Restriction was my comfort zone

When I think too much about my body, when I think about controlling myself, even if it is to think of ways to stop controlling myself, I begin to restrict. The line between balance and extremes is thin. In fact, I don’t know if I know how to balance myself around food yet. Because every time I think I have succeeded in moving past body image or the need to control, I slip back into old patterns.

Either my weight is high and my running suffers or I pour all of my energy into running and losing weight, and approach the change in a way that is not sustainable. Rather than adjusting my diet and creating healthy lifestyle changes, I increase my mileage as fast as I can sustain (or faster, although the one time I tried this method I ended up with stress fractures throughout the metatarsals on my right foot). Usually, I become injured and so I gain weight. I realize I have gained weight and panic. I up my workout routine, doing up to two hours of intense cardio activities per day, and cut my food intake. Part of this reduction is natural: running suppresses appetite and the boost I receive in mood from so much exercise lifts the depressive effects of injury. When injured, I become lethargic, unable to exercise to my normal extent, and eat more calorie-dense foods to lift my mood (bagels and bread and alcohol in college; fries and pizza and greasy tacos and cheese on top of everything post-college; nut butter and avocado and granola bars post-veganism).

I lost my train of thought someplace in the middle of thinking of the crap I used to eat. I really can’t believe that for five years I soothed my emotional pain with animal products, such a departure from my previous obsession with clean eating that included a fear of cheese and fried food and fat in general. I really experienced quite a reversal when I became vegan. Which honestly has made it harder to regulate myself sometimes. I know that everything I eat is healthy; even the rare meal containing vegan meat alternatives made from isolated soy protein (not a health food) is healthier by leaps and bounds than its animal-laden counterpart. (I don’t know what I’m writing. I’m pretty sick of it all).

I think what I’m trying to say is that I am no good with balance when it comes to my weight and my exercise routine. Both of these things are ways to control the other (if I lose weight, I run faster; if I run more, I lose weight), and both are prone to obsession. I do not want to be controlled by endless rules about what I can eat and when; which foods are safe and which will make me fat; how much I have to run each day in order to ward off fat and laziness; what ratio of food to running equates to self-worth. But I am also sick of my clothes not fitting. I am at a point where I need to buy a new wardrobe or to lose five pounds.

I am so afraid of trying to lose weight. I am afraid I will lose control. I am afraid I am doing it for the wrong reasons. I am afraid I won’t be able to stop, that I will revisit the misery or rules and regulations that governed my life in high school and college. I am afraid I will lose myself.

I want to feel comfortable in my body. I know there are some who argue that I should feel comfortable now. That size does not dictate self-comfort or self-love. And I agree. But I just don’t feel it. I don’t feel like myself. And I also don’t know if I have to defend my decision.

Which brings me back to my search for balance. I will know I have achieved balance when…do I even know what balance will look like? I think that is important to find out. At one point in my life, when I gave up ten years of vegetarianism for meat, balance meant being able to eat anything I wanted without stress. Balance meant not restricting my food. Balance meant enjoying the foods I had denied myself for those ten meatless years. I became vegetarian when I was twelve not from a love of animals but to eliminate a food group in a socially acceptable manner. It was the most extreme diet I could imagine, and there was a girl in my class, with whom I felt competitive, who was vegetarian. I was raised to eat no red meat or pork (except for an odd stint around the age of eight when I tasted hot dogs and developed an obsession) so the only thing to lose was poultry. I continued to eat fish on occasion, as well as my great aunt Rose’s chopped liver.  I had no knowledge of animal agriculture and was careful to draw a distinction between my diet and what I viewed as the extreme animal activism of PETA.  I even resisted learning more from a vegan friend in college because I had concluded, without evidence, that the claims were overblown.

Adding meat to my diet, therefore, was a way to heal this restrictive past. I did not want to look longingly at the chicken or steak on a friend’s plate, nor feel superior because I was abstaining. I did not want to settle for salads, or be relegated to side dishes. Most of all, I wanted the freedom of an omnivore lifestyle.

I did find balance with this change in diet, although there were also many meals in which I overindulged and spent the following days bloated and barely able to eat from pain in my abdomen. I knew the change in food probably influenced to some degree how I felt, but I was committed to eating meat and so I continued on this path for five years.

