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Back in November, I took part in the Leeds Abbey Dash 10K for the second time. I didn’t write a race report at the time, probably because I wasn’t too thrilled with my performance. Well, I’ve avoided it for two months now. Time to give it a mention.

The weather was crappy. It was really cold, so cold that I couldn’t think straight and didn’t want to leave the warm shopping centre we were waiting in and go to the start line. The race started in Leeds city centre, ran out to Kirkstall Abbey, and back again. It’s a notoriously dull, but fast, race. It’s one of the flattest courses in the area (which is mostly hilly).

Last year I managed it in 40:57. I was aiming for sub-40, and was disappointed to fall short. It was my first proper 10K though (the only one I had done before that was on a beach so my time wasn’t comparable), so I was happy enough. I figured I’d return a year later, with more training under my belt, and smash the 40 minute barrier.

It wasn’t to be. A summer of very little training due to injury and an avoidance of speedwork meant that not only did I come in at over 40 minutes, I was actually slower than last year. I ran it in 42:31.

Matt did it as well, having got a taste of racing after the Donadea Forest 10K. He did great! He ran it in 45:28. For someone who is not a natural runner (or so I thought… the Chevin Chase proved me wrong!), that was a great time. He plays cricket from April to September, and when the season is over he usually takes up running and trains for the Chevin Chase, before putting running on the back burner again and focusing on cycling (his first love, apart from cricket) and training for the start of the season. So considering the race was in November, and he had less than two months of training under his belt, he did really well.

At this point, I would add a photo. But the race photography was shockingly bad! Every race I’ve taken part in (including the Great North Run, which is the world’s biggest half marathon), there has been at least one good quality photo of me, and usually lots. The Abbey Dash is a big race with plenty of photographers and the previous year there were loads of me. This year there were only two, and in both I was obscured by other runners. The ones of Matt were slightly better, but not great. And there don’t seem to be any photos of two other people we know that did it at all. Which is so unusual, especially for such a large race.

Can you tell I’m disappointed?

Anyway, I have vowed to do more speedwork and try again next year.

Speaking of trying again… I also did my first ever Chevin Chase! I had been looking forward to this race, because it was the one that inspired me to take up running. I was supposed to do it last year but a nasty cough stopped me. I had been looking forward to it for months. I had high hopes. Despite a long break from training over the summer, I was optimistic. And when my injury returned after the Abbey Dash, I remained optimistic while I rested up for a few more weeks.

On the morning of the race, all optimism had disappeared. Standing on the start line with Matt (who had been training his ass off!), I felt a sense of foreboding as a strong wind blew around us. My legs didn’t feel strong, I hadn’t been training on hills at all and my injury was still hanging around.

The first couple of miles is all uphill, and it’s a bitch. I could feel Matt breathing down my neck, which wasn’t a good sign – I’m usually way faster than him. As we ran into the forest, I began to feel nauseous – seeing as the run is on Boxing Day, after a day of eating sweets, chocolate and a big Christmas dinner, this isn’t surprising. I also began to develop a stitch, which worsened to the point of me slowing down and running with one hand clasped against my side.

As we ran out of one section of the forest, across the road and into another, it wasn’t getting any better. Usually in race photos I look strong, like I’m barely exerting any effort at all.

This time was notably different (I’m the one in the blue top)!

 

 

My form is all over the place! Oh yeah, and I’m being overtaken by a guy in a suit!

By the time we reached the big hill that is notoriously difficult, and reduces most people to a walking pace, I was totally spent. I ran up it, but slowly enough that Matt, who had lost me for a while earlier in the race, gained on me again and nearly caught me up. And he was walking! The last mile or so is all downhill, ut there are to stiles to go over which usually get congested. It was at the first of these that Matt caught me up while waiting to climb over. He overtook me afterwards, and when I caught him up again at the second stile, I gestured for him to climb over first seeing as he had been ahead of me. After that I lost all motivation, and he flew ahead. I could always see him, but running into a ridiculously strong headwind, his large frame enabled him to power away down the hill. He’s got more natural speed than me over a short distance, so I was doubtful of my ability to catch him up.

