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Goals aren’t just for January

Hey! Happy sunny fall Sunday!

 

Today was a great day for the Estes Trail Ascent. Rugged, gorgeous, steep ups and downs, and only 4 and 6.75-mile courses: it’s a lovely option for people [like me] who don’t want to commit longer trail racing adventures. I mean, I just like to actually run the entire time!

 

It was an especially awesome day because my slow-and-steady recovery from surgery is paying off. To re-cap, the operative date was 7/5/17 (happy day after 4th of July!). I was up and walking around the neighborhood by the end of post-op week 3. That took f-ing forever. My first post-operative run was 8/12. Running was suuuuper effortful for the next 3 weeks. I started to add in speed work around 9/1. My first race back was a 4k on 10/1, which was 2.5 miles of remembering what it means and feels like to race. On 10/7 I raced a 10 mile, which wiped the last of the rust out of my knees and kind of achy quads. I realize this is kind of a big jump, 4k to 10 mile, but I am a sturdy runner with a long history of running. Sometimes it’s better to just take the plunge and get it over with! Although today’s race took well over 50 minutes, that’s trail running for you, and I earned 2nd place!

 

Part of me thinks “ah yes, it is I, the perennial second place finisher.” And then the rest of me is like: “Oh yeeeeah! I’m ba-ack!”

I won a box of off-brand gu. Yay?

2ndplace

So lets talk about how to get back in the game when you’re out of shape and ready to change that.

  1. Make time to train
    • Assess your odds and ends of unstructured time. Pre-dawn? Lunch? Kids’ sport practice? TV after dinner? Where in the puzzle of your life can running possibly fit?
    • Find multiple, so if you miss one you can use another. For example, I can’t always haul my butt out of bed at 5am, but when I don’t I can run at lunch. If that fails, I try to go after work. Granted, I don’t have kids, so things are a little more flexible around here.
    • Get over making excuses. If you really want to achieve it, you will find the space. Even if that means getting up early, or hitting the pavement after work and making the kids ride their bikes alongside you. At least 4 days a week.
  2. Make training a habit
    • Start off just by creating the space to train. You don’t need to put in the heavy work while also adjusting to your schedule. For example, if you aren’t used to early runs, start by just taking an early morning walk. 15-20 minutes should suffice to begin, and you can start pushing the duration once you’ve proved you can reliably get out of bed. A week or two later, run instead of walking. You can still keep it short.
    • Set goals, and reward yourself for sticking to your schedule. A special purchase, permission to be guilt-free on your off day(s). A good book on tape, or music that you’re only allowed to listen to when you’re exercising. Just so long as you’re intentional about exercising as frequently as you’d set your mind to, and equally intentional about treating yourself with kindness and compassion for putting in the effort.
  3. Vary the routine, routinely
    • Now it’s time to push yourself. But start slow: a 5 min up-tempo here, a couple of striders there. Work up to efforts that leave you uncomfortable and breathless, but not every day. We still want you to have the energy and enthusiasm to come back again tomorrow and also to rest and recover from the harder days. Pushing too hard, too soon is a really solid strategy for getting injured!
    • Create a framework that keeps you honest: sprints on Monday, jog on Tuesday, Tempo Wednesday, rest Thursday, hills on Friday [or whatever your schedule, you get the picture].
    • But seriously! Keep your brain at the wheel. The heart only gets to drive for, like, 5-10 minutes at a time. When you’re coming back from injury or illness, of course you need a little heart. Feel the endorphin rush, find the joy that comes from almost being able to fly again. And then back off. Reign it in.
  4. Reserve a special type of training as a reward
    • This is for when you are feeling on the brink of fitness. Strong enough, now, to not be fragile. Strong enough to deal with the aches and pains of cleaning the cobwebs from the deepest shadows.
    • Something to look forward to when you’re slogging through the joyless work.
    • Something that does make your heart soar and your brain take backseat.
    • Something beautiful, something fun, something social…
    • For me that something is racing. My goal is to race at least once a month. This month, about 90 days out from surgery, I’ve raced 3 times already, and it feels like a celebration. Each one has been better than the last!

 

My lonely little car at the top of the mountain today. I got there early.

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Top of the hill.

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Looking down

steep

Cute bandana on my friend’s backpack:

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Races! Long and Short

I’m in awe of my trail-ultra-marathoning friends.

 

Two of them (hi Tyler! hi Kelly!) just ran 100 and 50-mile races, respectively. In the mountains. At 8000 feet.

 

We went up to Steamboat to ‘watch.’ In my case, this meant being at the start and the finish, and keeping an eye on the clock in between.

At noon on Friday, when I was clocked out to lunch at work, Tyler started running. He was running at 6pm when we piled into the car to drive up to Steamboat. He was still running 3 hours later when we pulled into town and went out for a late dinner. He was running at 11pm, when I crashed into bed. While I woke up at 5am to go see Kelly start, Tyler ran.

At 6 am Kelly started running. She remained on the course for the next 12 hours. During that time I ran, showered, drank a pumpkin-spice latte, wrote a blog post, wrote wedding thank you notes, ate three times, dorked around on facebook, called my mom, went swimming, went for a walk, and took a nap. I also read a book.

Until this point, ultra trail running was more of a theoretical experience; something people do out of sight and mind, that you read about later in magazines.

This was the first time I’d witnessed little headlamp lights of runners bobbing off into pitch predawn darkness.

This was my first time to see someone cross a finish line over a day since they’d started to race, streaked in dust and sunburnt so they seemed a differently ethnicity entirely. This was such a long race that the finish line was active for literally 8+ hours!

This is the first time I watched so many racers finish in states of such emotional upheaval. Just finishing can be a huge triumph, just putting one foot in front of the next is success. The potential for suffering is high. Tyler dropped out after an impressive 70+ miles, due to unbearable pain. Kelly fought untold hours of stomach upset, and never stopped. I literally cannot comprehend that much running.

