For 37 days between Memorial Day and July 4th, I conquered a mile a day! I did it! I’m so proud!
There was lots of griping on on Twitter about how exhausted I was and how my pace suffering. I skipped out on social plans or sleep to squeeze in a single, unenjoyable mile just to say I did it. I ran at 9:45 PM with a sunburn because I couldn’t break the streak after a lazy beach day. I missed out on cross-training because on my normal cross-training days I was too tired after running. I watched the weather incessantly. My running plan had contingency plans for impending rain and thick humidity. My body hurt practically every day for a month. Also, there was so much laundry!
And, for all the complaining, it was amazing! In fact, I feel like I could keep going!
Earlier this year I wrote my declaration to running! I said, “I am a Runner” and reaffirmed my belief that there is so much more to running than miles or minutes. I realized that after over a decade of being unable to trust my body, I had the strength and ability to trust myself and my aspirations. I set goals, I remained committed, and, as a result, I grew stronger. I definitely gained strength during this running streak. My mile got stronger and faster, and my confidence was palpable.
During some particularly challenging runs, I wanted to stop the streak. I told myself it was arbitrary and pointless. I felt so drained. Somedays running was monotonous or I just wasn’t “feeling like it”. While my interest in running did not dissipate, there were days when my enjoyment or motivation to start definitely did. In those moments, I remembered the struggle and pride of relearning to walk (twice) and that I’ve done even more difficult things before. I always got my workout in!
Slowly and over time, I turned to mindfulness to propel me through my running streak. I used mindfulness to allow my body to move in ways that felt strong and natural. I listened to the cues my body was giving me. I reinvigorated my love for running. I realized my body can do some amazing if I set my mind to it! My running streak was dedicated to learning, practicing, and appreciating running mindfully.
Here are some of my favorite mindfulness techniques that I practiced during my running streak:
Set an Intention. I set an intention for my run by focusing on why I am running and what I want to gain from my run. I decide before I leave, what I need from my run – fuel, energy, breath, strength, insight, space, etc. Often I set out for each run with a goal in mind. These goals typically motivate and fuel my run, but my intentions are less defined. Instead of focusing on time or distance, I try to focus on quality and effort. I allow less structured expectations and let myself “just run”. This mentality changes how I experience running. Zeroing in on my intentions helps me remember why I love running in the first place. It helps me be attuned to the experience of running – in the moment.
Be Present. I am present when I focus on my breath, my body, or things I am observing. I try to notice three things I am feeling, hearing, seeing, and thinking while I run. Sometimes just the act of noticing these things helps ground me during my run. When I’m present, I notice what hurts, what feels strained, and what feels strong. I don’t attribute weight or meaning to what I’m recognizing or the choices I am making about my “Right Now Run” (e.g., switching to intervals). I just allow myself to notice it, adjust if necessary, and keep moving. If I get distracted and my mind wanders I allow myself to notice that too, and then I refocus by giving my attention to the sensations of my body.
Count. I count steps, breaths, stop signs, crosswalks, anything! I try to focus on counting to 10 without losing my concentration. If I notice my thoughts drifting or I lose count then I start over.
Synchronize. I synchronize my running with my music or my breathing. The feeling of synchrony helps me set a pace that feels natural. Instead of fighting my body, I align my running with my body or music so I can feel motivated and strong.
Repeat a Mantra. I repeat mantras to myself to help me keep moving! I like words/phrases such as, “finish it”, “breathe”, or “relax”. I am an auditory learner so speaking these words in stride is an incredibly effective way to connect my body and my mind.
I started the #RWRunStreak to recommit myself to running and to enjoy a new challenge. I finished with a sense of pride and a new set of mindfulness tools and skills.
I don’t recommend a running streak for weight loss (I gained weight!) or for distance work (I ran fewer miles, on average, than my “typical week”!). However, I do recommend it if you are up for a challenge, excited about improving your short distance runs, want to practice sticking with a goal that’s relatively low-stakes, and if you love running!
I’m excited to keep using these mindfulness tools and techniques for many more miles to come! Do you have mindfulness techniques that you love? Feel free to share them below! I’m excited to read your comments and thoughts!
I never identified as a “runner” until someone else named it for me. I described my weekly mileage, the feeling of invincibility, the restlessness I feel when I’m not running, and they named it – “you’re a runner.”
