Today is Part Two Of Jen’s Update. If you missed her Part One story you can find it [here]. What I love about Jen is how honest she is. She just had an amazing moment in her life, completing her half marathon, yet she was still dealing with emotions internally. I’ll let Jen take it away for Part Two of her story.
I took Monday off after the race and went back into my normal workout schedule on Tuesday. For some reason, like most of us do, I hopped on the scale Tuesday morning. It didn’t say what I had wanted it to say. I joked with Tod on the way up to the race about how I had gained five pounds in the week before the marathon from the huge amount of bread I had eaten (to me it’s huge, to others not so much). It wasn’t a big deal at the time because I knew it was a temporary thing. But now, it wasn’t looking so temporary because that five pounds had turned into seven. And then it turned into eight. By the end of the week, I was becoming anxious. And the paranoia had already sunk in…I got on the scale every morning. I looked in the mirror and I saw my cheeks getting fuller and my shoulders getting broader and everything thickening. And then one day I hit a number I was afraid of hitting. I wanted to take Saturday off to rest, but this number along with the Tough Mudder coming up on just a few weeks told me to go ahead and take that 6.5 mile trail run instead. I was exhausted through the entire run and my legs were killing me.
Monday rolled round. Maybe things are starting to get back to normal. They have to be. I got on again. Worse…twelve pounds…oh no! So I decided to just push it as hard as I could in bootcamp…gotta find a way to get this off! I pushed hard and then, as I was doing mountain climbers as fast as I could, my body was behaving in a way that I did not approve of and in an instant, my entire psyche crumbled. The river of negativity had finally crested and my brain was flooded. I had my music in that day for some reason (thank goodness) and I just turned it up and found one of my heavier bands and just tried so hard to keep moving and get lost in music and not lose my mind. It was agony. My friend grabbed me while we were running laps and asked me what was wrong. You could hear it happening in my voice, ”I’m losing it, Jules. I am on the verge of a breakdown.”
Every single ounce of confidence I had in myself was gone. I looked down at my body and what I saw was horrifying. I felt like I had gained fifty pounds, my legs looked fat, everything looked terrible. I found myself in a maelstrom of garbage thoughts…horrible things swirling around in my head…a constant barrage of me telling myself every single thing that was wrong with me and I lacked the ability to turn it off. You’re not thin enough…you’re not good looking enough…people are going to wonder why they let someone like you into that Mudder…you need to work harder…you’re never going to be as pretty as that girl or have a body like this one…you need to lose weight…you don’t do enough of this or that...you should work out more…you don’t put in enough effort…you are the only person on the planet that can run a half freaking marathon and actually gain weight during the race…how could you let this happen?!...what the HELL is wrong with you?!?!
Again, it was agony. I started thinking and thinking. How can I possibly rectify this situation? Something has to change this. I’ll work harder. I’ll pick up a few extra days of running and make sure I give 110% from here on out. Oh, I know, I’ll cut down to 1200 calories, at least for a few weeks until I get this thing under control. I’ll cut out my Friday night beers with the gang for a month or so. And then a few of my friends said, hey maybe you just need a few days off; you work so hard…”No, taking days off is not going to fix this situation and it is not an option. I don’t work hard enough as it is already.”
Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. Whoa. Stop the presses! What the hell was going on? Why was I beating myself up so much? One week ago, I was basking in the sweet afterglow of triumph and accomplishment and friendship and now, seven days later, I was mentally torturing myself! Logical reasoning had been replaced with chaos.
This needed to stop.
I am willing to bet that a vast majority of people reading this have had a few similar situations happen. Why do we let something like a scale tell us how much we are worth? One day I am so proud of myself for completing a pretty major athletic endeavor, the next day I’m basically wiping that accomplishment away because some stupid contraption told me I was wasn’t good enough to have that badge of honor. Come on, now. Seriously?
But it wasn’t just that contraption. It was the power of the horrible things I put in my own head. And it was exhaustion. It was a combination. I had dinner with Kasey the night after this all came to the peak of its madness and we hashed it all out. As I sat with her, we looked back on the past few months of my life. I am an interesting mixture of personalities. On one hand, I am a fairly laid back person. On another, I’m a little crazy and nutty and high strung for fun, but still laid back. But deep down inside, I am a raging perfectionist. It’s bad. It’s really bad. One of my biggest fears in life is being a complete failure. And this fear carried me to exhaustion.
During my training, I became obsessed with getting this thing right. I didn’t follow any guide, I just ran a lot more on top of my normal schedule. But eventually, I told myself that I needed to set this up with just the right steps to do just the right things…I had to get this right or I would totally screw it up. I actually spent about six weeks running and doing bootcamp while taking a total of two days off. I think it was six weeks. It might have been more, but I lost count. I just didn’t know how to fit that rest day in with all the things I wanted to do.
I eventually cut Mondays out of my bootcamp schedule but I was running instead. I was so nervous about making a mistake that I lost sight of why I was doing it…because I enjoy running. I had even planned on doing a ten-mile race one week before the marathon because I thought I had to have that one last step in the equation to make sure I did everything right. Luckily, I have some good friends who’ve been running a long time who helped me see the light on resting that weekend. Oddly enough, I knew back then what was happening. As soon as I let go and decided that finishing a half marathon was a bigger priority than a ten-mile race, I fully enjoyed it again and I felt better about my goal and I relaxed.
