Right off the bat, I just need to declare: I love running. I whip that sentence out like it’s a catchphrase in every running post but I just have to set the scene (the optimist in me thinks there’s dozens of new people reading every time I post…).
So this weekend, I ran Bournemouth Half Marathon. Although it wasn’t my first foray into this proverbial rodeo, it was still a run that was very special to me.
You see, whilst I’ve always placed running on a very high pedestal, right up there with the elixir of life and my collector’s edition Buffy lunchbox featuring original Dark Horse comics artwork (say that six times fast!)… it’s also sadly been not so great at times. In fact, I could stretch to say it’s even been a bit of a foe. To cut a long story short, I’ve struggled with anorexia nervosa on-and-off for a long time and anorexia had hijacked my love of running. I want to cut this story even shorter and go straight to talking about the half marathon but I do think it’s important to put a spotlight on mental health issues – especially today, as it is World Mental Health Day.
Anorexia for me began when I was a teenager, it was a time when I was experiencing low mood and anxiety because of what I will vaguely term as ‘circumstances.’ I felt very overwhelmed and not very in control of anything… except what I ate. It didn’t take much of a leap from there to arrive at anorexia.
For people who have known me most of my life, it never “made sense” that I was anorexic because I was always thin. On that front, it’s been a learning curve for them and me to recognise that anorexia often has very little do to with weight. As I entered my teenage years, I was already slightly underweight and well-versed in conversations where adults would tell me to eat more. Initially, obsessively restricting my diet did feel like an act of rebellion to me (possibly the most unhelpful ‘fuck you’ to the man ever conducted). I’m sure this is how my disordered eating started but it wasn’t what sustained it. Despite often being frustrated with life, I wasn’t vocalising my anguish. Instead, I internalised and restricted. A bad day equalled eating a few hundred less calories. Why? I don’t know. I did because I could. I couldn’t control the bad day or the elements within it but I could control this. It probably sounds strange but controlling this helped me to feel less anxious. Losing extreme amounts of weight and gaining a fear of food were small prices to pay for how in control I felt.
Thankfully, growing up allowed me to get the autonomy I needed to move away from the circumstances that caused me distress. Coupling this with some therapy, I was able to get to some semblance of ‘recovery.’ However, I don’t think my anorexia will ever truly leave me. During periods of low mood or stress, disordered eating habits do rear their ugly head. It makes sense, anorexia was my strongest and most rehearsed coping strategy after all. Over the years, I’ve worked hard to cultivate healthier coping mechanisms but I’ll admit, I’m not completely there yet.
So although running has been a source of joy, it’s often been hijacked by disordered eating. I end up overdoing the exercise and massively ‘under-doing’ the nutrition. The last time I participated in a running event was a half marathon four years ago and I rocked up to the start line looking and feeling like death. However, this weekend, that all changed.
I signed up to Bournemouth Half Marathon three months ago and decided that in the process, I would also raise funds and awareness for Beat, the eating disorder charity. The amazing team at Beat sent me over a fundraising pack and were very encouraging which really did mean a lot (obligatory JustGiving page plug).
Race day was on Sunday. It was a clear morning. My wonderful partner and his mum drove me to the start line at 7am just as the sun was rising, colouring the sky all sorts of beautiful. We knew it was going to be a good, sunny day.
At the start line, the atmosphere was amazing. I recalled the last half marathon I had participated in – almost four years ago to the day – and realised how much I’d missed this crazy sport.
And then I was off! Running 13.1 miles for exactly 2 hours and 3 minutes.
Whilst I ran, my partner and his mum got to see the sunrise over the beach and spectate. They got some incredible photos of what has to be the most photogenic half marathon in all of Britain. It was a true privilege and treat to run along the coast stretching from Hengistbury Head, to Boscombe Pier to the finish line – Bournemouth Pier.
The sun was shining, the streets were line with people – it was an absolutely fantastic atmosphere. If you’ve never run a half marathon before, I would say running the Bournemouth one is a sure-fire way to get addicted.
All in all, despite achieving a good time on my run, I have to acknowledge that the last few months of training were, to put it frankly, real frickin’ tough. I haven’t felt so mentally and emotionally overwhelmed in a long time. I did gain weight. Clothes did start to fit differently. I did get hungrier and for once, I gave into what my body needed and really struggled to deal with the guilt and resentment that followed. At times, I felt irritable and frustrated. But… I stuck with it. I made it to race day and along the way, I didn’t let my running be affected by restricted eating. This felt like a massive win to me even before I made it to the start line.
I hope this insight into anorexia and how I’ve tried to get healthy has helped normalise the experience for someone else out there.
It’s a tough, seemingly unending road but there is help out there and after some time, the number of good days do overtake the bad days.