London Marathon virgin

Yesterday, the weather was so lovely that I spontaneously rang Jonathan and asked him to come up to Newcastle to wander around aimlessly in the sun with me. I took some photos I’m really happy with too 🙂 maybe a couple will make it into my next POTW post.

Yesterday was also the first year in longer than I can remember that I didn’t spend the morning of the London marathon glued to the television. Not that I own a television, but I could have watched it on my laptop. For the last two years I’ve blogged about the marathon as well: specifically about the fact that I had a place for it in 2007 and was training hard for it right up until a three month admission to the local psychiatric hospital destroyed my plans. I have run recreationally since I was 14 years old – at times compulsively, although I tried very hard to keep my ED and genuine enjoyment of running separate – but in 2007 I was about as far from any eating disordered motivations as I could have been. I was 22, and before that admission I was in the best shape of my life. A little heavier than I am now, but that was all muscle.  I was happy to fuel my workouts properly, and I felt far more attached to and appreciative of my body then than I had done in my teens. It responded to my care and attention by making me stronger and faster. Exercise helped me escape from the crippling depression that eventually had me hospitalised after I hysterically confessed to my CPN my plan not to be available for our next appointment. Means, method, motivation. In hospital the side effects of my medication caused drastic weight loss and muscle weakness, and all the time and effort I had put into training was undone.

In the past, when I’ve blogged about the marathon, I’ve written of tentative plans to run it in the future. It’s my white whale, my unfinished business. In April 2009 I was well aware that I wouldn’t be running it any time soon because I had barely begun to gain weight and was still very unwell, and in April 2010 I had the recent experience of regaining and then losing my period again due to over-enthusiastically exercising far too soon after reaching a nominally healthy weight. I had only just recovered from a fairly serious hamstring injury too, so I didn’t really think I could train hard enough to run in 2011, but I wondered if I would be ready by 2012. It’s not hard to get a charity place, really – raising the sponsorship is another matter entirely, because most charities stipulate that you must raise at least £2000, but I think I could do it. People seem willing to dig deep for the marathon.

This year I am not nearly so sure that this is either what I want, or in my best interests. I hate loose ends, and I hate dropping out. I’ve been forced to by my mental health problems on more occasions than I can count: from the marathon, from my A levels, from university (count ’em: four times. Ugh), even from my random idea to take basic training in learning to ride a motorcycle three years ago. I was longing for independence so much that I didn’t stop to think that a girl who was less than 100lbs soaking wet would probably have trouble keeping a 200lb bike upright, even if it was one of the smaller ones. I actually did okay for the first half of the day, but got tired quickly and had to quit three hours in, after I’d dropped it six times in 30 minutes. I was highly upset because I’d eaten more than usual for lunch, to compensate for the extra energy I was expending that day – and now I wasn’t even going to use it up! I remember my therapist telling me off for quitting. Apparently it didn’t occur to her that I wasn’t well enough to be charging about on motorcycles yet either.

So yes, I hate quitting. It is of the utmost importance to me that I not quit anything now I am healthy unless it is very likely to a) make me crazy or b) kill me. No mental or physical health problems are getting in my way of completing anything and everything I choose to do, okay? Okay. My pride wants me to run the marathon. My self esteem wants me to. My gut instinct that the atmosphere and support and exhilaration on finishing would make it one of the best experiences of my life wants me to. But I’m not sure it fits my criteria of things-I-must-not-quit. With a history of anorexia it might well make me crazy or kill me if I wasn’t careful, or maybe even if I was. And although my palpitations have been much better this week (alcohol was definitely making them a lot worse. Bugger), I worry about them too. My heart is unpredictable but my response to dehydration and exhaustion are not: I am far more sensitive to them than most people, and have an annoying tendency to collapse when other bodies could keep on for hours longer. It’s not a matter of willpower – that’s what gets me in the shit in the first place, the fact that I tend to ignore my body and push on way past my limits. It’s just that, with the palpitations and the low blood pressure and the wonky blood sugar, my limits are a lot closer than those of many other people.

I want to do it but I don’t want to do myself in in the process. It seems unthinkable to me that I will go my whole life without running the London marathon like I planned. But it also scares me, because there are so many things that could go wrong: falling victim to compulsive exercising again, pushing my blood pressure even lower, randomly dropping dead in the middle of a training run, being looked down on by other bloggers who think that recovered anorexics should sit on their butts and eat cake all day every day to avoid being labelled “still sick, in denial, bad influence”. Three years of recovery and two years of weight restoration: would that enough for me to run the marathon in 2012, given that it was a goal of mine when I was healthy? Or would 2013 be better? Or never?

