The journey of my relationship with running, my body, and my identity
I’ve loved you; I’ve hated you. You have caused happy tears and sad tears. I’ve stood at the top of the podium, been last in a race, and been stuck on the sidelines. In the wake of my most recent bone stress injury, my team going off to SECs without me, and in honor of NEDA week, I thought it was time to share my journey as a runner, an eating disorder recovery athlete, and most of all a person.
The Early Years
Running, you’ve been part of all my life, but I haven’t
always loved you. As a kid, I was more into the team sports of basketball and soccer,
but that didn’t escape me from my family’s idea of fun: Family runs. One of my
best friends once told me she would purposefully not wear sneakers when
spending the night, because she wanted to avoid any chance of having to run or
workout with my family. I remember my parents telling me to lace up my sneakers
because we were going for a jog around the neighborhood, and me struggling to
keep up, tears starting to form in my eyes. I loved sprinting around a field or
a court, and even down the straight away in an elementary school track meet (My
dad’s nickname for me was “Speed Lightning”). However, the longer it got, the
more I dreaded it.
But running you were persistent I will give you that
(especially thanks to my family influence). In third grade, my mom started a
girls-on-the-run program in my elementary school. I completed the program,
running my first 5k with my older brother. In 4th and 5th
grade, I participated in elementary cross country, running laps around the
fields of our school, with an occasional race with the middle schoolers. I also
ran an occasional track meet at UT-Knoxville in the summers. When my family
moved to Colorado, I became more involved with competitive soccer and
basketball, so cross country and running was moved aside. However, my need for
speed was constantly there, as I competed in the sprints in several district
track meets in middle school. In the spring of 8th grade, after
tearing my ACL for the second time and giving up the spring sport of soccer, I
gave track and field a real shot. I realized I had a real love, passion, and
talent for track and running. Or maybe it was just the bribe my dad gave me:
that if I won an individual event at the district meet, we could get another
dog. Either way, going into high school, I had a new competitive drive for running,
and a new pup😊
High School: The Glory Days
My freshmen year, with soccer out of the picture (I decided two torn ACLs was enough), I ran cross country at Fort Collins High School. Both my brothers ran for the school, and I had been around the team, so I was excited to be part of it myself. I trained with the team over the summer, dreading the 6am practices, hating tempos with a fiery passion, and never understanding why I should be running more than 5 miles if the race was only 3, but still enjoying the experience all together. I got to go to Nike Regionals in Phoenix, and decided that hey, I might not be half bad when it comes to distance running. Still I didn’t think of myself as a distance runner, and I had eyes set on sprinting.
My freshman year track season was a blast. I had great senior girls to look up to, and found my race, the 400. Workouts were hard, but I enjoyed them. I couldn’t think of a better way I wanted to spend my Saturdays rather than be a track all day, competing and cheering on my fellow teammates. I was improving each week and ended the season at a successful first state meet. I was happy with you, running, and I couldn’t wait for more.
The rest of high school went surprisingly smooth. I got a stress fracture after my freshmen year, and I broke my finger in basketball sophomore year, but besides that, I stayed relatively healthy, and was continuously improving. After sophomore year, I stopped playing basketball, as I decided to dedicate my time to running and track, beginning to realize I had a shot at running in college. Junior year was a breakout year for me in track, as I was the state champion in the 400, running at top 10 time in the country at the time of 53.6. I had sprinted my way to a scholarship for DI track and field. The fall of my senior year, I signed my letter of intent to run for Vanderbilt University. I was ecstatic. In some ways, my senior year track did not go as I wanted. I had lofty goals for myself coming off the last year, and this was my first exposure to realizing that progress isn’t always linear. I didn’t PR in the 400, and I did not reclaim my 400 state title. But I was adaptive, and decided it was time to give the 800m a shot. I had run the 800 a couple times over the past years, but I thought this year I could really go for it. And I’m never one to back down from a challenge. I won the state title in the 800 that year and saw a glimpse of the future. Considering my family and my own history of longer distance running, maybe this was my race.
Running, let’s be honest, you blindsided me in college. I
knew college was going to be harder, and I could not expect easy success as I had
in high school, but I thought if I worked hard enough, I would be PR’ing each
season, making my way towards regional qualifying, SECs finals, and hopefully
by the end of my four years, NCAA finals. I had high expectations for myself and
was going to do everything in my power to meet those goals. But running, you
showed me that it’s not that straight forward. Life gets in the way. Injuries get
in the way. Mental illness gets in the way.