So why couldn’t I do that later? Why couldn’t I ride the wave of accomplishment for a few days? I wish I knew. Instead, I let my tired body go back into the gym and repeatedly get on this stupid scale and then let it tell me whether or not I was valuable as a human being. Did I think for one moment that maybe this temporary weight gain was a result of my diet completely changing for about four days before the race…and a few days after because I was enjoying some processed foods that I don’t normally eat (which also made me feel sick after a few days)? Did I think for once that my body was so tired that it was holding onto anything it could? I don’t know, I’m not an expert on this stuff, but why wouldn’t it?
Stress increases cortisol, which doesn’t help with weight loss…I was stressing myself out physically and mentally…maybe this was part of the problem. Maybe it was those extra beers the week after the race. Maybe it was the fact that a combination of two or three bootcamps with anywhere from fifteen to thirty miles of running per week made me pretty stinking hungry toward the end of training and I stopped watching my calories during an extremely hectic few weeks. Maybe it was just my body being angry with me for not taking a few days off to heal myself. Maybe my muscles were exhausted and holding onto water. I could be anything or all of it. Who knows?
Instead, it comes back again to the core problem that most of us deal with: ourselves.
We are our own worst enemies. My father’s been telling me this for years. It is the truth. I should have known better than to not rest. I should have known better and walked away from the scale. I should have known better than to think that a number that I read on the electronic facing of that machine determined my worth. It did not decide if I was a good person, if I worked out enough, if I had already lost a significant amount of weight, if I had given up twenty years of smoking. Did it take away from the work I’d put into getting healthy for the past two years? That Monday at bootcamp we did three sets of fifty pushups and I probably did about forty through the whole class.
Did that scale take away those forty pushups? Did my perfectionism really have to get out of control like that? Most people can’t do forty pushups and most of the people in that class can’t do 150 pushups over the course of an hour…including yours truly, so why couldn’t I just be proud of the ones I could do? But most importantly, once again, how is it possible that a number destroyed the fact that one week ago, I was accomplishing an endeavor that I worked so hard for, I was filling myself with positivity, and I was sharing a fantastic moment in my life with two people that I love and care about and who love and care about me…Bullocks!
Kasey and I spoke in great detail about this, and I already knew it before seeing her… I needed a rest week in the worst way; it wouldn’t start until later in the week because I had the third leg of a 5K series the next night but it would happen nonetheless. I needed it. I needed to let go. I need to let my body heal, which will let my mind relax, which will ultimately make me a stronger person. And this will allow me to go into that Mudder with every ounce of strength I have…and the (hopefully) the ability to just let go and have a raging good time.
The night after I saw Kasey, I ran that 5K. I told myself not to take it seriously. What a struggle! I was pulled in one direction then the other. My legs were so sore and I think I pulled my hip flexors; I was tired and in pain…but what if this was finally the race that I ran under 30 minutes (I’m not the fastest runner). I was flip flopping in my mind and my first mile was a decent time. Then I was running back from the turn around and I saw a racing friend from last summer’s series who had a knee injury. And I stopped to say hello. Then I stopped racing. I just let go. I walked/jogged the rest of the race with her, stopping for pictures halfway through. We had the best time talking and laughing and she was so grateful for my company, as I was hers. And I was already starting to feel better.
I have talked about this extensively with some of my friends and I know that most people deal with this problem. It is an incredibly difficult decision: one of my friends and I are going to walk away from the scale. Sigh…this is so difficult. It is actually kind of scary. I want to know. I feel as if I need to know. But I don’t want to let that inane number determine how I feel about myself. So I have given myself this challenge. It is so hard to let go, to stop relying on this number. The perfectionist in me can’t not know. It is so insignificant and yet, we are so addicted to it…obsessed with it…and look at what it does to us. It is a completely moot aspect of us that takes away our joy when we allow ourselves to be controlled by it. I only hope that I can do it because I don’t like having weeks like I just did. Knowing me, this issue is not over (neither of us, especially me, has been very successful with that walking away thing yet)…but I know I’m not alone, as most of you know you aren’t as well. It’s at least comforting to know that many of us share this ridiculous mentality.
Again, the real demon here is not even the number itself. It is what we do with it. It is how we treat it. This is a battle of us against ourselves. We need to stop beating ourselves up. I am the absolute worst victim of this…I am very, very good at beating myself up and I hold myself to higher standards than I hold other people. Wouldn’t it be nice if we can begin to be more positive, begin to value ourselves for the accomplishments we’ve made and the good things we’ve done, or maybe we can just stop comparing ourselves to others and accept the good things that we bring to the table, and stop relying on a number which makes us view ourselves in a certain way… let’s get back to enjoying just having a healthy lifestyle, to working out just because it feels good, to saying “hey I thinks it’s pretty awesome that I can do pushups,” to running because we enjoy it and it relieves stress.
Baby steps, one little change at a time.
My first baby step is taking this week off…physical break and mental break.
Healthy body, healthy mind.