By: Kirsten Danzo Tidwell
For as long as I can remember, I have considered myself an athlete. My parents tell jokes of how I went straight from crawling to running, I played soccer as soon as I was bigger than the ball, and I was a three-sport athlete all throughout high school. When I went off to college I immediately joined every intramural sports team I could find, and treated intramurals like division I sports.
Competition, athleticism, and an active lifestyle were all just engrained in who I was. When anorexia took over my life my sophomore year of college, in its cruel and wicked way, it used my competitive nature and love of sports to fuel the fire of my eating disorder. Soccer for fun became soccer for 5 hours. I started running as a way to give myself permission to eat. Sports and activity lost its fun and became a numbers game. I am now seven years into my fight with anorexia, and my relationship with exercise has been complicated throughout that time.
Since leaving residential treatment for the last time four years ago, I have been trying to figure out what healthy, recovered exercise looks like for me. About a year ago, my friend asked me to do a 15k race with her, and I decided to give running another try. After all, I was several years removed from treatment. Since my time in treatment I had struggled to stay in my weight range for any extended period of time, but I reasoned with myself that I had never strayed too far from my range… I was by and large leading a fairly normal recovered life—seeing my dietician and therapist every few weeks, still dealing with ED thoughts, but for the most part able to still hold it all together.
And so I ran. And I’ve been running ever since. I told myself that this time, running would be for fun. I wouldn’t worry about being the fastest, wouldn’t sign up for any huge races, wouldn’t make it something I “had” to do…I would run in a healthy, recovered way. But anorexia has a funny way of slipping in the back door when you aren’t looking, and convincing you things are fine when they really are not. If you have any experience with anorexia you will know that it is fueled by perfectionism and competition, and it was almost laughable that I thought that I would be able to “just run for fun”. Before I realized what was happening, things escalated. I meticulously tracked every mile I ran down to the second in MapMyRun, trying to convince myself that this was different than when I had meticulously tracked every calorie I ate.
Reality hit when I went to see my dietician, and once again my weight had dropped. I rationalized and whined and debated with her that running was a healthy coping mechanism for stress, and the weight loss was not related and was under control. Luckily, she has known me for seven years and knows when she is talking to me and when she is talking to my ED. So she dropped a bomb on me: “Quit the half marathon. Quit your “running goal”. And DELETE MAP MY RUN.” For me, a perfectionist, an obsessive goal setter who will finish whatever I start even if it kills me, her words were equivalent to asking me to cut a limb off.
I walked out of her office pissed off and not planning on listening to her. But then I happened to take a look at my half marathon training plan. It was color-coded, with little boxes to check off when I completed the run. It was one of those slap in the face moments where I instantly saw the hands of ED that had snuck in and once again twisted my love of exercise into an obsession without me even noticing. That day I deleted MapMyRun.
Today was my first run without the app. I decided to take a route I didn’t know so I wouldn’t know the mileage (which was difficult since I had nearly every route near my house mapped out to the tenth of a mile in my head). I purposely didn’t look at the clock when I left so I wouldn’t know how long I ran for, giving me no chance to estimate my pace. I ran slow, enjoying my music, looking around at the sights, taking whichever roads seemed scenic. And BOY was it both hard and incredible at the same time. I found myself freaking out, wondering if I was running “too slow”, or if the route I was taking was “too short.”
At the same time I found myself actually relaxing, enjoying the scenes, singing to the songs as I ran. I ran with ease, slowing down when my lungs got tired, taking a break when I needed one, turning back home when it felt right instead of when I had reached the “right” mileage. I have no idea how far I ran, how long I was gone, what my pace was, or what calories I burned. And as hard and as scary as that feels, it also feels incredibly freeing. If I am to reclaim exercise and my identity as an athlete, it needs to be purposefully separate from numbers.
Just like I had to retrain myself to forget the hundreds of calorie facts I had memorized for every food, every restaurant, every serving when I decided to choose recovery, I now have to retrain myself to forget the rules I have put in place about exercise and return to the pure joy that I used to find from movement, without the numbers, without the counting, without the guilt. Maybe I’ll take up yoga, or kick boxing, or go back to playing soccer. Or maybe I still will be able to be a runner, this time really in a recovered way. Only time will tell, but I know one thing is for sure—MapMyRun will never again find its way on my phone.