Freshman Year: a Year of Humility and Adjustment
Freshman year consisted of the typical college adjustments, learning how to study, be independent, make new friends, and do my own laundry (thanks mom for all the previous years:)) But also learning what it meant to be a college athlete: 3 hour practices every day, required study hall hours, new coaches and training styles. I put my effort into being the best athlete and student I could be (except for maybe gen chem-RIP). During preseason workouts, I wanted to be right alongside the seniors. I remember during one of the first couple weeks of practices, we did stadiums for the first time, and boy was I struggling. That was the first college workout I cried, and I’d be lying to say it was the last. But running, I wasn’t crying because it hurt, I was crying because I felt I was letting myself and my coaches down because I wasn’t “good” enough. The tears you have caused over the years, have been caused by my fears of other people’s judgements as much as my own. Only now, am I finally understanding that you cannot run for someone else, you cannot do anything for anyone but yourself.
Only now, am I finally understanding that you cannot run for someone else, you cannot do anything for anyone but yourself.
Back to freshman year, in December, I found out that I had a
stress fracture in my tibia. Ugh. Just as I was finally going to be able to
compete after a long fall training, I had to sit out. Thankfully, I was back
for outdoor season, and got to compete all season. But because of the lost time
of training due to injury, I never got fully back into shape, and I didn’t perform
up to my goals and expectations. I had run faster as a sophomore in high
school, so in my mind I had failed. And not only failed myself, but my coach
and my teammates. I was determined that would be the last instance of falling
short and did everything in my power that summer to get in the best shape ever.
Back track to earlier in high school, I remember my parents bringing up eating disorders to me. I don’t recall a serious conversation, but I remember telling them, “oh you don’t need to worry, that won’t ever happen to me, I love food too much.” The thought of restricting food or going on a specific diet seemed absurd to me. I was a lean, athletic person, and I ate what I wanted, when I wanted. I was lucky to grow up on home-cooked, healthy meals, and I had a healthy relationship with food. A side salad was a staple at every meal, but so was ice cream for dessert.
Sophomore year: A slippery, downhill slope
In my first semester of college, I had gained a few pounds,
as many college students do. In the second semester, I wanted to cut back a
little, and get into “racing” shape, closer to where I had been in high school.
While this may have started as an innocent goal, combined with a subpar first
year, this quickly turned downhill. I had lost some weight over the course of
the second semester, (mainly just from not eating a giant cookie from mcgugin
every night), without really trying and I had noticed the effects. I could see
my abs coming through and it was gratifying. I became more concerned about body
image. With a new determination to be better than ever the summer before my sophomore
year, I began to pay more attention to what I was eating. I started cutting back
on my carbohydrate intake (because I had heard that helps lose weight-FAKE
NEWS, as a runner you NEED carbs). Not snacking as much. Working out in the morning
so that my breakfast became breakfast and lunch. None of this seemed restrictive
in my head, I was just being a “good” athlete. If you look at many of the pro
female athletes, they are tiny. Defined abs, next to nothing body fat. I was
just conforming to the “standards” of competitive running. This was coupled
with increasing training. The combination brought drops in weight, accompanied
by drops in time. I PR’d in the 5k, despite not training for that distance, and
deciding that hey running, you’re not that bad after all. I was feeling more in
shape than ever before and feeling strong. At this point, I thought I was ultra
healthy, when in fact my body was already starting to give me signs that I wasn’t:
that summer I lost my period.
When I returned to campus sophomore year, I was rewarded by praise and compliments from coaches and teammates about all the hard work I was doing. They would say I looked “good” and “fit.” I was crushing workouts. I was prideful. The downhill slope got steeper. I had recognized I had amenorrhea and had talked with the team doctor about it. We discussed working to gain a few pounds that fall and tried working with a nutritionist. But instead of gaining, I kept losing. Our practice time had changed to 12:30 and I was not eating lunch. I didn’t understand the caloric intake two- (or three) a-days entailed. When I came home for Christmas break, my parents were worried. Family friends and my brothers said I looked sick. I had multiple talks with each parent, together and separately. They tried rational explanations and emotional. Rationally, I understood that I needed to gain weight but, the ED voice in my head would not let it go. Running, you had transformed into ED, and you had my mind and body in a strong hold. You told me that I was running well and felt fine so why should I gain weight? Wasn’t I going to slow down if I gained weight? Other fast runners look like me or aren’t being forced to change so why should I? My mom threatened to not let me go back to school that semester, but by some miracle I gained a few pounds, and she let me go under the conditions that I would continue to work on it.
That semester I started seeing a therapist and a nutritionist on campus, and I was in touch with the doctor. I was stable enough that they let me keep on running. Since I was seeing all these people, I thought was OK. I was doing the “right” things. But what I wasn’t doing was consistently gaining weight. I would gain a little, and lose it again. I had PR’d in the 800 that indoor season. In my head, the lower weight had helped my success, when really it was holding me back. My muscles had deteriorated. I was running based only on stamina, not on strength. Yes, you need some aerobic capacity to run the 800, but if you ask any professional 800 runner, it’s a sprint. You need speed. You need strength.
