Running Towards Life Rather than Letting Life Run You
Cori is an amazing woman and athlete who I have had the pleasure working with. She has a love of running and a powerful story to share. Her testimony is one that creates a certain level of vulnerability as well as relatability for many athletes just like herself.
She will be running her first 50K ultramarathon this weekend and was willing to have me share a part of her journey in arriving to this point in her life. I hope you are encouraged and motivated by her powerful testimony below.
I am your stereotypical Type A person: overachieving, more-is-better, long-distance runner. I was raised by marathoning parents, one of whom (my Dad) was a type AA ultramarathoner who would later also become an Ironman (do you see where I get it from). Interestingly, I did not pick up running as a child outside of what was mandated as “punishment” for the sports I played. I tried track and cross-country in middle school, mainly just to stay fit for the other sports, but was fairly discouraged by my lack of competitiveness. “Aren’t your parents runners? Shouldn’t you be fast?” Yea – that was fun to hear.
My overachieving-self served me well in early childhood education, as often happens, and sent me off to a highly-competitive, engineering-focused college on an academic scholarship alongside being recruited to play volleyball.
As a famous military quote states: “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” This was that.
The extremely stressful concoction of demanding courses, two-a-days for volleyball, a recent death in the family, and the complete lifestyle shift slammed head-on into my Type A tactics. It only took a few months and some distinct events to fast track me to the beginnings of a self-punishing spiral. Alongside progressively more restrictive eating habits, I began running longer distances –not realizing at that time that this was a ‘purging’ strategy for much of the emotional processing I was not doing. After several months of these patterns, I had spiraled into a diagnosed eating disorder and was forced by a doctor to take a reduced course-load, cease all physical activity, and enroll in outpatient treatment. Drastic? Yes. Warranted? Also yes.
I often now say treatment is the “greatest thing I never want to go through again.” – it taught me so much about my own tendencies and thought patterns. I began to see that the same mental characteristics that were driving my “Eating Disorder” were actually the same attributes that made me successful in so many other life endeavors. Armed with new cognitive strategies, I could leverage the power of these mental attributes to identify negative thought patterns and reframe them to reverse the downward spiral.
Along the long and non-linear recovery road, I had graduated college, moved across the country, and began working as a biomedical engineer while going to school for my PhD. Clearly, I was positioning myself for another crucible of stress – a nice running theme. This time, my new-found self-awareness helped to act as a gauge on my mental and physical health and my running transitioned from a self-punishing exercise to a self-reinforcing – a cultivation of my core character and reminder of my own identity.
Even though my running had become de-stressing, mentally and emotionally, it still posed a physical stress on the body. From an evolutionary send, the body does not differentiate “type of stress” in its interpretation of relative danger. Thus, as overall life stress accumulated, I started having bad GI distress on my runs. I was terrified. Come on, life! This was my outlet! I became fearful of “flare ups” happening at any time and spiraled down to the list of “safe foods” fitting on a 3×5 index card. No way could I train for a marathon on that. Low and behold – I crashed (progressively more fabulously) in my next two marathons. If I were to sum it up in an equation: Relative Effort was inversely proportional to Positive Outcomes.
It was at this point that I knew I needed help. Although it was still painful to internally admit, I acknowledged that my history predisposed me to distorted thoughts around nutritional approaches and, therefore, I needed to seek help in that particular area. It was through this search that I came to Krista and nervously scheduled the first appointment.
My nerves soon quelled with Krista’s genuine appreciation for the endurance athlete’s lifestyle. Her holistic approach helped me to see the bigger picture of the total stress under which my body was and appreciate stress as “the culprit” rather than any one specific “trigger” food. Appreciating that running was my passion and I wasn’t going to “just stop running” (the advice I had received from other doctors), we worked together to develop nutritional profiles and habits that could support my training without causing distress.
In the words of the renowned Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, “Health is the greatest possession”. Consequently, we find it scary to entrust our health with others. Fear naturally prevents us from engaging in these activities unless absolutely necessary and, thus, we often do not reach out for help until faced with a comparatively greater crisis. Ironically, one of the greatest evolutionary advantages humans developed to overcome fearful situations is social relationships – banding together with others against threats. Why is this ironic? Well, as I found in my journey, the very thing of which I was afraid – reaching out for help – was the exact remedy for my anxiety and allowed me to reverse the spiral back up with a trusted “teammate” to help me regain trust in my own body.
I write this in reflection as I look ahead to taking on my first ultramarathon this coming Saturday – a trail 50K. In learning this lesson of taking on challenges with trusted “teammates”, I am even more excited that I will have my life-long greatest supporter by my side: my Dad. By seeking and accepting help, I have emboldened the trust I have in my own capabilities and empowered myself to go into this without fear. I am excited to enjoy the journey, knowing that the process leading up to it has already trained me to encounter whatever may come my way.
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be” – Lao Tzu