My switch back to vegetarianism and then to veganism came when I realized that it is possible to thrive as an athlete and a person without meat and that my previous struggles with disordered eating came not from vegetarianism but from my irrational belief that eating less would make me like myself more.

I decided I was strong enough to experiment with removing meat from my food again, if only to improve my health. I had reached my limit for bloating and discomfort after eating, symptoms mostly absent from my life pre-meat. I was looking again for balance, but the terms had changed. Now, I wanted balance for my body, not just for my mind. I stopped buying meat to cook at home, and then after a few weeks I stopped eating meat outside the home as well. The last flesh I consumed was a chicken sausage on Memorial Day, 2013. By the time I met my boyfriend two weeks later, I was confident enough in my decision to declare myself vegetarian. (“I am not a crazy vegetarian, though,” I was quick to assure people. “Like, I won’t freak out if my spinach is sautéed in chicken stock.  This is just a test to see if my digestion improves.”)

My digestion improved, I lost some weight, and I ran close to my personal best in the marathon.

I returned to a place of balance.

Sixth months later I transitioned to a vegan diet. I no longer feel guilty about any of the food I eat; as a vegetarian, cheese, which formed a large part of my diet, could trigger restrictive behaviors. Butter, egg-and-dairy laden desserts, and cream sauces also induced panic. Becoming vegan removed many of these triggers; their replacements, vegan butter, coconut oil, nuts, and seeds felt safer.

My new comfort around foods that I had previously associated with stress and shame was freeing. And so I indulged in vegan cookies and cakes; cashew cream sauces; peanut butter banana nice cream. I was so excited to bake (and then be able to enjoy my creations) that I forgot that dessert is still dessert, no matter the ingredients. Even black bean brownies cannot be eaten by the handful without repercussions.

My solution was to avoid all sweets and rich dinners; to deprive myself of the pleasure of food. This plan, of course, was not sustainable. Injury was just as much of an excuse to eat more as was an increase in miles after I recovered.  So here I am, wondering how I can eat for pleasure and for health. I am struggling for a solution that does not lead back to restriction or excess.   I do not know how to define balance, at this moment in my life.

My mind swirls with solutions, but whenever I try to articulate them I go blank.

Last week, I wrote about my weight gain and then became so self-conscious I could not eat to satiety, keeping myself in a constant state of hunger for days. Focusing on weight is, therefore, not the answer, but it is the only thing I know how to do. Even as I try to distract myself with writing, with gardening, with my work as a SMART facilitator, my role as a partner and a friend, food continues to lurk in my mind.  How much to eat, and when. Am I really hungry? Do I deserve a snack? Have I had too much, or not enough. Balance right now is elusive.

Weight and running

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.

 

 

My muse demands patience

Okay okay I’ll begin. I don’t really feel like writing, and haven’t for the past few days. I was doing so well last week, and the week before, writing for two or more hours at a time, multiple days in a row. I suspect this sudden increase in writing has caused my sudden malaise. 

I thought I was being measured in the amount of time I was spending at my desk, but it is possible that I let my excitement at writing on a regular basis cause me to take on too much too soon. I have struggled with creating a regular writing practice since I graduated college with a vague idea of becoming an architecture critic. Other than assignments for classes and a sporadic relationship with my journal, I did not write regularly for myself while in school. In the structureless real world, I could not find the motivation to write. 

I had a funny idea that writing for pleasure and for work would be easy. That I would be greeted each morning by a magnanimous muse, who would know to meet me wherever I was (which was never at my desk) and that words would flow from my fingertips. When the muse refused to show up on time, or at all, I diagnosed myself with writer’s block and moved on with my day. When this happened for weeks and months at a stretch, I assumed my case was very bad but I remained optimistic that if I thought about writing enough and fantasized about how great it would be to be a writer, the block would clear, and the muse would come, and my dreams would be realized without effort. 

Ha. Dreams, I know now, are never realized without effort and muses don’t show up without an invitation. If I am not planted in front of my computer or notebook, ready and starting to write, ideas do not come. 
Also, writer’s block probably only comes to people who are actively engaged in the act of writing; for me it was an excuse so I didn’t have to risk finding out that my writing isn’t perfect. 

