Maybe I'm a runner. But I'm not going to be a runner who sprints away. Instead I'm making a slow about-face, staring at my shoes as friends rather than enemies, and I'm going to run my burning 11 minute mile into the beast's mouth.Read More
We Have Miles to Go
When a writer, former runner, eating disorder survivor, and tiny bit insane person decides to train for a 25K.
During my past three runs, my mind has kept returning to one thing: failure.
Not in a dark, "you will fail at this" sort of way, but in a broad scope.
The past week has revealed, as some weeks inevitably do, my own failures. Some very small, some much more pressing. Think, for example, I forgot to do the laundry and also missed a deadline.
Failure, or the acknowledgement of it, did not used to be an option I entertained. It's important to note that I have failed a spectacular number of times. Really, it's impressive. But when faced with a failure of any size, I would power on through it with my eyes closed; a manic child covering my ears and diving into the bushes.
When I used to run, failure was the kitten right on my heels. It would run around my ankles, nipping at my socks. I would go faster. It took on different personalities. Sometimes it would work in tandem with the monster in my head to convince me that juice cleanses were a totally sane way to treat my body. Most often it would mewl at my feet, you disappointed someone, you forgot a birthday party, do you remember the time when you got an F in precalculus?
I never knew what to do with this stupid little thing. I hated it. It knew me so well, and most of the time it didn't seem to want to berate me. It just wanted me to listen for a minute. Unacceptable. I ran faster to get rid of it. I ran until my lungs burned and stretched like latex balloons. The kitten gave up and waited by my door, because it knew I always had to stop. And I did. And it followed me inside, and got louder.
I have taken that stupid thing on three more runs with me, and on the last and longest it howled at me as I quickened my pace down Olympic, the view of the bay obscured by the cries, how could you fail at that, how could you let that happen, you don't deserve this pretty view, you don't deserve anything, also have you noticed that you're heavier than you've ever bee...
I had stopped running at a comfortable pace and had begun sprinting like a mad woman. I stopped quickly and bent over to breathe.
The day was warm and breezy, and there was a teenage couple coming out of Parsons Garden holding hands. They both had terrible acne, and I had a feeling neither of them noticed it on their partner's face. I felt the sun on my arms and stretched my calves; they were burning.
Look, you stupid stupid thing. I fucked up. I am, in many ways, a fuck up.
It was pretty low of you to comment on my weight. That's an old trick. You're better than that.
How about this; I won't run away from you, you won't be an asshole, and we can run together and figure out some happy medium?
It was quiet. The next 1.5 miles I slowed it down. I thought about my failures - I felt them. I felt them, and even though I was terrified, I did not become them. I stayed me. The tiny crying creature was silent, padding next to my feet.
My breathing was easy, I waved to my neighbors. My dog took a huge shit in someone's driveway, he was thrilled about it.
With all the silence in my head, with my failures sitting comfortably and quietly after being acknowledged, I felt my body. My lungs burned a little less than they did the past few runs. My legs had fallen into their muscle memory and my strides felt even, measured, and sure.
When I got home, I felt as though I could run another 2 miles. But I didn't. I stretched, took a shower, sat down and wrote down my failures on a piece of paper. They were awful. They scared me. Running couldn't fix them.
But it helped me name them and learn them and know them, and that's not so bad for the first week back out.
PS: I have discovered I like running with some music. This week:
The Human League - Dare
Ra Ra Riot - Need Your Light
Taylor Swift - In particular, a 1989 outtake "New Romantics"
I want to run a 25K.
But yesterday I ran a mile. It was the first mile I've run in my whole life.
Technically that is not true. I used to run. I ran miles and miles, around my college town of Helena, Montana, where the wind whipped the air into an arctic frenzy, and I had to wear double wool socks to convince my toes to keep circulating blood.
I ran in Boulder, Colorado after I dropped out of college, powering up the dry slopes of the Chautauqua, the altitude of my home state keeping me high and dizzy, dusty and worn.
But I never ran alive.
I was running away. Every stride I heard the monster in my head, eat less, go farther, more, now, you're not good, you're not good, you're never good.
I was never quite thin enough for him. Never in control enough. I ran for miles, and when I came home, the monster whispered slippery words that made me put my sandwich down, and go back out for another run. He screamed at me until I cried and hid my birthday cake in a paper napkin, frosting leaking through my bony fingers. He opened my mouth and, like a poltergeist, screamed at my boyfriend for putting too much olive oil in a pan. I once Googled “How many calories does crying burn?” Even the internet was too worried about me to answer.
My shoulder blades popped out like sharpened angel wings, and I kept running. My boyfriend told me I was beautiful no matter what, and the monster covered my ears and laced up my trainers. A few months after my 21st birthday, I used the tiniest bit of myself that I had left, and held down the monster with one hand and used the other to call my mom. I checked into a hospital the next week.
It’s been almost 7 years since I left the hospital. It’s been 6 years since I’ve been a healthy weight. I have never ever gone back. The monster is little now – like a demon baby Merlin aged backwards - living in the back of my head in an isolation room. I can hear him wail, hear him scream for recognition even now.
When I give talks to eating disorder patients, who most often have never met anyone in successful recovery, I am often asked how I faced up to the monster.
“Do you eat whatever you want now?”
Absolutely, yes, I do.
“Do you weigh yourself?”
Never. Never ever.
“Do you exercise?”
No. No I don’t.
They tell you to not do intense exercise in recovery. It is often the thing that trips the lock on that chamber you built and lets the monster out. Our culture is exercise obsessed. It does not differentiate between the joyful movement of a body and the weight loss objective of it. The belief that our bodies are meant to be perfected by any means is a billion-dollar industry cloaked in trendy words like “clean eating” and “artisanal”. But those same people who use those words will choose chemical-ridden Diet Coke over the real stuff, fearing calories over cancer. They will tell you to move your body from joy, and then advertise for gray, harsh gyms where people simulate caged hamsters.
So, no I don’t.
But then...why don't I?
It's 7 years later, and I am still running from my body. I run from its energy, the energy I had as a child when I played. When my elbows and knees jutted out from my buzzing body. When I was in my body, but not only my body.
How can I say I'm recovered when I am still afraid of the body I am? I did not survive to be afraid. I did survive to be strong. I am loathe to admit it, but I have yet to be strong.
I was not strong when I was running before. I am not strong now, my body full of anxious energy I've refused to let it expend because of my fear.
Not everyone naturally expends energy through insane exercise like running. But I do. I am not built for grace, or coordination. When a ball comes flying at me, I duck. I am built for endurance. I am tall, with strong legs, and Colorado lungs. I am anxious, an introvert, and can only function when I feel like I've been properly steeped in silence. I do not run with music.
I like inclement weather. I like clouds and rain and cold. I like to run through them, and pretend I am a thunderclap splitting the sky in two.
I want to be strong. I want to reclaim my own strength. I want to run, for the first time, with my body, instead of away from it.
I ran a mile yesterday. My friend, an amazing distance runner, put together a running calendar for me so I would build up slowly. Another friend is going to be my running buddy, so I stay present, helping me keep the lock on my monster screwed shut. My boyfriend suggested lightly that I create a safe word so he can tell me if I go too hard, too fast. But that monster is not going to keep me from my own body. It does not own me anymore.
I am going to write about every run, even the boring ones, because I want to see for the first time what happens when I do what I want to do, because I want to do it.
That first mile was rainy, and slow, and my dog was being a pain in the ass about it. I felt tired and weak. But my legs started to remember. And the world was quiet. My head was quiet. I felt my body, and it wants to be strong.