I think if I had known how close we would be at the finish, I could have sped up and overtaken him, or not allowed him to overtake in the first place. But I felt rubbish, and I was also totally shocked that he was beating me.

He crossed the finish line first, and I followed 12 seconds later. My time was 56:35, for a hilly route that was just short of 7 miles. I tried to be as happy as possible for him, while secretly seething! Of course he’s enjoyed his gloating time over the last week.

I’ve resolved to run the route every week between now and December, so that I can run it again properly and royally kick his ass!

Really, I need to keep this injury at bay and get back out on the hills, and doing some speedwork. Then I can try again in the Abbey Dash, and try again in the Chevin Chase. And maybe run times that I feel proud of.

But you learn. Nothing in life is perfect. And I can’t run every race perfectly. I think 2011 has taught me that it’s okay not to have a great race – you just learn from it, and work on coming back stronger.

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With only two months to go until the Chevin Chase, I’ve decided it’s time to step up my training and get back out on the hills. The period of time that I had off due to injury over the summer has affected my leg strength, I think. I’m finding it harder to run over trails and up hills, and I don’t have the same confidence that I used to have when running up steep inclines. Back in the spring I was running between 14 and 18 miles every Sunday, beginning with a big hill, running up a hill in the middle and ending on the same hill that I started with.

The Chevin Chase is a particularly special race for me. It was while standing up on a snowy hill with my dad and nephew on Boxing Day, waiting for my brother, sister in law and Matt to run past, that I had the idea to start running and maybe sign up for the race the following year. I was a few weeks into recovery, and had the feeling that almost anything was possible.

I took to running so quickly that I ended up running in five races before I got anywhere near to doing the Chevin Chase! In the weeks leading up to it I started to feel excitement at the prospect of finishing my first year of running the same way that it began – up on that hill, on an icy festive morning – only this time I would be taking part myself.

But it wasn’t to be. A few days before Christmas I started to sniffle, and then sneeze, and then cough… and by the day of the race, I was struggling to even walk up to the finish line to cheer on Matt and my dad without wheezing and spluttering, never mind run the course.

This year, I’m determined to take part. And I want to do well, too. I’ve seen the results from previous years, and they’re good… so I’m not expecting to win or even place in the top three. But I’m just going to train really hard and do my best, and I’m hoping to maybe surprise myself.

The great thing about the race is that it takes place in an area that is right near me, and that I often train on. But I didn’t know the exact route, and so Matt and I decided to run it together today so he could show me. That way, I could train on sections of it or do the whole thing to get a feel for the course beforehand.

I was hoping it would be a sunny day. The Chevin is a beautiful area of woodland situated high up above a valley, and on a clear day you can see for miles. Seeing as Matt is a slower runner, and we set off with the aim of sticking to an easy pace, I decided to take my camera and try to snap some pretty photos along the way. It turned out to be a grey morning, although the sun came out later on.

I took photos anyway because I really love it up there and I often find that when I’m running through a particularly beautiful area, I want to photograph and document it. My runs, especially the long ones, often feel like adventures. And they sometimes feel like my little secret, because no one else is there with me and I’m out exploring forests and trails and paths. I don’t think photos can do the beauty that I see on these runs justice. But I still want to take them, because I feel so lucky to live in such a stunning area and I really want to capture it.

 

 

We started by running about 2 miles from our house to where the start line would be. From here, we began the ascent towards the Chevin. The first couple of miles are a gradual uphill climb, starting on the road and then turning into trail. Eventually we reached the woods.

 

 

Matt ran ahead when I stopped to take photos. In this one he looks a little crazed!

 

 

The middle section of the run is mostly flat, with a little downhill. Of course this means that you have to climb up again later! I showed Matt how to run downhill like a fell runner – windmill arms and try not to think too much! I pelted at full speed down a couple of the descents.

 

 

You can just make out the valley in the distance, but it’s not all that clear here because of the mist.