There must be an inexplicable inner compulsion to keep going, something that is never satisfied, that you can’t just pick up off the side of the road; not so much a chip on the shoulder as gauntlet thrown down to the self, by the self.

 

It’s incredible. But I’m definitely not there (yet).

 

Here’s a picture — or three — from the beautiful flatland [but still hilly] 10 mile course I raced yesterday. It’s called the Bacon Strip :). I never thought I’d think of a 10 mile race as short!

That’s Longs Peak:

montanyas

That’s Bryan reading a book and ignoring his sexy wife stretching on the hood of the car:

shoe

That’s my fantastic cheer crew! And a very dusty, sweaty me.

4friends

 

Nothing like racing to hijack you back into shape. I was painfully sore from a gymnastics class I took last week (acro-parkour, actually, and it was awesome), and the race helped to shake it off. Funny how that works. I continue to believe that one of the best ways to get faster is to run faster. I.e., race. Race to get in shape, race when you are in shape, and then race to get into better shape. Even if you’re not fast enough to race to win, you can still race!

Runners Should Eat Oysters!

Because they’re an aphrodisiac? Nope – being a runner is already sooo sexy! LOL.

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In all seriousness, oysters are incredibly high in protein and iron. Do you know how difficult it can be to get enough of those –especially iron– from ‘regular food?’ With the prevailing wisdom that fewer animals and animal-products in your diet is healthier, getting your RDA (recommended daily allowance), let alone what you need as an athlete-in-training, is tricky business. Women tend to have a tougher time of this, as their caloric needs are less then men, and so more of what we eat needs to be high nutrient.

Living at altitude also increases your iron consumption, so needs can exceed even what’s listed here!

 

Let me break it down for you:

Protein % RDA Iron
Spinach: 1 cup 0.9g 4%
Tofu: 1 cup 21 g 23%
Chicken breast: 1 26g 5%
Hamburger: 8 oz 26g 10%
Pork: 5 oz 23g 0%
Oysters (canned): 1 cup 11g 60%

(source: myfitnesspal.com for the nutrition info, and http://www.ewg.org for the glamorous oyster pic)

To get enough iron from the conventional ‘high-iron’ foods, you would need to eat 1 of the following options:

24 cups of spinach

4 (and a bit) cups of tofu

20 chicken breasts!!!

10 hamburgers

Endless pork (it will never be enough)

About 1.6 cups of canned oysters.

 

Which sounds most reasonable to you? Yes. The oyster option is most reasonable. Of course, you don’t have to get all your iron from one food source. Oysters will still pack a big punch and turn the other options into more reasonable accessories. If you don’t like the flavor you can always drown them in tomato sauce, or soup.

Notice tofu, not red meat, is the next most formidable. I think that’s pretty cool! But bear in mind that non-animal iron (aka non-heme iron) is less readily integrated by our bodies. Oyster-iron, however, is heme, and therefore easy-access!

 

Normally I like to eat locally, but I make exceptions. Although… Rocky Mountain Oysters do have 10% of your iron in a cup. Still, no.

 

This is also why many runners, especially women, take iron supplements. Which I should totally have done during that last round of marathon training… Remember? But I was under the illusion that I eat well enough to fuel up on food alone. I mean, that’s not too far-fetched an idea, right? Looking at the actual nutrient contents of some of these so-called staples makes me re-evaluate. Ah well, there’s always oysters!

Although I would love to be paid for my writing, this isn’t a sponsored post. I get 0% of Chicken of the Sea’s profit  :-).

P.S. Clams are good too. For some reason they aren’t as ubiquitous in the landlocked grocery stores ’round here.

“Apples and Collarbones” — Emily Stets’ Story

Emily’s story is her own, but it is also part of a larger chorus about the struggle of running at St. Olaf. She’s tough and she’s wonderful, and I’m so glad that she asked me to share her fight with you. Also, I hope she doesn’t mind I stole the awesome pic from her Facebook page, because it is the picture of a woman who’s unafraid.

That’s my intro, and now the rest of this is all her:

 

Apples and Collarbones, and the Omnipresent ED

“I don’t really eat apples anymore. Their sickly-sweet smell gives me nausea, bringing me back to the days when they were a “treat” after lunch, a lunch I’d waited five hours to eat. Back then, there were rules for everything—when to eat (five hours in between meals), when to exercise (every day), how long to exercise (until you were exhausted), and when to sleep (as much as you could). It took me a while to get there, to that place.

“There” was junior year of high school, when I honed in on my high school’s 400m dash record. “There” when I realized that cutting dessert in the name of shaving seconds off my time actually worked, “there” being pacing my team through workouts, always a step ahead, slingshotting around that second curve faster than I thought possible, “there” being “I feel dizzy, it’s probably nothing,” “there” being losing circulation to my outer limbs as my body slowly starved itself, “there” being the gaunt curve of my collarbone that jutted out in distaste for the skin it covered, “there” being an irritable wreck at all hours of the day, “there” being brushing my dull-colored hair and watching it fall out in clumps, “there” being waiting five hours just to peel the skin off a damn apple and feign satisfaction.

I remember my eating disorder (ED) because I thought it was diagnosed backwards—my technical diagnosis was ED-NOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified), the grab bag for folks who fail to fit squarely into anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or others in the DSM. I showed a combination of symptoms across the board. People kept asking me what the hell was wrong, but I couldn’t explain it to them. I wanted to be the best; wasn’t that worth it?

I remember the tingling trepidation as I entered St. Olaf Track and Field, knowing the team’s reputation of dogged determination and dinner plates heaped with spinach, one tiny chicken breast, and an apple. At that point, I had already traced the roots of eating disorders through my extended family – a genealogy of self-restriction and starvation – and knew I was gambling with my mental health as I did so.

