What Being An Athlete Against Diet Culture Means (To Me)

May is Mental Health Awareness month. As a theologian and an athlete, I am passionate about the topic of mental health both in academia and in sports, at all levels.

May 6th is also International No Diet Day. As many people know, I consider myself an anti-diet culture theologian and running coach and am the founder of the Athletes Against Diet Culture Facebook group. I firmly believe that athletes come in all shapes and sizes, that food does not need to be earned with exercise, and that movement should be joyful. I also believe that athletes should be provided with spaces to focus on their training without constant unsolicited pressure to lose weight, burn calories, or maintain a certain body type (hence why I created the AADC community).

That being said, there are a lot of misconceptions about what being anti-diet culture means, and I often receive pushback for my desire to fight weight stigma. Therefore, I decided to write this piece about what being an “athlete against diet culture” means. I put “to me” in parenthesis since I am not the only voice contributing this conversation. I am still in need of critique and growth, especially since I come from the perspective of a person with white, cisgender, thin, able-bodied privilege.

Anti-diet culture is not anti-weight loss or body changes. It is anti- celebrating body changes as automatically good without having any context, or celebrating one body type as being better than another. 

When a person makes changes to their diet or takes up a sport or activity, body changes can and do sometimes occur. They also sometimes do not occur. Sadly, our culture has been so programmed to think that less weight = greater health that we compliment weight loss without even knowing a person’s situation. People have been told to “keep up the good work” when recovering from COVID, receiving cancer treatment, or when deep in the throes of a dangerous eating disorder. Instead of celebrating body types, celebrate actions. If you ran your first 5k, great! Go you! That is a worthy accomplishment regardless of the size of your waist.

Anti-diet culture is not anti-photographs. It is anti before and after photos that imply one body type is more worthy than another.

Many of us love to take photos to celebrate or mark particular occasions. This is no less true of sport. However, before posting a picture of yourself next to another picture of yourself twenty pounds lighter looking for praise, think of what that picture says to everyone else who is viewing. What message does it send to those whose bodies resemble how you looked before? Why not just post a current photo of yourself and tells us what you are doing or how you are feeling? Loving and being proud of your body should not come at the expense of bodies that look different from your own.

And yes, this is different from posting a before or after photo that highlights a change in hairstyle or hair color. People do not experience systemic oppression on a daily basis due to hair color, while weight-based oppression is very real and very harmful.

Anti-diet culture is not anti-competition. Many athletes against diet culture are highly competitive with ambitious goals. However, goals can still be important without being placed over and above a person’s mental and physical health.

Diet culture negatively impacts a person’s LONG-TERM ability to enjoy and be successful in sport. Coaches who promote disordered eating behavior are only concerned with SHORT-TERM result, not an athlete’s longevity in the sport. If you have not done so already, read the story of Mary Cain.  

Anti-diet culture does not mean “I have to love my body.”

Sure, I would love it if all people could truly see their body’s beauty and worth all the time simply because I hate the thought of people suffering. That being said, not loving your body does not make you “bad,” especially when we live in a culture where people are oppressed because of what their body looks like. As an athlete against diet culture, I believe that people can make steps toward treating their bodies better even when not feeling totally in love with them. The body positivity movement was created by and for marginalized bodies, yet it has often be co-opted in ways that serve the bodies of those who need it the least.

Being anti-diet culture does not mean hating communal exercise groups or fitness classes. It does reject assuming that all people who are at the gym want to change their body.

Exercise has numerous physical and mental health benefits to which coaches and trainers can appeal. There is no need to advertise a race as a way to “burn off” or “earn” food, nor is there a need to advertise a strength training class as a way to “slim down.” First of all, food does not need to be earned and the implication that it does is extremely dangerous. Second, exercise is not a punishment for eating and seeing it as such actually decreases one’s likelihood of enjoying and sticking with a particular sport (seriously, who likes to be punished?) Third, it should not be assumed that every person is working out with the desire to alter their body (even if you personally are, that does not mean everyone is). Telling someone at the gym, “let’s get rid of those love handles” is insulting.

Being anti-diet culture athlete does not mean believing everyone or everything is healthy. It does mean refusing to believe that weight alone is an indicator of fitness.

You cannot judge a person’s health or fitness by their size or BMI. Furthermore, regardless of whether or not one is “healthy” (which is not even an objective term anyway), everyone deserves access to quality health care and respect. Judging health by size negatively impacts EVERYONE. Take the time to get to know people!

What would you add here? What misconceptions do you feel people have about being an athlete against diet culture?

Do you like what you see? Join the Athletes Against Diet Culture on Facebook and follow on Instagram.

126th Boston Marathon Run for ANAD: The Race of My Dreams

126th Boston Marathon Race Report

I am going to start this race report a bit differently and share with you a paragraph from a journaling assignment my therapist made me do. It was called “A Day in My Life When I Am Recovered.” For some reason, when I woke up at 4am on April 18th (too early for my 5:50am Uber to the bus), I found it on my computer. It was quite fitting for the day that awaited me.

