Trigger Warning: Mentions of mental issues and body image issues
It all started the summer after my sophomore year of high school. Before then, I had picked up the “gross” feeling of not exercising when I was in middle school, but it wasn’t as extreme.
That summer, I was at a camp for nearly two months. I was constantly surrounded by social interaction and had the pressure to run to feel good and be worthy to interact with people–it was impossible for me to do so without running every day to be a part of the social scene and feel confident. Plus, I loved the way my body and mind relished in the endorphin rushes and runner’s highs with the good feelings lasting throughout each day I ran.
Now in my third year of college, I strictly uphold this discipline. When I tell people about this habit, or rather “compulsion” as I would find appropriate to call it, they are impressed and commend me for being healthy. While running makes me happy and is generally good for my well-being, many don’t understand the significance of the lingering shadow underneath the sunshine of my relationship with it.
Rather than mustering up the motivation and willpower in the morning for me to jump out of bed and go run, it’s the idea of not running my daily 10K in the morning that terrifies me into doing it. It’s scarier for me to stay in bed and miss my run even if it was healthier that day to get a few more hours of sleep than for me to get up.
In addition, the compulsion gives me anxiety when I am abroad on vacation with my family, who gets stressed out on my behalf.
We went to Portugal and Spain this past December and there were days when we would have to leave our hotel by seven or eight in the morning. Even in an unfamiliar area and exhausted with travel, jetlag and the resulting lack of sleep, I would haul myself out of bed and force myself on 70-minute runs. I would be up as early as four or five so that I would have enough time to shower and get ready after.
I knew that I would feel drained when exploring the places on our itinerary, but I preferred being deprived of energy mentally and physically over the feeling of shame and guilt. I was tired but felt worthy.
A few years ago, we went to Greece. There I became angry with my father for not being able to find me a good place to run outside. I know it wasn’t his fault and that I shouldn’t have vented my frustration at him. Even then, the memory of being deprived of running some of those days leave me with an undesirable, uncomfortable feeling.
When I got injured when I was in the 11th grade it took me a month to recover. This lack of running made me fall into a depression. According to me, I wasn’t allowed to wear “nice” clothes that I felt good in because my body felt too “dirty” and “fat” for me to do so. Regarding my body image issues, not running made me feel unattractive.
The idea of wearing clothes and looking nice seemed fake to me if I didn’t run. It felt extremely disturbing to me to wear jeans, for instance, since they were something that was supposed to make me feel good while I didn’t feel good, and I wasn’t going to pretend that I looked good either. It just felt too out of place for me.
During my senior year of high school, no matter how late I went to sleep, there was never a day I missed running before going to school. Ramadan started at the end of my senior year of high school. I still ran every day of that Ramadan despite abstaining from food and water from dawn to dusk.
I don’t know if it’s due to my aging or if it’s because of my muscles weakening upon impact, but lately, I feel myself tire earlier and my pace getting slower. I’ve thought about switching up my exercise routine by trying strength-training as well, but I’m skeptical.
I hope that I can establish a healthier relationship with running where I can see it as a choice rather than a force in the future. More importantly, I hope that I don’t rely on running to determine my self-worth. But it’s a work in progress.