To bring my weight up and convince myself to eat again, I told myself that if I wanted to reach my peak performance, I needed to properly fuel my body to do so. It’s technically an accurate statement, but it only put me in a new cycle of exercise dependence. Now, in order to justify eating anything, I had to exercise to “balance it out.”

The fact that the running culture at Olaf seemed to quietly accept this sort of dependence only fueled my new habits. You quickly learned the runner’s hierarchy of needs—exercise came first, then a small plate of leafy greens and small protein portions just palatable enough to be vaguely satisfying before settling in for long hours of studying. There was always a reason to starve—you just had to want it enough.

This kind of thinking had served me well as a competitor, but alongside my ED, it bared its teeth when I barely hit 97 pounds on the scale.  

At this point, most folks I knew experienced depression alongside their eating disorder, a shadow side occupying the fringes of rules, naked collarbones, and syrupy apples. But my therapist, wise as ever, recognized my discombobulated ED as a symptom of deeper distress and worked to heal that divide through high school and college. Though slow, that method worked.

The ED symptoms remained, but I blended right in at Olaf, where so many around me practiced habits just borderline enough to be considered sane, all in the name of discipline. My haphazard plan worked for a while – I brought my weight up, my skin grew to cover the jut in my collarbone, and the circulation returned to my fingers. Halfway through college, I ran the most intoxicating race of my life. I remember waving the conference heat sheet in my coach’s face, desperate to know how the hell I was supposed to strategize in the second heat of the 600m dash when all six of us were ranked within one second of each other. She shrugged and said, “Get out fast and hang on.”

You don’t come out of blocks for a 600m. I remember jogging up to the line and crouching over awkwardly at the “On your marks” and waiting for the gun. When it went off, so did I. From lane five in the indoor track, I made the cut at the 200m ahead of the other runners. I remember literally running like someone was chasing me, mostly because I was terrified of being passed before the finish line and humiliated.

In the end, I ran through the finish and doubled over 20m past it, unsure of why my coach and teammates were shrieking in my ears. I looked up at my coach and then at the scoreboard, which flashed two sets of numbers to my dizzy eyes. The score shattered my previous PR and landed me in the lead, which I held even as the final heat of the fastest runners took their marks.

As much as I can still taste the sweaty, salty victory from that race, I also remember the wicked jolt of coming down from that high a week later, when I cleaned my locker late one night and did not return to track again. Despite my apparent “success,” I was very unwell mentally and emotionally and couldn’t face my teammates, the same ones who had surrounded me, screaming, a week earlier when I crossed the finish line in a most unlikely victory.

I had slowly, painfully reached the conclusion that I would never be free from my ED. Even after years of competition and finishing the best race of my life, my depression clawed at me with the same urgency as my hunger. I knew that the only way out was the way in, back into my ED and why it was happening, which I couldn’t do while pretending I was sane and healthy.

A few days later, after the outdoor season began and I worked out late at night to avoid any runners I knew, I ran into Rachel Dean in Fireside. I knew she was a distance runner and I remember being afraid that she, like others, would wonder why I couldn’t just muscle through it, keep calm, run your intervals, show some goddamn stamina and discipline. Instead, I remember sitting down to someone who understood exactly what I was doing and praised me for my decision.

I explained that I wanted my body to rest, needed to take a step back and heal my habits before they became too permanent, to go back into therapy and rest from competition (perhaps permanently), and she completely understood. I left that conversation feeling hopeful.

That point was, by no means, the end of the story, and won’t beleaguer you with too many details. Many of our stories contain heroes who confronted us when we were too starved to think straight, mothers who shrieked in our faces and threatened to take away college if we didn’t “get our act together,” friends who helped us face our self-harm, visible and invisible, soft-spoken young women named Anna who manned the Suicide Hotline on cool March evenings, siblings who made clear that they give zero shits about how fast we run, as long as we give them back their sister.

I can say that with ED and depression, my greatest life challenges have become cyclical in a hypnotic, almost comforting way. When you know you can’t beat something into submission, there is an opportunity to ask how you can live with it and learn from it.

I know I will technically spend the rest of my life in recovery. I don’t mean to sound dramatic – it’s merely a vocalization of what I know to be true. I’ll never “crush” my ED. I’ll never fully be in remission, free from relapse, free from dragging myself through a run even though my ankle is throbbing, free from shedding hair and collarbones and the claw of hunger, the apple suddenly not falling very far from the tree.

I was lucky enough to face the 97-pound demon while I still had the wherewithal to do so, before the habits wore ruts into trenches in my mind. However, the competitive running environment at Olaf was not conducive to conversations about ED, mental health, and overall holistic well-being. It’s a tough balance to strike, holding a competitive edge while creating scaffolding and services for struggling athletes to access and use, but one St. Olaf desperately needs.

It’s one of the reasons I wrote this piece, to carry on the stories Rachel and Emma wrote, to add yet a third underline to this narrative that ED has a terrible, special hold on runners, particularly runners at Olaf.

This culture is one that will not lessen by muscling through it, head down, throbbing ankles and stress fractures and hearts aside. The only way to go is in—into the uncomfortable conversations, into the lifelong ramifications of ED, into the ways we can strive to build a culture of female runners who have a healthy relationship with food and exercise rather than a contract with it.

Just as I felt after I spoke with Rachel, this dialogue continues to give me hope. It is possible to deconstruct and build a new culture of runners at Olaf, but that will be impossible if we carry on with business as usual. Don’t let the voices and stories of your alumni go unheard. Grab the heat sheet, march up to the starting line, and throw down the gauntlet.