Over a year later, I still wasn’t convinced. My friend even explained to me, “You’re a runner. I’m just someone who runs.” The differentiation wasn’t clear to me. One seemed affiliated with an identity whereas the other was associated with a series of actions or behaviors. I’ve been grappling with being a runner (tossing around the hashtag (#runner) and seeing how I “stack up” among other people whom I consider to be “runners”) for the last fourteen weeks. I’ve lamented over long runs, skipped out on social plans to get up early and run, thrown tantrums during taper week, and logged several hundred miles.
I told a friend who asked me about the race the following:
Well, it was perfect. I felt amazing. I was so strong and confident. I didn’t psych myself out at all! My mindset this time was so different for the training and everything – 3rd time’s a charm I guess! Hard to explain, but I learned a lot this time around. I am overall so much healthier than any other time. I like that feeling – it took a lot of work. I am really proud. I’m just excited to feel so great. It’s refreshing!
I never thought I’d talk about running like that! These days I rely on expected consequences of running like “runner’s highs” and the sense of camaraderie I feel when another runner nods at me when I’m out on my course. I talk about my workouts and training goals using lingo like “negative splits” and “form drills” because I know what those things mean! Settling into running as a hobby as opposed to a compulsion or as an act of punishment/retaliation has been a long, difficult journey. I’m so proud of where this journey has taken me!
It’s never easy to train for a race when you’re prone to compulsions, have a chronic physical illness, and have a history of regimented behaviors around food and exercise. This type of training took a special amount of conscientiousness. Trust me, intentional focus on my behaviors and my motivation, and a healthy relationship with food and exercise were essential to my success.
As I was reflecting on the past fourteen weeks of training and mental preparation, objectively there are several things that made a difference for me.
Here’s my recipe for success:
High Protein and Healthy Fats; No Carbo Load
3X Every Day
12 oz.; 3X Every Day – Or More!
Coffee w/ Truvia and Milk
No More Than 2 Per Day; Not After 11 AM
White Noise Machine
Allocate 8 Hours Per Night
Use When Sleeping
No Tracking, No Timing. Just Run!
Once a Week
Amazing Grass Supergreens and Fiber
Before Food or Coffee
1X Every Day
None 2 Weeks Prior to Race
[ Note – Inevitably, different strategies will help others feel successful. This approach worked for me. Find what works for you and stick with it!]
Primarily I believe I was successful because I stayed committed to my training plan, forgave and forgot missed or bad workouts, and celebrated the small victories as well as the big ones. And also because… cross-training. I can’t stress this enough. Cross-training made ALL THE DIFFERENCE.
A lot changed for me during this training season. For example, rather than simply thinking of food as a necessity after a long run to replenish lost calories, I started relying on a consistent strategy for meals so that I could feel nourished and energized for my workouts during the week. The mentalities, “calories in, calories out” and, ” I run so I can eat” were both replaced by the simple, yet sometimes hard to digest (pun intended), concept that food is fuel. I ate food that made my body feel good and strong. I used my bullet journal to keep track of my meals and sleeping patterns; this mindfulness strategy helped me stay accountable to my training goals.
While there were several concrete ingredients to my success, on a subjective level there were also critical connections, realizations, and mindset changes that helped me feel successful.
For example, during one of my more difficult runs rather than struggling through, trudging along, and wondering “Will I finish?”, somewhere along the way, I started to think, “I will finish!”. This epiphany hit me like a breath of fresh air; it felt light, crisp, and perfectly necessary. I can’t quite explain it, but this realization empowered my mind and my body. I finally knew I could do it; there was no doubt in my mind that I would finish the run even if it was incredibly challenging. From that moment on, my training felt lighter and less burdensome. A heavy hunch that I might fail was lifted from my mind, and I felt like I could trust myself and my body in a way I never experienced before.
In that moment, running no longer felt like an obligation. It felt like it was a part of me – like a feeling rather than a task. In that moment, mileage or minutes didn’t matter anymore. I learned that I don’t have to race every run and often I’ll be better in the long run (pun again) if I listen to my body and respect all the cues it’s giving me about how to feel and be my best.
That was the moment I became a “runner”.
Changing my thinking during that run granted me confidence. Moving forward, I knew I was capable of accomplishing whatever I set my mind to – as long as I was consistent and intentional. The plan mattered that’s undeniable, but it didn’t matter just and only because it was “the plan”. It mattered because it was the right combination of training, self-care, and confidence – it was my recipe for success.
I did not experience that kind of freedom when I prepared for or ran my other races. Now, rather than running to grasp a sense of control, or running out of compulsion, I run because I want to and because I believe in my own strength! I run because I can.
I no longer see running as just a test of endurance. It is also a test of my preparation and self-care, and I am always going to be up for that challenge!