“I am on the starting line of the Boston Marathon. I have qualified again, I’m not sure how old I am or how long it took, because I suppose that now that I am recovered, I did not set such a rigid timeline and I did not give up because of a few subpar performances. But it is not that far off from now (oh God please tell me it isn’t). Even though I already have a bib and do not technically have to raise money, I have fundraised a ton of money for eating disorder awareness. This run is not for a personal record, it is for raising awareness and for celebrating the sweet victory of being truly free. Everyone knows now and I am OK with that. My story has helped other people not to feel ashamed.”

I wish I could say that my entire assignment was this uplifting, but the paragraphs that followed basically outlined why this would never happen, and how I would eventually be revealed to everyone as a fraud, not a real athlete or a real scholar.

I am still a work in progress. BUT reading this did remind me just how meaningful this race was, and it reminded me that I should not be focused so much on my time, but on the experience. I also, right then and there, decided to really dedicate this race to all the people who in some way or another helped me quiet the voices in my head that told me such awful things, and who believed in me.

The week leading up to Boston had me way more nervous than I expected, even more nervous than before Chicago. While Chicago was the race that proved to me that I could run sub 3:30, this race had so many people following me and tracking me. A couple of days before the race, my mom said with pride, “you have quite the fan club there!” Having so much support touched me, but also freaked me out. I feared not finishing or getting injured and not even making it to the starting line. Even harder than training for the marathon, I started sharing the story of my eating disorder recovery publicly. Of course, I am happy that I did that. Most of the feedback I have received has been positive, and I raised $4,000 for ANAD (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders). Yet, I still, deep down, harbor this fear that people look at me differently (and some really do though I keep telling myself I’ve gained way more than I’ve lost).

Although I ran Boston once before, it was on the old qualifying standards (the standards were made five minutes faster after the 2018 race) and I had hypothermia for most of the race. I was miserable and barely remember it. So, for me, this felt like my first Boston Marathon. Without overdoing it, I tried to soak in as much of the experience as possible.

On the Boston Marathon Facebook group, people constantly joked about one of the items on the Adidas website. We are still not quite sure what it is – a purple sweater dress? On a whim, I decided to purchase one for myself so people would recognize me on marathon weekend. Yes, it was an $85 well spent to make people laugh and to be honest, it’s quite cute and comfy!

My purple thing!

Bryan and I went to the Expo on Friday hoping to beat the crowds. It was still super crowded, but enjoyable nonetheless (at least for me anyway since Bryan was disappointed there were a lot less vendors than 2018). When I picked up my bib, the volunteer exclaimed that I had a great number and that I must be pretty fast. I felt so honored and thrilled. Although at the back of Wave 2, I was so happy to be in Wave 2 this time!

I am also excited to be running the marathon on the 50th anniversary of female runners being able to race. During training, I read the memoirs of Kathrine Switzer and Bobbi Gibb, and felt so inspired. It still amazes me that during my parents’ lifetime (in other words, not that long ago) people thought women could not handle running 26.2 miles. We sure have proven them wrong!

The first thing we saw at the Expo were a large basket of Spike the unicorn stuffed animals. I already have a Spike from 2018, but I instantly fell in love with the 2022 Spike. When we noticed he was wearing a shirt with a white bib, it signaled to me that Spike was in my wave. Bryan offered to get me one. I also bought a pink unicorn headband to wear during the race.

The Spikes

I met up with friends on Saturday afternoon and evening. The running community is so supportive, but many of us interact solely online for most of the year. It is so fun getting to finally put names to faces, or catch-up after having not seen each other for a very long time.

The 45s

When I was dealing with my stress fracture, I read a book called “Rebound” that helped me so much in overcoming my injury. I got to meet and have coffee with its co-author, Cindy Kuzma, which was absolutely amazing. I came out of seeing everyone feeling more confident. I kept reminding myself that all of these people were there for me at my worst, and that their pride for me now was not based on what time I will run, but that I made it to the starting line at all.

Me and Cindy Kuzma

Me and some friends from the Boston Marathon 2022 Group

On Saturday night, I finally got to see my parents, who drove all the way from New Jersey for the marathon. While I was doing marathon socializing, they spent the afternoon at Fenway Park (not exactly the place of choice for two Yankee fans, but they felt that as baseball fans, it was something they needed to see at least once in their lives). My parents bought Bryan and I Boston shirts, and gave me a unicorn stuffed animal in honor of my running Boston. It was perfect.  

On Sunday, we went to church at Emmanuel College, which is where I work. I received a blessing both from Fr. Terry, the main celebrant of the mass, and from Sr. Janet Eisner, the president of the college and longest serving female college president in the country. My parents came in from NJ and my mother brought her famous spaghetti and meatballs to help me fuel.

