When anxiety began taking over my life towards the end of my third year of University I decided to start running. You can read more about this experience on my earlier blog post collaboration with super star runner Jo: Exercise, mental health & balance. On that post I talk about how brilliant running makes me feel and how integral it has been to coping with a mind like mine and that is all true. But lately, I’ve been experiencing a flip side. Last year I decided to run two half marathons and a handful of 10k’s to raise money for MIND, a charity which I really admire and one which has helped me through counselling. I ran the Bath half marathon in March which I weirdly enjoyed, my body didn’t feel tired and the surprise of old friend’s arriving to support me gave me a huge boost of adrenaline to run my best. I then ran the Bristol half in September and had a completely different experience, my hip ached, I needed a wee and I was wishing for it to end. My mindset here was completely different and it seriously impacted my enjoyment of the race. I felt deflated afterwards rather than elated and I knew something wasn’t right.
Throughout both of these races and all of my running in between I’d been using Strava to track my runs. I’d taken off the ‘calories burned’ counter and purely used it to see how far I’d ran and where I had ran so I could repeat routes if I wanted to in the future. The app was great at first, I could encourage my other runner friends and receive positive comments from others about my pace and distance and I felt a real sense of satisfaction when I could look at the app and see that I’d ran 3 or 4 times in a week. However, I’ve realised lately that on the weeks when I hadn’t ran 3 or 4 times I was starting to feel guilty. I was comparing myself to other runners achievements and I was putting pressure on myself to get my trainers on when in fact, all I wanted to do was the opposite. I wrote about my relationship with tracking on my earlier blog post: Tracking apps & tracking traps and I’ve said there “I’ve now gone cold turkey on the Steps+ app because I could feel myself obsessing over the numbers again and my eyes kept wandering to the calories burnt figure and that is a recipe for disaster. I enjoy using Strava to track my different running routes but I can see how easily I could slip into old habits so I am trying to keep myself in check and recognise when something is doing more harm to my relationship with my body than good”. Right now it is doing more harm to my relationship with my body than good. I’m accepting that and I’m changing things.
I think when you come from a disordered background that it’s really important to recognise these triggers. Exercise shouldn’t be done because you feel you have to or because everyone else is doing it. Exercise shouldn’t be done as a punishment for what you’ve eaten lately or what you have planned to eat in a few days time. Exercise should purely be done for joy and as a celebration of what your body can do. It should feel good. Full stop. On reflection, after I ran that pain filled half marathon in September I should have listened to my body and stopped for a while.. but I didn’t. I thought I knew best and it’s taken me a good few months to accept what is going on and embrace it. Last week I deleted Strava and I vowed to myself that I would only exercise when and how I want to. That I do not need to run a certain amount of times a week and seeing as I’m privileged to have all types of exercise are on offer to me, I do not need to fixate on running. I felt scared. In fact, I felt completely terrified when I clicked the “x” on the app, which showed me even more how necessary this is to do.
Since then I’ve been going for long slow walks with a podcast or a chance to call old friends and catch up with them. I’ve been for long slow jogs where I have no idea how long I’ve been running for or where I’ve been to because there isn’t a phone strapped to my arm keeping record. I’ve taken up the offer to go for a bike ride this afternoon which worries me a little because I haven’t been on a bike in a while but I’m excited to see how my body and mind feels when cycling. I’m exploring different exercise, I’m not tracking anything and it feels really good. Food has felt easier now that I’m not recording my runs, I think even though I didn’t have the calories burned setting viewable, I still felt a sense of really “earning” what I had eaten the day which is so disordered and so detrimental and it so needed to stop.
If you exercise and you track it and you love it and you don’t feel it has an unhealthy grip on you then that’s cool. I just think if you have a disordered relationship with yourself exercise can very quickly become part of continued restrictive behaviours. It’s hard to admit that these things have been going on with me. It’s hard to admit that I’ve had to completely remove myself from these apps because of the effect it’s having on my mindset but it is so worth it for how I feel now. I have way more time to do the things I need to invest my energy into. I can appreciate the ways in which my body moves day in and day out without the need for a regimented time slot for exercise. I’ve really tuned into my intuition when it comes to movement and I’m seeking only experiences that bring me pleasure. But most importantly, I’ve become way more appreciative of my body in general now that I’m not forcing it into exercise and my relationship with food has become a whole lot more stable.
I have a couple of 10k races lined up this year but I don’t feel any pressure at all to perform a certain way when I’m there. I’m all about enjoyment now and I want to soak up experiences instead of personal bests.