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4 Jobs in 4 Years

So many times I have heard nurses describe their careers as a:

  • calling
  • vocation
  • reason for being
  • labor of love

And I’m just here like “OMG can’t it be just a job???”

I’m no superhero.

Also, I need something to drink, like, every 2 hrs.

I don’t handle 12 hr shifts very well.

And I like to eat and pee more than once a day. If that’s just me, that’s cool…

because in this family practice I’ve joined, I can!

Maybe 4th time’s the charm? I mean sure, you’ve gotta show up on time every day, and do your best, and work even when no one’s peering over your shoulder to make sure you’re keeping productive. I’ve no problem with that.

Because when all that’s over, I get to go home at night 100% stress-free, as I know there will be no phone calls summoning me to work at 2AM…

And no 12 missed phone calls during the 20 minutes I was in the shower because the counts in a case I was relieved from 2 hrs ago are incorrect (…and what do you want me to do about it now, anyway??? Get an X-ray!!!).

And no med-error report write-ups to sign off on, because I’m not passing a billion bleepin’ meds a day (or night)!

Is it something I’ll do for the rest of my life? Hopefully not, because I really, really really would love to be a running & fitness coach full time. Workin’ for myself, babe!

But to fill the time and make some money until I scrounge up a decent client base? For sure!

After all, I do like giving shots.

In this setting, I can honestly believe that I’m keeping people healthy, and keeping them out of the hospital. That I’m casting a net to sieve through smallish problems, before they become acute. That I’m saving my own back, and my heart, to boot.

Acute care has its place, but it is not for me. I am passionate about health maintenance, and you generally don’t go to the hospital to get healthy — you go to get less sick.

Also, now I get treated as a colleague, not a peon, which is nice.

 

 

Emma Lee’s Story

Emma is a friend and former St. Olaf teammate. This guest post is all hers; it’s heart-wrenching, but it’s also something we both believe needs to be shared.

Here it is:

“Rachel wrote beautifully about her experiences with an eating disorder in college. I want to keep the discussion going by sharing my own story. My first draft of this letter included a lot of background about how my eating disorder developed; I thought that having more context about where I’ve been would help you understand where I am now. However, in the interest of having you actually read this post, and of sparing you many gory details, I am going to take a different approach and focus on what the past few years have been like for me. I aim to make you uncomfortable—the kind of uncomfortable that nudges you to seek help for yourself, talk to a friend, and work to change the damaging culture of body and eating that pervades women’s endurance sports.

I started restricting my eating when I was 14, and I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa when I was 15. That was before I was a serious runner. I used my eating disorder as a way to cope with stress and loneliness, not as a way to get faster. It started when I was still growing and going through puberty. I never looked like a skeleton, probably because I kept doing sports (and saw a dietitian and therapist throughout high school, which kept me largely weight-stable). But I stopped getting taller, and I never got my period.

You’ve probably heard about the female athlete triad (inadequate caloric intake, amenorrhea, and low bone mineral density). If you find yourself inside that triangle, it’s easy to blow it off. I certainly did when I was in college. When doctors told me they’d need to keep an eye on my bone health, I thought, “Yeah, ok, whatever. I’ll get a period eventually. Maybe I’m just a late bloomer. My bones will be fine.” Today, I am Exhibit A for the female athlete triad. The lack of a menstrual period is a major warning sign for a female athlete. If you experience amenorrhea (primary or secondary), please take it seriously.

In college, I was not afraid to talk to coaches about teammates whom I worried had disordered eating habits. I knew the signs, and I didn’t want anyone else to go through the pain of a full-blown eating disorder. It was only after I graduated that I learned that other teammates had gone to the coaches about me. It still makes me angry and sad that a) no coach told me that my teammates had reached out to them, and b) my peers didn’t feel like they could come to me directly. Only one other teammate ever spoke to me about my eating disorder. She did it from a place of love and caring. It was during my junior year, when I was in a particularly dark place. Knowing that she wanted me to get better motivated me to see the dietitian at St. Olaf. I credit her with spurring me toward long months of recovery that lasted through my senior year.

But that one positive span was not enough, in the end. While I was at St. Olaf, I was frequently injured. I didn’t make the connection between poor nutrition and injury, and no one sat me down to explain that link to me. Most of the time, I was ok (kind of, sort of). I could walk the tightrope. When I graduated and moved on to graduate school, I got hurt again right away. I had patellar tendonitis, then Achilles tendonitis. I returned to eating disorder treatment and had another recovery. Then, in the months after I ran Grandma’s Marathon in 2014, I got plantar fasciitis and shin splints that turned into a stress reaction. It took months to heal. Why so long? Because I would wake up, eat an apple, go to the gym, and get on the elliptical for two hours. Then I would have a tiny lunch, try to do my grad-school homework with a foggy, glucose-starved brain, cut up my dinner into tiny pieces, and go to bed. I didn’t give my body enough food, so it underwent self-cannibalization. It ate away at my liver, heart, muscles, and bones. Bit by bit, I erased myself

I started seeing a sports nutritionist in 2015, and she turned my life around. In 2015 and 2016, I had eight months of injury-free life, and they were the happiest I’ve ever had. I set PRs, won some races, and ran in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. I had friends over for dinner every week, reinforcing my recovery mindset. (Eating in social settings can be extremely difficult for people with eating disorders.) But I didn’t pay enough attention to my health, and I lost more and more weight. The shit hit the fan in the spring of 2016.

Last May, I got plantar fasciitis in my right foot. In August, I had it in my left foot. And in the late fall, I got my first stress fracture, in my left foot. Since that fateful workout—December 1, 2016, a date that will live in infamy—I have had at least three more stress fractures in the same foot. It’s not like they happened because I was running 100 miles a week again. No, I managed to break all those bones on an Alter-G treadmill, not even supporting my full body weight. After months rehabilitating a navicular fracture (including five weeks on crutches), I carefully returned to running this August. But just about three weeks into training, my left ankle suddenly started hurting. No way this could be another fracture, right? Wouldn’t I have felt it coming? But I had an MRI, and sure enough, I currently have a tibial stress fracture.