With Mom and Dad at Emmanuel College

On my long run three weeks before race day, I agonized over whether or not to wear my Athletes Against Diet Culture shirt. Then I said to myself, “if people don’t like what you stand for, do you want to run with them anyway?” In the end, I was so glad I wore it. First of all, it was in appreciation for everyone who belongs to the Athletes Against Diet Culture group. Second, a few people told me they recognized who I was because of the shirt. After that I decided that it was going to be part of my Boston Marathon outfit.

Flat Kate is ready!

On race morning, after reading the journal entry I mention above, I headed to Boston Common to board my bus. Thankfully, I was able to get on a private bus, and I met a lot of great folks on the ride up to Hopkinton. I also got really antsy. It is not easy to arrive at your destination at 7:30am and not be running until 10:25am. Thankfully, I kept getting a lot of text messages wishing me luck. Between answering those and making sure to continuously hydrate, I kept occupied.

The walk up to the start line was long. When we got to the area of lining up in our corrals, I saw a long string of porta-potties with tons of people waiting. I suddenly realized I had to pee. I kept looking at my watch and at the lines. Finally, I decided I could not hold it and it was not worth it ruining my race. However, the line seemed to take forever, and I kept wishing people would hurry up. It also meant that I missed meeting up with my friend Bobby who I had been doing some training runs with and who was planning on a similar goal. By the time I got to the starting line, I was in the back of Wave 2 and it was 10:31am.

I was disappointed to be starting late, and a bit frazzled, but I quickly let it go and decided to get into gear. As some people reminded me on the porta potty line, “it’s chip timed, all that matters is the time recorded between start and finish!”

Up until the week of the race, I had been very iffy about my goals. For most of training, I told my coach that I just wanted to do Boston for fun. My coach was supportive of this. After all, I had already qualified for both 2022 and 2023 with my time at Chicago. However, he also reminded me that since I am paying him, he is obligated to always let me know what my potential is. Deep down, I think he knew that I thrive on competition and on pushing myself to the best of my ability. I also had a remarkably strong training season, not having to miss any long blocks for injury or illness and running a 5k PR twice. Sure enough, with the perfect weather, I made a secret pact with myself that I was going to “go for it.” I decided to set four goals as usual.

A goal: PR (sub 3:22:14)

B goal: qualify for Boston again (sub 3:30)

C goal: qualify for Chicago again (sub 3:40)

D goal: PR the Boston course (sub 4:02).

Miles 1-5

I start to tear up when it hits me that I have crossed the timing mat, and my loved ones are getting notifications that I am now running the race. This is it. I am running the Boston Marathon again. The first mile is way more congested than I had hoped. This is both a good thing (prevented me from going out too fast which is very easy to do on a course like Boston) but also a bad thing (I felt like I kept weaving in and out of crowds of people and trying to pass people). I am pretty happy with my pacing, and most of it is just by feel. My coach said to expect the downhills to be faster and the uphills to be slower, and not freak about it so long as my miles were not faster than 7:20s. At mile 3, I pass a group of guys and hear one of them say, “ugh come on, we are getting beat by a unicorn woman!” I just smiled to myself and said “yes, you are!”

Mile 1: 7:36  

Mile 2: 7:25

Mile 3: 7:38

Mile 4: 7:27

Mile 5: 7:37

Miles 6-10

I wave and smile as much as possible, enjoying the signs of when we enter a new town. However, I still feel like I have not quite yet found my people. I am constantly weaving in and out, and know I am not doing a good job of running the tangents. When I get to mile 10, I assess how my stomach feels. The voices are not as loud as they were during Chicago and my gut has gotten used to more fuel. I do not feel that awful bloated feeling I had at mile 10 back in October, and I continue with my planned fueling strategy.

Mile 6: 7:24

Mile 7: 7:30

Mile 8: 7:42

Mile 9: 7:38

Mile 10: 7:44

Miles 11-13

In the middle of mile 11 are two men dressed in bumble bee outfits. “Hi bumble bees!” I yell. This is what it’s all about, the spectators. I at least tell myself that I am enjoying what I could not notice back in 2018 when I felt so sick.

However, seeing two miles creep into the 7:40s, I get a bit freaked out and start to increase my speed. I also see the Wellesley scream tunnel and it gets me super motivated. Some of their signs are also hysterically funny. I do not stop and kiss anyone since I am on a mission to run this to the best of my ability and so far, I am on target pace.

I look down at my watch and see that I have crossed the halfway point at almost exactly 1:40. This is right on target for a 3:20 marathon, but I know that I have yet to conquer the Newton Hills. Expecting myself to positive split, I already feel slightly disappointed.

Mile 11: 7:42

Mile 12: 7:23

Mile 13: 7:28

Miles 14-16

After mile 13, I decide that I need to focus on savoring Boston and running by effort. I make the decision to stop looking at my watch, at least for the time being. I tell myself that I can always check it later on in the race. After all, a friend had given me a 3:20 pace band on the bus and I put it on my wrist at the last minute. I still feel really good, but know I need to save my energy. Bryan and our friend Elodie have said they will be around mile 15-16, so I get excited knowing I can start looking out for them. Unfortunately, I am still running in a huge crowd. They have a hard time seeing me, but spot me when I am zooming past them and I get to give them a brief wave.

