For a while, I thought if I stopped running I would gain weight. It wouldn’t be a lot of weight, but some. I would lose my leg strength, and I wouldn’t care if my core was strong. I wouldn’t feel as good. I wouldn’t be as hungry; I would have to decrease my food intake; I wouldn’t enjoy food as much anyway. I would have to find some other workout that I enjoyed, because I would miss the feeling of moving my body. That sounded like a lot of work, though. I already know I like running! But, in this hypothetical situation, it didn’t matter what I wanted or liked anymore. Running couldn’t be mine. And I would be miserable.
I ran without injuries for a long time — eleven years, to be exact–so when I did finally screw something up, it felt like someone yanked my psyche into a dark room and slammed the door shut. It felt like I knew where I was one minute but felt disoriented the next. My knee hurt so badly and so suddenly, that I stood still, in shock. I was supposed to run the California International Marathon (CIM) in five weeks. I had run the 2014 Marine Corps Marathon two weeks earlier. I’m a marathoner, my ego reassured me. I can run through this, it said. I’ll walk it off and then run again tomorrow, it decided.
Runners, you know where this is going. I didn’t run CIM. It took four weeks, three massages, and two appointments to figure out what was going on. (Based injury stories I’ve heard since, this timeline doesn’t sound so bad.) It took another month to ease back in. It took another six months to get back into marathon shape. I survived.
On an easy run this January, my right foot tried to slam my psyche back into that dark room. A shooting pain went from my foot to my ego, who tried to say “You’re DONE.” I didn’t listen. I stayed calm and walked a few steps, which also hurt, and then I used a Capital Bikeshare to get home. (Side note: I LOVE DC’S BIKESHARE.) I could barely walk on the same foot that had run eight miles two days earlier; something was definitely wrong. I immediately decided to take time off. As much time as I needed, maybe a little more.
It felt different this time.
In that moment, there was no fear of gaining weight or losing running forever or wondering what my body might look like if I didn’t run for a while. I took six weeks off, and I didn’t miss running. Not even a little bit. I’m moving in other ways (climbing, swimming, and yoga). My body looks the same; my ego isn’t throwing a tantrum; I’m anything but miserable. And most notable, to me: I haven’t changed the way I eat at all. I didn’t try to restrict, or snack less, or cut my portions just because I’m not running. I ate when I was hungry and ate many of the same things I would have if I were running. Not once did my ego try to remind me that I didn’t “burn enough calories” to eat something specific. Not once did my thought process include whether or not I “deserved” something. It was all business as usual. And I didn’t even think about that until this morning, on a run.
We believe recovery is ongoing, and running is part of it. I also believe that running is what teaches us that recovery is ongoing.
I (Still) Run in Lane 9
The name of this project, Lane 9, means a lot of things to the three of us. There is no Lane 9 on a track, only 1–8. So, it’s a nonexistent place, but nonetheless it is/was our reality. The ninth lane is a mentality, a thought process, a narrative, a certain way of running. It is thinking that we have to control something (e.g. food or exercise), or willing our bodies to be different, or wanting to “burn” calories to earn food, or wanting to be faster, leaner, and stronger. It feels just like running around a track — going nowhere, but trying so hard to get somewhere.
Active women who have struggled with stress fractures, chronic fatigue, and amenorrhea as a result of disordered eating and eating disorders know Lane 9 well. We’ve run it over and over and over, expecting change but eventually realizing we’re stuck in a cycle of restriction, overtraining, and injury or health complication.
I learned something new about Lane 9 this morning, though: I still run in it. I think I always will. It’s like Hotel California; you can check out but you can never leave. It’s part of your story. As you recover from an eating disorder or work to improve your relationships with food and running, you look around and realize you’re not the only one in Lane 9, and that’s probably the best part of it. We’re here with you. We want to run with you and chat as we course through the familiar curves and take on the straight-aways. We want to teach you a new cycle of running, eating, and recovery that improves your health. We want you to be able to stay in Lane 9, where you can run for as long as you want and never have to worry about where you’ll go.
I run it because I know it well, and I want to connect with active women in this lane, at every stage of recovery. I run it because I can run, because my body gives that to me. I run it because now it’s where I feel my strongest. I keep running it because it connects me with you, it’s where we can strike up a conversation about recovery and health without judgment or agenda. I run it because my recovery is ongoing, and running is part of it. If you’re here with us, let us know. #IRunLane9
If you’re an active lady or lady health activist, coach, mentor, parent, or healthcare provider, let us know through our community form. If you want to share your story, get in touch with us through the form or by emailing Lane9Project@gmail dot com. If you just want to follow along, stay tuned hereand say hi 👋 on Twitter.