An Empty Finish Line

Yesterday, I crossed a finish line. Yep, that was all it was, a finish line. A man-made line in the street to declare the race complete.  Nothing more, nothing less. Of course completing a half-marathon is nothing to laugh at.  I am super proud of my husband and myself for completing our first race together. But for the first time that finish line meant nothing to me and I say that because finish lines, at one time, were everything to me.

A little over three years ago I crossed my last finish line at the Big Cajun Triathlon in October 2010.  I began racing in triathlons in the Spring of 2009.  I thought crossing the finish lines would make me ‘healthy,’ happy and well, let’s be honest here – skinny. It was my eating disorder that fueled my desire to race.  In my one year of racing I crossed nearly fifteen finish lines. I never found that elusive health or happiness hiding under the finisher medal table.  Nonetheless, I cried at many finish lines because I thought they were my ‘full circle’ moment and that crossing them meant I was healthy and recovered. But by the fall of 2010, my body, both physically and mentally, only continued to decline in health. As I left for treatment, I knew I would be back in a few months and would return to the sport.  

In treatment, there were a few issues I was hard pressed to discuss, one of which being my relationship with exercise and the sport of triathlon. I was adamant to return to the sport and I told my therapist that I would eventually race again. Maybe not right away, but definitely within a year.  She said I would be “playing with fire.” I responded that she was wrong and ultimately I would find a way.

As I returned home, I soon realized that she was right. Returning to racing or rigorous exercise would be playing with fire.  I will never forget the day I packed all of my racing gear in a box and cried over it. I had to mourn yet another thing stolen by my eating disorder. Part of my heart was ripped out that day and I was left trying to piece together my life in recovery, which sadly meant no racing. But I had made a promise to myself to always put recovery first and that meant saying good bye (not see you later) to the sport. I stayed close to my racing family, continuing to help at events and joining in on Facebook antics. Of course, it was not the same and watching others race stung like hell in the beginning. I had to accept that even though it hurt, I knew I was ultimately making the right decision for me and my recovery.

This past fall, my husband and I started talking about running in the Louisiana Half Marathon.  We got excited about the prospect of training and doing something active together. I never doubted that I was of healthy mind and body to take on the challenge.  What I did worry about was you, my readers and followers.  I know there are so many of you who read my posts and follow me that are fighting for recovery or searching to find peace with food, body and exercise. 

When we decided to enter the race, I explained my decision in Find Your PlayIn overcoming my eating disorder, exercise was THE hardest thing for me to find balance with, as I am sure many of you can understand. Exercise is good for you, right? Well, sure! So your eating disorder uses that to do it to extremes.  I know mine did. My ED excercise brain was based on numbers: calories in/calories out, miles run, etc.  There was no joy in body movement, only constantly calculations and a cruel voice in my head saying, “Run Faster. You’re lazy because you didn’t workout today.” I can’t stress enough that exercise is something that you MUST trust your treatment team on. You have to be honest and open to their recommendations. I knew for sure my therapist was wrong, but ultimately I knew the truth. I needed to put recovery first and that meant hanging up the running shoes and learning to find peace in my body through other forms of body movement.

Many years of therapy, patience and recovery work later, I finally felt ready to lace up my shoes once again and stand at a start line.  How did I know I was ready? Because for once, the finish line meant NOTHING.  I knew crossing the finish line would not make me healthy or happy or at peace with my body.  I already was all of those things.  I knew I was ready simply because it sounded fun. And that is what exercise should be – FUN. Colleen Daly said it best at SmashTALK: Carolina, “If you love to run, run. If you don’t, DON’T. If you love to shake your booty, do Zumba.  Find what YOU love.” Can I get an AMEN?! Amen, Colleen, amen.

Yesterday, Jordan and I lined up with 5,000 other runners in front of the Louisiana State Capitol.  It was a perfectly crisp and cloudless January morning.  The gun went off with a massive BOOM at precisely 7:00am. As the herd of runners slowly began jogging, my heart was happy.  My eyes welled with tears as Jordan and I crossed over the start line. I was overwhelmed with joy that finally I was starting a race where I I wasn’t looking for anything at the finish line. It was an unexpected simple and beautiful step in my recovery journey. I never dreamed that making peace with exercise would come back to me in this way. I was prepared to hang up my racing shoes forever. But in my journey to find myself and what makes me happy, I discovered a small part of that is moving my body. I enjoy running, so I run. A seemingly simple notion that took me years to accept.

Today, I am typing away with some pretty sore legs and tired toes, but a definite peace in my heart. Jordan and I crossed the finish line, hands clasp together in the air. (Yes, we were that cheesy couple and I don’t care one bit!) He gave be a big ole kiss when we finally stopped after crossing the finish. We laughed and screeched, “We did it!” There were no tears at the finish, only hugs, laughs and high-fives. I had nothing to find at the finish because everything I had always searched for and set out to prove in my racing was already inside me. For the very first time, the finish line was meaningless. The Louisiana Half Marathon finish line was beautifully empty.

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  • brittmelton
    January 20, 2014 at 5:10 pm

    What a beautiful way to view that finish line! I know when I hit the publish button on my website a month ago, the thing I was most proud of was that I honestly didn’t care what anyone else thought (and I have ALWAYS cared what everyone else thought!). I was doing it for me and that was a huge milestone in my recovery. Thank you for sharing your story. It gives me more strength than you know.

  • Whitley Adkins Hamlin
    January 21, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    Awee, love this you sweet pea! Both you and your Jordan are precious. I read every word and loved it. xx

  • ndeckerrunner
    January 21, 2014 at 9:38 pm

    Always love your honesty..

  • Jill
    March 31, 2014 at 11:00 am

    I used to run all the time, racing, long distances – the whole thing and yes, it was totally ED fueled. I’ve been dealing with a string of injuries to my right foot for two years now which has litearlly forced me to rest and not be active. It was awful at first, my first thought was always “I’m going to get fat now!” I’ve found recovery along the way and the peace I have made with running is so liberating. I still miss it – running for me does feel good, particularly after a stressful day at work. I’ve made many friends through running, some of which who remained very close to me after I had to give it up for a while. What I don’t miss is the rigid schedule I put myself on when training for races. I don’t miss trying to PR every race and having a complete meltdown when failing to do so. This post gives me hope that when I return to exercise, I can do so in a healthy way.