If you haven’t read Part 1, go back and read it here.
After the race, I cracked. I ate a whole roll of Oreos, which felt like the worst of sins at that point. Oreos were not even remotely close to being “on plan”, but I didn’t care. I was tired, I was hungry, I was mentally broken, and I was frustrated with everything in my life.
I jumped on the scale a few days later and had lost weight. Clearly, Oreos are clearly the key to weight loss. That moment was incredibly freeing – I ate something “off plan” and I didn’t gain a ton of weight. In fact, the opposite happened.
This all resulted in a huge mental shift for me. It was the first time I realized that perhaps food is not the enemy. That moment was enough for me to quit my diet plan and perhaps start nourishing my body. It was not an easy process though; I spent the next several months still obsessively counting calories and semi-starving myself.
Later that year, I went through a rough breakup with my live-in boyfriend. I ended up moving in with my friend Ryan (the crazy 200 mile runner), his wife, and their baby girl. Their approach to food was entirely the opposite of obsessive calorie counting and for the first time, I started to realize that the quality of your food matters more than the caloric quantity.
In hopes of healing the hormonal and metabolic damage I did, I adopted a totally grain free, sugar free (even most fruit was a no-go), higher fat diet. Somewhere between “strict Paleo” and a primal diet, since I was still consuming dairy and beans on occasion. Lots of people have benefitted from high-fat, low carb diets, but let me tell you how unpleasant becoming fat-adapted is. I was a gem to be around!
Ryan decided that his goal for that year was to qualify for the Boston Marathon. His wife Kim decided she was also going to run this marathon and recruited me and one other friend to run as well. Like before, we bonded over the miles and we laughed and cried and lamented our blisters and chafing and the terrible weather.
We ran distances that seemed impossible and wondered how we would ever run farther than we just did. I remember looking at the training plan I found for myself and being completely intimidated. I learned important lessons about BodyGlide and hydrating and good socks and that I really just shouldn’t drink orange Gatorade.
My two training partners both ended up injured during training and committed to the half marathon instead of the full. Ryan’s training also did not go as planned and he agreed to pace me instead of trying to run a really fast race. I was sad for him, but happy that I wouldn’t have to do this big scary thing all by myself.
We got on a bus at 4 am and headed up the Poudre Canyon. I was so nervous. “Trust your training”, he told me. Trust your training. I have repeated that phrase more times than I can count. To myself and to other people. I was surprised by how quickly the first several miles flew by. My goal was to break 4 hours and I was on perfect pace to do that. It would be close, but I was on pace. By the 20 mile mark, we were both hurting and trying to keep each other in good spirits. We caught a mutual friend of ours about 23 miles in and the 3 of us suffered through the last 5 kilometers together. There is nothing like shared suffering to bring people together. I finished in 3:58. It was close, but I made it!
I felt like I got hit by a bus but I felt invincible. It was an amazing experience. However, despite being smarter about my diet and training, I had actually gained a bit of weight during training and my hormones were nowhere close to balanced. Every doctor I saw kept telling me that it was “stress and exercise”. Maybe relax and don’t run so much. I was hesitant to take that as an answer because there are people who run marathons and still get their periods. I’m pretty sure I could be one of those people.
I don’t know who decided another marathon was a good idea. But I suckered a lot of people into it, including my parents, my sister, Ryan, Kim, and my brother. My brother was hesitant and I finally just registered for him. He’d thank me later.
I started graduate school in Iowa late that summer and began training hard. My family reunited at the Twin Cities Marathon in October. I finished almost 12 minutes faster than my previous race, which put my Boston-qualifying time only 12 minutes away. It would be a big stretch, but I started to wonder if I could qualify.
Unfortunately, living in Iowa also put me into a bit of a negative environment and my weird relationship with food reared its ugly head again. I was obsessive about my caloric intake, I restricted myself, and I started to feel exhausted all of the time again. I would fall asleep at my desk, I was cold all of the time, and somehow still bought into the idea that this was an acceptable way to go about my life. I was lifting weights 5 days per week, running 5 days per week, biking to and from campus every day, playing soccer, teaching group fitness classes and absolutely not doing a good job nourishing myself. I was training with a couple friends of mine who were really fast and between the tough training and the weight loss, I was the fastest I had ever been.
I moved home for the summer at close to my lightest adult weight ever. I was back to “runner skinny” but I managed not to look nearly as sick this time around. I injured my knee about a month into the summer and spent about 4 months in physical therapy. I was crushed. I was in great shape and what about my dreams of Boston?!
Since I couldn’t run, I decided that this might be a good time to focus on getting my body back to healthy. I had all but given up on things ever being back to normal, but I decided to give it another shot. I met with a Naturopathic Doctor and the test results brought me to tears. I learned that I was gluten intolerant, deficient in a number of key nutrients, and my estrogen and progesterone levels were almost unmeasurable because they were so low. It was a typical hormone profile for a woman who was post-menopausal, only I was 24 years old.
We tried a number of different treatments. I felt like I tried everything. I tried all kinds of supplements in all kinds of doses. Being on incredibly strong hormonal treatments makes for an interesting few months. But nothing worked. There was little improvement in my blood work and I hadn’t had a period in 18 months. My body was broken on the inside and on the outside. The situation felt hopeless.
But this isn’t where the story ends! Stay tuned for Part 3 of my story!