The steepest part of the course comes about two thirds of the way through. Apparently most people walk it, but having done Hellrunner I felt confident that I should be able to run up the whole thing. Matt told me to go ahead and meet him at Surprise View. “Run to the top and turn right”, he told me. I wasn’t sure that I’d know where to turn; he assured me it was obvious.

 

 

After running for a little while, I spotted a wooden post that marked out a path to my right. “This must be the right turn”, I thought. I also felt a little smug; while it was certainly not easy, the first portion of the hill was nowhere near as bad as other people had made it out to be.

Apparently Matt had overestimated my navigational skills (he should know not to do this… the first time I ran alone on the Chevin I managed to run right off the path and into the middle of a steep, slippery hill which was impossible to run down but which, having already run about 10 miles, I didn’t have the strength to run up. It was getting dark. I stopped running, stood still and began to cry. Eventually I found my way out by running through a tiny path and jumping down a wall into a car park, where I began to recognise my surroundings).

I quickly realised that this couldn’t be the right path, and I ran back down it, shouting for Matt. There was no reply. I noticed that after levelling out for a few metres, the hill continued further along. I realised that I was probably not at the top of the hill, and so I continued running.

Turns out the second part of the hill is where it gets really hard, and although I made it to the stop without stopping or walking, I did stretch the definition of ‘run’ to include a clumsy, slow stagger as I tried to lift my legs over the rocks and progress up a gradient that was steep enough to warrant having steps built into it.

Upon reaching the top, I saw Matt waiting for me.

“Only you could get lost there!”

 

 

The clearing at the top of the hill is known as ‘Surprise View’ because, well, the view is a bit of a surprise when you get there (unless you’re a local who is already familiar with it, in which case it isn’t remotely surprising but it’s certainly a nice sight).

The mist is obscuring the view in this photo, but if you look closely you can make out the fields and trees in the distance. It’s hard to see just how high up it is unless you’re there.

 

 

Instead of running back towards the finish line, we took a different route home. As we picked up the road I tried to up the pace and we settled into a nice rhythm. It felt comfortable for me, and although I wanted to go faster I stayed with Matt. It turns out he wasn’t feeling quite as at ease as me! But I pushed him to speed up with a few hundred metres to go, with the aim of getting the pace of that final stretch under an 8 minute mile.

My legs are surprisingly sore now. I guess it’s been months since I ran that far (apart from Hellrunner). I need to start upping the distance of my long runs again. I haven’t felt any shin or calf pain in a few weeks, and I think that’s a good sign. I’m going to try and do at least 10 miles on a Sunday from now on, and I think I’ll do those runs on the Chevin. My speedwork and hillwork will also be done there, using the toughest parts of the course. Within the next few weeks, I want the distance of my long run to be around 15 miles.

After I had showered, I quickly threw some more muffins in the oven (using the rest of the ingredients that I saved from yesterday), before heading over with my sister to see our parents. I took muffins, and we shared them out and ate them with coffee.

As I predicted yesterday, it was the perfect accompaniment to a delicious muffin. And the ideal reward for a delightful run.

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Personal Best

It’s been a busy week and so as usual, I have left it longer than I wanted to post.

My poor little legs are tired, and they’re currently resting in front of me on the sofa. I’ve taken up cycling on a regular basis now and combined with all of the yoga I’m doing they’re just tired out. I have a 10K race tomorrow which I know they’re not going to be on top form for. Not that it’s a PB attempt. My times are slowing these days, and each new race I do is less likely to produce a personal best. Fortunately I’ve been able to enjoy finishing near the front of the field instead. In the last 10K I did, I managed fourth place. Which I was happy with considering the size of the race.

But then I got injured, and I hardly ran. The marathon didn’t happen. And I have completely abandoned speedwork in favour of gentle plods as my legs get used to running again. In fact I’ve never been a fan of speedwork, despite the fact that if I did it regularly I’m pretty sure I could smash that 40 minute barrier for a 10K that has eluded me since I came so tantalisingly close last year. Well, to say it has eluded me is slightly inaccurate seeing as I’ve only completed one 10K since, and it was hillier so unlikely to be faster anyway. The truth is, I’ve avoided racing the distance since because I dread how much faster I’d have to run to get that PB. It’s not like half marathon pacing, where you’re going fast but still able to switch off to an extent and let your legs do the work. It’s running-flat-out-until-you-think-you’re-going-to-puke-but-it’s-okay-because-all-you-have-to-do-is-hang-on-for-40-minutes-and-then-it’ll-all-be-over pacing.