I have to get regular DEXA scans, and my bone density is that of an old woman. I have osteoporosis in my spine. In addition to causing one’s bones to become like pumice, though, I want to emphasize that chronic eating disorders have many other adverse effects. Since I am an athlete, my body is adept at burning fat for fuel. It has used up all the fat it could spare and more; I have severely inadequate body fat. That means that I have zero cold tolerance. From October through May, I live in near-constant anxiety about being cold. To maintain warmth in my organs, the blood vessels to my hands constrict, leaving my fingers swollen and blistered; my skin cracks and bleeds. I don’t enjoy skiing anymore because I can’t ski fast enough to stay warm. I get hypothermia when I try to swim in lakes during the summer. My sleeping has also become disrupted. My body wakes me up multiple times during the night because it’s hungry (although I don’t usually recognize it as the normal signs of hunger), and I wake too early in the morning. I feel like a zombie. I can give my energy to a task for a few hours, but when I’m done, I’m done. While my food intake is much higher now than it’s ever been in the past, I have no reserves. You all know what it’s like to feel hangry. Probably, you can still press on until you can grab a snack. When I get hangry, I fall apart—there’s almost nothing left for my body to draw on for fuel.

Another thing you might know about eating disorders is that they go hand in hand with depression. This is how it goes for me: I get an injury. I can’t run. I get depressed. I restrict my eating as a way to cope with depression. My injury doesn’t heal. I still can’t run. I get more depressed. And the cycle repeats. In case you didn’t know, let me be clear: I LOVE RUNNING. I love the sport, I love to work hard, I love to win, I love to push myself so hard I get tunnel vision, I love my teams, I love racing, I love collaborating with coaches, I love sharing my passion with others. I haven’t been able to run for more than a year, and it has been horrible.

One of my good friends recently said, “Emma, most people in your situation would be halfway through dental school by now.” It’s true; I don’t know anyone else with such a bad eating disorder who wouldn’t have given up on a running career by now. Yet I can’t let go, and I can’t quit. I have never dropped out of a race. I know that I have so much potential; I think that I could be great. But it might be over for me. And that is terrifying. In my brain, the neural pathways of anorexia are like the Mississippi River. If a lifespan were measured in geologic time, anorexia would have been a part of me for millennia. Part of my brain knows that the eating disorder voice is wrong, but it is so hard to act against it at this point. It’s not going anywhere. All I can do is try to keep it from flooding the areas of my mind that are still eating disorder-free.

What would my life be like now if I had gotten the help I needed back when I was at St. Olaf? That question keeps me up at night. I hate that I did this to myself. Even more, I hate the fact that I could have avoided getting to this point.

My life right now is no way to live. I spend at least $40 (and sometimes more than $80) a month on co-pays. I go from doctor appointment to doctor appointment: x-ray in four weeks, MRI in six weeks, cast off in two weeks, back on the bike for the foreseeable future, dietitian every Friday, therapist two or three times a month. Since my hunger cues are out of whack from my ignoring them for 11 years, I have to eat prescriptively—when I don’t feel hungry—and measure out almost all of my portions. It sucks.I am worn out. It makes me feel like a jerk to talk about my difficulties in gaining weight. I am ashamed of my body; I know that it looks unhealthy. I am ashamed to be around other people, particularly women athletes and young girls, because I don’t want them to try to look like me. It kills me every time my mom asks me how she can help me, how she can make it better, how she can stop her daughter from hurting so much, and all I can say is that there’s nothing she can do.

I do have a support network. I have a group of close friends who know about my situation, are patient when I need time apart, and welcome me back when I’m ready. I have a coach with endless patience and wisdom who hasn’t given up on me. I work with a dietitian who wants me to be my best self. I am so lucky to have a loving family and parents who buy me Ensure and ice cream.

Despite all my supports, I am struggling. I am struggling hard. I put one foot in front of the other. I trip and fall. I pull myself to my feet. And then another blow comes. I’m tired of getting back up. I don’t know how many more times I will be able to do it.

But there is hope for you. You have resources at your disposal: a counseling center, a sports medicine doctor, coaches who care about you, awesome teammates, a dietitian. If you are worried about yourself or a friend, don’t be silent. I was silent for so long, and look where that got me: I am broken, inside and out. Putting in the effort to address an eating disorder is tough. It is also completely worth it. Please, take care of yourselves—and each other—now. Magical thinking is great, until is suddenly, devastatingly isn’t. If you aren’t getting your period, or if you notice other symptoms of under-nutrition like cold intolerance or poor sleeping, please talk to someone who can get you access to the care you deserve. Being skinny from anorexia might make you fast for a year or two, if you’re lucky, but it can destroy your life.

No one should have to suffer the way that I am suffering now. If there is any way that I can help you, then reach out to me. I will do whatever I can for you. You are worthy of being strong and beautiful today and always. Even if I haven’t met you, I love you too much to let you experience what I live every day. Running is an amazing sport; keep your cross country team in your heart forever, and know that a long chain of women love you, too.”

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Sincerely,

Emma

Part 2. For Friends, Family, and Coaches

Guys! That last post, “An Open Letter to the Women of St. Olaf Cross Country” has blown up on my blog in the best way! It’s recorded about 10x more views in the last 10 hrs than I usually scrounge up in an entire month! My first 1000-view post as a blogger!

So cool! Thanks for that. More important, thanks for being vocal about something you care about.

It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who was affected.

It also seems appropriate to do a follow-up. Specifically, how to talk to, interact with, and continue to love a person in your life who is – or who you think is – experiencing an eating disorder.

