Running toward healing

This post is contributed by Polly Balogh, running the ninth lane in Sahuarita, Arizona.

I can’t recall a time when sports or running were not a part of my life.

My love/hate relationship with running began when I was 11 years old. Isn’t it hard to love something so much, but not want to do it, and then feel so wonderful after you’ve done it?

I loved the control running provided over my body and my mind and the ability to go further and further. We used to have a pool at our home, and I would run 100 laps around it every night. Then I realized the more exercise I did, the less that I ate. What a benefit! I could lose weight… more and more and more. I eventually stopped eating and reached a dangerous weight. I was 12 years old when I was diagnosed with anorexia; I had lost my period and did not get it back until I was 20. I ran for the wrong reasons. I was running during a terrible time in my life, and as I look back on it now at 55 years of age, for all those years I was running away from my past and my problems.

That is how my relationship with running and food began. I have lived with my running addiction for 44 years. Please understand: I believe running, jogging, and walking are some of the best forms of exercise, and I always defend myself when people comment about my knees or joints or that I get injured so much. My problem is that I let my two addictions control every part of my life.

The obsession with running and the number on the scale are the constants that have been with me my whole life. They have robbed me of the freedom to be truly happy.

Polly after the Boston Marathon

I never considered myself a runner, just a jogger. I guess I could believe that everything I was doing was okay if I were an elite runner; but here I was a single mom with three kids and a bunch of animals, who is very active in their lives, running every day, and coaching as well! There have not been many times in my life where I have not run every day. A lot of the time distance was determined by my weight. As I grew older and ran more full and half marathons, I had no idea what I was doing to my body by not eating nutritiously, running on injuries, not getting enough rest, or maintaining a healthy weight.

As I get older, I feel like a broken-down car.

I keep having parts break down, but I refuse to stop running, no matter what. Since 2009 I have had six hamstring surgeries for a ruptured hamstring, infections following numerous sprained and broken ankles, six stress fractures, and a nose broken in three places. These were due to running before I was healed and the obsession that I had to run daily in order to handle the day.

Some people turn to drugs or alcohol; running was my drug.

I ran when I was tired, sometimes taking very large amounts of caffeine or stimulants to get me up as early as 3:30 a.m. so as not to miss a run, even if I had a full 12-hour day as a personal trainer or group instructor ahead of me. Nothing would get in the way of my run. I ran before the kids’ games, sometimes missing the games, missing time with my now husband, going out to places, not planning things… all because I had to get my run in. If I would see someone else out running and I hadn’t yet gotten my run in, I would get so upset that I would turn to my anorexic or bulimic behavior.

Despite injuries and allowing my eating disorder to get out of control, I had to get 10 miles a day in. I was usually starving when I got home so I would binge and purge. It was a pattern I had followed since my teens. I got gastroparesis and due to all of the damage I have done to my body, I see specialists in gastroenterology, orthopedics, endocrinology, and, of course, psychology.

I recently joined a 12 step program which has been really helpful with reaching out. I had no confidence; since there were times I could not run, I feared going out to meetings or being with any friends. I felt out of shape and old and just stupid. I left a running club because there was so much competition; and then later I was way too slow, so I started to isolate myself.

I began therapy to figure out why I use running and my eating disorder to get through the day; why I obsess over the scale and how that number could affect my whole day.

It is a struggle each and every day; some days I win, some days I don’t. However, I continue to work at healing with the knowledge that I can beat this and one day run safely and for fun. Maybe I’ll join a running group or club, and running will bring joy in my life because I am no longer running away.

I am sharing my story and signing my name to it as a cautionary tale.

Don’t make the same mistakes I did. Don’t fixate on your weight or how many miles you run; don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day. Sure, it is wonderful, great, and fantastic to get a lower time; but it can be just as incredible to just run for yourself and have fun, and enjoy yourself.

I understand that if you are an elite athlete, the “rules” might be different, and I am in awe of the sacrifices you make and cheer you on; but I, as so many others like me, am an everyday runner who ran for the wrong reasons and has lasting medical problems as a result. I sit here with osteoporosis in addition to all my other “issues,” still thinking I should jog or run on my treadmill. I need healing.

I want to help other women avoid my mistakes, and I want to be a part of Lane 9 Project. I love the sport of running and will always be a runner, even if running means a few miles on a treadmill. Healing for me is accepting who am I at this point in my life, owning the damage I’ve done to my body and to relationships over the years. If by writing this, I can help someone who can relate to my story, I will have accomplished a great deal. Reaching out to a coach, a doctor, or a friend if you find yourself struggling with some of the issues that arise from a compulsion or obsession is a gift that you can give yourself.

I think my old car is finally done breaking down!

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