Mile 14: 7:21

Mile 15: 7:40

Mile 16: 7:20

Miles 17-21

I brace myself for the hills, reminding myself to try to enjoy them. After all, these are the hills I have trained on the past couple of months and they are “home” to me. I channel my high school cross country coach who used to tell us to act like we were chomping up a flight of stairs and to remain calm. I also channel my friend Susan who likes to shout, “I love this hill!” Knowing that the hills were a challenge for me during training since I had a hard time keeping up with my friend Bobby whenever there was an ascent, I wonder if I may be pushing too hard. I start to feel pain in my right hip at mile 18. I search my Roo Pouch for Tylenol and cannot find it. Realizing I am not going to get Tylenol in me before I reach Boston, I try my best to block it out. I keep telling myself “You are OK. You’ve got this, just keep focusing on good form and get to the finish.” The pain keeps coming and going. This has happened before and usually just takes a good foam roll. I remind myself that it is likely not a fracture or anything awful.

When I get to Heartbreak Hill, I keep telling myself, “just get over this and the hardest part is over.” At mile 20, I briefly contemplate looking at my watch to see how I should pace myself for the last 10k, but then I decide against it. I want to enjoy this last 10k, not be riddled with disappointment that my goals are already off the table or pressure to meet them because they are still on the table. Suddenly, I hear my name being called. I look over and at first, I am confused. Then I see my friends Eddie and Kathy, and I smile and wave. After I wave to them, however, I realize I am so tired that I am not sure if I really saw them. Post-race I find out that that indeed were there (at least they say they were!), but we now have a running joke about marathoners having “Eddie hallucinations.” When I get to the top of Heartbreak Hill, I feel a burst of emotion. People are holding signs telling us that we’ve conquered it, and I feel super excited.

Mile 17: 7:38

Mile 18: 7:44

Mile 19: 7:24

Mile 20: 7:42

Mile 21: 8:10

Miles 22-25

Coming down Heartbreak Hill, I get another burst of excitement. I am still not looking at my watch, but I know the hills must have slowed me down, so I try to speed up. As a Boston College alum, running down the other side of Heartbreak Hill gives me a burst of energy. My parents have said they will be at Cleveland Circle, so I begin to look out for them. My quest to make sure I see them is keeping me occupied and able to forget the pain. Finally, at the corner of Commonwealth Ave and Chestnut Hill Ave, I see them. They picked a great spot to spectate since I can see them pretty clearly. I hear my mom shout, “I love you!” I blow them a kiss and yell “I love you!” back with a big smile.

 I thought the hardest miles of the race were the Newton Hills. I was wrong. It is definitely miles 23-25. After seeing my parents, it suddenly hits me that I am starting to struggle and that I want this thing to be over already. I feels like forever until I reach the mile 23 and mile 24 markers. However, the crowds are amazing. I am wearing my unicorn headband and people keep yelling “go unicorn!” and “yeah unicorn girl!” I try to soak in all of their love.

At this point, I assume I have slowed down and try to just focus on finishing strong. I am hoping that maybe I will see my husband soon and he can give me some sort of indication of how I am doing time wise.

Mile 22: 7:42

Miles 23: 7:47

Mile 24: 7:57

Mile 25-26

Ironically, while miles 23, and 24 seem to drag on forever, I seem to feel a newfound energy when I see the “one mile to go” sign. I also remind myself to not go too crazy since, for most people, the course ends up being a bit long due to the crowds and not being able to run the tangents. I briefly consider looking at my watch again thinking it could motivate me to move faster. However, I decide against it. What if it makes me upset?

When you see that Citgo sign…

Before I know it, I see the sign for Hereford. I actually felt like I had longer to go on Beacon St, so this is a nice surprise. I shout out loud, “Hereford!” It’s such a spectacular moment. I know at this point that I am going to finish the race. I do not even feel the small incline. When I make the left on Boylston, the finish line seems so close and yet so far away. I am so tired, but the crowds are so loud, and it is just incredible. You feel like a superstar the entire way. I consider peaking at my watch again to get a sense of where I am. I literally could not tell you my time if you paid me! However, I start to remember that this has been a longtime dream of mine. I want to feel nothing but joy when I cross that finish line. I can deal with the time later. I decide to be oblivious and just give the best finish line pose that I can possibly muster.

Nevertheless, when I get closer to the finish, I notice that there are time clocks for Wave 1 and Wave 2. Wave 2s time clock reads 3:29 something. Wow, I have to at least be under 3:30! And I know I started later than 10:25, so I have to be a few minutes faster than that at least!  I speed up really fast to make sure that I at least get my B goal. I put my hands up in a victory pose! This is it! I made it!

