On the run

Sun is shining, birds are chirping, yes, even here in Michigan. And because this is Michigan, the desire to break out of the house and leap into spring at a full gallop is strong. And because I’m from New Mexico the desire to be out in the sunshine is even stronger. And so I run — even though I hate running.

Beyond the difficulty of body — joints pounding, feet aching — I think the real pains of running for me are those inflicted and remembered by my mind.

I have/had eating disorders. Anorexia, chronic overeating, exercise bulimia. The temporality around “have” and “had” is fraught because there is no “all better” or “completely cured” with these illnesses. Even at my healthiest, the sick and self-defeating thoughts, the obsessions, and the self-hatred remain coiled and ready to attack at the slightest prodding or trigger. A beautiful piece of frosted cake. The mention of “bikini season.”

At my worst with anorexia, I was in high school and I would will my body awake at 5 a.m. to pound the pavement of my quiet neighborhood. I forced myself to run, not because I sought health or muscles or freedom, but because it expended calories and it had to do so faster than my endless wandering walking. This “running” was slow and labored, my disease took the form of an apparition that would drag me forward by a fistful of my too-big t-shirt. Belly empty, brain full of haze and stars, I was not only running on no breakfast, but the fumes of energy left over from the previous day’s diet.

  • milk, maybe cereal
  • skip lunch, pocket lunch money for weekend movies
  • 1 can of low-cal soup for dinner
  • make sad sandwiches, hide them in dresser drawer to trick family, attract ants, change plan, flush food down the toilet
  • diet soda forever
  • low fat yogurt for dessert
  • perhaps some crackers for snacks, make sure to count them out, nibble them down, make them last

I tried to keep my daily calorie intake somewhere around 600 calories or less. I’m sure I was much more precise then, however. Anorexia is very much a numbers game, a running tally of intake and expenditures. How many minutes did I run? How many steps? How many more can I stand before dying?

So, I’d run before school and sometimes again after school got out, but this second go round had to happen at the high school track so it wouldn’t look excessive to my family when I then popped an exhausted Denise Austin aerobics tape into the VCR and shuffled my zombie body back and forth across the living room carpet.

At first, this routine was hard. Hunger screams and yelps and whimpers, howls through you. But eventually you think you beat the system, that you’ve deprogrammed the feelings of starvation. The hunger dissipates into a dull nothing and you float around on your imagined lightness, the concavity of your belly, and you take incredible pride (overweening, tragic flaw, will cause your downfall kind of pride) in conquering your body. You’ve overcome human desire. You are a GOLDEN GOD. But a golden god can’t hang out with friends at a pizza parlour without worry, or pay attention to just about anything. Golden Gods become golden by counting and numbering, dividing and multiplying. There is no actual joy, just a few rushes now and then borne of the power to deny and punish and hurt yourself and take it because, clearly, you deserve it.

Your hair falls out in clumps in your shampooed hand. Your period stops.

The world falls away.

When running, there is no release, rather an intense hanging on to what it means, could mean in terms of reduction. Is the calorie expended yet? Has it burned away? When will I feel it, see it? How long until I weigh myself again? How much further can I push that little needle?

Last week, ten plus years after my worst bout with my body, I had a panic attack. My Facebook feed is full of beautiful runners. Real runners, runners who traipse through 5Ks before breakfast, Runners who rely on nutritious calorie-filled goos to power themselves through extensive training and amazing distances. Athletes. Usually I am amazed by these people, motivated by them, or just so completely aware that I am not one of their ilk that I don’t even try to compare myself, but this past week, something tweaked and I saw these statuses of achievement and I lost it.

My heart sank, my body (in my mind’s eye) grew about four sizes, my physical flaws magnified. My skin prickled — it was so disgusted to be associated with me. 10 pm and I was 2 seconds from lacing up my sneakers and flying out the door. I was going to pound that pavement just like I used to, just ‘til it hurt and then a little longer, a little further. Just ‘til I felt like retching and then maybe go some more. I was gonna run into forever and not stop until i crumpled into a ball like the unfortunate possum or squirrel that dreamed too big, couldn’t make it across the street.

Sweat is fat crying. No pain, No gain. At least that’s what “motivational” pictures on the internet tell me.

But then I didn’t lace my shoes. I didn’t eat everything in the cupboard either (overeating is the other way I “deal” with stress and anxiety). Instead I painted a picture. Poured my nervous energy into fluorescent pinks and purples on a naked canvas. This time, the running and eating, they waited. I like to think it’s because I’m trying, really working and trying, to make them mine in a pleasurable way. The beginning of my love story (a love of running, food, and self) first requires the elimination of punishment from my calculation of self worth.

I’m running, even if I don’t like it very much now, to find out if maybe I can peel back the memories of sacrifice and belittling, of the drudgery of each footfall, of the movement in circles around my neighborhood serving as a consequence of my failure to be perfect. I’m hoping that underneath all those stories, I’ll break through to some place where I feel okay with my limitations, where running is a thing I can do, and not a thing I have to do. Though the wicked little calorie fears still linger, I’m pushing to find release. Pleasure in the inhalation and exhalation of breath. Power in the ability to move with speed while lapping up the sunshine like some Edenic creature. I know I probably won’t get there fully, but I’m practicing getting closer. I’m already really amazing at hating myself, pushing too hard, denying myself. Now, more than anything I’m practicing finding what feels good when I run. It might not make the best internet meme, but I’m aiming for a less pain, some gain. Revising the motto: Just Do It, but if it hurts, it’s okay to stop. It’s okay to stop.

Ana Holguin writes PopHeart for The Idler.

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