These last few weeks in Spain, I found something; I found something that I thought I lost.
For those who knew me in high school or college, you know that I was a runner. It was my thing, you know? Heck, my sophomore year sorority superlative paper plate was “most likely to be seen on a run“. Distance running specifically, was what made my heart sing. I ran a few half-marathons over the years and my first (and only) full marathon in May 2014. Although I reduced my mileage for a bit following the marathon, I moved to Australia in February 2015 to study abroad for five months and there, I returned to long distance running.
The first couple of months were wonderful, I loved exploring new Australian cities by starting my morning with a sunrise run. But somewhere along the way, I began to lose that: the love of exploring by running. I became obsessed with the numbers my Nike running app would spit out to me at the end of each run: the number of miles, the number of hours and minutes, and most importantly, the number of calories burned. I was no longer running because I loved to run, I was running because I had to run. I had to burn off the calories from all of the food I indulged in while traveling. Running no longer left me with feelings of strength and empowerment like it used to. It left me feeling weak, defeated, and thinking I should have run further. Running became associated with guilt; the guilt I felt from eating and indulging in Australia.
Despite my long distance running, when I returned from Australia in July my luggage wasn’t the only thing that had gained weight over my semester abroad. I struggled severely with both running and body image over the next few months. Coming home meant I had to face reality: I missed the lifestyle I had in Australia and my freedom there; classes were difficult again as I dove into summer term biochemistry; figuring out where to apply for graduate school and those logistics ate at me too; financial constraints after a semester of spending largely; and of course, the stress of when to take the MCAT and figuring out my timeline for applying to medical school made my stomach toss and turn as well. As I felt I lost control over other aspects in my life and because my clothes did fit tighter than they did before my semester abroad, excessive exercise and caloric restriction seemed like the perfect outlet for avoiding my problems. I spend the first five or so months after Australia hiding from reality by consuming myself with disordered eating, disordered exercise and a disordered body image.
And I know it sounds cliche to say I woke up one day and wanted to change. But genuinely, I woke up one day and I had enough. I had enough of judging my worth based on how many calories some stupid app told me I burned during a workout or how little calories I could consume in a day. I had enough of feeling weak and tired all of the time and feeling like I would never be good enough. Something just clicked within me; I stopped wanting to be skinny and I started wanting to be strong.
So, I traded my cardio bunny and strict ‘clean eating’ days for heavy weightlifting and a more ‘intuitive eating’ based diet. And I have to tell you, I haven’t looked back ever since. The empowering feeling that comes with weightlifting is one of my favorite feelings in the world. And my passion for intuitive eating and eating with no restrictions, well that’s something that I’ll have to leave for a another post ;).
In the time since switching to weightlifting, I’ve tried to run on and off. But unfortunately even after changing my mentality, I could not really get into it again. I continued to associate running with guilt and I couldn’t help but fixate on those numbers every time I went for a run. However, since I started traveling full-time this past September, I’ve started running again. This time it’s different though; I refuse to use any type of app to track my run, I refuse to know how far I’ve gone or many calories that I’ve burned, and I refuse to run because I have to. And I think because of this, I’ve found my love for running again. In the last few weeks that I’ve spent in Spain, it’s resonated with me more so than ever. That feeling of pure bliss after a run; that feeling of empowerment and of strength; that feeling of running for the love of running; that feeling has returned.
It’s taken almost two and a half years, but I found it. I found my love for running.