Mile 25: 7:49

Mile 26: 7:48

.5: 7:08

Finish line happiness

When I cross the finish, I look down at my watch and see 3:22 something. I am ecstatic. Wow, I really did not slow down as much as I thought! I feel surprisingly OK, but I have a lot of trouble walking. Another difficulty of the Boston Marathon course is that there is a lot of walking after the race.

My phone rings and I immediately answer it. “Congrats, baby! New PR!” It’s Bryan. Did I? My watch does not say so, but perhaps I have turned it off late. I will have to check the official results.

It takes a while to reach the place where they are handing out blankets and medals. For a while, I keep fearing that I missed getting mine, but then quickly look around and realize the people next to me do not have their medals either. When a volunteer finally puts a medal around my neck, I savor the moment. I have zero pictures of myself wearing my medal from the 2018 Boston Marathon due to being placed in the medical tent immediately after finishing. A nurse had to bring my medal to me almost two hours after I had already finished, and by that time, I was in no mood for happy photos. When I reach the thermal blankets, I hear screaming. It is my friend Sophia from elementary school! We have not seen each other in years. She embraces me and we pose for a selfie. I thank her immensely since she lets me have two of the blankets. By this point, I am feeling pretty cold!

It takes a while to find Bryan. A kind volunteer helps me reach where he is waiting with my bag of clothes. Instead of checking a bag, I gave my stuff to Bryan to carry. This was due to our experience of difficulty with trying to obtain my bag from gear check in 2018. The BAA was super secure (for which I am grateful) and would not allow Bryan to pick up my bag for me. It took multiple trips and phone calls from the people in the medical tent to the people in gear check to get things sorted.

When I see Bryan, we embrace! However, I also start to look at my phone and realize that my official finish time is 3:22:18. I did not PR. Bryan lied. To be fair, he was off by 4 seconds! Part of me is thrilled since it really is a better outcome than I expected. Part of me is also, I cannot lie, disappointed. I keep thinking back to places I could have surged. I wonder if looking at my watch would have helped me, especially right at the end.

With Bryan and Elodie in Boston Common

We take the subway and then the bus home, stopping briefly to get some desserts from Mike’s Pastry. I take a brief nap, and then we take my parents to dinner at the Stockyard, where I enjoy a big Manhattan and lots of delicious food.

Enjoying post- race meal at the Stockyard

Overall, it is one of the best days of my life. Some people told me I would never BQ again, and they were wrong. Even though I did not reach my A goal, I gained something really important from this race: more confidence in myself as an athlete. I thought for a while that I would stop doing marathons to focus exclusively on triathlons, but now I really feel like the marathon and I have some unfinished business. I would like to go for a sub 3:20! That being said, for the short term, my focus will turn back to tri since my next races are the Musselman 70.3 and Ironman Maryland.

Again, a big thanks to everyone who was a part of this day: the volunteers, the other runners, my family and friends.

Recovery is possible. Scary and hard, but possible and WORTH IT!

Irish 5k Race Report & Why I Am Glad I Learned to Love the 5k

I did not enter this race to win and perhaps, that’s why I won (in more ways than one).

I was supposed to do the Irish 5k in Pawtucket, RI in 2020, right before the world shut down due to COVID. It was supposed to be a meet-up with several running friends. Unfortunately, a few days before the race, I felt really sick and not up to racing. I said, “next year” but March 2021 was cancelled.

5ks are not the easiest to fit into a marathon training plan. Also, for the past several years, I have been notorious for hating 5ks. Speed has never been my forte. My current coach has really taken that into account. At first, I resented it, but now I realize how much I have benefitted from working on my weaker points as a runner. Back when I ran 60-70 mile weeks, anything faster than marathon pace was pretty awful. Now, running much less mileage and being a triathlete, I feel more comfortable at faster paces and 5ks have becoming something I look forward to rather than dread.

I am also notorious for putting too much pressure on myself and for being very anxious. I often check the weather a million times before race day. I scour races to find ones with the flattest courses. I even, as much as I hate to admit it, check previous year’s results to see if I have a chance at being a top finisher. COVID has shifted my priorities a bit. Having races taken away for so long, I am much happier to just run with people even if the conditions are not ideal, and that has led to me going outside of my comfort zone more.

In January, I ran an unexpected 5k PR of 20:54 at the Resolution Run to Kick Cancer in Lexington, MA in 16 degree weather. Coming away from that race feeling like I could have pushed a bit harder, I was eager to do another 5k. In February, I signed up for the Cupid’s Chase 5k in Wakefield. It was my favorite course and a picture perfect 50 degrees, so when, after racing my heart out, I ended at 21:13, I was a bit sad.

So, this 5k excited me because I wanted to do it for the sole purpose of meeting up with my friend Jeremy (we’ve had a running joke about running a 5k together for a while now with me backing out for various reasons) and spending the morning in Rhode Island. When I heard there was a huge hill the first mile of the race, I figured “great! Not going to feel bad about not getting a PR! Let’s see what I can do on something with some hills!”

The atmosphere was great. As someone who is Irish, I loved hearing the bagpipes at the start and having a chance to wear my Irish-themed socks and gloves.

