomfort subsided, and it was back to business as usual. Just a little niggle, maybe a close call, but now I was in the clear. Until I wasn’t.
A few days later, the (sort of) pain returned, so I eased up again. I eased up, the pain vanished, I ran normally, it came back, I eased up, the pain vanished, I ran normally, it came back. Wash, rinse, repeat for the next couple of weeks. Again and again it vanished then came back, but it never exceeded just a slight discomfort, so I never suspected anything serious. In the end, I chalked it up to soreness resulting from a long training cycle and the concrete floor of my classroom that I spend most of my day walking around on. Before I knew it, it was the week of New York and the pain was so subtle I had to think about it to notice it. I deemed myself fine and set off for the marathon. I knew I was wrong around mile 8 in New York, when the pain intensified and I worried I wouldn’t finish the race.
Since mending my relationship with running, I’ve worked hard to train smart and listen to my body, and I am very proud of the progress I have made. I’ve taken more unplanned rest than ever before, I’ve slowed way down on easy runs, and I’ve prioritized sleep and nutrition. I try to do everything “right”, but I ended up with a stress fracture anyway.
When my doctor gave me the dreaded stress fracture diagnosis, I felt all the injury feels. Mad, annoyed, frustrated, sad, the list goes on. But most of all, I was disappointed. I was disappointed in myself because I felt like I failed at taking care of my body, something I’ve worked so hard on. For a little while I blamed myself and believed it was my fault that I was injured. For a few days, it left me feeling pretty low.
In the days following the diagnoses, I rehashed my training and my pain leading up to New York. I pictured every run and tried to think if there was more pain than I had wanted to admit. I wondered if I should have done something different so I wouldn’t have ended up in this walking boot. But the more and more I analyzed it, the more I realized that there’s probably not much I could have done.
The last time I had a stress fracture I wasn’t taking care of myself. My eating was disordered, my mental health was a mess, and I was without a doubt overtraining. This time, I didn’t fall victim to any of those things. I ate enough, I rested often, and I balanced my training with my busy work schedule so I wouldn’t overtrain. Sure, maybe I should have rested longer when I first felt the pain, but as any runner knows, oftentimes the line between soreness and injury is a blurry one.
I got injured, pretty seriously, but it isn’t my fault. Sometimes, we do the best we can and we get injured anyway, it’s a natural consequence of endurance sports. Even the most high-level athletes with ample access to recovery and injury prevention techniques get injured. Seriously, it happens. So the next time you’re injured, because there is going to be a next time, give yourself a little grace. Don’t beat yourself up and look at it as an opportunity instead. Right now, I’m biking and aqua jogging in an attempt to keep some fitness for spring racing, but I’m also taking a much more relaxed approach, as to give my mind the break it needs from intense, focused workouts. I’m also focusing on strength, something my schedule has led me to neglect this past year.
Maybe I should have taken my pain a little more seriously, and I’ll work hard to be more in tune with my body once I’m running again. I’m a work in progress. I don’t endorse running through injury, but sometimes all of us make the wrong call when we’re walking that line and there’s no use punishing yourself when you make that mistake. In the end, I’m not stressing myself out or beating myself up because injuries happen and that’s life.
Last week, I had the privilege of running the streets of New York City with over 50,000 other runners. It wasn’t a perfect race, because that doesn’t exist, but it was certainly a different experience than any other marathon, one where I had to make some decisions I have not previously faced and one where I was able to test my resilience in a new way.
In the weeks approaching New York, I struggled with a lot of doubts. Training through D.C. summer makes it nearly impossible to know what actual shape you’re in, and training through the first few months of a new school year is down right exhausting. I originally had a goal of breaking three hours, but going into the race, I put that goal on hold and vowed to focus on running smart, strong, and having fun.
New York is unique in that you get on busses to shuttle to the start before the sun comes up, yet you don’t start racing until around 10:00 am or later, depending on your wave. The Boston Marathon is similar, but in my experience, because the shuttle to the start is shorter, I’ve been able to sleep in longer than I did in New York. I knew since I was getting up before 5:00 am but not racing until 9:50, I’d need to focus on getting an adequate amount of calories in before the race. So before catching my Lyft to the midtown library around 5:30, I ate a little bit of oatmeal.