Content Warning: disordered eating, excessive exercise, and self-harm
I’ve been working on this post since December 30, 2016. It’s time to share this aspect of my story even if it’s making me shake as I write. There will be more time to unpack and reorganize my thoughts later. The beauty is in the imperfections. The beauty is in naming my lived experience even if I’m scared. Thank you for reading.
2016 was a remarkable year – literally.
As I was reflecting, I realized that for someone who isn’t very good at math, I did a whole lot of mental gymnastics and complex calculations in 2016. I measured nearly everything – even when I didn’t realize I was doing it.
So, in that spirit, to reflect on 2016, I’m asking, “how do you measure a year?”
Really though, what’s going to make a difference when you look back? What matters for days, weeks, months later? What’s memorable enough? What’s quantifiable? What’s not quantifiable that’s still important?
I could measure 2016 by the number of Tweets I posted, the number of good things that happened, the number of bad things that happened, the number of times I didn’t feel guilty about the food I was eating, the number of amazing conversations I had, the number of trips to the ER, the number of friends I lost, the number of friends I gained, the number of pounds I lost, the number of miles I ran, the number of times I dropped everything because someone needed me, the number of dollars I spent on therapy, the number of hours I spent in therapy, the number of articles I wrote, the number of “accomplishments” I earned, the number of days I over-scheduled to occupy my mind for every single waking minute, the number of fights I had, the number of moments I actually felt present, the list could go on, and on, and on, and on.
The truth is, it’s a miracle I made it through this year, and I’m not sure how I did it. I was crazed and compulsive, and my brain NEVER shut off! I mean it. I woke up exhausted from how many ideas and conversations my brain entertained while I was “sleeping”.
In 2016 I was out of control; even though the one thing I felt like I could count on was control.
Control for me is the ultimate goal. Perhaps it’s because I can recall so many times when I didn’t get to be in control of my life [read: abuse & chronic pain – although I can’t get into that right now]. I always fight my environment and circumstances to feel in control; it’s comforting, reliable, and trustworthy – except not really. It’s actually so deceptive. It’s a made up, abstract concept. Control reveals it’s malicious self when I’m not looking. When I feel like everything is finally manageable, the perception of control laughs in my face, and shows me how wrong I actually am [read: every excuse I ever had about compulsive exercise and not being hungry – more on that soon]. Control is a falsity. It’s a mirage. And, since I’m compulsive I literally get trapped in a vicious cycle of catching and chasing control. Striving for control manifested in a lot of ways for me in 2016. Since as early as I can recall needing control, I can identify how almost all of my attempts to ascertain control were various forms of self-harm. Most recently, it looks like excessive exercise and compensatory, disordered eating behaviors. Craving control isn’t glamorous, and any threat to that poses a likelihood for a compulsion to kick in – a false sense of manufactured control.
I started measuring 2016 by counting calories and miles – obsessively [Thank you Under Armour You Vs Year Challenge] . I ended the year the same way. I ended 2016 weighing myself twice a day, working out 6 days a week, eating one full meal a day, and purging when I felt too full or overwhelmed. I spent 2016 calculating how many miles I’d need to track to erase every indulgence, and every slip of self-control. I ended 2016 feeling “okay” if I ate the same thing every day, and being both proud and fearful every time I lost more weight. It was never about weight, size, or body image; it was always about control. I ended 2016 convinced that these behaviors were typical and not disordered.
In 2016 my identity was contingent on my accomplishments; my identity was consumed by how far I could push myself [read: attempting to run a half marathon while being malnourished and completing an intensive one year Master’s degree while working four jobs]. I tracked my the miles I ran (see below), and if you ask me I can tell you how my mileage totals correlates directly with the chaos in my life. When I felt most out of control, I ran more. It was so simple.
Side note: Melissa A. Fabello suggest it’s bests to “Never, Ever Use Numbers” when talking about fitness on social media. While I tend to agree and realize it can be triggering, I’m using numbers right now. I’m using numbers to illustrate and own my experience. I’m using numbers as literal data to tell my story.
I once described my feelings about running like this,
“pounding the pavement, counting each step, each throbbing step. Endure, push through, don’t stop. Determination. Thud, pound, pound, breath, keep going, don’t stop, sigh, sigh…”
I’ve also described running like this,
“I started running because it was the most brutal, ruthless, clearest way, aside from being a competitive gymnast, I could think of to tell my chronic pain that it isn’t in charge. Running is how I’m reclaiming my body. When I’m running I’m in charge. I’m strong, powerful, and triumphant.“
I channeled my mileage into training for two half marathons. The first race, I ended up in the hospital. I said I didn’t care, but I cared a lot! I was convinced I could push through anything but, my body had a different reality. If I was healthier, stronger, and had better intentions, I would have finished.There was a disconnect between my mind and my body. [Side note: There still is.]