Tina Muir, elite runner and founder of the #Running4Real community taught me about #nowatchme, which means running by effort instead of checking your pace. Running watches are great for so many reasons, but they can also lead to an unhealthy and unhelpful obsession with pace.

For longer races, I sometimes like knowing my splits since it can be very easy to go out too fast (after all, the first part of a marathon should feel like you are holding quite a bit back). However, I have completely stopped looking at my watch during 5ks (I do keep it on to get the metrics post-race). It has helped me so much and has allowed me to focus on just doing my best in the moment. In the past, seeing a slower split would often wreck my confidence, thereby not letting me enjoy the rest of the race. Seeing a faster split would sometimes scare me into thinking I need to slow down or that I cannot maintain it.

This race was no exception. I started up the hill and just said “maintain effort.” I could feel my legs slow down at some parts, but decided to just let them do their thing. At ¾ of a mile in, I started getting worried about how uncomfortable I felt. To make matters worse, the hill did not end with a downhill but a long straight-away so my legs did not get the break I had hoped for after reaching the top. Mile: 6:40 (according to Strava).

When the watch beeped, I passed this incredibly strong looking kid that could not have been more than 11 or 12. I was completely in awe of his speed and had I been able to string together a sentence I would have yelled to him “I wish I could have done this at your age!” I started feeling better by the halfway point. Mile 2: 6:38 (according to Strava)

At mile 2, I kept reminding myself not to speed up until at least halfway through the mile. In a 5k, one mile left is not “almost over.” A course marshal on a bicycle passed me and yelled something. I could not make it out. I thought perhaps he said “you are first place female, keep it up!” but then I quickly got rid of that thought. “He’s just being encouraging.” I knew I was in front, but I did not want to assume I was first. After all, at the MR8k in December, I spent the entire race thinking I was third place female only to realize that there were two elite level women way ahead of me that I had not been able to see. There was a prize for third that race, but no prize for fifth (although my husband bought me bagels!)

Thankfully during warm-up, I had studied the end of the course. I knew it was a slight incline and I knew exactly where the turn was. I made the turn and began to speed up. I knew I likely at least had an age group win, so I wanted to maintain whatever lead I had. Also, from my time as a high school cross country runner, I learned that people can surprise you can come out of nowhere in the last few seconds of a race. I heard footsteps behind me and sped up. I looked to my left and was relieved to see it was a dude. “OK, at least he’s not going to beat me out of an award.”

At mile 3, I could start to see the clock. 6:37 (according to Strava). I noticed I could break 21 and I sped up again. Then I heard the announcer. “Let’s hear it for our first place female!” Normally, I feel completely drained at the finish but I found some way to speed up even more, worried that someone could still beat me. I had no clue who was behind me. Then, I saw the tape, and I put my hands up with a huge smile. “And she’s looking happy!”

Breaking the tape felt amazing, though a few race volunteers actually asked if I was OK. I was, just needed a moment to catch my breath. Official time: 20:43. 11 second PR and first place win!

Post-race, I did a mile cool down with my friend Jeremy, who also crushed the race and my husband, who did great as well. We then watched a little bit of the St. Patrick’s Day parade, and ate bagels in the car because I was really cold (sorry). It was a really fun morning!

What I love about the 5k is that unlike longer races, I can do more of them. They cannot all be PRs, but if one does not go as well as hoped, you can sign up for another one soon. Furthermore, I like just running without a watch and seeing where my speed takes me. All of my best 5ks have been run in that manner. Finally, I think going into a race without pressure really helped. Sometimes pressure can actually detract from race goals because worrying takes up energy, and it can be easy to go out too hard.

My coach has always told me “strong before long” and as a new coach myself, I now abide by this with my own athletes. As a runner, it can be easy to just do what you are best at all the time because it feels good, and it is less scary. However, it can also keep you stuck where you are. Moving to distances that are harder can be a challenge, but the more often you do something, the more comfortable it feels. Also, getting used to running faster paces (like 5k and 10k pace) has made half-marathon and marathon pace feel even better.

People often try to debate which race distance is hardest or most impressive. I do not think there is an answer to that question. Each has its own challenges, and training for any distance is hard work. Appreciate all of it and learn as much as you can!

So yes, I won this race, but the real reason I won this race is that I did not enter it to win, and I PRed in fun along the way.

This Lent, I’m Fasting From Diet Culture

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and the start of the 40 days of Lent. Discussions of fasting and “giving things up” can make Lent a triggering time for those who have struggled with, or are supporting a loved with, an eating disorder/disordered eating. Fasting or restricting a person’s intake can lead to a lot of physical and mental health concerns, and therefore, should never be seen as a necessary practice.

How one observes Lent is a very personal decision but ultimately, the point is to focus more closely on God. And we cannot focus on God without loving our neighbor. Fasting is not required to love your neighbor, and in fact, it quite often detracts from it.