I don’t know. I hate not knowing. Where’s my easy answer?!


12 responses to “London Marathon virgin

  1. ahhh the elusive “easy answer”…
    afraid its your call lovely. the answer comes from within. wooooooooh (cue mystical music!)
    Nobody can tell you what to do and even if they do, its your choice whether or not you choose to listen. (this is something ive been telling myself ALOT lately!!)
    sometimes its important to listen to others advise, but at the end of the day…. you are the one who knows yourself best. you decide!!!

    hahaha, i hate not knowing either, im the most INDECISIVE person ever… i just feel rambly so i thought id leave you a little gem to read/laugh at!!! :-p

  2. I understand your dilemma Katie; precisely.

    Like you I had non-fat-phobic AN. By that I mean that I didn’t restrict food because I desired a thin body or because I was scared of over-eating and becoming over-weight. But exercise was a big part of my AN and I had what is now considered ‘exercise dependence’. I exercised in a very ritualistic manner (not to lose weight but because it was compulsive), and I also found that exercise stabilised my anxiety and depression. Just as some people with AN say that they only like themselves if they are thin; I only liked myself if I completed my gruelling daily workout. I tried to run, cycle and swim through illness and injuries, and if I couldn’t complete my workout because of these things (or simple exhaustion) I would punish myself by not eating. It became a vicious cycle. However, I had always been good at sport: I excelled in swimming and athletics before I developed AN.

    I would love to join a gym – for the exercise enjoyment and social factors, but like you my body complains when I over-do exercise. I am OK doing hard exercise, but a few hours later I feel faint, I get palpitations, I sometimes faint… And this happens despite me ensuring that I eat adequately post-exercise and that I am well enough hydrated. I think I could now exercise without becoming obsessive and compulsive about it, and dependent on it, but my body seems to say ‘no’ 😦

    I understand your desire to train for the next London marathon as well as your reservations. You could maybe try building up to a running training programme again and just see how well the training goes? There will be many more London marathons, and before committing to do that marathon you could enter 10K or half marathon events just to see how it feels? Otherwise, you may decide, like me, that exercise in the form of hard training, is too great a risk.

  3. I also hope that I will be able to run a marathon someday so I really feel for you on this one. I’m not set on London in particular but I totally understand why you would want to re-visit and accomplish that goal.

    I agree with what Alison said: there’s evidence that endurance improves with age (I was often the yougest by quite some way when I used to train with a running club!) and being unsure about your ability to withstand the training (mentally or physically) sounds like it would be… rather a headfuck :-s. My suggestion is that you give yourself a few more years before committing to such a big goal (with all the fundraising and the pressure that that causes). That’s not because I doubt your ability to train for a marathon right now (I simply don’t know enough to be able to judge), but because I think that your doubts and insecurities could escalate once you put yourself under that pressure (and that would make the whole process a fucking misery, which is not what I want for you at all!!).

    How about setting some smaller goals (hmmm… that sounds SO patronising, sorryyyyyyyy! Maybe not ‘smaller’ but something different, just to test yourself out) to see how your body responds to hard training but without so much commitment as a London marathon place would entail.

    Anyways, sounds like you had a lovely day yesterday – hope the sun’s still shining up north :-).

    x x x

    • You don’t sound patronising! You might be right, smaller goals may well be the way forward. I am well known for trying to run before I can walk 😛 I think I worry that if I don’t do something NOW I never will. It’s an approach that worked beautifully in recovery, but with everything else in life it sucks and leaves me exhausted.

      The sun is not shining today 😦 but that’s okay, I have indoors things to do! Newcastle is surprisingly sunny for a northern city so I’m sure it will come back soon.

  4. Park it! I like it. It’s not that I’m unsure about my motivation, I know that is the same as ever – but I’m also sure about the ability of eating disorders to change my motivation. You can be doing something for a perfectly healthy reason one minute and then become ridiculously compulsive and unhealthy about it the next. Such is the frustrating power of slight malnutrition/stress/over exercise/etc on the brain of someone with a history of eating disorders…

    It’s great to know that endurance increases with age up to a point though – I am only 26, so there’s nothing to stop me waiting a few more years 🙂 thank you!

  5. ok, there clearly is no easy answer! You’ve kept your running and your ed as separate as you can which I think is a really admirable thing. My only suggestion is that perhaps you could try to go back into training for it and see how it goes? If you notice yourself getting more compulsive or not enjoying it as much as you did at the beginning then perhaps you could slow down a little – or maybe you could get a friend to help you, even train with you! Also what about starting by doing the 1 Mile for cancer or something? I know it’s only 1 Mile so will probably be easy but I’m sure there are other races, you could do more light hearted ones to help build it up so it’s not quite as challenging.

