Going the Distance in Eating Disorder Recovery

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Kristen Ray

Training for a marathon is exhausting. 

I don’t mean just physically; that one’s obvious. But mentally and emotionally, too. There’s the time commitment, having to plan each week out in advance to ensure I can fit in every workout and the inevitable short nap that follows (hey, what can you do?). Then there’s the constant daily battle when I argue with myself whether I even want to engage in said scheduled workouts. But for a person with a history of anorexia and bulimia, those are very minor struggles compared to the challenges a mental illness throws into the mix, recovered or not. 

Like many men and women with a history of an eating disorder, exercise and I have had a tricky relationship since developing one at age 15. It was during the height of cross country season, and by the time my coach approached me with concern, I had been unknowingly restricting and abusing exercise for three months. It didn’t matter that I “self-recovered” a few months after (this did not end up going well for me; I relapsed again about four years later); the damage was done, and I was in for a lifetime of swinging between exercise extremes. 

Preparing for 26.2 miles, I knew, was going to be the ultimate test. 

As challenging as I knew it would be, I also knew that I was ready. I’ve been in recovery for three years and have learned so much about myself and my ambitions. I was not naïve enough to assume that I wouldn’t be triggered, however; in fact, that first month of training was full of them. For one, it’s been years since I’ve consciously trained for anything, let alone the biggest race of my life. Switching from leisurely, whatever-I-felt-like-that-day kind of runs to planned, thought-out workouts was daunting. I felt like if I missed or skimped on even one, then I had already automatically failed. 

Familiar feelings of pressure and anxiety that I felt as a teenager came flooding back, and with them, the disordered thoughts. Each day was something new: Temptations to miss a meal here, urges to devour food there. Some days it felt so unmanageable that I just wanted to avoid it altogether, wishing to just give up this marathon thing for good. High school me probably would have by now. 

But I’m not that 15-year-old girl anymore. 

No, I’m a stronger, wiser version of the person I was nine years ago, and I know falling back into those patterns of self-sabotage will not get me to where I want to go. As I began my second month of training, I gave myself a choice: I could keep fighting, or I could throw away all of the work I’ve put in so far. Would it be easier to walk away, to pretend like I never even wanted this to begin with? Of course. But then I think back to all of the battles that I’ve already won that have brought me here, now, to this moment, and I realize there’s still some fight left in me that’s capable of overcoming each and every hurdle. 

And so I keep running. Because I love it and want to see this through. Because I owe it to my body to treat it with kindness in order for it to carry me this incredible distance. Because even if I’m nowhere near set to win, finishing this race is proof that I am full of power, and that’s a beautiful thing. Because even if it absolutely terrifies me to get so far out of my comfort zone, I remember this: “Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.”

See you on the other side.