Facing up to some uncomfortable truths

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Recovery is such a slippery beast. I’m realising that I’ve been disordered for years, in a way that I simply never understood. And I’m starting the long and uncomfortable process of unpicking the depths of the thought processes that underpin my attitude to food and exercise.

I was really moved by Amelia Boone’s post about her anorexia and eating disorder recovery and it prompted me to do some self reflection about my own behaviour.

http://www.ameliabooneracing.com/blog/uncategorized/therecoveryineeded/#comments

I want to list the things that I remember doing and thinking because seeing them written down will make me realise that they aren’t “normal” and I don’t want to be that person again. This is part of the problem: I truly believed everyone struggles with body image and food like I do. I truly believed that my body and its muscularity or lack of fat was my worth, and that anything I did to jeopardise this made me worthless.

  • standing in the bathroom of a restaurant on my 40th birthday chanting “pig pig pig pig pig” at my reflection because I ate an entire portion of seafood.
  • deliberately scheduling runs so that I would be running over lunchtime, meaning I could skip a meal and feel like I’d discovered a brilliant way of controlling my appetite.
  • feeling constantly guilty about being hungry. I never allowed myself to be satisfied so even after eating I would still feel hungry. And I felt guilty because “why should you be hungry, you are just greedy”. But at the same time, if I did eat until I was full, I’d feel extremely guilty for being “a pig”.
  • competitive under eating in company. Always having the smallest, lightest thing on the menu.
  • calorie counts on menus are terrible for me. I will always make sure that I order the thing with the lowest number of calories if at all possible. I wish I never had to learn how many calories are in stuff because once you know that crap you can’t erase it.
  • checking my watch many times a day to see what the calorie count says. Feeling deeply inadequate if it is “too low”.
  • standing in the shower after a run, in pain because I’m running through injury yet again, telling myself what a fat, slow, useless pig I am because I’m hungry yet again and my run was slower than I’d hoped.
  • seeing all the bodies of professional athletes and comparing myself to them, or even comparing myself to myself in other situations and always coming up short.
  • taking appetite suppressing stimulants – I’m not proud of this but I did. They made me manic and gave me heart palpitations.
  • using cauliflower instead of grains or pasta so that I could eat more volume for fewer calories.
  • watering down my almond milk/protein powder
  • eating huge breakfasts (for some weird reason, I’ve never restricted breakfast), and being obsessed with it because it feels like my only pleasure
  • avoiding eating in company if at all possible. Hiding in the cleaning cupboard at work to eat my Tupperware portioned lunch (oh the shame!). Cancelling dinners and lunches with friends because I can’t cope. Getting very stressed about going out with my husband to restaurants
  • always feeling that I would have to leave food on my plate when in company whether I was still hungry or not. I was not allowed to eat the whole plate because I was scared of being seen as greedy
  • I have not had a birthday cake or a chocolate bar for well over a decade
  • there is a restaurant that I love, and they do a dessert of buffalo milk yoghurt, spiced orange and cardamom and pistachios which is close to the best thing I’ve ever tasted. I do eat it, but the guilt I feel afterwards is crippling. And I always make sure I don’t finish it
  • I took a deep breath a month ago when on holiday and ordered an ice cream for myself. One scoop of mango in a pot. I had to throw it away.
  • feeling like a failure because I got my period (this was before I lost it completely – what an idiot I was!)

 

I don’t write this to be all “poor me”, but to acknowledge that it was my reality for so long. And I assumed it was the same for everyone. That this was what you had to do to be “healthy” and a “good athlete”. That being miserable and hungry was a sign that I wasn’t strong enough and that the people who had better bodies than I did were better people, stronger, more admirable. My own deep-seated feeling of inadequacy was the basis for all of this, as I had built my fragile self image on something that was so transient and impossible to sustain.

But exercise is healthy…..right?