Often, my muse is late, not showing up until I am tired and ready to stop for the day; in fact, arriving after I’ve spent thirty or forty or ninety or more minutes banging away, changing postures, doing dances, crying, swearing, sweating is my muse’s most beloved pastime. She wants me to learn patience.

I am a slow student, though, so sometimes I give up before she has time to wake up and prod me along. I am learning, though, to amuse myself with writing nonsense until she comes.

Learning, too, to trust myself to create away from her inspired gaze. 

It is hard work, writing, but I enjoy the process and I enjoy seeing my voice become stronger on the page. I am ready, now, to do the hard work I avoided for so many years. Ready to write with consistency, even if it means writing less each day. My goal, for now, is to spend forty-five minutes five mornings a week at my desk. Even if I write nothing but complaints about how difficult writing is, it will help build the habit. 

I can do hard work. I can write. I can learn to make space for my muse. 

Weekend Diversions 5.6.2016

I know my weekend posts can focus on some fairly heavy political things (mental health, the state of our food system, housing) and I have a feeling that might be exhausting to read. I know I definitely have days when I just can’t fathom even listening to the news or reading news articles. I want, instead, to consume information that is compelling but does not leave me feeling frustrated and powerless. This week, I am definitely in need of some easy, unplugged reading. As I mentioned earlier this week, I led my first SMART Recovery meeting on Tuesday and that was a fulfilling experience, it also took a lot of emotional energy. I have been trying to be kind to myself and reenergize through running, yoga, writing, and reading. 

Here are a two pieces I found especially interesting and fun to get through! 

How to treat prediabetes with diet: Type two diabetes is a lifestyle disease, caused by inadequate nutrition. The medical establishment often doesn’t take the time to educate patients on the implications of dietary choices and the simplicity with which certain diseases can be prevented or reversed. Doctors themselves often don’t have the knowledge to treat their patients with anything other than medicine (a much more expensive and harmful alternative to dietary modification). Dr. Gregor gives a good overview in this article for ways in which prediabetes can be cured with basic lifestyle modifications such as the inclusion of more whole grains in the diet. He also links to myriad additional articles and resources for non-pharmaceutical treatments. I can lose a lot of time going through all of his videos and articles; so much good information!

Making an informed transition to veganism: I like Gena Hamshaw, nutritionist and soon-to-be Registered Dietician, because of her measured approach to nutrition and a vegan lifestyle. She promotes a balanced (vegan) diet, and does not demonize fat as do some other nutrition experts. She also writes openly about her former eating disorder, which I appreciate, and her style is non-restrictive. As someone who has struggled with eating, I find her approach freeing. Reading her blog over the past few years has made my own transition to veganism easier, and her words are a constant reminder to keep balance in my diet. 

I especially enjoyed this post of hers because it highlights an often-overlooked aspect of veganism: the possibility of nutrient deficiency without a mindful approach to eating. 

 Like the woman Gena writes about, I suffered a debilitating vitamin D deficiency that was discovered approximately one year after I became vegan.  I have since learned that many Americans (vegan, vegetarian, omnivore) have low levels of this nutrient because it is not found naturally in food and sunscreen, clothing, and indoor-centric lifestyles mean we don’t always have the opportunity to synthesize it from the sun. 

It is possible (and probable) to thrive on a vegan diet but the change in eating won’t work if animal products are simply cut out and new plant-based foods are not incorporated. As with any healthful approach to eating, veganism takes some thought and planning. When done right, it forms the foundation for an energetic life. 

Have a lovely weekend! 

Sometimes I can do hard things

Yesterday, after weeks of dragging my feet and slowly making plans and hoping that I wouldn’t have to follow through on any of them, I hosted my first SMART Recovery* meeting.

I was nervous (but also eager) as I waited for people to arrive. My head was a fuzzy bowl of anxiety, and if I hadn’t been familiar with the feeling after a lifetime battling through it to find my thoughts in times of stress, I would have worried about passing out in the cozy, calm room at the hypnosis center where my meeting was held. Fainting, in this moment, would have actually felt preferable to sitting with my feelings and facing the people brave enough to trust part of their recovery to me in my first meeting. 

