I was always an athletic individual. No, wait, let me take that back. I ATTEMPTED being a powerful and skilled soccer play at the ripe age of seven, and from first grade to my freshman year of high school I spent the majority of my time with a shin guard tan. At one point I played on three different teams, and it was only when the pressure of having to be better than the other pre-pubscent girls my age reared its ugly head and gave me stomach aches did I stop kicking around the ball.
Enter long distance running.
I always enjoyed trampling through the grass on the school playground and consistently finished in the top five of my class whenever we ran 400 meters. How hard could running a mile, or two, or three be? Surprisingly, VERY challenging for a young girl with no slow-twitch muscle fiber.
When I started my freshman year of high school I had soccer thighs–the legs of my Umbro shorts rubbed together and my quads were full of explosive power. I felt a bit out of place among the sea of tall track runners and swimmers during PE, but otherwise, I didn’t give a whole lot of thought to my legs. Or running. After a dismal week or so of playing in the elite division of high school soccer (and realizing that I wouldn’t make it as a starter so what was the point?), I opted to pursue another sport that had no cuts (victory!) and was a great way to earn PE credit: cross country.
And so the obsession with long distance running began. At first going on a thirty-minute run felt GOOD–the blood pumped through my legs, I got a bit out of breath (but not too much), and the sweat on my brow made me feel accomplished. But given my OCD and perfectionist attitude, I wanted to be faster than my teammates and run longer without getting winded. So from my sophomore I made it a point to run at least 20 minutes or so every other day. In my mind it was nothing crazy. I mean, it seemed like everyone did some kind of physical activity afterschool–the weight room was always filled with girls on the bicycles and guys benching the big weights.
Fast forward a few years to that fateful day when anorexia took hold over my mind, and a normal 30 minute run suddenly became the minimum I could do. But here’s the tricky part. Lets say I ran 35 minutes one day. Now I couldn’t run less than 35 minutes, otherwise the run was for nothing.
Little did I know that the eating disorder was seeping into my daily life. Rather than have to deal with the thought of my mother not being around for my wedding or graduation, I instead turned to trekking through the neighborhood in my Brooks shoes as a way to distract myself. I was never great at confrontation, and in fact, I remember crumbling my third grade math homework in the back corner of my desk because I couldn’t understand units of measurement. Rather than ask the teacher for help, I believed that if I didn’t see it, it didn’t exist.
Sadly, I took that same route with even the bigger issues in my life, namely my mother’s illness. If I ran and ran and ran and only concentrated on mile split times and making sure I was the lightest weight possible (because hey, less body weight to move meant a faster cross country finish), then I wouldn’t have to entertain the prospect that I would soon be without a parent. My mother and I were quite close, and although she was the disciplinarian in the household, I revealed many of my darkest secrets to her–in her warm smile and big bear hugs I felt secure and protected. The thought of losing that comfort scared me to no end. And so I laced up my shoes day in and day out. Afterschool, after church, even in the early mornings, I found a way to get SOME kind of run in.
By God’s miracle, my mother emerged from surgery feeling fine…and actually entered into remission. While she slowly gained strength, I actually began deteriorating. My daily runs plus the 1000 calorie diet I placed myself on was slowly eating away my muscles. Ironically my mother intervened one weekend when I was lacing up my shoes to go for a post-church jog. With a firm, pursed lip frown she told me I COULD NOT go out for a jog, and that I was losing weight. I smiled and said ok, but inside the anorexia screamed
HELL NO. HELL NO.