Think about it. You are in the cafeteria. Your friend is eating meat on a Friday. You say, “yo, its Friday!” and they put down their hamburger. What have you accomplished? The world isn’t any better than it was two minutes ago.

Now, let’s say you are in the cafeteria fasting from diet culture. You refuse to laugh at jokes about other people’s bodies. You make an effort to really listen to the person talking instead of worrying about your next appointment. Sure, you did not solve world peace, but you are slowly dismantling an oppressive system that labels only certain types of bodies are holy, moral, and worthy.

So, this year, I’m fasting from diet culture (at least I am trying to, that’s the other thing- God’s love is so vast that we can mess up, dust ourselves off, and try again).

  1. I will fast from media that tries to sell me diets, even if they are packaged in the name of “wellness.”
  2. I will fast from making judgments about myself or others based on their body size, including about their morality, their athletic ability, their struggles, their health, etc.
  3. I will fast from referring to certain foods as “good” or “bad,” realizing that doing so can also have racist and classist implications.
  4. If I do not find a purpose for doing a certain exercise beyond calorie burn or weight loss, I will refrain from that exercise.
  5. I will not laugh at jokes that poke fun at certain body types.
  6. I will honor my hunger, or if I am recovering from an eating disorder and cannot yet trust my body to give me hunger signals, I will put my trust in someone who can help me.
  7. I will fast from telling myself I do not deserve help, while at the same time, working to assist others obtain help if they are having difficulty.
  8. I will pay closer attention to the needs of those around me. Rather than restricting my own intake, I will think of ways I can give my own time, money, resources, ideas, etc.
  9. I will do more talking in spaces where voices like mine have been marginalized, and more listening in spaces where voices like mine have been dominant. 
  10. I will try to gentle with myself and others, while recognizing that being gentle does not preclude setting boundaries with people who say or do things that hurt me.
  11. I will try to be patient with others, remembering they may be struggling with something I cannot see.
  12. I will fast from listening to people who tell me that I am doing Lent the wrong way. This is between God and myself. It is not a contest.
  13. I will add my own voice and perspective to these since the person that wrote them does not know everything about everything, and is a work in progress too.

Great thing here is that once Lent is done, its great to continue these things. Lent need not be about giving something up and then rushing to do it again at Easter. It can be moving toward a long-term change that will ultimately benefit your relationship with yourself, your loved ones, and God.

I wish everyone a blessed Lent!

2021 Chicago Marathon Race Report

(if you just want the play by play of the run itself, feel free to skip the story)

September 28, 2019. Two weeks before the Chicago Marathon. I was having a great training cycle, and now a lot of the hard work was over. The schedule was 15 miles with 5 at goal pace. It started out strong until sudden pain stopped me completely in my tracks at mile 9. I had no choice but to call an Uber home, trying not to cry in the backseat. 

I rushed to my sports medicine doctor the following Monday. He thought it was a quad strain and that I could recover with some dry needling and rest. I remained hopeful until we got to the week of the race and I still could not run a step. In fact, I even missed the bus to work one morning because running across the street was impossible. My physical therapist, who was seeing me frequently and trying everything to get me to the starting line, had me do one last exercise. Lateral step-downs. If I could not do those without pain, Chicago was over. I could not even manage to bend my leg even the slightest.

The previous fall, I convinced my husband, Bryan, who was a bit reluctant, to enter the Chicago Marathon lottery. He did it and was accepted. It was too late to back out of the trip when flights and an Air B&B were booked. It also would not have been fair to Bryan who trained hard. On Facebook, I made the painful post that I would not be joining my husband on the starting line. I went into hard core cheering mode and was so proud of him. He finished strong! Everyone commented on what a great sport I was.  Yet, they did not witness the time I spent crying in bathroom stalls or into my pillow at night.

When we got back from Chicago, my doctor ordered an MRI. It was a stress reaction in my femur. While this news devastated me, I was also fortunate. It was a reaction, meaning it had yet to progress to a fracture and it was in a location that, my doctor explained, was more conducive to a quicker healing time. Nevertheless, it was still at least eight weeks of absolutely no running, and another three to four weeks of just run/walk intervals after that.

At 13, I was diagnosed with an eating disorder. I missed a great deal of eighth grade being in the hospital and various partial hospitalization programs. It almost killed me. My parents were told to make trips to my bedroom in the middle of the night to check that I was still breathing. I was so ashamed that I hid it from everyone, or at least tried to do so. I feared people finding out, so I made it my mission to seem as “OK” as possible. In college, I had to get the best grades. I could never miss a day of class, and I could never make a mistake lest someone think my eating disorder made me less capable, less trustworthy, less scholarly.

In graduate school, I refused to see a therapist or dietitian. I had to show the world “I’ve totally got this on my own.” Having help or support felt like admitting defeat and something that could risk my chances of getting into a PhD program or getting a job. The cost of getting treatment felt too high for a full-time graduate student and I refused to accept money from anyone for that purpose. I also had a severe mistrust of treatment professionals after some horrible experiences as a child (we’ve come a long way since 2002, even if we’ve still got work to do).