Once I got to the library I jumped in the massive line for the busses. Shockingly, I was able to spot the top knot of my friend (and NPDC co-leader) Maria just ahead. I shouted her name and was lucky to catch up to her and ride the bus together. Having someone to chat with during the two hours it took us to get to the start area in Staten Island was a relief. Not only did it help pass the time a little, but it took my mind off the race and any nerves I had. During the bus ride I ate some more (a Kind Bar and a Honey Stinger Waffle) and drank Nuun.
We got to athlete’s village (or whatever they called it in NY) just after 8:00 am and went through security. We then went our separate ways to wait for our wave to be called to the corrals. I immediately got in a bathroom line (which was long but nothing like the lines I’ve waited in at Boston or Chicago) and ate a second Honey Stinger while finishing up my Nuun. This was the last I’d planned to eat or drink before the race. By the time I made it in and out, they were beginning to call my wave, so I hopped into my corral and kept my eyes out for another friend I had plans of meeting.
As we began being ushered to the Verrazano Bridge, I ran into Claire. We excitedly shuffled onto the bridge while we caught up and swapped race plans. It was a crowded and overwhelming start, so it was nice to have a friendly face around. Before we knew it, the howitzer fired, we wished each other good luck, and we were off!
The first mile was more crowded than any race I’ve ever run, but I didn’t mind because it kept me from running too fast. I also spent my energy focused on not tripping over the people around me and I honestly didn’t notice we were running up hill at all. My first mile was around 7:30, slower than planned, but that was perfect.
The next 4-5 miles flew by and I felt like I was running downhill for a lot of it. My frozen feet had finally warmed up by mile 3 or so and I was just cruising along. My mile splits were a bit fast, but the effort felt even easier than I wanted it to, so I wasn’t worried. Around mile 6 I caught up to the 3:05 pace group and settled in with them.
Fueling during the marathon has been my weakness since I started running them and I wanted to really focus on getting it right this race. I feel like I nailed my hydration in my last couple marathons, so nailing my fuel was the next step in improving my race and really finishing strong. I decided to take my first Huma gel around mile 7 while I was feeling great and surrounded by a pace group to do the work for me. Between mile 7 and 9 I took most of the gel and kept cruising along. The miles were going by so fast I couldn’t believe that I was already coming up on the half. I knew I was running faster than planned, but I felt like I was jogging, so I figured I was safe.
Around mile 11, my stomach started bothering me and that’s when things took a bit of a turn. I debated for a while, but just before the half I took a quick pit-stop at the porta potty. I’ve never stopped for the bathroom in a race before and I was hesitant, especially when I was running so well, but I made the choice and hoped it wouldn’t ruin everything. To my surprise, my legs felt fine when I started running again and I only lost about 30 seconds on the mile. Unfortunately, I still felt sick and took another stop at the end of mile 14, just before heading over the bridge. I lost a bit more time there, but was still on pace to run under 3:05 if the rest of the race panned out, so I kept pressing.
I got going again and fell right back into the rhythm of low-7’s and my stomach was feeling much better. The dreaded Queensboro Bridge felt like nothing to me and I didn’t slow down at all. I flew off the bridge, taking advantage of the downhill while others hesitantly scooted down. I clocked some of my fastest splits from mile 18 to 20, averaging around 6:50. During those three miles my stomach was feeling fine again and I knew that if I didn’t at least try taking another gel I’d risk bonking, so I took the chance of feeling sick again and took about half a gel during those miles. My stomach quickly turned sour again and at 22 I took another pit stop (which was conveniently timed with an untied shoe) and lost about another minute. Stopping at 22 really had me worried about being able to move my legs and run fast again, but after a few steps they felt fine and I was able to run a decent mile 23.
After the second gel my stomach just didn’t recover and during mile 23, although I maintained a decent pace, I was fighting getting sick. Just past the mile 23 marker, my body took over and I found myself keeled over on the sidewalk, throwing up for about 3 minutes. The crowd and volunteers were amazing, cheering me on and checking to make sure I was alright. A woman handed me a mini-water bottle which I walked with and sipped on for about 30 seconds before getting back into a run headed toward the finish. It crossed my mind to walk jog to the end or to walk to 25 and jog the last mile, but I knew I still had a shot of running a solid time, so I wasn’t ready to give up.
