CW: Eating Disorders, Exercise Abuse
So, blog post one.
I’m currently tapping away at my keyboard, torn between whether I should visit the fridge for the third time in as many hours, knowing full well that the contents is neither more exciting or plentiful, or whether its even worth the 15 meter excursion.
It’s the beginning of week 2, Covid-19 lockdown.
It’s a weird time to be, at the moment.
It’s a weird time to be a member of society, coming to the realisation that my employment worth is based merely on the social constructs of economy, stock markets and wishful thinking.
It’s a weird time to be in your mid 20s, what should be the prime of my adult life has left me with more questions than it has answers. I spend every day trying to figure out the answers to life’s most important questions (like, why would you choose to go by the name Boris if your birth name is Alexander, looking at you, Johnson).
But most prominently, for me, it’s a weird time to be a runner.
Having spent most of my teenage to adult years running on/off, I always found a modicum of enjoyment in it but never committed to making it a hobby. That changed in 2019. 2019 was when running became part of my life.
Now, I’m a sucker for honesty, so here goes –
I began running as a weight loss aid, which isn’t uncommon. Most of us probably did. I don’t think anyone goes for that first, sweaty, arduous jog (undoubtedly in a cotton t-shirt that sticks to everything that wobbles and converse, cue injury-anxiety) thinking “yeah, this’ll be fab, there’s absolutely no chance this isn’t going to suck”.
The first few always suck.
The problem lies in the motivation behind that weight loss goal.
Having self esteems issues is pretty much part and parcel of being a teen. Sadly, most young women suffer with body dysmorphia and disordered eating. According to the Priory Group, between 1.25 and 3.4 million people in the UK suffer with and eating disorder, with an average onset age for anorexia being 16-17, and 18-19 for bulimia nervosa.
Teenage me was just another confirmation of these statistics.
It makes sense why; I’ve no idea who I am still 10 years later, let alone back then when the pressure to fit in, to be skinny and pretty was at it’s peak.
So there’s me, 16, zero confidence, shabby converse, cotton leggings toeing the line of my first run.
There was no more to it than wanting to burn off that half a tin of soup I ate for lunch. I didn’t know about that infamous runners high that I’d be chasing a few, long years later. I definitely hadn’t experienced it – I didn’t have the energy.
I didn’t know that if I fueled my body with food that, in turn, I could fuel my brain with running.
All I did know is that running gave me some form of control. And I craved that more than anything.
It may seem unimportant, and kind of uninspiring, those first, few labored moments of my running journey.
And I’d like to say running helped me find my peace of mind and, eventually, my health.
Years of hard work learning to love myself and throwing out the bathroom scales did.
Eventually, running would become one of the greatest ways I have come to love myself and my body. But I would be lying if I said it started out that way. Mine isn’t an inspirational tale about how, in those first few pounds of the pavement, teenage-me discovered a love of nature, exploration and self worth. The reality was grey-er, many sweaty hours on a treadmill in a gym with no aircon over many long, sticky summer months.
The reason I’m writing about this now isn’t random and isn’t unrelated to Covid-19. It all stems back to that one word – “control”.
It crossed me this past week, as I paced up and now the corridor of my West London flat, that I still craved it. I hadn’t hit over 5000 steps for the past two days due to trying to avoid what felt like the beginnings of Plantar Fasciitis. And it’s not as if I could go for a lovely long walk along the river, due to lock down.
Life had become uncertain again and, in that moment, what my brain wanted was to be able to grab onto any normality and keep it close.
It struck me that it could be very easy to let myself fall back into the comfort of obsession. Thinking of calories and steps would at least keep my mind off the news and suffering blanketing the world.
All day I had weighed up the pros and cons of running through possible injury.
For a split second, I let that comfort wash over any logic and strength I have learned.
11pm, I laced up my Nikes.
I stood, a slight discomfort in the arch of my left foot and a throbbing on the top of my right.
Three steps toward the door.
I will not let a global pandemic take running from me.
I unlaced and sat on my bed. 6000 off my daily step goal but having won a tiny battle.
In that moment I took back control from the compulsion to have that very thing.
I think if I had gone out that door I would have been nothing but disappointed in myself. And probably injured. If you know me, you’ll know I’m always bloody injured.
If I had gone out that door I wouldn’t have regained control. Ultimately, I would have lost it. Running is so much more to me now than burning calories and trying to get skinny. The realisation of this is what kept me from heading out for the sake of an arbitrary number on a Garmin.
My new years resolution, back before Covid was a thing, was to respect my body and, in doing that, to stop running through injury.
I value running and I value my body more than a compulsion.
It’s important to remember, in these odd times, in between visits to the fridge and copious cups of coffee, that life is still an experience and it is to be lived. It is not a daily step goal, it is not a PB attempt, it is not a calorie deficit.
Sure, I can find wealth in those things, but equally I am the sum of so much more. We all are.
Have goals. Take control. But do not let control take you.