I didn’t pass out. I never can muster the nerve. Instead I had to sit there, and think. 

In the days leading up to this meeting, I hadn’t wanted anyone to show up. I was hoping that I could sit in the room alone for thirty of forty minutes and then call it a day (and maybe, in this fantasy, call the entire facilitator experiment). But as I scribbled my fears into my journal I realized I had gone too far outside my comfort zone to fail. If I was going to put in effort of making phone calls to people I did not know, writing emails to people I only vaguely know and with whom I haven’t kept in very good touch, asking for help, choosing a day and a time and a space -all logistical things that, for reasons beyond the scope of this post, make me want to hide in a hole.

(Even writing about the process of setting up my meeting has caused my mind to go off on a memory-tangent about high school, of all things, and how I always felt totally uncool because, unlike my peers, I was unable to make friends with teachers or administrators. I guess the two (meeting logistics and high school uncoolness) points to the feeling of connection and purpose that I have struggled with for years.)

I began then to worry that no one would come, that whoever doles out wishes didn’t hear that my mind had changed. I worried my old wish would come instead of my new, more willing-to-be-held-accountable one. I worried that I had failed. 

But, guess what? I didn’t fail, because I had done the hard work and I had shown up at this meeting as I had at dozens of others over the past year or so. And my boyfriend came, and my friend from another meeting came and this friend brought a new friend who had never been to a SMART meeting. And for ninety minutes we talked and shared and learned. 

It was small, and I made mistakes during the course of the meeting and probably didn’t explain things well enough and there were lots of silent gaps in conversation. But I was there and they were there and for now I will call that good. 

SMART Recovery is a science-based mutual support group designed to help people manage sobriety from substances and behaviors. I started attending SMART meetings in 2014 in support of my boyfriend who was learning how to abstain from alcohol. I continued going for myself, to manage anxiety and the urges to self harm that still exist years after I stopped this destructive practice. SMART focuses on giving individuals control over their lives and sobriety and provides a variety of tools to mitigate urges and deal with triggers. I have found it enormously helpful in my own life and I have seen the good it has done for other participants. Because of what I have learned in SMART, I no longer live my life in a constant state of wanting to hurt myself; my internal life has reached a level of calm that I had thought was impossible. Becoming a facilitator is my way to give back and say thank you. I urge you readers to look at their website and pass on the information to anyone you know in need. 

Weekend Diversions 4.29.16

Hello! I spent the past hour planting lettuce seeds for the garden, so I am in an especially good mood. I was feeling a bit flat when I woke up, and a good yoga session was only moderately helpful in lifting my spirits. Gardening -touching the dirt, making a safe and warm place for the seeds, fantasizing about produce-laden meals to come -transported me instantly into a happier place. I love thinking about all the life within each seed, the potential to grow from a hard fragment of nothing (lettuce seeds are especially small) into vibrant and hardy plants. Watching the seeds progress through their life cycle puts me into a state of wonderment. I find it unbelievable that something without a central nervous system can react so acutely to its surroundings. (And yes, I have read the research that says plants have feelings, secrete human hormones, fear the sound of a caterpillar munching -this synchronicity with the world only makes plants more fascinating. Bean plants, as Michael Pollan shows in this video reach for poles many feet away from them, and can achieve their mark using some sort of sensory mechanism. How do they do it? Nature is miraculous.)  So now I’m all happy about nature and wish it were a tad warmer here in Chicago so I could frolic in the garden and admire the kale, spinach, peas, garlic, Asian greens, beets, and kohlrabi that are already growing strong. Perhaps when I am done with this I will put on my jacket and inspect them all.

