I am conflicted about running. I want to run faster than my current ten-minute pace, and I blame my body (and the weight I gained while injured) for my current slowness.
Focusing on weight loss, however, invites the possibility of relapse into food restriction. Through mindful eating and a lot of therapy, I have learned over the past year to eat when I am hungry without regard to how much I have exercised on any given day. I no longer run to the restroom to complete emergency sets of squats and jumping jacks to combat the effects of oily foods, or to punish myself for indulging in dessert. I do not enforce long runs on the days after a large meal, nor do I only eat without hesitation when I have completed a certain number of miles.
This comfort with food, however, combined with the lowered activity levels of an injury, has left me fifteen pounds heavier than I was before my first sacral stress fracture two years ago. I do not mind the size so much as I mind not fitting into my clothes and not running as fast as I used to.
Running slower does have benefits: patience, for example, because even a short distance takes much longer to complete; gratitude that I can run at all after my injuries; enjoyment because I am no longer running out of habit, but because I make a conscious decision each morning to run (or not).
But still, running at this reduced pace is frustrating. I have not been this slow since middle school, when I was first learning how to run. And even then, my gains came quickly and I did not stay slow for long.
I feel disconnected from my former running self. I am not content to run slowly, no matter how hard I try to convince myself that this pace is okay. I happy after each run, but also a bit sad at the thought that I may never qualify for the Boston Marathon again, or run a twenty-minute 5K.
I want to regain the level of fitness I had before this two-year cycle of injury. My easy pace then was eight minutes per mile, sometimes faster; this was the pace I fell into by instinct, without effort. Today I ran an eight minute mile as part of a speed workout, and was glad when I had reached my mark and could slow again. The pace felt familiar, but it was not effortless anymore.
I do not know if it is possible to become faster without losing some weight. And I don’t know how to lose weight without opening the door to disordered eating. I worry that if I reach the benchmarks of an eight minute mile or a Boston qualifying time, I will not be satisfied but will set new, difficult-to-attain standards for myself, constantly grasping at a perfection that is always just out of reach.
I know that I am strong and that my self-worth is not defined by the size of my skirt or my shirt or my dress; nor by the time in which I can run a mile or a marathon.
But knowing and embodying are two different things.
I am not ready to accept that I will have to constantly struggle to balance fitness and self-compassion.