Of course I could just run it for fun and enjoyment, with no competitive element whatsoever. But who am I kidding! Even if I pretend that’s what I’m going to do, it’s unlikely I’ll do anything other than bolt off that start line and cling on for dear life throughout. I’ve seen last year’s times, and they’re good. Not elite standard, but we’re talking women finishing in the mid-30’s. I probably won’t even place top ten. So I need that PB to at least get something good from the race.

When did running become so fuelled by competition and compulsion? I know it takes some of the enjoyment out of it. I need to work on getting that feeling back that I had when I first started. I would bounce out of the door with a smile on my face, thrilled at the ease with which my legs carried me mile after mile. These days I trudge, Garmin in tow, frequently checking my pacing and berating myself for not running fast enough.

Once a perfectionist…

So anyway, returning to where I left off in my last post, I’ve got into yoga in a big way. And it’s sort of changing my life. I’ve always been mildly interested in it, although my motivation used to be a desire for flexibility and grace. Completely missing the point, of course. Last year, in my brand shiny new recovery mindset, I took it up again and this time it stuck (like so many things…I hadn’t realised how pervasive my negativity and self-hatred had been). More recently, I’ve begun to take up to three classes a week.

And whereas before I would berate myself for not being bendy enough (because I was too fat, I’d tell myself), and want to give up because I didn’t see instant results, these days I have begun to understand the meaning and purpose of yoga. The physical practice can’t be taken out of the spiritual context from which it began, but this happens too often when it’s practised in the West. The philosophy behind it is fascinating. I have begun to read a translation of the Yoga Sutras, and I can feel my attitude shifting already. I am beginning to incorporate the lessons that I am learning from them into my everyday life.

It all fits really. I started being kinder to myself, albeit in a very forced and deliberate way. Slowly it started to come naturally, and as a result of this very deliberate change I became attracted to things that promoted and enhanced my wellbeing rather than worked against it. It’s almost as if the more positive energy I put out there into the universe, the more positivity I attracted back. And so I have gravitated towards a spirituality that is congruent with this new attitude. I spent so long consumed by self-pity. And I am starting to ‘get’ it. I am taking responsibility for myself.

I’m not going to continue to abuse myself and then, when I don’t get where I want to be in life and when I stay miserable as a result, regard my failures as proof that I’m a useless person. That’s the easy way out.

Happiness and recovery don’t just happen. You can’t just sit there crying about how horrible you are and hope that self-esteem and self-worth just lands in your lap. You can’t abuse your body on a daily basis, call yourself fat, and deny your body of its basic needs and then expect to one day love yourself enough to eat.

You stop crying first. You stop abusing yourself first. You start eating.

And then those changes begin internally, and you start to believe that you’re worth it.

I can’t explain how yoga fits in with all of this without going into far too much depth. I feel like I need a nap too, so I’m not in a big writing mood.

I repeat myself a lot in here. I know that. But it’s because what I’m talking about it so important to me. I need to hear it over and over again to make sure that I stay right on track. When I feel those negative thoughts creeping in, I need to remember why it’s so important to stop them in their tracks.

Whether that’s a little voice telling me that my downward dog is crap and I may as well not bother, or one that yells at me for being a ‘fat whore’. We all have our own version of that voice, and some are louder than others. And without that constant reminder not to listen, it’s easy to stop hearing it as a distinct whisper and believing it to be your own thoughts.

That’s enough musing for one day; time for a warming bowl of soup and maybe  a few more Sutras.

Wow…I don’t think I could fit the vegan stereotype more if I tried.

