What a Marathon Taught Me
It was during Paris fashion week in October 2008 that I was triggered into despair and body obsession. I imagine that 90% of people at Fashion week are having some kind of internal breakdown about their imperfections, but I hope that they have a healthier approach to managing their dysmorphia.
I, on the other hand, decided that running a marathon would help me achieve the weight loss I desired. So, whilst I should have been re-arranging and dusting handbags in the show room of the Ritz hotel, I applied for the London Marathon in April 2009.
A month or so later on a Friday afternoon I got a call from Mind Charity offering me a place to run for them. I was shocked! I put the phone down and told my colleagues who were also shocked!
I don’t think I had ever run for 5 minutes straight so running a marathon was completely out of character for me. I was the kid at school who found running 800 meters physically impossible. Suddenly I was facing the prospect of getting prepared to run 26.2 miles.
There were two things I wanted to achieve: weight loss and an addiction to exercise. Thin was going to make me happy! Thin was going to give me the life I wanted to live and running was going to make me thin!
I found a personal trainer and started to run 6 miles home from work twice a week. In the moments I wanted to give up, I would look longingly at buses and taxis. When I wanted to walk, the freezing weather made slowing down impossible.
For the first half an hour, there would be a crazy conversation in my head, “oh my god I fucking hate this!” “I’m fat, I’m not a runner, this is shit, I want to walk!” “Why can’t I love this, why does this feel so unnatural to me?’
Over time, on longer weekend runs, I started to develop the rhythm and experience runner’s bliss. Waves of euphoria washing over me and those moments when everything in life feels in sync. I would feel like I could run faster and faster and conquer the world.
Whilst I wasn’t running I cleaned up my life. I gave up the booze (alcohol) and fags (cigarettes). My weekends changed. I said good bye to drug dealers and memory loss. I structured my life around running.
I thought the weight would fall off.
But it didn’t.
During training I found my eating spiraled out of control, particularly with sugar. My mind would obsess about ice cream, cakes, chocolate, anything sweet. I felt out of control around food in a way that I had never experienced before. I was obsessing about flavours and brands of ice cream, visiting 5 or more shops before finding the one I wanted and then devouring it with such force, I remember one time stabbing the metal spoon through the base of the carton. I was like a woman possessed.
Removing the drink, the drugs and the cigarettes left me with the sugar. Now I realize that all these things were helping me numb a lot of pain, but I still didn’t have the awareness of the bigger picture or the support. This would come in time.
I felt empty and sad and alone and so deeply ashamed about this behavior.
The running, bingeing and purging cycle continued and all the time I wondered why my body wouldn’t shift into a lower dress size. All the time I was damaging my body with this cycle and also with my mind as I battered myself with my internal dialogue.
During the long runs, when my mind settled into a meditative state and connected with my higher self, I was free to dream and think about the life I wanted to create. I found myself thinking, “wow, I can now run easily for over an hour, over two. over three hours. I have taught myself that this is possible.” I understood what runners high felt like, a release of endorphins washing over my body, the natural ecstasy pill.
I look back and realize how disconnected and out of touch with my feelings I was. There were many tangles in the wiring of my brain that I would start to unpick, one by one over a number of years.
The day of the marathon was sunny and hot and it was by far one of the best experiences of my life. It is an incredible way to see all the amazing sights throughout London and the support of the crowd is unbeatable. Every smile, every bit of eye contact or hand tapping gave me a burst of energy to keep going.
I didn’t experience any pain and I didn’t hit the feared ‘wall.’ I paced myself perfectly and enjoyed every moment. I was completely prepared. I taught myself how to complete what felt like an impossible goal at the start.
I felt exceptionally supported by my friends and found the whole experience incredibly worth while. Ironically I raised money for ‘Mind,’ a mental health charity, whilst trying to combat my own mental health. ‘Mind’ has notably gained more awareness in the last few years because, as a society, we are becoming more vocal about the stigma of depression and anxiety in all its forms.
Training for the marathon also showed me that it wasn’t a solution for weight loss and I certainly didn’t get addicted to running. Before long I was unfit again. I felt miserable and lonely. I went back to numbing out with alcohol and drug use because, back then, I really didn’t have any other tools to overcome this deep unrest within me.
Eventually I found a brilliant therapist and went on to do self-development workshops, group therapy and support groups that help with addiction. I believe that yoga and meditation have also been an integral part of my healing. Slowly but surely working on self-esteem and changing negative thought patterns.
The positive experience of teaching myself to run a marathon showed me that anything is possible if I put my mind to it. I found the determination inside of me to start my own business. I started to refocus my obsessive side into figuring out what this business would be.
Looking back, I am amazed at how fast I managed to get my idea from conception to birth. I thought of the idea in April, while I was still training, I decided on the name Chic&Seek in May and I launched the website in November 2009.
If there is one advantage of having a compulsive and addictive nature, if channeled into the right things it can be a powerful thing.
Running those long distances in training didn’t feel like a loving or nurturing thing to do for myself. It felt more like self-sabotage and torture. But I did not know any better. I remember seeing the photo of myself running over London Bridge and thinking, “that’s not how I wanted my body to look after all this intense exercise.”
And the interesting thing, is I am bigger now than when I felt so unacceptable. Now I love and accept myself just the way I am. I have lost all the self judgement, and all the worry about what other people think. I no longer punish myself with intensive exercise which I hate.
I no longer have anything to do with the world of fashion that further impacted my ‘not good enough’ complex. It’s awesome to follow fabulous women on Instagram who are all about body positivity. If only that existed 10years ago when I was knee deep in my self-loathing.
If I ever have a daughter, I can be sure that I have healed my body image issues and I won’t be passing them on to the next generation.
I forgive you Mum 😉 xx
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