Central Park was amazing and I wish I could have enjoyed it more than I did. I was really freaked out about the hills heading into New York, especially the hills at the end, but those fears were unwarranted. The hills in New York seriously are not as bad as people make them out to be. Honestly, I felt like I was running downhill through most of Central Park. I tried to run hard and kick to the finish but I could only do so much without puking again. I was also in a lot of pain from a nagging little niggle that flared up during the race and caused some compensation during the later miles.
Despite the nauseous feeling I ran with through the park, before I knew it I could see the finish line. Fighting up the hill to the finish, I heard my name and turned to see a friend of mine finishing right beside me. It was pretty amazing that out of over 50,000+ people. we happened to finish side by side! We crossed the finish line and after I spent a little more time emptying the contents of my stomach, he and I waddled through the shoot together and rehashed our races. Just like at the start, it was nice to have a friendly face around.
I made it back to where we were staying and spent some time drinking water and resting before hopping into a long and glorious shower. I waited quite a while before finally eating and fortunately, my stomach was ready for food again. The rest of the day was filled with mimosas, pizza, beer, nachos, and friends. It was fantastic. We also went out to the finish around 7:00 pm to cheer on the final finishers, which was incredibly inspiring and made me tear up over and over again ( I later connect the dots that one of the woman I watched finish is a fellow SWAPPER).
I felt better the rest of the day and the following days than I ever have after a marathon and I think that’s in part because I wasn’t truly able to test my fitness. I’m ok with that though. I had so much fun and enjoyed running a beautiful course on the best marathon weather day I’ve ever experienced. I think New York forced me to persevere in a different way than races in the past have which definitely taught me a lot about what I’m actually capable of. A couple of years ago I would have definitely given up on myself, if not at mile 13-14, definitely at mile 24. I have no doubt I would have walked it in and regretted it later. But I didn’t do that because in the past few years, and especially since working with my coach, I’ve learned so much about the marathon and about myself. I know I am capable of so much more than I think I am every time I’m out there.
I didn’t leave NYC with a shiny new PR, but I did run my second best time, a time I would have killed for only a year ago, and that’s pretty damn cool. Sure, there’s a level of frustration when I think about what I could have run if I didn’t have stomach problems, but I’m comforted knowing I gave it all I had, I controlled what I could, and my fastest days are still ahead. I am proud of myself, but I am hungry for more.
This time five years ago, I would have been recovering, and beginning to run again, after completing my first marathon, the Corning Wineglass Marathon in October. Those days feel so long ago, but also like just yesterday. Looking back, I am baffled by how far I’ve come.
During the fall of 2013, I was living in NYC and “training” for my first marathon. A few months prior, I had run my last college track race and with that, I shut the door on my competitive running career. At the time, there was no place in my mind for serious post-collegiate running, and even if there had been, my relationship with running was so broken that I would not have entertained the idea. I had registered for the Wineglass Marathon only to run a race with my mom and to check “Run a Marathon” off the bucket list.
In the summer leading up to the race, I worked at a summer camp where I was a bunk counselor and running counselor. I spent my days running loop after loop around camp with high school girls who were aiming to stay in shape for their upcoming field hockey or soccer seasons. Since most of those runs were slower than I was used to, in addition, I’d run early in the morning or during my off periods in order to get my “actual” marathon training in (even though I had NO idea how to train for a marathon). I didn’t count much of the running I was doing with the campers toward my mileage, and as a result I was likely, without realizing, putting in the highest mileage of my life. Since my relationship with running, food, and my body was so poor at the time, I wasn’t eating enough, resting enough, or listening to my body either. By August, I had a stress fracture in one of my metatarsals.
Fast forward to fall and few weeks into my time in NYC, I was given the clear to run again. If I remember correctly, I was about 3 weeks out from Wineglass and my long run PR was still just 12.5 miles. In those three weeks, I ran as much as I could around Central Park. I tried forcing fitness I didn’t have and running mileage I wasn’t ready for. It was dumb, painful, and it definitely didn’t make me happy. I absolutely loved running around New York, but I never fully enjoyed it because not a single run was done for the right reasons. Every run was a means to an end. A way to get thinner and be better. Whatever that means.
Finally, race weekend arrived and I took the bus back upstate to meet my mom in Binghamton and then drive to Corning. Don’t ask my mom about that day. She would tell you I was an absolutely miserable person to be around. I was grumpy about running the race, I knew I was unprepared, and the idea of waking up at 5AM to run more than double my longest run ever was daunting at best. But I did it and to my surprise, I finished a little but under four hours. I really can’t remember feeling anything other than tired when I finished, but it was pretty awesome having run the same marathon as my mom. That’s not something most people get to say.
