Content Warning: Mentions of disordered eating
I started running competitively when I was eight years old. My earliest memory from that year is a race with my dad where I was kicking toward the finish, shouting, “I can’t feel my legs!” Let me tell you, as a runner who too often feels the ache of every individual muscle in her legs, running so fast that I can’t feel my legs was and will always be euphoric.
I joined the track team in middle school and the cross-country team in high school. I started out strong, winning a few races and boosting an ego that was already much too large. However, after injuries from overtraining, I started falling behind my teammates. Desperate to get faster and mad at my body for being so easily injured, I began to dislike what I saw when I looked in the mirror. I tried to lose weight, to not eat as much, to punish my body for growing up. I still loved racing, but running now had an ugly ulterior motive.
As my relationship with my body began to teeter, there were days when the only reason I wanted to run was to lose weight. When my final high-school race ended in an asthma attack that put me in last place, my mental health spiralled. I decided that running and I needed to take a break for a while.
After coming to university, I ran rarely and almost always as a punishment for eating “too much” or for looking a little too bloated when I took a glance in the mirror. Unfortunately, these toxic thoughts that had followed me from high school were more normalized at McGill. Eating with friends became arduous, as they would brag about their own lack of food intake. I could skip one or two meals a day, and no one would question it. I restricted my food intake until my body became so hungry that I would binge extreme amounts of food. And as my relationship with food continued to deteriorate, so did my mental health.
Last fall was an especially difficult time for my mental health and body image, and I decided I needed a trip home for a few weeks toward the end of the semester. During this time, my dad and I became semi-regular running buddies. Running with my dad felt safe and helped me begin to relearn to run for myself. Instead of thinking about how I needed to keep up a certain pace and distance to burn a specific amount of calories, I was focused on chatting with my dad about life and the goings on of the world (as well as trying to figure out how the hell this old man runs so fast). Thoughts of body image and food still plagued my mind, but running with my dad became a slight reprieve instead of an instigating factor.
My relationship with my body hasn’t made such positive strides. I still struggle with body-image issues, and on a daily basis, I fight the urge to fall back into patterns of disordered eating. I don’t think I have gone a single day in the past seven years where I haven’t thought about my body. And frankly, it’s fucking exhausting. Being constantly surrounded by people telling me how little they ate or how they avoid eating before going out in order to get more drunk feels extremely triggering and often makes me want to book another ticket home. Luckily, running and I have become friends again, and our renewed relationship has taught me that I need to fuel my body for it to perform the way I want it to.
Over the past few months, I have fallen in love with longer runs. I recently ran 10 miles (16 kilometres) for only the second time in my life, and it made me so proud of my body’s capabilities. I feel myself relearning to love running as much as that excited girl who couldn’t feel her legs, and I know that one day very soon, that girl is going to relearn to fully love herself too.