“But exercise is healthy….right?” Overtraining syndrome and Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S) in the recreational runner: a primer for clubs and training groups

Case study:
Think about the people in your running club. There will be someone who springs to mind: the member who has to enter every race, attend every training day, join every group run and interval session and track workout. Their weekly mileage spirals up, their times improve, they might lose weight, and they get lots of praise from club mates and colleagues. Having started from a lower level, the improvements they make are exponential; every race is a PB. Before long they’ve run a spring marathon, and are now ready to take on the summer road racing circuit, before throwing themselves into cross country through the winter.
They have a basic understanding of how fitness works, and know that the progressive overload approach that they employed as a novice runner gave them huge rewards. The weight loss that came easily at first now stalls as their metabolism stabilises, and they start looking more closely at their food and nutrition. They find their way to blogs and opinion pieces by influencers or famous runners, and cut out certain food groups or restrict their eating in specific ways. Uncoached, and following patchy threads of information on the internet, they keep pushing on. Running is their thing. It is heathy. Right?
However, cracks start to appear. It might start as a calf strain, or a sore Achilles. A bit of plantar fasciitis. The kind of small niggles that all runners face. The runner has learned the habit of mental toughness – push through, keep going, no pain no gain. It is just a niggle, besides, with the club 5 mile championships coming up, stopping is not an option!
After a while, they don’t feel great on an increasing number of runs. Legs feel heavy, heart rate too high for a pace that “should” feel easy. Management of niggles becomes a second job– kinetic tape, physiotherapy, special shoes. They feel exhausted and hungry, but tell themselves this is completely normal – everyone feels tired when training for a marathon. And you have to be careful not to “eat back your calories” and gain weight. 10k doesn’t feel like sufficient running to allow for that slice of cake with friends. The mental toughness that got them through their first marathon when things started to feel hard at mile 22 now turns against them, berating them not to be weak, not to give in. Other runners run far more and are fine. So they keep going. This process can play out over months or even years, with the runner gradually piling on the training stress, not recovering sufficiently, and slowly pushing their body into a state of dysfunction.
Other symptoms start to creep in. Subtle at first, if they keep training, they become progressively worse. They realise that they are frequently waking at 3am, soaked in sweat. Their legs are cramping or aching at rest and no amount of foam rolling can get rid of the pain. Their heart rate soars when walking upstairs at work. If female, they might notice that their periods are changing, getting lighter, their cycles might get longer, and eventually they might lose their cycle completely. If male, their sex drive might be missing in action. They might feel cold constantly, or develop Reynaulds disorder or other circulatory problems. Still running, their times stagnate or regress. Eventually, they get a “proper” injury – a stress fracture or a significant soft tissue tear.
Discussion:
What has been described here is a medical condition that can effect athletes at all levels. The hypothetical runner described above could be suffering from two closely inter-related areas of dysfunction: overtraining syndrome (OTS) and RED-S (relative energy deficiency in sport). It is possible to have one without the other, but they are often seen together, and some scientists now believe that overtraining syndrome itself is a symptom or expression of the broader diagnosis of RED-S. Both are reactions by the body’s metabolic, hormonal and physiological systems to extreme stressors: whereby the athlete has stressed their body beyond what it is capable of functionally recovering from. In OTS the primary stressor is aerobic exertion without corresponding recovery; in RED-S the primary stressor is low energy availability, i.e. too few calories for the work required of the body. The main culprit for the symptoms experienced by the athlete is this state of low energy availability, which can stretch over a period of days, weeks, or even years.
Low energy availability (LEA) is a fundamental cause of stress on a systemic level, and it initiates a cascade of hormonal and metabolic disruption in the body, leading directly to the symptoms described in our hypothetical athlete case study. LEA can be accidental – when an athlete simply doesn’t realise that they are not sufficiently fuelling their body for the work required; or it can be deliberate, as a result of disordered eating, or deliberate weight management. Once in a state of LEA, the body’s equilibrium is significantly disrupted, leading to a web of issues as laid out in the infographic below:

The most significant and long term issue that can be caused by LEA is impaired bone health. This can effect both male and female athletes, although it is more easily recognised in females as the link between oestrogen production and bone health has been well studied. If a woman lacks a regular reproductive cycle, her body is not producing oestrogen, which means her bone density will be seriously inhibited. In men, the clear signal provided by the presence or absence of a menstrual cycle does not exist. However, LEA will result in reduced testosterone in men, which carries a similar impact on bone health. Low testosterone can present as low or absent libido, erectile dysfunction, depression or loss of muscle tone in trained male athletes. Any of these symptoms should be investigated in male athletes who are at risk of LEA. For athletes in general, the main consequence of LEA and impaired bone turnover is the increased likelihood of stress fractures or full fractures, especially in the lower limbs (tibia, fibula, metatarsals or other foot bones) or in the hip/pelvis area or lower back.

Overtraining syndrome and RED-S can be extremely distressing for an athlete to deal with psychologically as well as physically. Within a club culture, the fear of missing out on a social scene that has become integral to the life of a member is one reason why a runner might not be willing to take a rest or a break when they might need it. It is easy to forget the very basic tenet of exercise physiology: adaptations are made at rest – if you don’t recover from a session, you might as well not have done the session at all. Also remember that as a runner, you are probably very self-motivated. You want to run. If you find yourself dreading your run or not wanting to do it, it is probably a good sign that your body might be asking you to take a break.
If you or any of your club mates are complaining of any of the following symptoms, think about seeking advice from one of the coaches in the club, the club welfare officer, or an outside source of support:
• High resting heartrate that lasts for a number of days without obvious reason (infection, etc.)
• Sustained high heartrate on “easy” runs
• Feeling out of breath or tired walking up stairs, or feeling exhausted carrying shopping/doing normal household tasks
• Frequent night sweats
• Unexplained leg cramping or pain at rest
• Feeling of “heaviness” that lasts for a number of days or sessions
• Any menstrual disruption in women should be investigated immediately and if more than one cycle is missed, and the athlete is at risk of LAE, it should be addressed as a matter of urgency
• In male athletes, any changes to libido or sexual function should be treated as a possible red flag for LEA and RED-S.
Note that RED-S can impact all body shapes and sizes and there isn’t a specific body fat % or BMI that is “safe”. Energy availability is distinct to the individual, their physiology and work output, and not necessarily directly proportional to their relative body size, mass or composition.
Special considerations to be aware of for athletes with disordered eating and exercise addiction/compulsion:
• Comments about dissatisfaction with body shape/size, or about the bodies of other athletes
• Food restriction in scenarios where other people are eating (i.e. post run snacks, recovery nutrition etc).
• Doing a lot of fasted runs (this is particularly dangerous for women and can be very stressful on the body)
• Cutting out entire food groups without medical reason (i.e. cutting all carbs)
• Turning up to group runs when obviously injured/sick/exhausted
• An all or nothing attitude to training (if I miss this run I might as well jack in the entire training cycle)
• Comparing themselves to others and trying to run the most miles per week or top the Strava rankings week after week without rest.
If any of these symptoms or behaviours are familiar, there are resources available for advice and help below.

#TrainBrave: https://trainbrave.org/
NB: There will be a TrainBrave event in Oxford on Sunday 23rd June, sign up for free on the website. Their events are highly recommended.

Health4Performance: http://health4performance.co.uk/

Renee McGregor (sports nutritionist specialising in RED-S and eating disorders in sport):
https://reneemcgregor.com/https://reneemcgregor.com/

British Journal of Sports Medicine, most recent paper on RED-S:
https://blogs.bmj.com/bjsm/2019/04/22/relative-energy-deficiency-in-sport-red-s-recognition-and-next-steps/

Charlotte Gibbs
1st May 2019

What I’ve learned and the mistakes I’ve made

It is nearly May, nearly four months since I’ve been able to run properly. I’m no where close to being healed, but I can sense some progress, more in my own state of mind than anywhere else.