It didn’t happen right away, but not long after crossing the finish line in Corning, I knew I wasn’t ready to put the marathon to rest. I didn’t have any big dreams of being competitive again and I didn’t even want to qualify for Boston yet, but I knew I wanted to race again and that I wanted to go faster. In two weeks I’ll be back in New York for marathon number 9.
I find it fitting that five years later this marathon takes me back to where it all started and in the past few weeks of training I’ve done a lot of reflecting. I didn’t expect running my 9th marathon to feel like some huge milestone, but it kind of does. Five years and 8 marathons ago I was unhappy, and I was struggling with disordered eating and an unhealthy relationship with running and myself. I hated the sport I’d once loved and I never thought I’d enjoy it again. I had no clue what my plan was past students teaching and really, I just felt lost.
Since then, so much has changed. It began when I moved the the D.C. area for my first teaching job. My environment changed, my friends changed, and relationship with running started to shift. I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 2014 and qualified for the Boston Marathon for the first time, which started to bring back a little bit of my competitive fire. It didn’t happen quickly, but over time things began to change and by the time I ran the Marine Corps Marathon again in 2016, my fourth marathon, I think I could actually say I enjoyed running again.
In the early summer of 2017 I began working with a coach for the first time since college. I was hesitant due to my relationship with running the last time I had a coach, but I can say with confidence it was one of the best decisions I ever made. In the fall of 2017, I ran a 9 minute PR at the Chicago marathon, officially reviving my desire to be competitive, and then in the spring of 2018, despite horrific conditions, I shaved off another 6 minutes to run under 3:10 for the first time in Boston.
Although Chicago and Boston were my seventh and eighth marathons, I feel like they were the very beginning. For a long time I thought I had potential to break 3:20, on a perfect day, but now I know it’s so much more. After Boston, I set my sights on breaking 3 hours.
Training for New York has been far from perfect (as most training blocks are). For one, summer in D.C. is brutal with heat and humidity, so I rarely felt successful during a workout or long run. Then came the stress of switching back to teaching kindergarten at a new school and adjusting to the incredibly busy schedule of the school year. And finally, in the past month, the kindergarten germs knocked me down and I was forced to adjust some training because I just didn’t have the health or energy to get everything in.
October has been littered with doubt and fear. I’ve been holding on tight to the goal of breaking three hours, but my training hasn’t necessarily given me the confidence to believe that’s realistic. I’ve had a difficult time keeping things in perspective and not being too hard on myself, but this week I’ve finally started to get past that mental block and take on a more optimistic attitude.
I don’t think I’m ready to break 3 hours in New York, and that’s OK. I’m confident that I’m ready to run a great race. New York is a tough course and it isn’t known for impressively fast times. My training has been hard and I’ve dealt with a lot of life stress. Is it possible that I could have a perfect race and make it happen? Sure. But that’s not my goal at this point.
I’m turning this race into a celebration more than any other, because not only do I get to celebrate finishing another marathon, but I get to celebrate five years of tremendous growth in my life. Once again, I love running and I have fun with it. Finally, I eat food and I enjoy it. For the first time, I am comfortable in my own skin and I no longer spend time hating my body. Running fast times is great, but there is so much more to running and life. In the grand scheme, the time I run on November 4th does not matter at all. My life won’t change whether I run a 3:10, a 3:05, or 3 hours. It won’t even change if I run 4 hours. But I do believe my life will be a little better if I savor every step I run around the beautiful city of New York and appreciate what an amazing opportunity it is to be where I am today.
I’ll break three eventually, when the time is right, but I don’t need to rush. I am focused on the present moment and I am meeting my body and mind where it is.
In high school, running scared was my favorite thing to do.
I had a very different definition of running scared back then.
My senior year of high school, my 4×800 meter relay teammates had a knack for handing me, the anchor leg, the baton in first place. I’d accept the exchange, and run like hell, visualizing my competitors on my heels. I never looked back, always willing myself to reach the finish line before I was caught. For an entire season, I fearfully ran myself across the line first. Running scared was fun. Running scared was a thrill.
Today, I’d do anything to no longer run scared.