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Apparently I can only update my blog with the help of a large americano, in the quietly bustling surroundings of a coffee shop. That’s why it’s taken me this long to post again. And it’s also why, having taken the bus to a place nearby that has wi fi (rather than opting for one of the three cafes right by my house), I am less than impressed that two schoolchildren have just sat down next to me with their mum! I shouldn’t be such a grumpy old woman, but I can’t help it.

Perhaps it’s a good thing that it’s been a while since I last updated. Previously I wrote about returning from holiday with a renewed enthusiasm for recovery, and I hadn’t yet resumed my calorie counting behaviours (and was hoping to avoid doing so at all). Now I have another week under my belt so to speak, and I can really look at how things are going.

(Side note: it turns out this particular coffee shop is popular with a number of families whose children attend the local primary school. Note to self: do not come here again after 3pm!)

I am proud to say that I haven’t counted calories once since returning from my holiday. I’ve caught myself trying to estimate at times, and immediately stopped my brain in its tracks. They say knowledge is power, but for me it’s my undoing. After many years of having an eating disorder I have so much knowledge about the calorie content of different foods that at times I catch myself doing frantic calculations. It can be hard to ‘un-know’ this information, but I’m trying. I did consider covering up or cutting out the nutritional info on all of the foods I have in my cupboards, but that is neither necessary nor realistic. Actually, I am perfectly capable of reigning myself in when need be.

So it’s been… gosh, three weeks?… since I last truly ate according to numbers rather than hunger. I haven’t gained weight (although this shouldn’t matter), the world hasn’t stopped turning, and I haven’t been gorging myself uncontrollably each day.

If anything, I consume less when I’m not counting calories. This is a strange quirk that I think I touched on in my last post. I think when I am relying on calorie counting I eat right up to whatever amount I consider to be acceptable or reasonable, regardless of hunger. I can eat past the point of satiety because I don’t need to rely on my hunger signals to ensure I don’t overeat; I know exactly how much I’ve eaten. The fact that I’m vegan and a sizable portion of my diet consists of fruit and vegetables means that I can consume relatively large amounts of food without taking in too many calories. There is nothing inherently wrong with this of course; had I never had an eating disorder, ignoring my hunger signals would probably not be an issue. People do it all the time, and they don’t feel bad for it (or even notice).

The problem for me is that I see this as the slippery slope back towards bulimia. So whether it’s muffins, or ice cream, or fruit, I have to be careful not to over-consume.

Lately, since I stopped relying on numbers and started trusting my hunger, I have found that I daren’t eat when I’m not hungry, because then I do risk overeating. So I am forced to eat only when my body asks for it. This has initiated a constant dialogue between my body and my mind, as I frequently check in with my body to find out what it wants and needs. As a result, when I fancy something more indulgent or higher in calories, I feel completely able to allow myself a treat because I know I am consuming the right amount at all other times.

One of the resolutions I made on holiday was to set little goals for myself, to try and tackle the areas of recovery that I’m still struggling with. As far as calorie counting goes I feel like I’ve gone way further with it than I imagined I would. I had planned to introduce some non-counted meals, to gradually wean myself off counting altogether. Part of this plan involved letting Matt cook dinner some nights. As I’ve done away with calorie counting completely, I haven’t needed to set this as a goal because it’s been easy!

So far he’s made a delicious pasta, we’ve eaten paella at my parents’ house (his idea) and last night he made stuffed aubergine with patatas bravas. It was so good that I’ve demanded it again tonight!

I tend to divide my food issues into two categories or behaviours: calorie counting and weighing. Now that I’m well on the way to eating normally, the obvious thing to do is to work on the weighing.

Okay, so I’m going to just jump in and set myself a goal here. I’m going to have three No-Weigh Days a week. Yes, that deserves capitalization. I can choose which days to (not) do it on. So if I know there will be days I might feel a stronger need to weigh myself, I will still have the freedom to do so. But at the same time, I can start to introduce some days which won’t begin with the scale. I am rather ashamed to admit that this is such a big problem for me, because I honestly believe, right to my very core, that weight shouldn’t matter and nobody should measure their self-worth according to such an arbitrary number. Yet I continue to do so.