There’s one really important thing to understand: weight change is not an automatic diagnosis of disordered eating. It’s a symptom. If a person throws up, you don’t automatically assume they have food poisoning — they could be pregnant, or having a migraine. Maybe they recently underwent chemotherapy or general anesthesia. Similarly, a person with an eating disorder won’t automatically present with weight loss. Not all anorectics look skeletal.

On the flip side, you know what you know. If it looks and quacks like a duck…

 

FOR FRIENDS:

Accepting a diagnosis of disordered eating is really personal, and trying to stick it to someone who hasn’t recognized it in themself is about as futile as trying to read their mind. Your one job is to make yourself available as a support person and resource, not to accuse and persecute them. Don’t try to catch them in the act and shove it in their face.

Instead of telling them what you think is going on, find out in their own words what’s up. Keep in mind that even if you think they’re looking pretty haggard, they may be feeling quite good/comfortable/in control in the moment. So don’t choose an otherwise positive moment to drag them down – there’s probably enough of that going on inside as it is. Continue to foster positive experiences and open communication between the two of you, and allow them to come to you when they’re struggling.

I’m so grateful for the friends and family who could keep things light, and talk about something other than my weight, and what I was/wasn’t eating – even though they were concerned. It’s a blessing to be shown how to not obsess.

For friends: things not to say:

  • You’re soooo skinny!

 

  • You’ve lost so much weight!

 

  • My wrist/arm/calf/thigh is so much bigger than yours!

 

  • I don’t think you’re eating enough/ ate enough.

 

  • What do you weigh?

 

  • I weigh __________

 

  • Are you okay/Is there anything you want to talk about?
    • This one is tough, because it comes from a good place. But eating disorders are coping mechanisms, and people suffering from them – especially anorectics – may actually feel like they have things pretty well under control, so long as they adhere to their food rules. Don’t just pop this one on them out of the blue!
    •  I remember being reluctant to interact with people who started conversations off this way. It made me suspicious, though now I know that it came from a well-meaning place. But at the time I didn’t think I had a problem, and I was like “umm, no…not really? Why, are you ok? Is there anything you want to talk about?”
    • This one is especially weird coming from someone who is an acquaintance rather than a close friend. If you are not already intimate, please circle around and focus on just getting to know the person a little better, first. Earn the privilege of confidence.

If nothing else, know that you are not their doctor, counselor, or therapist. It’s not your job to diagnose, or to cure. You have one job, and that is to be the best friend you can be. You’ve got to do your best to ignore their weight, to prove that it doesn’t impact how you feel about them one way, or the other. I know that’s really hard. Be comfortable in your own eating habits; express hunger when you feel it; consume a diversity of foods. Do your best to eat your own regular meals, at regular times. Do not feel that you need to gorge yourself to make up for what your friend is not eating, to prove a point, or that you yourself should eat less. Do not let their problem affect your health.

IF YOU ARE A PARENT OR A COACH, YOU ARE STILL NOT THEIR MD.

However, you are in a position where it is appropriate to address the person’s bodyweight directly. You are not, after all, their friend. You have power, and that includes the power to direct them to clinical help. It is not your job to decide how to cure the disease (i.e. threatening, forcing food), only to help implement and enforce a plan devised by a doctor, therapist, and/or registered dietician. You wouldn’t prescribe antibiotics or chemo, and you shouldn’t decided how to treat this condition, either. The exception is if you have the licensure/training to do so.

Let me reiterate. Mismanaged eating disorders can be deadly!  Never assume it is your sole responsibility to solve the problem. Ideally, as many close adult/authority figures in a person’s life should be aware of and involved in the recovery plan as possible.

Things you can say/do:

  • I am concerned. I’m not your doctor, but I’d like you to see one. Would you like to make the appointment, or should I?

 

  • I’m not comfortable coaching you/enrolling you in sport without medical approval and follow up. We need to make sure you are able to stay strong and healthy.

 

  • I’m proud of you. I know you’re working really hard, and I worry that you’re not getting enough nutrition to keep getting stronger and faster.

 

  • Instead of practice on _________, you’re meeting with a registered dietician. I’d like (a coach/assistant coach/parent) to go with you. I would also like to be informed and updated regarding your plan moving forward. For now, I think that’s an appropriate requirement for you to continue competing. Do you understand why I’m telling you this?

 

  • I love you.

The last one is so important, let me say it again:

“I love you.”

At the end of the day, even if you say and do all the wrong things, “I love you” will earn you the chance to try again tomorrow.

 

Most people don’t like being made an example of. It’s taken me a good 8 years to be okay sharing this as a picture of disorder– so don’t show your skinny friend a picture of herself, hoping to cure her! I’ll not list weights, but I will say there’s a near 30lb difference between the me in this picture, and me this month. I am the same me in both, only with less internal turmoil in the later. It may be helpful to illustrate how much weight may be gained without truly impacting a person’s appearance. I am still the same me.

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An Open Letter to the Women of St. Olaf Cross Country

Hello,

 

You don’t know me, but I feel like I know you. My name is Rachel Dean, and 8 years ago I was in your shoes. I am a St. Olaf alumna, and graduated in 2013 with a degree in nursing. More importantly, I ran.

I’m writing to you because, once again, it’s cross-country season. Every year, Facebook shows me your smiling faces, all together, grouped by class, racing in fluorescent singlets like the one I took off for the last time, which feels like just yesterday, and posing adorably in fluorescent t-shirts.

I hope you still draw hearts on your ankles.

I’m writing because I’m excited for you, but I also worry. Let me tell you my story, and you’ll understand why.

