Friday, 21 March 2014

Taming The Taper Worm

Training for a marathon is like riding a train. When you embark at the station, a suitcase brimming with confidence and determination in tow, you’re energised and fresh, oblivious to the hardship ahead.

Slowly the locomotive chugs out of the station, easing into the tracks as it picks up pace. Very gradually at first, it weaves through the inner-city buildings, stopping quite frequently, but as it travels beyond the urban borders, spills into the outskirts and eventually over the rolling rural fields, the wheels start rotating more smoothly, in perfect harmony.  Faster and faster, what was once a spluttering irregular chug becomes a dependably accelerating rhythm, like the heartbeat of a giant animal, galloping across terrain, in pursuit of its prey.

The faster this train travels, the more fuel is pumped through its roaring engine, but it’s ok – because the tank is still almost full and every time the tempo is notched up, it adapts and stabilises, ensuring a smooth ride for all aboard.

That train has just reached peak performance.

Last week I finally clocked my longest run – a slow and steady 19 miler. Sticking with my metaphor, I was roaring through the country side, hurtling past trees, fields, abandoned farms and hamlets, the sun pounding down on me and every cog, every screw, every bolt and every lever perfectly in sync.

I never thought it would, but my body has acclimatised to the rhythm of gradual increase and progressive overload. An extra mile each week? I’ve taken it in my stride.

So studying my training schedule after that long run, it really comes as no surprise that I feel a little knocked off kilter this week. The tracks are starting to feel a little wobbly, almost as if one my carriages might fall over if we slow down any more.  

STOP SHOCK

For weeks I’ve been craving a Sunday evening without aching limbs, raw toes and hunger raising its cheeky head every hour. But now that I’ve finally reached the “taper phase”, I’m finding it quite tough to adapt.

It’s just not natural for a train to cut from 100mph to 20mph in the space of a few fleeting seconds.

I’m used to the pre-fuel, and then the long hours of trudging through lifeless London, sending intermittent progress texts to the sofa at home, where my yawning boyfriend has just started his second cup of tea and is poring over the weekend papers.

I’m used to hobbling up the stairs three hours later, and lying down on the carpet, propping my legs against the wall as my quivering fingers unwrap a protein bar. Then wallowing in a hot bath, before wrapping up in a sweatshirt and pyjama bottoms and then eating. Everything. In. Sight.

But I have to get used to it. This weekend I’ll “only” be running a half marathon. Yes, that’s still 21 kilometres, but it is also eleven less than I ran last weekend.

It will feel short, and I might have a niggling voice in my head telling me that I haven’t run as far as I should have, but habits can be broken and I have a feeling that doing so will be a lot easier with the help of a great big lazy breakfast and the splndid spring sunshine.

(Image courtesy http://livelikeavip.com) 

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I'll be running the Brigthon Marathon on April 6th and raising money for Mind, the mental health charity. To sponsor me, please click here. 

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Anorexic to Athlete: Eating Disorder Awareness Week

Not every day, but often enough, I look at myself in the mirror and am reminded of how far I’ve come. 

Quite literally, I’ve moved 600 miles from the quaint Swiss village of Himmelried, to the bustling streets of London – where cows are rarer than flying pigs – but more metaphorically, I’ve finally found comfort within the confines of my own skin and bones. The latter journey, let me assure you, was a thousand times more arduous than the former.


I’ve never been fitter than now. Five weeks until my marathon debut and my metabolism is in overdrive, tirelessly burning the calories I consume and converting them into precious energy to power me through training sessions and equally laborious days in the office alike.

My muscles are firm and my body and I are in harmony,  for I am giving my physical exactly what it needs, and in return, my physical is giving me performance, endurance and priceless pride.

It’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Week and for me an apt opportunity to reflect and share my story of suffering and - underneath it all - survival.

I was first diagnosed with anorexia nervosa at the age of 17, in the throes of high school stresses: boys, exams, hormones, fashion, excess. I developed obsessive compulsive habits of weighing everything that I consumed and recording every calorie I expended. Hunger made me feel like I was punishing myself and that in turn gave me a perverse sense of satisfaction. 

Why, you may ask, did I torture myself so?

Amid the agony of my first heartbreak, fears of failing academically and the prospect of being thrust into the quite frankly petrifying Real World, it seemed to be the last things I could control; the only constant in the terrifying world of high-speed change. On top of that, my self-worth had taken a battering meaning that starving myself was a means of self-harming.

FITTING IN

During the first bout my weight never dropped to a critical level, but endless sit-ups and daily runs on a few paltry sticks of celery, culminating in my first half marathon, sent my BMI tumbling to well below “healthy”. It’s a vigilant GP and on-the-ball parents who I have to thank for averting a much more serious crisis, but the situation was grim nonetheless.

While my school chums gallivanted around Europe, sampled the world of work, or simply partied into the wee hours of every morning, I was all but locked up on the children’s ward the summer after leaving school. For ten weeks, I shared a sterile room with five other teenage girls; eating disorders being our common denominator.We cried, and screamed and bickered our way through the days and nights, all of us certain that food would be our mortal enemy for life and that our future would be a bleak fight.

When summer turned to autumn I managed to prop my weight up temporarily, just enough to get me off to university, but I lacked the strength to independently hoist myself out of the horrible disease for good.

A year of forcefully trying to fit in, be a “normal” fresher while constantly trying to silence a sick and vicious alter ego, eventually resulted in a messy relapse. My weight dropped lower than ever, sapping every ounce of personality and life out of me. I shunned company, clambered to my regime of library-gym-library-sleep, until I hit a concrete wall and couldn't go on.

Once again, a scorching summer was spent indoors, this time though, I sat in group therapy sessions shoulder-to-shoulder with all different kinds of patients: drug addicts, those suffering post traumatic stress disorders, borderline patients and manic depressives.

It was there that I realised that the weight-loss was nothing but a symptom and that the illness had much deeper, more stubborn roots. I was treated for depression and felt comforted by finally being able to put a label on my emotions. I learned to put my feelings into words - both written and spoken - and respond to thoughts and impulses sensibly.

Those twelve weeks - my personal Renaissance – were seven years ago this summer.

STREGTH TO STRENGTH

Since then it’s been a bumpy ride, but none of the damage incurred has been lasting. I finished university, conceded that graduating without a first did not mean the world would stop turning, and followed my dream of writing for a living.

For many years I was plagued by an uneasy relationship with my body, but that too improved with every day.

Last year, I qualified as a personal trainer. My motivation was not so much obtaining a certificate to hang on the wall, but much more the opportunity to discover more about the amazing processes that occur beneath our skins - every second of our lives. It made me appreciate my body in all its guises. Naturally, the knowledge I accumulated helped me prepare for the marathon too.

For more than half a decade I was hesitant to talk to about my experiences with an eating disorder, but in recent months I've had an itch to share, hoping that my knowledge will contribute to some sort of healing process within those who are suffering. And unfortunately, if that sufferer is not you, then it’s most likely to be your friend, your sister, your daughter or your son.

Eating disorders affect 1.6 million people in the UK alone and often go hand-in-hand with exercise addictions and obsessive compulsive disorders.  I’m under no illusion that I - on my own – can make a change, but even if my story provides food for thought for a single sufferer, a loved one or a friend, if it encourages just one person to reach out, seek a dialogue and get help, then it was worth sharing. 

It's never too late to seek help. And never to earlier, for that matter, either.

For more information on Eating Disorder Awareness Week or Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia or other eating dsorders click here to access the website of beat, a national UK charity which provides support and help for your people suffering. 

(Image courtesy http://www.mjog.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Eating-Disorders-Week.jpg)