How an eating disorder helped me find my identity
After indoor season, our team doc finally referred me out to a specialist. I had been struggling with disordered eating for the past 9 months, but he was the first to label it as an eating disorder. He advised me to stop not only competing in track, but all forms of exercise until I had regained weight and my period. This was rough. Running, at this point in my life, you were the central part of my identity. Through high school and the first part of college, the first thing I said about myself was that “I’m on the track team.” Without you, I felt like I was nothing.
While this period of my life was hard, this is where my journey to understand who I am as a person began. I learned more about myself, what I like, and that there’s more to Becca than school and running. This is where my passion for helping others develop a wholesome and healthy lifestyle came to fruition. I developed my passion for cooking and baking, and realized cooking was a way to express my creativity. While my teammates were away at meets, I would bake or cook in my dorm. This pastime quickly turned into a ~delicious~ hobby, something I now look forward to every day, and can share on here and Instagram (@wholesomeandhappylife). I also realized there were more ways to move your body that didn’t have to include running or heart pounding intensity. I appreciated walks through Centennial park, or as I progressed, yoga and other fitness classes that I would have scoffed at previously. Life is not just about heart pounding exercise but appreciating beauty in everything and every day. Your body is not just a mass meant to be put under constant effort and scrutiny. Your body should be loved and appreciated for all the amazing things it is able to do.
Life is not just about heart pounding exercise but appreciating beauty in everything and every day. Your body is not just a mass meant to be put under constant effort and scrutiny. Your body should be loved and appreciated for all the amazing things it is able to do.
eating disorder recovery, as anyone who has experienced it, is not easy and not
linear. It is easy to get stuck in one place, feeling like you are improving
but physically you are not. To someone who might not understand what a person
is going through, treatment seems easy, just eat more. But it’s not that easy
when there’s a voice in your head saying no, filling you with guilt and dread. Eventually,
things started to click, and things got better. After taking 3 months off, I
regained weight and I regained my period. Unfortunately, with the increasing running,
my period was again halted. To this day, I am still working on getting it back.
Nevertheless, with a healthier mindset
and more stable weight, I got to slowly build back into a normal exercise
routine. I started building an aerobic base for junior year, weight in check at
the time. And while I have continued to struggle, to this day it is something I
have to think about and put effort towards, I thought I was in the clear for a great
Junior Year: Knocked down again
Wrong. Running, it couldn’t
be that easy with you could it? After a successful fall training, I started
getting heel pain. With imaging showing no “real” issues, just irregular mild plantar
fasciitis, I continued to run for the next two months, alternating workouts
with days of cross training, to allow the pain to subside. Eventually, before a
meet early in the indoor season, I knew I couldn’t take it anymore. I was
limping and could not do an acceleration without breaking out into tears. I had
to tell my coach I couldn’t race.
The thing about pain is that it is hard to judge. Since I was having soft tissue problems, I felt weak for succumbing to pain. I had tried to put it aside for as long as possible. When earlier that week, when I couldn’t complete a workout, I didn’t know if it was due to the pain in my heel, or not being mentally tough enough. The rest of the season, I felt silly saying why I wasn’t running. I thought I needed a better justification. Even when I got a PRP injection and they found evidence of a partial tear in my fascia, I felt like I was a letdown. I knew the pain I felt, but no one else can feel that way. Running, you have taught me that pain is subjective and everyone’s threshold for pain is different, but also that pain is a signal, and it does not in its own right make you weak.
My plan was to recover from the plantar fascia injection in time to come back by the end of my junior outdoor season. But unfortunately, my foot didn’t want to heal quickly. I was running again, and feeling relatively healthy, but not in time to get into racing shape. I had once again lost a season, a championship meet. But with my head held I was confident that senior year was going to be MY YEAR. I re-watched videos of my championship races in high school to remember the thrill of being fast and competitive. Over the summer, I slowly built up in capacity and intensity, and I started to reignite, and find that competitive drive. But when I entered my senior year, this past fall, I did not have any specific time goals. My goal was just to compete and be the best leader I could be. I wanted to show the younger girls what it meant to be dedicated, and how to support each other. But I also had a chip on my shoulder. I wanted to prove to my coaches, my teammates, myself, that I deserved to be on the team.
Senior Year: The ultimate comeback?