So, the second time I trained for a half marathon, I trained smarter. I decided to think about food as fuel. The second time, I did finish! That was an accomplishment in 2016! In 2016 I ran more than 1000K! I ran nearly the distance of 24 marathons, and with each crazed, obsessive step I gained clarity, pain, agony, energy, and strength – depending on the day.
I ended 2016 both in denial and with a plan to tackle these perfectionist driven behaviors, and dangerous habits. I ended 2016 with a plan to be stronger – both physically and mentally.
I should mention here that living with OCD and overcoming compulsions or obsessions is not a linear process. I’ve had several bouts of compulsions in my life, and even if I’ve resolved one, it’s likely another will reveal itself or I’ll relapse – this is super context dependent (I learned this in 2016). Acknowledging this is a really important step.
In 2016 I graduated with my Master’s degree. Now I have two degrees – count that! I am among the nearly 9-12% (depending on the source) of people in the U.S. who hold an advanced degree. That’s pretty cool.
I also got a job! I love my job, and I love getting to say that I’m a researcher! My team is an amazing group of nerdy, collaborative, intelligent people. Each day my strengths are recognized. I’m trusted and respected. Our work is important. I feel productive and valuable. I feel empowered and supported. I’m appropriately challenged, and I’m always learning new skills. I feel happy at my job every day (even when it’s stressful)- that’s a relief. I am so lucky!
Many people have asked me if I think that graduate school was worth it especially because I love my job and learned so much, and most often my response is overpowered by my own ambivalence. Usually I don’t even want to be entertaining such a question. However, if I’m being honest, I hated graduate school. I have been working through a lot of issues such as complex trauma, impostor syndrome, and anxiety because of it. I do not think that it was worth it. Merely surviving should never be the objective.Although, it’s always an accomplishment. As much as I try to convince myself it wasn’t “that bad” the more I listen to my friends and recall several of the worst nights of my life it’s tough to deny how severe it was. I wouldn’t say that struggling for a year, being suicidal at times, and acquiring an eating disorder as a result of my unrelenting OCD was worth it no matter how amazing my job is now. In 2016, I learned how academia doesn’t take mental health and self-care seriously, and that it’s too easy to pretend you’re “fine” even when you’re struggling immensely.
In 2016, I also found and joined feminist writing spaces. In first publication on Ravishly.com I came out as asexual. I recognized my values and my identities were reflected in the topics other people were writing about. These writers and activists exemplified for me how to elevate and insert my voice into important conversations. My queerness is not the most prominent aspect of my identity, but being queer and owning it afforded me both a sense of connection and exclusion. The connectedness was electrifying. The exclusion made me feel enraged and small. And so, I wrote!
I was enamored with the connection and the energy! I became addicted to saying things, and having them matter to someone. I wanted to be seen, and to belong. I wanted people to recognize my identities, relate to me, and engage with me! My feminism burst out of me once I gained knowledge and started writing, and allowed myself the privilege of being recognized for and confident about who I am, and how my life works. In 2016, I became a writer, and found my voice – which I still think is really cool!
Awareness, Acceptance, and Action – Next Steps
I measured 2016 in events, logistics, and numbers. I allowed my emotions to be in charge when they made sense and they were manageable. Otherwise I silenced them. I convinced myself most feelings were too big, and too intrusive. I learned to retreat instead of express myself. In 2016 I mostly felt complacent – which felt good. Conversely, I often felt out-of-control happy, out-of-control sad, out-of-control angry… and those feelings didn’t feel good. I learned that numbness can be an everyday, acceptable feeling, and that being numb can carry you for a really long time.
I’m still doing the work to recognize, respond to, and feel – literally – what emotions feel like. Sometimes that means getting on a soap box ranting about how frustrated I feel when women at my office complain about the actual, never-ending supply of candy, and the perpetual body shaming and food shaming. Sometimes that means saying when someone hurts me, and calling them out even if it’s uncomfortable. And sometimes that means, recognizing when I’m happy, and sharing that joy with others!
The point is, once I started allowing myself to feel, I allowed my opinions to be valid, and spent time cultivating self-awareness – including learning about myself and my opinions about feminism. I realized there were so many injustices that made me absolutely livid inside, and I charged toward advocating for justice and equity. I also gained some personal insight into what emotions mean for me – which is definitely a work in progress.
