Empire State of Mind

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


Corning Wineglass Marathon, 2013

Marine Corps Marathon, 2014

Boston Marathon, 2016

Marine Corps Marathon, 2016

Boston Marathon, 2017

Pocono Marathon, 2017

Chicago Marathon, 2017

Boston Marathon, 2018

Progress is Not Linear

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.

I’ve written about recovery, my personal journey, and the freedom there is in being recovered from an eating disorder, but there’s something missing in all that. Although I’ve progressed and I’m no longer that baby trying to walk, I’m still human and I’m always going to fall down.

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

Originally published on Medium

Breaking all the [food] rules

As I scanned the aisles at Trader Joe’s this weekend, a container of animal crackers caught my eye. In a matter of seconds, I went from noticing them, to placing them in my cart and moving along. I thought animal crackers would make a perfect snack to fill the void I’ve been feeling in the afternoon since I’ve been running early before work. That was all the convincing I needed to take them home with me.

Later, as a munched on a handful of lions, and tigers, and bears (oh my!), what I tasted was familiar yet nostalgic.

“When was the last time I ate animal crackers?”

I began to rack my brain. Throughout my childhood, and into my high school and early college years, animal crackers were a staple in my pantry. A simple, yet relatively filling snack I could grab as I headed out the door for karate class or after a run while waiting for dinner. Thinking about it, I realized I probably hadn’t enjoyed animal crackers in about five years.

It was my senior year of college when I stopped eating gluten. I did it because I had so-called stomach issues and I thought that maybe I was ‘gluten intolerant’. It never occurred to me that maybe the reason I constantly felt sick and lethargic was due to the stress and guilt I struggled with every time I ate bad food.

For me there was a clearly defined line between good foods and bad foods. Was it green? Good. Did it contain sugar, carbs, or fat? Bad. I was all in for spinach and egg white omelettes, grilled chicken salads, and fruit smoothies parading as meals. I internally praised myself any day I didn’t eat more than an apple and peanut butter or carrots and celery for lunch. I silently applauded when I said no to ice cream while everyone else headed to the on-campus Friendly’s.

I was constantly keeping score in my mind. If I ate something healthy my score went up, if I ate something unhealthy my score plummeted.

It happened gradually, but overtime I placed all foods into one of the two categories; yin or yang. If a food fell on the side of evil (in other words, if it tasted delicious or actually satisfied me) it required planning and preparation to be eaten. If I ate something I wasn’t supposed to, breaking an arbitrary food rule, I’d bury my head in guilt and shame. In order to rid the guilt, I’d punish myself with something like endless sit-ups, skipping dinner, or brutally negative self-talk until I cried myself to sleep. It was exhausting, but my food rules were the Ten Commandments and they were to be obeyed.

Looking back, I never realized all the rules I’d created for myself, so when I began to heal my relationship with food and my body, I didn’t anticipate all the undoing that would be necessary. Little things, like ice cream once in a while or fries with dinner began to creep back into my diet on occasion, giving me the illusion that I was ‘better’. I was no longer micromanaging every little thing in my body so in my mind I was ‘healed’.

My food rules were so ingrained that I didn’t even notice how vehemently I was still following them.

In August of 2016, we were at the beach, laying in the sun while snacking. In the bag of snacks we toted, alongside some fruits and veggies, was a box of Cheez-It’s. I still hadn’t eaten gluten since 2012, but Cheez-It’s sounded really good, so I thought “what the hell” and dove in. For the first time in four years, I ate gluten. And absolutely nothing happened. I enjoyed the Cheez-It’s, I felt satisfied, and I immediately began to think about all the delicious and fulfilling foods I could finally eat again now that I had officially broken my “no-gluten” rule (GIMME PIZZA!).

No gluten was certainly my most far-reaching food rule, and I’d love to say that once I broke it I began eating intuitively all the time, but that just isn’t the case. I continued to subscribe to a number of food rules for a very long time and I’m realizing there are still many I’m working to break. Just in the past year, I’ve finally begun to allow white bread, white pasta, and white rice back into my life rather than scrutinizing every food label to see if it’s really 100% whole wheat. A couple of months ago I ate a cupcake a student brought in for his birthday for the first time in my four years of teaching. And honestly, eating pizza on a weekday still takes a little dose of courage. But here’s the difference, instead of passively following the arbitrary food rules I created, I’m working to actively break them every chance I get.

Instead of passively following the arbitrary food rules I created, I’m working to actively break them every chance I get.

I don’t think I was holding onto a specific “no animal crackers” rule, but I do think I’m still working to loosen the reins on what I see as an acceptable snack. Animal crackers didn’t fit that box before and now I’ve let them in. It’s a teeny tiny victory, but it’s a step in the right direction. I can think of some food rules I’m still working through and I’m probably still holding on to some that I do not realize now but will eventually be confronted with. For now, it’s a work in progress and there is no longer a clear line between good foods and bad foods. Except that good foods are the ones I enjoy and bad foods are olives.

 


 National Eating Disorder Association Helpline: 800–931–2236


Originally published on Medium