I would like to be able to stop weighing myself completely, to throw out the scale and never look back. I hear of people doing this with ritualistic scale-smashing ceremonies. When I say that I don’t know if that would work for me, I don’t know if I’m making excuses and letting my ED rule, or if it’s perfectly reasonable to try doing things more gradually.

A crucial part of recovery is learning who you are, and developing an ability to trust yourself. As a result, I can usually tell when I’m making excuses or lying to myself. I also know a lot more about what I need and want. And I think I’m ready, at this point, to trust that I know what I need more than anybody else. More than any therapist, or self-help book, or recovery method out there. I have enough confidence in myself now to know what works for me and what doesn’t. It’s very similar to running in some ways. You can follow a training plan, particularly when you are a beginner, and it will tell you when to run and how far. And it is often very helpful to have this guidance. Some days you don’t feel like running, and you start to make excuses, but then you see the training plan and you see it written down, set in stone, and it gives you that little bit of extra motivation.

But then you get injured, or one day your legs just don’t feel right. And the longer you go on running, the better you get at recognising these days, these times when you genuinely need a rest and are not just making excuses. And no matter what the training plan says, you have to do what’s right for your body. Getting better at running is a balancing act between training hard enough that your body adapts, and resting when you need it. A training plan will only take you so far; after a while, you must learn to recognise what your body is telling you and learn to listen. In the same way that I have developed a dialogue with my body in order to respond to my hunger appropriately, I have entered into a similar conversation when it comes to running. I am intimately tuned into every twinge, niggle, and tightness that I feel and I am able to recognise when I need to rest, stretch, ice or when I can keep running.

Saying that, I dragged myself out for a reluctant three mile run earlier – reluctant because I wanted to run further, but stopped myself. The fact that I did this is a good example of a time that I listened to my body. But really, the fact that I ran at all shows a complete disregard for it. I shouldn’t have run, I should have cross-trained instead (I could have easily cycled). My injury has been threatening to flare up again, and with a 10K race in three or four weeks I need to be careful that it doesn’t reach the point of me not being able to run.

Speaking of racing, I finally cut up all of my race t-shirts yesterday. It’s something I’d been meaning to do for a while. They were taking up so much space in my drawer, but I didn’t want to throw them out because each one holds a little memory for me. I have a ritual now, after every race. I keep the medal, if there is one. I keep the race number. And I keep the t-shirt. Anyway, to solve the problem I came up with the idea of cutting out a little square and keeping it, then perhaps sewing them together to make a continuous quilt or blanket. So I grabbed them out of the drawer, and hacked away at them all until I had a little collection of fabric squares.

Two years’ worth of races, condensed into a tiny little collection in the middle of my living room floor. It doesn’t do them justice, really. The effort that went into each race was so immense. And they all hold such unique memories.

The 2010 Kildare half marathon was my first ever race. I had already signed up for the Great North Run in September, despite never having run outside (at that point I was still only up to an hour of running at a time on the treadmill). When my dad and brother (experienced runners) started talking about doing the Kildare race together, I got jealous and wanted to join in too. They weren’t sure – I would only have been running for four months (three if you don’t count the treadmill runs). It seemed ambitious. But I had a new-found determination and drive since beginning the recovery journey, and nothing seemed impossible. So I signed up.

Three months later and there I was, toeing the start line with butterflies wreaking havoc with my stomach and my mind full of self-doubt. I had a target time of under two hours, but secretly I wanted to do it in under 1:55. The gun went off, but it was a while before I started running as I was starting the race mid-pack. We shuffled along until my group reached the start line and then off we went. I picked up the pace, but cautiously. I had heard about what happened to people who went out too fast, and I was determined to play it safe.

A few miles in and I began to settle into it. The nerves dissipated and I just focused on putting one foot in front of the other. The further I ran the greater my pride became. I began to reflect on my journey from that first run to where I was now. Mere months beforehand I was struggling with an eating disorder. I was abusing my body, and I was miserable. And now here I was, powering along with strength in my legs and a smile on my face. As I reached the final third of the race tears stung my eyes and I relished every single step that I took as I ran further and further away from the ED. That was how I saw it. I was running towards recovery.