I rounded out 2016 by signing a lease for an apartment in Cambridge, MA. I found a wonderful, accepting community of social justice minded, Jewish, young professionals to share Shabbat with. I am in love with the intellectual capital and the culture of Cambridge. I’ve enjoyed sharing the camaraderie of running in this compact city! When I’m feeling really good, I’ll even admit there are a lot of incredible restaurants to try too! I’m excited for the opportunity to thrive in a new, invigorating space.
I could measure 2016 SO many ways. I did measure 2016 SO many ways. Now, in hindsight, I’m finding it most helpful and fulfilling to measure 2016 by recognizing all the opportunities for growth and all the potential for the coming years. I’m happy. Really. I’ve got a good thing going for me right now, and I have an incredible amount of hard, hard work ahead of me.
2017 will be about embracing being simultaneously a masterpiece and a work in progress! I’m ready!
13.1 miles is an arbitrary (stick with me) number of miles. If you run them it indicates what? That you can run 13.1 miles? Yes – actually! And, that’s all it says. And then you get a medal, literally, to say you did a thing. And apparently you’re worth more? You’re more of an athlete? You’re more fit? I don’t actually know what it means. It means you spent time training to do a thing, and you did it. Then you get to tell people?
I never identified as a “runner” until someone else named it for me. I described my weekly mileage, the feeling of invincibility, the restlessness I feel when I’m not running, and they named it – “you’re a runner”.
Running saved me. It gave me clarity and space. It gave me strength. Until it didn’t.
A week ago I tried to run a half marathon after having been sick that morning. If you know me, you know it takes a LOT to convince me not to do something. So, despite having been sick, I was determined to run. I trained, and I was ready. I was confident! I expected to finish – there was seriously no doubt in my mind. The adrenaline kicked in, and I was off. I told myself, “I can do this”, and tried to be completely in the moment. Miles one through seven were great, but then the adrenaline wore off and my sickness took over.
Simply put, I don’t remember miles seven through ten because all I could focus on was the unbearable pain I felt. I was dizzy, sick, scared, lonely, and weak. I never wanted to associate those feelings running ever again. I knew was better than that! I was also really sick, and pushing myself past my limits.
This part of my story does not end at the finish line. Instead, it ends with seven hours in the ER. A diagnosis of excessive fatigue, among other things, kept medical professionals watching my BP rise from dangerously low levels, my temperature drop back to normal, and several bags of fluids rehydrate me so that when I left I was only mildly dehydrated. And then, the minute I got home, I burst into tears. I felt like I couldn’t breathe or face the world. I felt like I let people down. I felt like there was an expectation I did not meet.
The choice to stop running wasn’t a choice. It was a necessity. It also wasn’t because the race was too hard. Let me make that clear. However, I cannot explain that to each and every person who asks me, “how was the race?”
What’s been more challenging than knowing I didn’t finish is the pity and shame. Seriously, the pity is crushing me. I’ve heard, “you only had three miles left” or “you’ll get ‘em next time” as if 1) I didn’t know the length of the race or 2) I just decided to throw my hands up and quit because it was too challenging. Not surprisingly, these comments came from people who aren’t runners. Still, their condescending remarks are getting to me WAY more than not finishing.
I didn’t finish because I was sick. I could have finished. I was ready. I am strong enough. My persistence is my most powerful quality. If I set my mind to something I WILL do it – unless there’s an incredibly compelling reason not to.
Anyway, those unmet expectations are perpetuating my feelings of worthlessness and guilt even a week later. I feel guilty! I’ve spent a week in bed feeling sick, embarrassed, and scared to run. I’m mad because of how not finishing looks to other people, and because of the assumptions that (I feel like) people are making about me. If you know me, you know a challenge ignites me, and I don’t quit. Quitting isn’t my style.
Often, I recall the years when putting one foot in front of the other and walking heel to toe seemed impossible. Relearning how to walk is one of my biggest accomplishments. It follows that I feel a similar sense of immense pride knowing that I’m overcoming all of that and re-envisioning strength in a way that is entirely and only for me – regardless of whether or not I finished the race.
I started running because it was the most brutal, ruthless, clearest way, aside from being a competitive gymnast, I could think of to tell my chronic pain that it isn’t in charge. Running is how I’m reclaiming my body. When I’m running I’m in charge. I’m strong, powerful, and triumphant. I actually don’t care that I didn’t finish the race – others shouldn’t care either! I recall too distinctly a time when I couldn’t even walk. Each step I take is something I do for me, not to prove anything to anyone else. If I have to prove to anyone that I’m strong and capable, they haven’t been paying attention.