    I wish you luck with whatever you decide to do xxx

    • I guess the problem with that is I don’t want to burn people out of sponsoring me 😛 I do the 5K Race for Life most years (not this year because I don’t have anyone to do it with) and can easily run 5K without much, if any, training. A 10K would be a good step up but I think I’d do a non-charitable one for a change, because my family must be tired of sponsoring me for things and I don’t really have many friends with spare money!

  6. A marathon is a really compelling [? right word] goal, because not everybody can do it. Just as everybody else said – there is no easy answer. Only you know it. Perhaps, it is the right time to start training for it, when YOU feel ready to do it without any nagging thoughts about being obessive or compulsive about it, or that it is in any other way linked to your ED or can bring back symptoms of it. Perhaps, your worries about palpitations, blood pressure etc. could be mitigated by getting some medical supervision while you’re preparing for it, given you decide to undertake this venture.

  7. I think some of this also depends on how badly you want to ‘run’ run the entire thing: if you stuck to a run/walking plan you might get a slower time but you’d be much more likely to get round in one piece if that’s the main concern: with run/walking there’s far more scope for keeping blood sugars even, fuelling during the run more calmly, etc. I have no doubt that you could run the race at some point, but you have nothing to prove. I can understand why it might be a personal bugbear though: I can’t let Newcastle Town Moor go and that was just a little local marathon, let alone London. I’d kill for a good for age place in 2012: can’t commit to a charity place and with my record of injury, it wouldn’t be fair on the charity if/when I had to drop out. It’s why I’m hesitant to go for GFA, because I don’t want to take someone else’s place that might actually get to the start line. 2012 will be mad though, because of the whole olympics mania.

    Alison and Ursus are right: distance runners often peak in their forties. In 90% of the races I’ve done from ten miles-marathon the winning woman has been in the vets category, which is 45+. It’s more the 5 and 10Ks where the young upstarts take all the glory.


  8. This is a tough decision. Everyone has given great advice. The only thing different I can say is that if you want to run/train for the London marathon (pending when you are physically and emotionally healthy), ask yourself what you will do differently and what you truly want from it-what will it mean to run to you, will you be happy just finishing, does a time matter, etc.? It is also important to know and learn what your limitations are and to listen to your body. I’ve really found this helps with not getting compulsive about it. I’ve also found joining a group and doing short distances first helps.

    A few year ago, I ran two marathons-did well and almost qualified for Boston which was today. That’s been my goal since. The problem was that it was the beginning of my recovery. Though it helped some, I really wasn’t that ready. Since then, I ran some but took a break from competing, then had injuries, then took a year off of running all together. This year, I decided to get back into running, though did have some injuries. I joined a running group in Feb. and am slowly making connections and friends there. I went in with no intentions but just running. I decided just recently to go ahead and run the half-marathon, not so much for time or that I could do it, but in a weird way to be a part of the team-many of them are running the half and full in a few weeks. My goal is still to qualify for Boston one day-whether that is in the fall or next spring or the year after I don’t know. And I’m okay with that. So you have to decide what you will be okay with.

  9. ah this is a difficult dilemma.
    my 2 cents: I don’t think the reasons you are worried about running are insurmountable. the obsessive exercise issue would certainly be a concern but I’m sure you are organised and confident enough to have an ’emergency plan’ aka someone to stay accountable to and the promise you will STOP training immediately if you have x/y/z physical or mental symptoms. as for people judging your recovery, well if it doesn’t cause problems what’s to judge 🙂 while I think long term extreme physical training would be difficult/impossible for a recovered AN sufferer, training for one marathon for charity and for the thrill you’ll get seems very much within the bounds of normality. health issues – well obviously entirely a medical decision. but if you get the go ahead from a doctor I see no reason why not.
    on the flipside, the drive you have and the feeling that you ‘need’ to run worries me a bit. mainly because of how much of a letdown it’d be if it didn’t work out! I think you need to run cause you WANT to, and not have it linked to your self esteem and/or an obligation to ‘finish what you started’ for it to really be a good decision. perhaps some of the great advice on here is the best way forward and waiting a while would help you clear things in your mind.

  10. I’m a recovered anorexic and I run.. Not as far as a marathon, not yet anyway, I’m always really careful to fuel runs properly both before and after.. It seems like you have a positive and healthy attitude towards training for a marathon. In my opinion there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to run it one day so long as your mindful with your fuelling and keep your emotions in check.. But saying that I didn’t have any major issues surrounding exercise related to my ed… I’m kind of rambling now..

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