I crossed the line in 1:53:54. I had done it. Not only had I completed a half marathon having only been running a matter of months, I had done it in a time that, although I was aiming for it, I didn’t quite believe I could manage.

One year later, and I lined up again at the start of the 2011 race. A whole year had passed. A year further along in recovery, and strength gained both emotionally and physically. This time there was a different atmosphere. I wasn’t soaking up the camaraderie, I wasn’t shuffling along mid-pack. I fought my way towards the front and when the gun went off I was one of the first few to cross the start line. This time I didn’t merely run; I raced.

I finished in a time of 1:31:05, the second female to cross the line. I was immediately met by a presenter from Kildare TV, who promptly held a microphone in front of my face and started interviewing me! One year later, and I had taken over 20 minutes off my time. Right before I stepped on the podium to collect my medal and prize, my dad finished the full marathon. He had run it in a time of 3 hours and 53 minutes, his first marathon at the age of 63. We hugged, tears welling up in both of our eyes.

The same race, two years apart. Such different experiences, but both wonderful and joyful in their own ways.

Running has taken on a different meaning for me in the last year. It began as a simple hobby that I wanted to improve at, but never expected to excel in. I was happy to run in the middle of the pack during races. I never imagined that I would be starting near the front. I never knew that I would actually be good at it. And now, when I race, I am not aiming to simply finish. I am aiming to win. It almost scares me, when I stand on the start line with thousands of others, that my goal of finishing in the top three or five women is completely realistic. M used to joke with me prior to every race, saying ‘Make sure you win!’. These days he says the same thing, but now he means it. And when I call him up and announce my position, which this year has never been less than fourth, his surprise has begun to fade and what used to seem ridiculous is now almost expected of me.

I am so lucky to be in this position, to have found something that I am good at and enjoy doing so much. And of course, I enjoy the fact that I have a talent. It is a source of pride for me.

But I will always remember that first race. It didn’t matter how good I was. I wasn’t comparing myself to others. In many ways, I was more a winner then than I am now. Because every time I ran, I felt that I had won. And it certainly felt that way during the half marathon. I don’t know who won it, nor do I care. Because I won that day too. I won my own battle with an eating disorder. I would not have been able to run that far, or that fast, without taking care of my body and eating properly. Every single mile of that race was a little victory.

I don’t get that so much these days, as recovery becomes more routine. I sometimes forget to celebrate the little wins. And I think it’s important to try and recognise these. However routine it might seem to get up, eat breakfast, wait until I’m hungry and then eat lunch, I need to celebrate my ability to do so. Because I have ten years of abuse to make up for. For every time that I starved myself, or purged, or cut, or had a negative thought about myself, I owe my body threefold. For every meal I denied myself, I should celebrate a meal provided. For every time I pushed myself in the gym for three hours without food, I should celebrate my ability to refuel adequately after a run. For every time I ate beyond my body’s natural limit and purged, I deserve to celebrate my ability to recognise when I am full and stop eating.

All of these things are so routine to most people, and it’s easy to forget that once upon a time they were missing from my life. But I don’t want to forget. Because then I might take these moments for granted. And I want to savour every delicious bite, every lovely feeling of just-enough, every strong, fast run that I couldn’t have done without that big filling breakfast. These tiny little moments happen every day, and while they go unnoticed to most people, I am lucky enough to know what life was like without them. Consequently, I am able to appreciate life in a much fuller and richer way for it.

In my world, every meal should be like the end of the race. I finish it smiling, and someone hangs a medal around my neck. Everyone is clapping and smiling, and congratulating me. And sometimes, after a particularly tough meal or having worked through a difficult patch in my recovery, I even get a trophy. Imagine! It would be a little crazy and impractical if that was the case. But it doesn’t stop me from having my own little celebration every time I successfully fight my eating disorder. I’m going to make a mental note, the next time I successfully listen to my body or beat my ED in some way, to take a moment to hand myself a metaphorical medal and appreciate how far I’ve come.

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