For the reading:

The food industrial complex: An economic analysis of why people eat more processed foods than fruits and vegetables. Basically, the government subsidizes large companies that produce products used primarily as animal feed or the base for processed food (corn, soy, rice). These crops are relatively easy and cheap to grow, and government assistance makes them even less expensive. This means that food made with these crops are also less expensive than their time-intensive, unsubsidized, healthier counterparts. The food lobbies for these crops also have much more political power than, say, organizations that protect broccoli or Brussels sprouts. Big agriculture is enmeshed in the American economy, influencing dietary guidelines and advertisements. This unmitigated influence is part of why we are facing epidemic proportions of obesity, diabetes, heart disease. Although it once may have seemed economically prudent to help out farmers growing cheap crops to feed the American people, this expense is outdated, however. Now, giving massive amounts of money to farming conglomerates is increasing the costs of healthcare and hurting our country’s bottom line. This article paints a clear picture of the economic and health related implications of continuing agricultural subsidies.

The uncomfortable truth about tipping, explained with stick figures: As a longtime waitress (and as someone who has definitely walked away from a haircut or manicure or bell hop unsure if my tip was adequate), I was excited to read about tipping guidelines across multiple industries. This article confirmed my suspicion that most people tip a set amount, unrelated to the degree or quality of service received. This is why I can be given a similar percentage tip from two adults having a quiet dinner who leave their table as clean as can be expected after a meal of barbecue and pizza, and from a family with four children who color on the table, break crayons, drop mac and cheese all over the floor, spill drinks, make experiments in their water cups (children routinely pour barbecue sauce, parmesan  cheese, salt, etc. into their beverages), and run around the dining room as if possessed. That it takes two or three times longer to clean up the mess from a family like this is only rarely reflected in my tips (or those of my co-workers).

Rant aside, this is a quite well-researched article about tipping habits (from customers) and tipping expectations (from workers). The author, Tim Urban, also has put together a nice chart showing how much you should tip from different people, and notes as to when a bigger tip might be appropriate (see scenario above for an example). Urban also goes into profiling of customers (who tips the best and worst). I found it sort of accurate to my life, but really my experience has shown that people can be surprisingly generous, even if they are from a category that is a stereotypically known to tip poorly. I have been given good tips by teenagers and horrible tips by groups of men; as well as the reverse. My policy is to treat everyone well, so that I can rest assured that a bad tip is not a reflection on my service.

The article is a little bit long to, but a lot of the space is taken up with illustrations, and Urban’s sense of humor makes it a quick read. Also I am sure I will be referencing his chart on tipping guidelines next time I am in an ambiguous situation.

When should kids start learning about sex and consent?: By refraining to talk about sex to children, many of the experts interviewed in this article believe, sex becomes a taboo that is often either avoided or misused. And, delaying sex education until middle or high school only compounds the problem. Kids are given a bunch of information (some of which they may know, some of which may be new), explained with varying degrees of thoroughness, and then sent back to their lives. Sexuality is not part of the greater education structure; it is set off, and minimized. This results in confusion and negative conceptions of sex; the minute sexual education many students receive does not promote healthy sexuality.

I especially like the closing statement, which quotes the stances of sexuality educators Elizabeth Schroeder and Evan Goldfarb:

“I think we should teach [sexuality] the way we teach every other topic in school,” says Schroeder. “Start basic. Build that scaffolding in a way that is age and developmentally appropriate.” Both Schroeder and Goldfarb give as an example the way schools approach math education. “My son is learning algebra now in the eighth grade,” says Schroeder, “but it’s not the first time he’s getting math. It’s antithetical that we wouldn’t do the same with sexuality.”

Sexuality is a part of life, and crucial in many ways to achieving healthy adulthood. It is an almost universally necessary skill and yet it is shoved under the rug of society. I am heartened to know that there are people advocating for greater education and understanding.

This post is a bit longer than I was anticipating, so I am going to cut it off here and save my other reads for another day. Take care, have a wonderful weekend! (And, if you are able, spend some time enjoying the outdoors.)

 

Finding space in the process

I ran a 10k this past Sunday, in celebration of Earth Day. It wasn’t supposed to be hard. It wasn’t even supposed to be a race. It was supposed to be a nice run with a few hundred other people in a pretty setting (the Morton Arboretum: lots of trees and nature). I was supposed to be one of those runners who emphasizes the fun in “fun run.” I was supposed to go easy until the last few miles, when I would present myself with the option of going harder or continuing at a leisurely pace. 
Well, I failed at these “supposed to’s” in grand fashion, racing to the best of my current ability and ignoring the complaints of my increasingly weak and angry legs. I felt good at the start, of course. I had only run one very slow mile to warm up. My legs were fresh and the surrounding crowd of runners and spectators filled me with excitement. The scene felt familiar, although it had been more than a year since I last toed a starting line, and almost a decade since my last 10k. It was like a homecoming and I found myself unable to resist the habit of a strong race start, just as when I visit my parents I am reduced to my childhood self, deferring responsibility to the adults. 

