Flashback about 4 years ago to when I got sucked into an obsession with running. What I thought was a powerful, motivational, ‘bettering my life’ exercise, quickly turned into a mess of self hate, anger and burnout. Marathon training sent me down a pretty dark path and opened my eyes to a downright ugly side of myself. Here’s how that story went.
2014 New Years Resolution: Run a Marathon (oh..and lose 20lbs in the process)
Quick back story.
I started ‘recreationally running’ in high school. I was a gym goer, and typically spent 20-30 minutes of my workout on the treadmill. This casual workout routine continued up until I moved to Vancouver in the Fall of 2013.
Being in a new city and a new home, my roommates and I decided to have a big family Christmas at our little basement suite. It was a week-long roommate family collab, filled with excessive snacking, drinking and literally zero exercise. So naturally, come a couple days before New Years I was really feeling that post-holiday flab.
Like I did every New Year since the age of 15, I gave myself the classic “this is going to be my year” pep talk and started researching every diet/exercise plan I could get my hands on. It wasn’t long before a marathon training plan sparked my attention. This sent my mind whirling, “Hey, I like running. Why don’t I train for a marathon and lose that extra 20lbs in the process.”
The wrong intentions
So it was decided. I was going to run a marathon. I found a local event and signed up right on the spot, excited to start my weight loss journey. You see, those bolded words right there are where I went wrong. I wasn’t committing to a marathon to accomplish running 42km, I was running for the sole intention of shedding unwanted weight. Of course I didn’t let any of my peers know this, they all thought I was this super passionate runner stoked on accomplishing a race. But the truth was, I just saw it as a fast-track to get skinnier.
The art of overdoing it
I dived straight into an intense intermediate training plan (of course the word ‘intermediate’ meant I was going to lose weight faster, right?). It didn’t take long before I was training 6 times week with one rest day. The runs were brutal. An average of an hour a day with a combination of hills, sprints and intervals. I’d do one big long run on the weekends as per my plan, but always added on a ‘little extra’ to burn off some additional calories.
Oh, I forgot to mention, I was also pretty much eating nothing while doing all of this. I was also following a strict dieting plan that had me consuming no wheat, no dairy and of course no sweets. But I wasn’t unreasonable. I could have a little treat.. but only if I could ‘afford’ it. That started a dark journey of running even more, all to ‘afford’ to go out with friends, have a drink, or eat a cupcake at a birthday party.
The combination of excessive training and eating nothing did make me lose a good chunk of weight in the first few months, but then naturally I plateaued. But not seeing the scale go down just made me eat even less and train harder. It was a dark time to say the least.
As the marathon day got closer I realized I didn’t even want to run it. It wasn’t about the race ( and it really never was). “I haven’t met my weight goal so what’s the point in even running the race?”. I shamefully withdrew my entry and blamed it on being sick.
Now, I wish this is when I realized I had a deeper issue going on. But no, then came the guilt of not completing a marathon. So I emailed the organization and had them defer my entry to the following year. They happily agreed and so I began another year-long journey of calorie focused training and malnourishing my body. Great call Meg.
Year 2: Total body destruction
If you can believe it, I took it even further in year two of this sickness. The first plan I was following obviously wasn’t the right one to shred weight, so I went back to the drawing board, looking for even more intense marathon training plans that would help me reach my ridiculous weight goal.
Come Spring 2015, I was outright destroying my body. I was forcing myself into a Monday to Friday 4:50am wakeup call to get in a long run before work. No matter how exhausted my body was, I forced it to the limit day after day. I remember one week I came down with a terrible cold. But the shakes, running nose, coughing, and dizzyness couldn’t keep me off that treadmill. My body was breaking down and I was completely ignoring it – all to burn those extra cals.
May 2015 is when my body finally said enough. I remember jogging up to the gym one rainy morning and all of a sudden, a excruciating pain shot into my foot. It was like my foot was on fire and with every step, the pain got worse. But as always, I was determined to get in that morning run. I couldn’t stray from my training plan.. that would be crazy. So I forced my body into that 18km training day. I remember the pain being so bad that I was literally crying on the treadmill. When I pushed that stop button, I crumbled. I was broken.
The stress fracture that saved my life
I waited about two weeks until I went to the hospital (I’m embarrassed to admit I even threw in a few more shot training days after that first breakdown). The doctor told me it was a stress fracture and that I would have to be on crutches for at least a month. And once I could walk pain-free, there would be absolutely no running for another three months. My marathon was obviously out of the question, but to be honest, that was the least of my worries. I’m ashamed to say that first thing that crossed my mind when the doctor shared the news was, “Holy shit. I am going to get so so so fat.”.
A shift in perspective
It was a tough Summer. I was hobbling around, grumpy as ever, and constantly feeling guilty about not being able to workout. But lucky for me, after couple months of feeling sorry for myself, there was a shift in perspective.
I remember finally getting off my crutches, analyzing my body in the mirror, and thinking.. “How is this possible? I look the exact same.” I quickly jumped on the scale to discover I hadn’t gained a single pound from not running for two months. I actually looked and felt healthier than I had in years. My eyes weren’t puffy from exhaustion, my muscles weren’t aching in agony and my stomach felt nourished and happy. I started to reflect on the past two years of my life:
Why was completing a marathon so important me? It wasn’t, it just seemed like an easy way to lose weight.
Why was I following a diet plan? Because I thought it would help me lose weight.
Why were training plans so important? It forced me to workout, and if I did, I would lose weight.
I’m happy to say this was when I had my first ‘ah-ha’ moment, making me realize I had some serious issues going on. It was then I admitted to myself that I was obsessed with the fear of gaining weight and was convinced running/starving myself was the solution.
Coming back to my body
It’s been a long road my friends. A gruesome uphill battle with my weight gain obsession. It’s been a lot of work and unfortunately you can’t just flick a switch to make it all better. I am still ashamed of what my relationship with running had turned into, how I hadn’t been running for joy, stress relief or love of the sport. How I thought training/dieting plans were the magic formula, when in fact, they completely had soiled my relationship with my body. I’m proud to say after taking a long, well needed break, I now run for the right reason – for fun. I do it for me, not for the number on the scale (I’ve actually boycotted scales and ditched mine completely- hell ya!).
That stress fracture was a saving grace. It forced me give my body some much needed rest and sparked the thoughts about the bigger issues I was facing. I’ll be honest, I did continue on some very unhealthy habits after this, but at least I was conscious of it. I wasn’t oblivious anymore. My journey to finding my truth and coming back to my body had begun.
This post is an open apology to anyone I flat out mislead about my relationship with running. I am ashamed for lying to your face about being excited to run a marathon and cross that finish line. I was working towards another goal entirely and was putting on a fake persona in the process. I am sorry for not sharing my true intentions. I am however happy to share I am now on a road to healing and am committed to living my truth – every damn day!