When I started freshman year (’09), I was so grateful just to be allowed to run. I was a middle-of-the-packer in high school, and never even qualified for state. I remained solidly middle-pack through my first season, but something lit the fire, and I desperately wanted to improve. I started to pay more attention to my diet, and how it impacted my running. I also became incredibly aware that the girls who were beating me were thinner than I. Much thinner. So I decided to lose weight.

By the end of freshman year I had embraced the 10k on the track, and was shaving seconds and sometimes minutes off with every race. I got recognized for “Tough as Nails,” and “Most Improved.” Chris was also threatening not to let me keep racing if I continued losing weight.

A pattern began of getting healthy and training well during summers, whittling down during the cross season, and consistently burning out just in time to blow up at the really big meets. I always ran my fastest at the pre-season Mac time trial, and although I ran at Nationals my sophomore and junior years, I did so heavily bandaged and weary. November of my senior year I was so anemic I could hardly walk up a flight of stairs, let alone race, and in May I crutched around campus with a femoral head stress fracture.

St. Olaf is a high-pressure place. It is an image-conscious place. It is also a place you are paying a tremendous amount of money to attend. Use the resources you are paying for!!! Make it your own, and use it to help you succeed as an athlete as well as a student. Not once in 4 years of disordered eating did anyone even once help me set up an appointment with the on-campus registered dietician. Not once in 4 years of stress-and-anxiety fueled high-level training did my coaches request that I make a standing appointment at Boe House—even though my behavior all but demanded it.

This is me, telling you now, that these services exist. Use them. Sports psychology is an entire discipline, and if you find yourself getting caught up in negative self-talk, excessive competition with your teammates, or any other mental hurdles that slow you down, you don’t have to wait for Chris to call you out on them – because she might not. She’s got about 50 other athletes to also keep track of, while you are your own #1.

It can be really tough to eat when and what you need to, when the Caf’s only open 3 times a day. Don’t let what you can sneak out in your pockets dictate your nutrition. There’s no shame in seeking guidance, or asking for help in coming up with a strategy that meets your needs – especially if you’re having to go the bag lunch route more than a couple days a week (here’s looking at you, nursing majors). Oh, and if you honestly and truly want to be a vegetarian, please seek some supervision and guidance, because mistakes made therein are both devastating and long-lasting.

It doesn’t have to suck for you the way that it did for me.

It’s okay to aspire to become leaner, fitter, stronger. Achieve it during core, by choosing the difficult versions of each exercise. Achieve it at pool practice, by giving it your all, even though it’s early. Achieve it in the gym, and on the track, and the dirt roads. Achieve it alone when you have to make up a practice by yourself, and achieve it on the course, when passing the girl between you and the finish line isn’t a matter of strength, but of heart.

I’m writing to tell you that if there’s something about your body – arms, belly, butt, thighs – that makes you self-conscious, it’s ok. You’re normal. I don’t think that there’s a girl alive, and certainly not a runner, who hasn’t wished for a different this or that. Trust me, when I tell you that you’re part of a long history, and in good company. Trust me when I tell you that your body always deserves to be nourished.

Take care of each other, and take care of yourself. Do not be afraid to talk to your coach; even if it’s intimidating, do not be afraid to ask for the kind of support that you know you need to thrive as an athlete. I have many regrets, but silence for fear of making Chris angry, fear of being seen as too weak, that is the biggest. I regret being to afraid to stand up and ask for the resources and support that I needed to truly get better.

P.S. College is not the end of running, but the beginning. There is so much ahead that I am excited for you to explore! Although we have not met, you are always welcome to contact me, as I, too, am part of the vast circle of love and support that adopts you when you become an Ole runner.

With much, much love,

Rachel Dean

All Things September

September has been a whirlwind month so far. We’ve made a home out of our new house, and I’m settling into my new job. It’s only been about 3 weeks, but I really like primary care! I like educating people on lab results, and what they mean in the context of overall health. I like gathering data when someone calls in for advice, and using my brain to problem-solve before routing queries to a physician. And I love working with providers who treat me with kindness and courtesy, and don’t throw shit. For the first time in my working life, I’m not anxious about going to work in the morning. Get out!

The next best thing is integrating daily exercise back into my life. First of all, I now ride my bike to work, about 25-35 minutes one-way. It’s such a great endorphin rush to start the day, and it saves all the $$$. Next, I have the incredible luxury of a 60 minute lunch break (for only 8 hrs of work!!!), 40 minutes of which I can spend running. That’s about 90 minutes of exercise a day! That’s what I’m talkin’ about!

Ooh, something else I’m a fan of: business casual. Really? Yes. Most clinical staff wear scrubs, but I’m relishing the experience of wearing well-fitted clothes like a grown-a** woman, rather than weird-fitting, matchy-matchy scrubs that make me look about 12. It’s a confidence thing.

Also, Bryan and I got married – as facebook and instagram will prove, and I’m sorry for having wedding brain, which I promise will pass and I’ll stop posting all those lovey-dovey things soon. But not just yet. It’s been 7 years (8 since we met), and we’re still finding out that we’re more perfect for each other than we knew with every passing day. We turned in the paperwork yesterday, so it’s officially official! On to the changing of names (mine, at any rate)!

Yeah my sis chilled with us at the hotel beforehand. It’s ok, she’s cool.

sis:sis

Dress made for twirling! Let me know if you want to learn how to build your own wedding dress for only $195. I’m just sayin’.

twirl

Bonus link: Don’t judge me, but I’m super proud of our first dance. One of the most surreal moments of my whole life, and I wouldn’t be a blogger if I didn’t want to share it everyone and their mother. Watch it! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=itzQ8rteuQU

*Not savy enough to know how to take away the black bars to the sides; you’ll just have to zoom in ;)!

As far as running goes, building back is coming slow and steady. As it should. Here at 2 months out from surgery, most of my runs are 30-40 minutes long, with only very brief speed work.