When I first was diagnosed back in January, I assumed that I would just heal up and be running again as that was what worked the previous year. This was a huge mistake. I forgot that I was dealing with a fracture in exactly the same place as last year, in a bone already weakened my osteopenia. I did everything wrong. I cross trained hard, didn’t off load the leg sufficiently, restricted my calories, and tried to run too soon. The leg didn’t heal. Then, I fell over during a trip to the Brecon Beacons (where I had no business being), and twisted my knee. That didn’t want to heal either. Finally, I realised that I was sabotaging myself every single day. I was allowing my short term compulsion to train to get in the way of healing.

During this time, two people in particular have helped me immeasurably.  Firstly Jill Puleo, an expert in overtraining syndrome and athletes psychology (acaseofthejills.com) .  Jill helped me address my disordered thoughts around my identity as an athlete, my fear of failure and insignificance, and my learned behaviours that can be challenged and overturned. She made me see something that I had not recognised in myself and it helped turn a switch in my head and make me more receptive to change.

Then, the manager of my gym pulled me aside and asked if I was ok. It was he who gave me some tough talking and basically ordered me to take a few weeks off; he made me realise my routine was becoming a trap, and it was ok to free myself from it. He also made me accountable by sending him photos of my meals- a strangely helpful practice as it allowed me to get some perspective on my eating habits. Which can be summed up as: extremely healthy but not enough calories. Or protein.

In the end, I took three weeks off training, apart from cycling for my commute and a bit of yoga. No gym. No weights. No elliptical. I’ve lost a ton of fitness but, despite eating far more than I was when running 80mpw, I haven’t gained much (or any) weight. I feel that my body is actually using the energy to heal, and I feel mentally so much better. I’m not coming home exhausted and miserable all the time. I’m not sweating buckets at night any more, or being woken with severe leg pain. I still haven’t got my period back, but felt the hint of something, suggesting maybe I have ovulated. I suspect it is close to returning. The stress I’ve taken away from my body has made me see how badly I was treating it before, and I’m starting to get a feeling of how nice life can be when you eat enough and don’t get upset over every mouthfull.

I had an MRI yesterday but will not know the results for a few days, but I suspect it will show a healed tibia, but something sinister in the knee-possibly a torn or damaged lateral meniscus. We will see. It is better than in was, and I can walk without pain, and even jog a few minutes, but anything more is out of the question. I’m learning patience. Someday I will run free again, free over the fields and river banks of home; free over the turf of the Brecon Beacons; free high up in the Pyrenees. But for now I’m learning that this can’t be taken for granted, and my body is expecting me to pay back the overdraft I forced it into, and with interest.

Small, silly steps: starting to make my own sourdough bread. Somehow I feel better eating bread when I’ve made it myself. Last night I cooked pasta. I don’t think I can remember the last time I ate pasta unless before a race. I made a normal portion, ate it all, and enjoyed it. Small, insignificant steps towards a better life.

RED-S, osteopenia and me

This is hard to write. But I want to get it down and be completely honest about it. I’m at home now, complete with a pair of crutches, a diagnosis of osteopenia, and stress reactions in both my left tibia and fibula. How did I get here? That isn’t a straightforward story and it involves plenty of cognitive dissonance, denial, and disordered thinking.

I wanted to be fast. I love to run, to be fit and strong and cover long distances with ease. I wanted to look like a runner, light and lithe. I didn’t want to eat extra calories unless I deemed them absolutely necessary. 13 miles on the trails and hills wasn’t *quite* enough to justify the recovery drink I’d packed because 250 calories was a bit *excessive*, surely? Maybe if I’d done 20 miles, then I would have it. But *other runners* run that on water or nothing, and I ate a gel half way round so *surely* I don’t really need those extra calories?

After all, I look heavier than other runners, don’t I? I only ran 10 miles in the morning so better have a small lunch, only two rice crackers with your salad- don’t want to be a pig. Feeling hungry- why? You had a huge bowl of oats for breakfast (at 5 am, it’s now 12 and you’ve run for 90 mins and done a gym session) why on earth would you be hungry? Clearly you’ve got a problem with food, no self control, too much appetite. Eat a bowl of olives before dinner, then an entire pack of stir fried vegetables. Why do you eat so much? Why can’t you just eat normally like other women? It can’t have anything to do with the fact that you’ve run 80 miles plus 6 hours in the gym this week …. but other women do so much more, you’re just making excuses…surely?