This evening, as I laced up my Cliftons, strapped on my Garmin, and situated my phone in my Spibelt, I left my headphones behind. I almost always wear headphones when running alone. I see running as time for myself and enjoy listening to my favorite podcasts on easy days. I keep the volume low enough to hear my breath and my footsteps but today, that didn’t feel like enough. I approached what should have been a relaxing and stress-reducing recovery run with fear and trepidation.
Less than two minutes into my run, my heart raced as I made eye-contact with a man walking diagonally across the street toward me, only to realize he was on route to the entrance for CVS. As I continued up the street, I took a wider than normal breadth around male pedestrians. By the time I reached the National Mall, I was holding back tears, my fear juxtaposed to songs of ice cream trucks and idle chatter of tourists. Continuing on, I noticed every man I passed and felt my stride quicken just slightly each time one reached his hand into his pocket. In my 15 years of running I’ve experience catcalls, cars repeatedly passing by, harassment, and men lunging at me and as a result, I haven’t felt truly safe in a long time. But now, this fear is heightened as I am faced with the question of whether or not I will make it home alive each time I leave to train.
This may sound dramatic. It is.
This evening, I exhaled a sigh of relief as I walked back into my apartment building upon ending my run. Relief because I’d made it home, something Wendy Martinez was not lucky enough to do just two nights ago. But with this relief came grief and guilt, as well. Guilt and grief over the fact that on Tuesday evening, I ran the streets of D.C., just miles away from where Wendy would be murdered roughly an hour later.
This is not the first incident of its kind that has led to the feelings of grief, fear, and anger I am currently processing, but I’d be lying if I said this didn’t hit me a little harder and make my fears feel a bit more real. This time it was Wendy, but how easily could this have been me or one of my closest friends? We all run these streets, and like Wendy did, we often run them alone.
We’ll see articles and news reports filled with safety tips for runners. Uninformed men will ask why we don’t just run inside or find a male friend to run with. Someone will try to make this Wendy’s fault. To all of that, I give the middle finger. The problem is not that we, as women, are making unsafe choices. The problem is a world where women are unsafe simply existing.
To be very blunt, we live in a world where women are forced to think, “I really hope no one tries to murder me on this run”, as we leave the house. This makes me sick to my stomach. And it sure as hell ain’t fair.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. And I’ll admit I considered staying in my apartment gym and running on the treadmill tonight. But in the end, I went outside because really, what else can we do? We female runners, will not retreat. We cannot and will not hole up in gyms and seek refuge on treadmills. We will not allow senseless violence to rob us of our passions.
Running is mine and I’ll be damned if I ever let fear take that from me. Yes, I am running scared, but I’m still running. And I’m running with a little more passion and purpose as I remember the lives’ of women whom I did not know. Women who were taken from us far too soon.
My deepest condolences are with the friends and family of Wendy Martinez. I did not know Wendy, yet my heart is broken.
Every year, around this point in summer, I begin to feel a little bit of burnout and lack of motivation. It’s been hot for months now, but there doesn’t seem to be any relief in sight and the doubt begins to creep in. Paces that should feel easy are leaving me lying on the floor in a pool of sweat with a popsicle in my mouth. Workouts that sound challenging and fun turnout to be damn near impossible. And long runs? Yikes.
I began my summer training this year coming back from a minor injury I had after the Boston Marathon. Now, this comeback did happen in May, but in D.C. May is already hot and humid, so that’s when summer training begins in my book. Building my fitness back up during 80 degree runs with 80% humidity was discouraging and for a while I couldn’t seem to figure out what I was doing wrong. I ran a 10K after a few weeks back and although I had zero expectations for myself, I still felt a pang of disappointment when I ran splits close to my marathon pace. Despite knowing what heat does to the human body and how it affects running, I let the idea that I was unfit creep in. I began to think I wasn’t working hard enough and I wouldn’t reach my fall goals. After DNF-ing virtually every hard workout I ran in June, I was letting the Negative Nancy in my head take over.
I tried to keep things in perspective though. I went back and reviewed notes in my training log from last summer before I ran a huge marathon PR in the fall and was reassured by the fact that I was running even slower and felt even worse last year than I did now. I read this article by David Roche again and again and forced myself to stop putting so much weight on the watch. I started doing my workouts on the treadmill to eliminate the heat factor and finally hit the paces I’d been hoping to.