It’s humbling to feel like I’m starting all over, and to know that it’s still 10x harder when you haven’t a decade of running already under your belt. I can’t over-state how important it is to take it easy when you’re coming back or getting started. If you’re rehabbing an injury, the area itself may have healed, but all your bones and soft tissues need time to adapt as well. They are, after all, the structures that hold your form together, and they’ll have gotten lax as well – especially if you’ve been unable to cross train. So rein it in, even when your heart (and lungs) want to lay it all out. What’s really worked for me has been reveling in the process – noticing how hard I have to work now for what used to be easy, and appreciating that pain means breaking down and building up. The memory of how things used to be is not reality. It’s not unattainable, but right now, you have to really listen to your body, and not your mind or heart. Once you start running again, accept that you may need a day – or 2 or 3 – for the aches and pains from the last run to recede. Give yourself that time, and you’ll be back out on the road (or trail) all the sooner.

Trust me, the last thing you want to do is rehab a new injury on top of everything else. Slow and steady will actually bring you back the quickest, if that makes sense.

Enough lecturing. Here’s a cool example instead. Fort Collins is super bike friendly (one of the reasons I LOVE it here!) and there’s a bike trail that spans town north-to-south. It cuts straight down the middle without too much interruption, but there are a handful of road-crossings at the major intersections. Perfect, if you’re trying to build in some rest breaks, as I, of course, am. But as you get fitter and stronger, you don’t exactly enjoy standing around like a gomer every mile or 2, just waiting for the light to change. So stretch instead. Make it count, as you’re out there anyway. And then kick it up a notch, and do pushups on the street corner while you wait. You’re still in aerobic rest, but developing anaerobically in the meantime. Your legs get a break, while stimulus to the arms and core will ‘remind’ them to stay engage when you start running again.

Plus, if you’re a bit of a show-off like me, you’ll impress all those people driving by who aren’t doing pushups at the red lights. I say this because while just standing there garners the icky generic honks and hoots, when I’m doing pushups and the like, people yell things like “wow, you go girl!,” and “Yeah, triceps!” I think it sends the message that yeah I’m fit, but I’m tough, too, and don’t harass me because we both know that you’re not anywhere near this dedicated. Whatever the reason, so far I’ve been pleased with the results.

Happy almost-autumn from Steamboat today, where the aspens are already starting to turn. And good luck to the Run-Rabbit runners, included all the 100 milers who’ve been going since noon yesterday, and the 50 milers who started at 6 a.m. this morning. Y’all’re crazy.

 

Why we run.

Coming back to running after injury is tough. Coming back without cross-training during the interim is worse. It’s been humbling to progress slowly from run/walking in 2-3 minute cycles for 20 minutes and then calling it a day. Even with 10 years of running under my belt, the going is slow. Kudos to everyone who’s a new runner and sticking with it, or who’s picking it up again after years and years. I’d forgotten how painful it is at the beginning.

Thank you, world, for the reminder.

I’d also never fully appreciated how much creative energy is consumed by running. The more I run, the less I paint, the less I draw, and the less I write. I don’t understand the connection, but for some reason running — not the painful slogging part, but the cruising euphoria — draws from the same source as my self-expression. How odd.

So why continue something that’s such an unnecessary energy and creative suck? I’m a better runner than I am a painter or writer, and it might be nice to develop my other crafts. Beyond 20 minutes a day for reasonable fitness, it’s not like I have to do this.

I had a bit of an epiphany on the matter while leisure-reading Norse mythology (Norse Mythology, retold by Neil Gaiman, to be exact). Epiphany is a bit of a euphemism, if I’m honest. A more accurate description would be “a lingering-emotional-backlash-from-general-anesthesia-jacked-up-by-pms-crying-jag-about-nothing-in-particular-except-rejecting-the-mundane-reality-of-being-an-adult-and-having-to-work-and-incited-by-soulful-nostalgia-for-mythology-that-corresponds-with-both-personal-childhood-memories-and-a-dead-pagan-culture.”

And that doesn’t really make sense.

Let me explain. Running is timeless. When I read about Thor and Loki running after the giant Skrymir “with the untiring pace of gods (p.161),” I thought of how I feel running on the very best of days, early in a run when I feel strong and tireless, and imagine if running always felt that way. I can also relate to Thialfi the human, who “ran as fast as any man has ever run, but [who] found it hard to keep up as the hours went by (p.161).” There’s actually a lot of by-foot locomotion in Norse mythology, through streams and fields and mountain passes, just like in trail running.  Through running I can transcend this reality of sidewalks and office parks, and imagine myself a human whose life intertwines with gods’.

I am excited about my new job, but it is still an entity firmly tethered to the reality of computers and phone calls, faxes and check-boxes. A body needs more. A soul needs more. There is something timeless about the anticipation of a race (a bloodless battle), about blood pounding in your ears and sweat in your eyes, the burning of lungs, and especially that free flight when nothing hurts at all.

Call it a Pocahontas moment. If that means anything at all to you, then I’ve proved my point.

Underneath our layers of business casual, we are bodies that rejuvenate in nature. Part of that nature is our own exertion. We crave to function outside of the cubicle. Running is a modality that transports us back to a more primal world of fighting, dancing, living, and dying as our bodies were meant to do.

At the beginning, running is about hurting for what you want. With time and dedication it becomes a conduit to letting your mind quiet and your soul wander. It is a place to set goals, and achieve them in the very grittiest of ways. It allows us to experience acute hunger in a culture of constantly available food, and to appreciate satiety with the gratitude it deserves. It makes us breathe deeply the air that surrounds us. These are not experiences born of modernity, and sometimes I think it is to our detriment that we forget them.

That is why we run.

 

 

On a lighter note, here are Frey and Freya on his boar and her cat-chariot, courtesy of artist Donn P. Crane.

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