I felt happy running not least because it allowed me to feel I could eat a bit more, and I love to eat. And I wasn’t thin, I’m not underweight. What’s the fuss about?

I missed a few periods – so what? It’s just a bit of stress. I’m not thin, it can’t be that, I’m not thin enough for it to be a real issue.

I’m feeling fast, but I’m tired. I’m getting a strange numbness in my feet when I run and I’m always cold. Just a few more runs and I’ll take a day off. That day comes and I rest but the guilt comes flooding in – why am I hungry? I’ve done nothing. I’m so tired I slept instead of cross training; why am I so lazy? I don’t need that food, I haven’t earned it and besides, I’m not thin so I can’t afford to eat like that.

The pain in my leg wakes me at night. I recognise it, like a snake bite aching across my lower leg, throbbing at 3am. A phone call from the sports medicine specialist asking me to come in for a talk about my DEXA scan. I admit the pain and get sent for an X-ray. There, both bones, shadowed and bowed like a line that has been erased clumsily and been redrawn with a crayon.

You need to maintain a BMI of 22. He tells me this, when I felt big at 19. You need to offload your leg completely and eat 2g per kilo body weight of protein per day minimum, plus as much calcium as you can get down.

Everywhere else in January the message is lose weight, cut back, trim down. Messages about how society is getting fatter abound. I know I can eat a huge bowl of cauliflower for half the calories than in a small portion of pasta; I like the volume, the feeling of abundance so I go for the vegetable, but feel guilty anyway for eating all of it.

But I’m tired of it. I’m fed up with running in pain, fed up of the tiredness, of the guilt and the criticism. I’ll come to terms with having to be bigger and maybe I’ll recover well and not injure myself again. I’ll allow myself the recovery and the nutrition and the rest and maybe, just maybe, I’ll finally be the athlete I’ve been preventing myself from being, because I’ve been trying so hard to run the most, train the hardest, be the fittest.

Don’t be like me. Osteopenia is not fun. Stress fractures really fucking hurt. But what hurts the most is I knew it; I know all about RED-S; I’ve read the articles, listened to the podcasts, gone to the seminars. I *know* that amenorrhea is a waving red flag; but deep down I felt it was a badge of honour – “look how hard I train!” I thought I was special, my body would cope. Nope. I’m just as weak as I always feared, just not in the way I assumed.

It is really difficult 

A photo popped up on my Facebook “on this day” feed a few days ago. It was taken a few days after I had run the Edinburgh marathon. I looked like this: 

Today, after three months of curtailed running due to injury, I look different. My stomach has rounded and my hip bones don’t stick out, my arms are more muscular. I’ve tried to keep up my physique through cycling and strength training but it isn’t the same as running consistent high mileage weeks. I am no heavier on the scales but don’t look as tight and it is hard to accept. But I have to learn that I can’t keep my body at that point (11% body fat) indefinitely. I need to give myself the chance to heal and get stronger. Maybe I’ll achieve that level of fitness again, but I hope that if I do it will be with a better understanding of the costs that come with it. 

My interview with Chris Sandel of Seven Health

http://www.seven-health.com/2017/06/094-interview-with-charlotte-goodall/

 

I did this interview with the fantastic Chris Sandel of Seven Health a few weeks ago. I’m very open and honest about my struggles and the sort of things I’ve been going through over the last year. I hope that it helps someone out there to hear about it. It isn’t easy to talk about such things but I do appreciate the opportunity I was given. If you haven’t come across Chris before, I highly recommend his podcast Real Health Radio. It is fantastic.

 

 

 

 

My story of injury and overtraining and what I have learned

A year ago, at the London Marathon 2016, I ran a personal best and achieved a Championship qualifying time.  I crossed the line after a perfect race, and saw that I had run 3:13. This came off the back of eighteen weeks of uninterrupted, quality training, and at the time I thought it was going to herald a successful year of racing.