Nearing the end of July, I toed the line to run the Crystal City Twilighter 5k, my first 5k since December of 2016. The race is notoriously hot and I was totally unsure of where my fitness and speed stood, so in the week leading up to the race I backed off my hopes of setting a PR and I set out just to have fun and set a benchmark for my next race. But when the day came and it was rainy (like poured for 12 hours rainy) and cool. The buckets of rain coming down were not exactly the ideal race weather for most people but if I learned anything from Boston 2018, it’s that rain might be my thing. Despite what to me seemed like a poor couple months of training, I ran a 17 second personal best. I was reassured that I’m progressing just fine, but I have still had to word hard to remember that.
A little over a week ago I was on vacation in Costa Rica. Although I ran pretty regularly and only took one extra, unplanned “rest” day (we hiked so it wasn’t true rest), my running was not the same quality as at home. The weather was similar, but I did the same run each day I was there and it consisted of a steep mile-long down hill, back and fourth miles on the beach, and back up that steep hill. After the first two runs I could barely walk down stairs and by the third, my legs were toast. Regardless, I maintained a pretty solid attitude throughout and focused on enjoying my trip, but when I got home and went back to usual training the negative thoughts swirled around my mind once again. I started the week off with some slow, heavy miles but had an OK run mid-week. I was feeling a little better before I had a long run that left me feeling more beat up than anticipated over the weekend and I worried about my strength. But here we are on a Monday rest day and I’m taking a minute to reflect and remind myself, I’m doing totally fine.
Seriously. I’m doing just fine and so are you. One or two or three runs don’t define your fitness. One or two weeks don’t even define your fitness. The summer is so tricky and if you live somewhere hot and humid, it’s virtually impossible to really know where your fitness is. So for the next month or two, I’m going to keep reminding myself of that and remember that if I’m putting in the work I will be ready when the heat subsides. Summer running is hard and it’s even more mentally challenging than physically at times, but hard, slow, sluggish summer miles are when fall breakthroughs are made.
No thank you to covering up and hiding behind clothes that feel safe. No thank you to keeping the tank on while running in 100 degree weather, for fear of being judged as not thin enough. No thank you to ideal body types and unrealistic standards. No thank you to diets, restriction, and food rules. No thank you to excuses like “I’m not hungry” or “I just ate”, when your mouth is watering and your stomach is rumbling. No thank you to gluten-free, fat-free, carb-free. No thank you too anything ‘free’ other than my own body. No thank you to BMI charts. No thank you to earning desert and exercising away guilt. No thank you to arguments about macros and why “that diet worked for me”. No thank you to Weight-Watchers and Flat Tummy Co. targeting teens.No thank you to scales. No thank you to diet culture.
No thank you to gazing eyes of strange men. No thank you to catcalls and “you should smile more”. No thank you to “hey baby”. No thank you to “bitch”, when I ignore you. No thank you to older men calling me honey. No thank you to looking over my shoulder when I’m walking alone. No thank you to holding my keys between my knuckles. No thank you to checking the backseat before getting in the car. No thank you to pretending to talk on the phone in parking garages and on the street once the sun has gone down.
No thank you to undermining educators. No thank you to scripted curriculums and shackles on creative freedom. No thank you to teaching about Christopher Columbus as if he were a hero. No thank you to standardized testing. No thank you to taking resources from “failing public schools”. No thank you to buying books for my classroom with my own money. No thank you to taking work home every night, yet barely earning enough to make ends meet. No thank you to iPads as babysitters. No thank you to neighborhoods so unsafe that kids can’t play outside. No thank you to low expectations placed on low-income students and students of color. No thank you to segregation. No thank you to guns.
No thank you to gender stereotypes and unequal pay. No thank you to questions of marriage and children. No thank you to “that’s so cute” in response to my profession as an educator. No thank you to mansplaining. No thank you to fear of failure. No thank you to the linear career path. No thank you to settling. No thank you to the appreciation of what you have as an excuse not to want and work for more.
When a baby learns to walk, she crawls for a while. In time, slowly and with the support of adult hands, she stands up and moves forward. Finally, one day she takes her first steps, free of parental support. But seconds later, she falls. She gets back up, takes a few more steps and inevitably she falls again. This process is repeated over and over and over for months on end, until eventually, she stops falling. As she develops into a young child, her early childhood will be riddled with scrapes and bruises from countless trips and falls. She won’t fall every day, maybe not even every week, but she will still fall until at some point in her life, she will stop falling almost completely. Even as an adult however, there will be a fall from time to time, whether it’s tripping over a root or falling over a shadow. Even every adult falls.
