In almost three years of long distance running, I can’t remember how many times I’ve run 20-plus mile training runs. There’s one that has stuck in my mind. I headed to one of my favorite trails. When I reached the parking lot at the trailhead I turned off the car, took a deep breath and sighed. It was raining lightly out. Instead of bounding out of the car ready to seize the miles, I froze. I couldn’t get out of the car. My heart started racing and I started crying. I couldn’t calm myself down, so I called my dad.
“Drink some water. Take some deep breaths and drive back home,” he told me.
I took my dad’s advice and went back home. It wasn’t the first anxiety attack I ever had, but it was the first that happened before a training run.
I didn’t understand it then, but I was freaking out because despite losing 90 pounds and literally training my butt off, I deep-down did not believe I deserved to be that runner.
I had every reason to be happy. I was dating a really nice guy. I had been promoted a few months beforehand and liked my job. I had great friends. I had successfully lost 90 pounds.
There is no perfect body except the one you woke up in. Enjoy it! - Rachel Cosgrove, trainer and author of The Female Body Breakthrough.
Despite that, I wasn’t happy at all. Even though I had lost all of that weight, my body wasn’t perfect. Just because I was running a marathon didn’t mean I looked or even felt like a real runner. I beat myself up every day about it. I could still do more and do better. My workouts were horrible and I was headed for disaster.
As a teenager and young adult, I struggled with a really negative body image and clinical depression. I went to an all-girls high school, where I excelled in classes, but spent so much time hating myself and my body and comparing myself to the other girls. They were thinner than I was, they had boyfriends, awesome cars and carefree lives. Why couldn’t I be more like them? I abused my body so badly during high school because I was so unhappy. I would go through periods of time where I didn’t eat anything but a bowl of cereal a day for weeks in fear of gaining weight. Then my moods would shift and I would go all day without eating and then binge on whatever I could when I was at home and alone. My parents never said anything about it, I think they didn’t know what to do other than send me to a therapist and fill my anti-depressant prescriptions.
That self-abuse continued through college. I abused my body by overeating junky foods. I drank three or four nights a week to deal with my depression and anxiety, thinking I was living a “normal” college life. I’m not sure exactly how much weight I gained while being in college for 5 years, but when I made my New Year’s Resolution again to lose weight in 2009, I weighed almost 245 pounds. A month and a half later, I joined Weight Watchers. I can thank a depressing Valentine’s Day for inspiring me to stop binge drinking and eating. I’ve never looked back.
To be honest, I’ve been working on this post for a while. (Coincidentally, Cilantro, unbeknownst to me, was working on her post related to her feelings about losing 120 pounds!) Recently, I talked about how tough 2012 was for me while my boyfriend was away. I thought what was missing was having my boyfriend here. I thought that’s what was holding me back from becoming a stronger runner and a happier person. It was a piece of the puzzle.
Losing the weight was also simply a piece of the puzzle. But I’ve realized that what’s really keeping me from being happy is loving myself for who I am. Something as simple as that is what I’ve never been able to do.
And just like training for a PR, it takes real work. Through yoga, logging miles on beautiful trails, taking time to journal and reflect and fueling my body with healthy fuel, I’m getting there and learning to take Clove’s advice to love my body for what it does for me and, in the process, gaining my confidence as a runner.
This weekend I’m heading out for a long run and this time there’s no turning back.
Do you struggle with feeling like the runner you are, sometimes? How have you learned to love your runner-self?