I was wrong. Two weeks after London, I stood on the start line of the Wings for Life World Run. I had been invited to start with the elites at the front, and I was excited to see how far I could go. I had taken a few days off after London, but picked up my training quickly as I felt recovered. Three days before Wings for Life I was doing a tempo run along the canal. During that run I started to feel a sharp pain in my left foot. I knew that I was fitter than I had ever been in my life, and I wanted to make the most of all my training. I started Wings for Life knowing I was hurt. I was running with a group women at the front of the race when, at 8km, I felt like a spike had gone through my foot.

I had torn one of the ligaments off the third metatarsal of my left foot. It took a month to start to heal, during which I cycled a lot, completed my first ever 100k sportif, and did a lot of work in the gym. I started running again as soon as I could. I was entered for a 50k mountain race and needed to get ready.

A few months of training, including winning a trail race in the Peak district, and I thought I was back. Then the niggle in my right leg started. I ignored it. Finally I was limping. A possible tibial stress fracture was feared. It wasn’t that bad, but running on it further would have caused the fracture and I had no choice: I had to stop running. Again.

Back running. Feeling great. Another 50k entered and training going well. Another win on the trails. I developed a bit of pain in my left quad. The pain got worse. I kept running. I did a 40k training run on the Ridgeway. I paced the Oxford Half marathon, sporting kinesology tape and a large serving of denial. I dropped out of yet another 50k, when it became clear that I could not walk without pain.

This time it was serious and the weeks slipped past without improvement. I spent hours in the gym, grinding it out on the cross trainer and step machine, doing weights and yoga. Finally, I found someone who helped: two sessions with a talented sports therapist and my pain was gone.

Next, it was time to start training for London 2017. I had a Championship place and wanted to get closer to the three hour mark. I knew I could shave five minutes off my time from 2016 easily, as I ran the first 10k quite conservatively in 2016.  I ran over 90 miles in a week training in Lanzarote. The first six weeks of proper marathon training went well. I ran a consistent average of 60 miles per week, did my speed sessions and hit my splits. My long runs felt easy and I was confident.

I was doing my second run on a Wednesday when it started to go wrong. I usually did a double day on a Wednesday, two fairly long runs adding up to 20 miles, with one of the runs done as a tempo. I was doing the afternoon run and felt tired. The last few miles were a struggle. I dragged myself home, felt sick, and went to bed. I thought I had some sort of a bug, and assumed I would bounce back to normal after a few days. But I didn’t. In retrospect, I had not sufficiently fuelled for the accumulation of miles I was running, and my body was empty. I got slower. I couldn’t hit splits on the track. Everything felt wrong. I ran the Wokingham Half Marathon, and was five minutes slower than I should have been. My lower legs ached while I was running, and my heart rate was ten beats per minute higher than usual. I had all the symptoms of overtraining, but couldn’t admit it, even to myself. All I knew to do was to keep pushing on, keep to the schedule and grind out the runs. Finally, the same pain in my right shin as I had the previous summer returned. I had no choice, I had to stop. My partner found me limping down the road, crying. I was well and truly broken.

So it is April 2017, and I see everyone getting excited about running London. I have deferred my place until 2018. And I’m resting, cycling, doing yoga and strength work, and hoping that this time I will finally heal properly and learn from my year of injury.

When you are injured, or struggling with your training, this is my summarised advice:

 

  • When you feel pain, stop. Now.
  • If the pain persists, and if you can’t walk, see someone.
  • Overtraining is a thing. If you start feeling miserable, if your runs are getting slower and it is all becoming a chore – back off immediately.
  • When injured, cross training is fine, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Allow yourself to rest completely if you feel you need it. Cross training will only preserve a certain amount of fitness. You’ll still have to rebuild when you start running again.
  • Don’t fixate on other people’s runs. It is hard not to feel jealous and to question what might have been, but remember that it will be your turn eventually. Heal properly, and your turn will come more quickly than you think. Rush your healing, and you’ll be back on the injury bench again. Be patient, use your time to enjoy other things, and truly listen to your body and its cues.