Progress is never linear.
Eating disorder recovery is a lot like learning to walk. It starts slow and choppy, and you may feel like you’re failing most of the time. But overtime with commitment and support, it slowly becomes easier and more consistent. No one masters eating disorder recovery in a day (or month, or year). Eating disorder recovery is a long and challenging process. Even when you think you’ve got it down, like an adult surprised by a fall, you will hit a bump in the road.
This isn’t to scare you off from recovery. Yes, eating disorder recovery is arduous but it is also one of the most beautiful things in the world. But far too often, eating disorder recovery is packaged up neatly with a curled ribbon on top. Eating disorder recovery is frequently portrayed as a before and after, an image that can be detrimental for those living in between. Eating disorder recovery is a courageous journey to embark on, but it is just that; a journey.
Eating disorder recovery is beautiful, but it isn’t pretty. Recovery is messy and anything but linear.
For years, in college and beyond, I was consumed with guilt when I ate something “unhealthy” (what does that even mean?!) and I went to extreme measures to negate the “extra” calories I consumed. Track and cross-country practice were never enough, especially if I’d eaten lunch that day. I’d convince myself the extra core-work or rest-day-cross-training I did was for my running success, but it was always in an effort to make myself smaller. I regularly cried myself to sleep and made myself miserable, forever in a fight to change the way my body looked.
My recovery began before I could even admit to myself that I had an eating disorder. Close to four years ago, I was still suffering from a tumultuous relationship with food, exercise, and my body. But around that time, I moved to a new city, made new friends, and began to look at running differently. Slowly, I felt a shift in my mindset and over time I grew to hate my body a little less. It took a couple of years, but in time I was finally eating pizza again, I dreaded bikinis less, and I couldn’t remember the last time I had cried myself to sleep. I thought I was all better. Wrap in shiny paper, add ribbon, end of story.
But like I said, that’s not how recovery works. My recovery continued, but certain behaviors stuck with me or returned. I hadn’t weighed myself in at least a year but then my roommate got a scale. At first I weighed myself a few times out of “curiosity” but before too long it was back to weigh-ins two or three times a day. I was eating foods I once feared, but gluten remained fully restricted from my diet. And rest days? Still wasn’t a fan of those. I kept trying however, taking it one day at a time. Baby steps and plenty of falls.
This time last year, with the birth of Lane 9 Project, I found a community of women with experiences similar to mine to connect with. I began to talk about my experience and for the first time, admitted to myself that I had struggled with an eating disorder and that I am still in the recovery process. With this community I have had the opportunity not only to reflect on how far I’ve come, but evaluate how far I still have to go.
For example, I love Cheez-Its. Like really really love Cheez-Its. But while I was eating them the other night, I said out loud, “I really need to stop eating these”. Why?! I was hungry, Cheez-Its taste good. There were zero reasons for me to stop. The voice of my eating disorder, the one I’ve been able to silence so successfully, was creeping in. And again, just tonight, I finished up my easy training run and grappled with the idea of doing some core exercises. I didn’t want to, but I felt like I should. Again, the eating disorder voice I’ve worked so hard to leave behind, was trying to sneak back in. I believe I am mostlyrecovered from my eating disorder, but there is always room for growth, and progress is never linear. I may feel amazing for months and then have a few bad days. That’s OK, the goal is to keep moving forward.
This week, I’m teaching my 3rd grade students about story mountains. In stories, characters face a bunch of problems as we climb the mountain, we reach the climax at the top, and then the character’s problems are resolved as we make our way back down the mountain. In my eating disorder story, I’m on my way down the mountain, I’m beyond the climax, the height of my eating disorder, but the path isn’t clear. The trail ahead is winding, with rocks, roots, and the occasional uphill in the way. I will not turn around and climb back up that mountain, but I am prepared to get a little lost on the way.
No one will get everything right in recovery the first time (or second or third).
I am an adult in my recovery journey, but even the strongest among us fall down sometimes. You will fall and you will fail and that is OK. No one will get everything right in recovery the first time (or second or third). Unfortunately, it just isn’t that easy. When you fall, remind yourself that you are not alone. There are so many others who have fallen down with you, help them up. When you fall, do not stay down. You are not a failure, you are a human. You are doing the very best you can and that is always enough.
National Eating Disorder Association Helpline: 800–931–2236