Monday, July 25, 2016

Training on Empty: Chapter 20 (possible TW)

Possible trigger warning with mention of numbers and behaviors.

Chapter 20 – New Beginnings

“How good does a female athlete have to be before we just call her an athlete?” – Author Unknown

There is a direct link between depression and fatigue. One of the main symptoms of depression is sleeping too much, or conversely, not being able to sleep, with both scenarios resulting in greater fatigue.

By the time I graduated from high school I was, in a word, beat. I was spiritually, mentally and physically exhausted. I was able to squeeze a few more road races out of myself before I was struck down with another injury, but by the time the injury hit, I was too tired to fight it. It was something more than the sore foot that had previously been an issue. That year, I had been the most highly recruited high-school athlete in all of Colorado, and I was too tired to run another step. What was worse, though, was that I didn’t care.

My summer days consisted of sleeping until the late morning, reading the paper and wandering around the house, taking my bike for a spin around the block to go through the motions of training, and heading to the movie theater and out for ice cream later in the day. I was so completely exhausted that I didn’t make the effort to throw up or diet even when the pounds started creeping onto my still slim body. Tensions were increasing at home with fights between my sister and me, and I wanted to get away from my dad’s drinking. I was anxious to leave for college, but there was also a part of me that believed a new setting would bring an improvement in my health and training. I went to school looking to reclaim my lost motivation and to get back into running. After my recruitment trip earlier in the year, I was convinced that the coach at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah was someone who could get me back on track and in racing form.

A few weeks before I was scheduled to pack my belongings and head to Utah for a year at BYU, I started to feel more energetic but also more panicked that I was out of shape and fat. At 108 pounds, I was a far cry from my racing weight of years and even months earlier. Despite having been on the list for a Rhodes scholarship, I opted for a full scholarship at a running program that I knew would fit my style of training. The coach at BYU was sensible and kind, and he had consistently placed his women’s cross-country team in the top three at Nationals. Hard workouts on the bike didn’t hurt my injured leg, so I started getting back into shape by doing intervals and longer workouts on my stationary bike. It didn’t take long before I was feeling a bit more in shape despite the extra weight I was carrying.

When I arrived at my new school, I met the coach with a barrage of apologies and explanations about my new heavier figure and assured him I would shed the pounds as quickly as possible. He gave me a funny look and had me hop up on the scale. 104. He marked it on a sheet and said that I was right where I needed to be. He added that he had spoken with my parents and they all agreed that if I dropped below 100 pounds I would not be allowed to work out with the team. I was shocked. He was concerned about my health first and foremost. He didn’t want any of his runners to be too thin. His motto was “train; don’t strain,” a distinct contrast to the “no pain, no gain” philosophy my high-school team had adopted.

For the first time in my running career, I was beginning to learn how to be healthy – at least healthier. With improved nutrition and sensible training, I grew a full inch in height, and once I was able to run again, I was back to running in top form. I was no longer the best on the team, but despite the difficult emotional transition of no longer being the “big fish,” I adapted well. I won a small dual meet and placed in the top ten on a snowy course at the regional meet before nationals. It was the first time my feet had been inside a pair of racing spikes. My new coach was surprised to find out that all my high-school records had been set in either training or racing flats. I finished my first college season by placing 85th at NCAA Nationals and second at the TAC Junior Nationals. I was still fighting the food issues, but rarely did I resort to throwing up or starving myself. In addition, I was becoming a much more relaxed runner. I felt some enjoyment and excitement slowly rising out of the dark abyss that had swallowed all the fun in my life. I once again felt the desire to race.

The team was like family to me, and my coach emerged as the father figure I never had. I trusted him and did my best to follow his advice, even when my weight dropped below 100 toward the end of the first season and I had to sit out a few workouts. My new coach was firm in his decision about being healthy and strong and insisted that I wait until my weight was back above 100 pounds to train. I was forced to comply. Ultimately I knew he had my best interests at heart.

My old rival and friend Lisa and I had kept in touch by writing each other letters during our first semester at our respective schools. I had just sent her a note wishing her luck in her upcoming time trial. She was attempting to qualify for the varsity team at a university in Texas where she’d been accepted. It was my coach who broke the sad news to me that Lisa had been hit by a truck while warming up for that very time trial. She was killed instantly. Her friends and family all knew that a rare, kind soul had been lost. The girls on my own team sensed how the tragedy was affecting me and offered their support. Often, I held the thought of Lisa in my mind when I ran, knowing her running career was stopped before it fully started. At times I ran not just for myself or for the team, but for Lisa.

In terms of track season, I was recruited chiefly as a 10,000-meter runner and I wanted more than ever to shine for these new people in my life. Unfortunately, I would never run a 10,000 on the track my entire college career. In fact, I would never in my life get the chance to race that distance on a track.

After an impressive first season, I took a break from running, as suggested by my coach. The decision had been made that I would skip indoor season and concentrate on outdoor track in the spring. I sensed something was amiss in my first training run after ten days off. My knee felt funny and sore. I tried to run, but after about one or two miles, it would stiffen up and lock. I would limp back to my studio apartment, frustrated and angry at the thought of more down time. The bike didn’t seem to hurt it and after so many injuries, I seriously considered starting a petition to make stationary biking an Olympic sport. When I reported back to my college coach, he immediately sent me to see the school trainers. The first thing they asked was if I had tried running through the pain. I stared blankly at them, realizing they had no clue who I was. Famous in my hometown circles for seemingly running past my body’s capacity, known for running to the point of wrecking myself and idolized for never giving less than all I had, it seemed to me – probably inaccurately – that I was now being accused of being mentally weak. The thought crossed my mind that maybe they could be right, and I attempted several more times to run on the injured knee. Finally, I found a specialist who discovered some hard tissue in my knee that needed to be removed in order for me to regain my full range of motion.

It was shortly after the surgery that I questioned whether I had made the right decision coming to what was for all practical purposes an all-Mormon school when I had been raised with no religion at all. Without the running team, I had nothing holding me at BYU. I wondered if I could even find a subject to choose for a major; I had gone to school for the sole purpose of running. Studies and a social life came second to that, and all of a sudden I felt lonely and sad. I was deeply afraid that after so many serious injuries I would not become the runner I’d long dreamed of being. I wanted to reverse time and be the best, like I was when I was in high school, so I transferred back to Colorado and contacted my old coach. If anyone could help me get back in top running shape, he could. And it is probably no surprise that I was barely walking again when I returned my attention to the Pikes Peak Ascent.

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