As in the previous two years, fall training was encouraging. I was feeling fitter than ever before, and my mind started drifting to possible ideas of what this year could bring. Both me and my coach were excited for the possibilities. I had two successful indoor meets before running decided to steal my goal once again. The meet I was supposed to be opening up in the 800m, I started having top-of-the-foot pain that was getting worse as I ran on it. After running in the DMR Friday night, I was grimacing and limping. I struggled making the decision, but after talking to my parents and my trainer, and listening to my body I decided it was not in my best interest to race. If I couldn’t walk, why should I run? I almost ran because I thought it could be my last chance. My mom convinced me that was not a smart or good decision. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
I left the meet upset. How
could I not be? Was this the end of my season once again? There’s very little
going on at the top on your foot, so I assumed the issue was bone. But after a negative
xray and talking to the team doc, I tried to stay positive. It’s probably just
a reaction, I was told. There may even be chance for you to run SECs. I would
do anything to run at SECs.
We got an MRI to be sure.
And well since I’m writing this you can probably guess what they found. A complete
fracture line in my second metatarsal. Not to mention the tendonitis and
plantar fascia. My indoor season was over, and my outdoor season is to be
determined. It will depend on how fast or slow my bone takes to heal, and how
quickly I can get back into shape. My one goal for the year: destroyed.
At this point running, I have to ask, why do you seem to target certain people? I’m not the only one who has had this rough experience. Some of my close friends have gone through the injury cycle themselves. Why do some people get injured over and over, while others you don’t touch? And it’s usually those who are doing everything “right” that get hit. Maybe part of it is the type A-perfectionist personality that drives you to injury. Part of it may be genetic. As I’ve had my troubles the last 4 years, so has my family. My mom had a sacral stress fracture, tore her plantar fascia, and recently had Achilles tendonitis. My brother has dealt with a mysterious back/hip injury that no one seems to understand. My dad has had plantar fasciitis and chronic knee pain. As my dad joked the other day, my family has all the Fort Collins PT’s on first name basis. Maybe it’s just bad luck.
Why do some people get injured over and over, while others you don’t touch?
But whatever it is, I guess I’ll never understand you running. You are a complicated sport. In order to be successful, you must balance intensity and mileage and recovery. There is a fine line between greatness and injury. And maybe for some like me, the line is a lot blurrier.
The Beauty in Running
But there is one thing I do
know running. Despite the challenges and the heart breaks you have brought me,
you have also brought me joy. You allow me to see the beauty around me. There
is nothing like exploring Copenhagen via run. There is nothing like stopping in
the middle of a run to just stop and stare at the Colorado mountains. There is
nothing like 6am horsetooth runs, looking out across the city before anyone
else is awake. There is nothing like rising above the fog at mount marathon in the
Kenai Peninsula. There is nothing like running across the finish line, knowing
you have accomplished something great. No matter what happens this season, I know
I always want to run.
Despite the challenges and the heart breaks you have brought me, you have also brought me joy.
Running, you have become such an integral part of my life, I can’t picture
life without you. You have taught me lessons and given me experiences no one
else has. So despite the hardships and obstacles, I would like to thank you:
Thank you for showing me the value of hard work. Sometimes the work pays off, sometimes it doesn’t, but no matter what, there is value in the work
Thank you for giving me the two best dogs in the world (that’s right, Nash was a running bribe as well)
Thank you for teaching me what it means to be a good teammate and a leader. It means leading by example, by showing up with a positive attitude every day and ready to work. It means being supportive whether you are on the track or not. It means being vulnerable and sharing your experiences and knowledge
Thank you for teaching me how to respect and love my body. I am still not perfect, recovery is an ongoing process, but I have a stronger relationship to my body and to food than ever before.
Thank you for teaching me that having a 6 pack is no sign of how much you are worth.
Thank you for teaching me to run for myself; not for my parents, my coaches, my teammates, or anyone else
Thank you for bringing my family together. Yes, we’re the family that runs a race every holiday. And yes we’re the family that completed a beer relay together
Thank you for deepening my relationship with my mom. Through my entire journey, she has been right next to me. She is my role model, my biggest supporter, and my best friend
Thank you for teaching me how to be competitive; how to embrace the uncomfortable; how to never say no to a challenge
Thank you for uncovering my love of cooking and baking and discovering a new creative identity I didn’t know existed
Thank you for allowing me to appreciate God’s beauty in the world around me.
Thank you for teaching me that there’s more to life than running. Thank you for helping me find my identity.
Daughter, sister, friend, lover, future epidemiologist, leader, chef, creator, outdoor-enthusiast, bibliophile, nut butter and chocolate aficionado, dog lover, blogger, life-long learner, and runner.
P.S. With all this gratitude,
I would really love it if you’d let me race at least one more time in the black