There Are Better Ways to Keep Warm

{***Trigger Warning- mild descriptions of disordered eating habits and exercise addiction***}

I loved running.

Just running.

Just being outside with my feet and my head and my friends, a forever tugging at our eyes, a tailwind lapping at our heels.

I loved how the fresh air cleared my headspace just enough to let the athlete inside of me flit in, give me a little push when the going got tough, and show me all I was capable of.

I have to give it to myself, I accomplished quite a lot in the three and a half years that I labeled myself as a runner. I won conference a few times, and I won districts, and I got to go to state. I earned a whole rack’s worth of medals.

The thing about all those medals is that they kind of start to weigh on you, after a while. The expectations of others, the need to elevate performance, the need to put in just five percent more, just ten percent more, just twenty percent more.

They became nooses where I placed my sense of personal identity and self-necessity.

I stepped aside and let perfectionism kick out the floor.

And in half a breath, it wasn’t just about running anymore. It was about standards. Deprivation. The delicate art of transforming from a human to a machine. I was stone cold and cemented in my routine, and everyone admired me for that, because ultimately, it made me good.

People give three cheers for dedication and not one for balance, which I find ironic, considering only one is necessary to basic survival. We place the act of roboticism on a pedestal and we discount being human, turning up our noses at the very mention of mediocracy. That’s an action I can’t say I’ve ever understood. Isn’t being breakable the whole point? Isn’t our own fragility the very essence of our mortality? Why are we so ashamed of the very thing that binds us as a human race? It’s the reason we drive celebrities off the deep end and send our leaders spiraling into downward insanity. Success becomes deadly in the very instant that it becomes a definer, and it always kills once it goes public.

***At my best, I was rather literally dying to maintain the “athleticism” and the image I had built. Running became a vessel for the eating disorder that I worked tirelessly to disguise. I thrived off the control, the immaculate routine, that was required to run at a high level. My days were completely consumed by my training plan. I would work out two, three, four times a day. I cut out practically all sugar in season, and at the age of fifteen, I had a list of over fifty “forbidden foods” that I swore would hinder performance. The days leading up to a race, my lips were on lockdown, and my anxiety was soaring to levels that I still have yet to comprehend. The nerves became so excessive, at times, that I would not eat for over twelve hours leading up to a race.

***My best races, quantitatively, were on these days, because my limits became rather tangible. My breaking point was something that I could measure. The second my vision started to give, I knew I was nearly there. My legs would go numb and I would base each turn off the faint sound of the footfalls around me, hoping and praying that I did not stumble off the track. I felt no pain, no discomfort, but I was racing in a state of practical unconsciousness, and immediately after crossing the line, I would give myself permission to crumble. It was terrifying: for me, for my family, for my coaches. And as everyone struggled to understand the reasoning behind the chronic fainting, I knew deep down that my deliberate manipulation of my blood sugar was the cause.

I was so ridiculously unhappy. I mistook pride for passion, and I preached relentlessly to all who would listen about how in love I was with this sport. Everyone believed me. I believed me. And yet every time I stepped on that track for practice, my heart dropped to my feet, and I would only be afraid that they’d be too heavy to sprint on. I think my life as an athlete was destined for doom from the moment I first ran a time indicative of anything more than mediocrity. It was the placement of a standard over my head that drew my eyes upward. There they cemented. And no victory was ever as big as the next one could be, no time was always as fast as the next time should be. It was a crippling chase after idealism, and for the first time in my racing career, I could never quite seem to keep up.

My junior year, I was cursed with a stress fracture (a classic sign of chronic overexertion), but it felt like a butterfly kiss of grace. For the first time in over three years, I had no obligation to put my body under pressure. I felt my entire being breathe. And while I missed the community aspect, the feeling of contributing to a team, I was more at peace throughout my season of absence than I was throughout the rest of my high school career. When I started secretly praying that the x-rays would show an unhealed crack, when each meet I was told I could not participate in yielded a sigh of relief, I knew that something had to change.

Away from the illusionary sfumato of cheering crowds and podiums, I picked up a journal and began to write deeply, passionately, for the first time since childhood. Pouring myself into poetry was like coming up for air after spending lung-agonizing minutes underwater. I could breathe. I began to explore the ins and outs of my own mind as I had once explored trails and cross country courses. But this time, I looked forward to the upward climbs.