 

 

Bad things come 

This will be quick. I’ve decided to defer my London marathon place until next year. This is because I still cannot run without pain. Also, today I smashed headfirst off my bike into a car. I’ve broken a lot of teeth and had a suspected fractured jaw, but luckily the rest of me is not badly damaged. Time to take a rest and recover, think about next year, and try not to break anything else. I have big plans for 2018, more of which anon……

Time to get real?

I don’t hide my struggles. I’m quite open, on my blog here and in real life, about how I feel when things are going badly as well as when things are going well. It is hard to write in detail about the bad patches, mainly because no one really wants to hear a litany of moaning. But the flip side is the shiny (fake?) over-enthusiastic hashtag ridden Instagram posts that we all see every day. They are not helpful, as they fuel the sense of self-doubt: am I alone in feeling like this? (NO). Does everyone else find it easy? (NO). Am I just weak/pathetic/not-good-enough/useless (NO). I know that the impetus behind most of “those posts” is not to make others feel bad, but to boost the self esteem of the poster but soliciting praise and approval. And fair enough, we all like praise and approval. But the tone that is set is of a fake perfection, airbrushed and filtered, curated carefully to bolster an image.

Running is often touted as a way out of depression and mental struggles. But what happens when it becomes a symptom or even a trigger for these? We all know the stories of running out of the darkness, but what about when the darkness refuses to lift, and envelopes you even in the middle of a run? When pain or exhaustion conspire to take you out of flow and into that horrible place where you are conscious of every jarring, slowing, labored step. This isn’t the subject of internet memes and Instagram fantasies. But it is quite real. The driven runner, who does not know how to stop, pushing their body past its limits with an unquiet, screaming mind. I wonder how many such runners are out there.

I can understand some of this: A few bad runs, a bit of injury, illness and overtraining: I’ve stopped and cried mid run because it all felt so awful. I took a week off running and felt better, but I know I was near to the bottom of the well. I didn’t believe in overtraining before, but lord knows I do now. I’ve felt it brush past me. I don’t necessarily think it is physical, however. I think it was more a mental burnout: pressure, self imposed targets, forgetting where the pleasure lies. I was dragging myself across the countryside, because I didn’t know what else to do. That feeling where you are getting less fit the more you run, because your body is too beaten down to build itself up.

So, don’t believe the Instagram version of running. It can be violently ugly. But a bit like a bad race: there is always a finish line and bad patches don’t last. I went to a funeral this week of a running friend and clubmate who died tragically of cancer, a young fit runner, his death came not six months post diagnosis. He was cheerful and full of life up to the end, even coming out to walk parkrun, where in the past he would have been towards the front of the pack. A lifelong runner, he knew the joy and pain of running, but kept close to the joy, even through injury and, in the end, terminal illness. Would that we all could be the same.

New year new thoughts 

It’s been a strange year. I ran a lot, got injured a lot, won a few races, spent time in the mountains, and learned a few things about myself and the world. The news is bleak and it is tempting to create a bubble around myself and my life. I’m happiest when I’m running, but I’m scared of building my identity around something that can be taken away in a flash. 

Learning to forgive myself for not being perfect. Learning to be as good as I can be, but not berating myself for falling short. Learning that it’s ok to eat, but trying not to eat when I don’t need to. Learning that I might not be the fastest or the strongest but I can be fast and strong in relation to myself. That my worth is more than low body fat, and that the fact that this makes me feel satisfied is not healthy. 

A block of training lies ahead: I’m going to be tired, I’m going to struggle at times. I will be ok. I will listen to my body and try not to let it get injured again. I will not force it to the point of exhaustion. I will accept help and appreciate what I have. I will show my love and enjoy my world. I will stop comparing myself unfavourably to others. I will shut up the voice that tells me I’m lazy, slow, fat, ugly, unworthy. I’m strong, determined, caring, free. 

Happy new year.