I met Alex Laughlin while writing for Sweet Lemon Magazine about a year ago. Alex attends The University of Georgia and blogs at Well Begun is Half Done. She’s a journalist, a storyteller, and a runner. In October, I invited Kayla and Chelsea to tell their fitness stories. Today, Alex gets honest about the emotional impact of running, and why she’s taking a break from racing.
Running is my happy place. I never feel stronger, happier, or more beautiful than right after a long, hard run. It’s one of the things I do best; I was athletically inclined as a child but in retrospect I realize it all came from my leg muscle.
I discovered running in high school when I joined the cross country team. As I ran more, I learned more about the sport. I nurtured a preference for Brooks running shoes and I even lived through my first stress fracture. Then I learned what a PR is. And everything changed.
For the non-runners, a PR is your personal record for a distance. It’s a great phrase to toss around in casual conversation with other runners to indicate that you know what you’re talking about – sort of a not-so-subtle indicator that you’re in the club.
Anyway. I became obsessed with beating my PR. The thing is, it’s easy to beat your PR frequently when you’re just starting out. The longer you practice and the faster you get though, the harder it is to cut time.
I stopped drinking soda and eating junk foods. Anything going into my body was strictly fuel with a purpose — no calories would be wasted.
I never developed an eating disorder, but this obsession with numbers early on in my adolescence laid the groundwork for a future version of myself bent on policing my body.
I brought my dogged determinedness with me to college, where I started running half marathons. The training was sacred. Runs were not to be skipped or even skimped on. Again, food was strictly fuel. And I know I’m probably violating some kind of rule by saying this, but my body looked amazing. I was skinnier than I’d been in years and my muscles were equally as defined. I could run 10 miles in an hour and a half, no sweat (well, some sweat), and I’d never felt better.
Sometime after my second half marathon though, I realized that I wasn’t happy. No matter how hard I pushed myself or how healthily I ate, there was always another part of my body that wasn’t perfect. Slowly I noticed what kinds of things triggered the deafening negativity I unleashed upon myself; it could be as contentious as a fashion magazine or as benign as a friend’s Facebook photo.
So this year I decided not to train for a half marathon. Instead, I decided to spend the summer and fall learning to love my body the way it came, rather than the way it could be. I make a conscious effort to avoid any triggering content, especially “health” and “fitness” boards on Pinterest, which are usually thinspiration in disguise. It really helps.
I share this not to garner sympathy, but to instigate a conversation — even if it’s one you have with yourself. I am a wholehearted proponent for physical fitness and the good it can do for your psyche, but we need to cut ourselves some slack and accept that we are not plastic dolls with endless hard edges.
I was so sad to miss my half marathon this year, but I know I’ll run another one day. When I cross the finish line, the pride I’ll feel will not only be for completing another race — it will be for learning to love myself regardless of shape or size.