When the 2017 track season rolled around, I tried my best not to try. I ached to breathe that youthful innocence back into the sport, and to fall in love with it again from the grassroots. I did manage to do that, to an extent, but I still felt myself growing frustrated with running. It didn’t feel riveting enough or monumental enough or ground-shaking, earth-shattering enough to be spending all of these painstaking hours on. I had come to create a reverse effect. Where once, all of my goals were too big and unachievable, they now seemed stiflingly small and insignificant. A medal at the district meet, even state, national titles, seemed to hold no appeal nor merit. I wanted to do something bigger. I wanted to expand my mind and expand my heart and start chipping the rust off of my little corner of the world, encouraging others to do the same. Running didn’t cut it.

All it did was make me tired.

So when my father was diagnosed with a terminal illness the night before my district cross country meet this year, I knew that it would be the last time I ever stepped up to a starting line. I am blessed enough to live in a world that presents me with trial after trial, in a body that is blessed with a brilliant and beautiful mind that has the ability to overcome each and every one of them. And I need to take care of that body, that mind. I need to be all here. All in. All in for my family, for my planet, for my society. For myself.

Never again will I wither away for the sake of other people. Or my own desire for gratification, for acceptance. Or a tangible reminder that I have someplace to belong. Or a convenient place to burn calories. Or a superficial purpose that kept me docked in the midst of mental comfort.

I crossed that line for the last time in tears. One of my slowest times ever was gloating in bold across the clock. There was no confetti, no streamers, no screaming crowds announcing my arrival.

But I’d swear I heard all heaven sing as my heartbeat stabilized one last time.

I used to be a runner and I used to be good.

I used to be very good.

And it was never good enough.

I used to be all drive and no neutral.

I used to run purely off the fumes of expectation and obligation.

And it never got me off the ground.

I used to be early mornings and late nights.

I used to grin and bear it, grit and metal, setting myself on fire just to feel something.

And now I realize that there are better ways to keep warm.

9 comments

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  1. Chris

    I absolutely luv reading your stories. This is something I know nothing about but think I learned something reading this .

    Sent from my iPhone

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  2. Deb Mauer

    When I read your stories they melt my heart. You should be so proud of the young lady you have become. I can’t wait to see how far your intellect and huge heart take you. You are a star in the making. I’m happy you are my family. God bless Lexi.

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  3. Kitty

    I feel you made the right decision for you as for me I run to glorify my God and I know the fact that gets me through the race I glorify him because I am his vessel it’s not about the times for its just about being his vessel and using a gift he gave me but you made a good decision I pray the best for you and that you can experience things in life whatever is out there for you the way I do with my God. When you put your confidence in God you no longer feel the Stress

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  4. lifesquotations

    Another amazing work Lexi. I have struggled with the same relationship with running. My overuse led to iron deficiencies, shin splints and eventually a stress fracture. I’m still struggling with deciding if I want to run again next fall but your story shows me I’m not alone. I’m not the only person who has such a love hate relationship with running. Keep writing, it’s definitely your calling.

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  5. Lindsey

    Such an inspirational read. I myself have had this same relationship with running over the years, and the strength and courage you had to walk away is something to be immensely proud of! Great things are coming your way!

    Like

  6. runner2

    this season was my final season of xc, and i completely understand how the pressure and expectations drag you down. i love a long run, but i hated the workouts and the sport itself. i’m proud that you recognized that it was extremely unhealthy for you to live like that, what a good example. ❤ thanks for sharing.

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  7. Julia Pav

    You are every bit as talented as writer as you were a runner. I don’t know you or my about you, I am delighted that you have found a healthier talen for you to pursue earnestly.

    I hope you will always be a runner, but it’s good that you are not “THE runner” anymore. It was an honor to hear your story. I wish you the very best in life, Lexi!

    Like

  8. Hunter Kimball

    wow. just wow. that was beautifully put. i had a similar experience my senior year and it’s amazing how you put the complicated feelings into words.

    Like

  9. Allison

    I feel this on such a personal level, except I experienced it through gymnastics rather than running. Tears came to my eyes reading your words and describing what you went through. It breaks my heart to know others have had to go through something so similar but it definitely makes me feel less alone. Stay strong girl, you are an amazing one ♥️

    Like

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