Within seconds of hearing the horn denoting the race’s beginning, I abondoned my plan of moderation. Or, rather, I convinced myself that I was being moderate because I was not instantly tired by my increased pace. That I was not collapsing within the first few hundred feet was proof enough that this sudden change in plan was reasonable. 

And I was passing people! And then passing more people! If you have never run a race, the elation of passing might not make sense. It is a race, the point is to run faster than as many others as possible. But each person I passed was proof that I am not the slowest person in the world (a thought that had crossed my irrational mind on many an agonizingly slow run during my recovery from the winter’s stress fracture). It was also proof that I can still hold my own in a race. That although I am not a Runner (or at least don’t want to be) I can still run, and well. It was proof that I have not gone soft, although my expectations for myself have changed. That even though my journal is filled with lists and charts I have made to chronicle the removal of running as the ultimate cure-all in my life, I am still competitive, I am still me. I have not lost my drive, and the bond I have formed with running is still strong. 

Shortly past mile two in the race, my confidence flagged. The course went up a hill (nothing like those that cover the Boston Marathon course, but much more steep than my flat Chicagoland training had prepared me for) and my legs began to seize. What followed was a torturous four point two miles during which I found it very hard to take in the scenery I had been so excited to enjoy. I noted trees and flowers and greenery on occasion, but the majority of my focus was on my legs and their intense disagreement with my pace. They fantasized about collapsing (just for a few minutes!) on the side of the road, where they could be calm and still. They shook and trembled in their quest to make me stop long before crossing the finish line. They made a pretty good point: I had not trained to go faster than a ten minute mile since returning from injury, nor had I run more than four miles since early January. I had every excuse to stop; this race was an experiment, after all, to see how I would hold up at a longer distance. If the experiment failed and I had to walk to the finish line, no one would think less of me and I could burrow under the guise of pain. 

For a brief moment, somewhere in the middle of this internal discussion about stopping, I did feel a phantom pain in my sacrum. “Aha!” I remember thinking, “here is my ticket out of this mess! I can’t be expected to finish now!” This was quickly followed, however, by the realization that I did not want to give up, I did did not want to stop. 

I concentrated on feeling strong in the places that weren’t my legs, which can were spent beyond control. I kept my back straight, my center of gravity pushed forward, my pelvis tilted up, my arms swinging across my body. If nothing else, my form did not deteriorate. 

For amusement, I read the signs posted along the course, which were rife with nature puns: “we are ROOTING for you”; “we know this race is a BEECH [tree] but you are looking great”; “we see that SPRING in your step”; “use those LIMBS”; “be-LEAF in yourself” (my personal favorite). 

I remembered all the emotional workouts I did during the two months I was injured to transform running from an activity of habit to one of spontaneity and joy. I remembered, too, the physical workouts I have completed in the two months since I have returned to running, growing strong and flexible to ward off new injury. I remembered to be grateful for the process, for the simple act of running, for the unexpected gift of my competitive fire. I knew if I stopped, no matter how good rest might feel in the moment, I would undo this effort. 

I slowed my pace as a concession to my legs, but I did not give up. I ran hard (for me, at this moment in time), I found the energy to sprint down the final stretch, and I finished almost ten minutes ahead of my original goal. My average pace was slower than that of my pre-injury slow runs. But rather than feeling bad for myself for my slowness, I was proud of how fast I have been in the past. My pre-injury body was amazing, almost without effort. I have appreciation now for my past accomplishments, most of which I had taken for granted. I was unable to appreciate my talent when it was normal. 

I am sore still. My legs really did not like those hills, but I am glad I raced and did not just run. I pushed myself. I stayed in the moment. I found new goals (to run an 8:30 mile again with ease) and I remembered that I can do hard work, even when my body and mind beg me to stop.