Given how careful I was with my training, my doctor said the likely cause of the injury was under-fueling. He ordered a bone density test which revealed osteopenia in my hips. I fell into a deep depression. Without running, I was not sure how to deal with my anxiety. I joined a Facebook group online called The Injured Athletes Club. I read sports psychologist Carrie Jackson Cheadle’s book Rebound. The book had a checklist of signs that a person should seek help for an eating disorder. I laughed at it at first, “there’s no way I’m struggling again at my age.” Bryan, who met me long after the worst of my battle was over, suspected something was not right and made me take it. Together, we clicked off most of the boxes. There was no denying that I could no longer do this by myself.

I had been seeing a dietitian right before the fracture, but now I had to really start listening to her instead of only doing a fraction of what she told me. She convinced me to stop looking at the scale, and to just focus on my performance. I went about the process of finding a therapist, which was literally harder than getting into a PhD program (and yes, even in a big city like Boston). My dietitian ended up recommending a woman who herself had anorexia and has now been recovered for over 25 years. At first, I was like “hell no!” I assumed that anyone with an eating disorder would be too broken or too damaged to actually help me. After all, I thought of myself as broken and damaged, which is why I had to keep my struggles a secret.

With nothing to lose and people on my back that I needed help, I e-mailed her anyway. She was completely booked, but I got off of her waitlist within a month. Long story short, I do not know how I would have gotten through the past two years without her. She taught me that I was not broken beyond repair, and that I could use my experiences to help others. She is the reason I still believe in full recovery.

 One of the exercises in Dr. Cheadle’s book was to make an anxiety pyramid. Basically, you put smaller goals on the bottom of the pyramid and larger goals on top, and you work your way up the pyramid slowly, checking things off until you get to the peak. On the bottom of my pyramid, I had “start cycling again” and “do run/walk intervals.” A bit further up I wrote “run outside again” and then even further “do a race.” Somewhere near the peak I wrote “do another marathon.” Then, in a fit of I’m-not-quite-sure-what, I wrote “run the Boston Marathon to raise eating disorder awareness and money for those who need treatment.” When I brought it to my therapist, I said, “if I qualify for Boston again, that’s what I’m doing. But I never will, so haha.” I never thought I might actually have to do it, or maybe deep down, there was a small part of me that believed.

At the recommendation of friends, I found a triathlon coach. On our consultation call, I planned to turn him down, thinking it was too much money to spend on myself. However, after an hour- long conversation with him that included me feeling comfortable enough to reveal my eating disorder history, my husband said, “he’s hired!”

Fueling myself properly seemed like an insurmountable challenge at first. There were times my husband had to talk me through eating before my workouts. There were times I thought of just giving up, and there were times I just wanted to revert back to old behaviors because they felt strangely comforting. However, it did really get easier and easier. I saw that my therapist and dietitian were invested not only in my recovery, but my athletic success and happiness, and that the two seemed to go hand in hand. Previously, as a child in treatment, I felt like everyone was against me. Sure, people told me they wanted me to be healthy, but it always seemed like being “healthy” had to come at the price of being myself. For the first time in my life, I did not have to feel afraid to be honest about my struggles for fear that sports would be taken away. I could still be an athlete and in recovery.

I became hooked on triathlons and started calling myself “triathlete” instead of “runner.” I am not going to lie. The sports world can be toxic for someone in recovery from an eating disorder (though it should not have to be). There is talk of “lighter is always better,” there is food shaming and body shaming. There are websites and groups that I have to stay away from. Yet, the training partners and friends I met through triathlon are people I could now not imagine my life without. I was shocked when I found myself telling them about my struggles, and thrilled beyond measure to have their support in maintaining my recovery while getting faster in the three disciplines.

When I could not run Chicago in 2019, I deferred to 2020. Due to COVID-19, I had the option to choose between running 2021, 2022, or 2023. When I first received the e-mail, I considered just forgetting about the marathon but somewhere deep inside, I knew I had to get closer to the top of my anxiety pyramid. I signed up for 2021, reminding myself to have very low expectations. When Bryan and I booked our hotel, I took a picture of myself wearing a crash helmet, joking around that Chicago was a cursed race for me. As many of you know, I use humor a lot as a way of dealing with stress.

For much of the spring, I was focused intently on the Patriot Half Ironman, a race I loved. In fact, I loved it so much that I considered doing another 70.3 in August. Yet, when talking to my coach, I realized that deep down, my desire to do another 70.3 right away was really an excuse to not think about and focus on Chicago. Ultimately, I decided against it in favor of doing some sprint triathlons that would not get in the way of my marathon training.

Training for a marathon again was scary. Having focused on shorter distances and triathlons post-stress reaction, I spent over two years not having done a run longer than a half marathon. My first 15 miler was humbling. I had to check in with my dietitian about how do long runs again, and this time, I had to actually do what she said, rather than ignoring half of the plan. For a while, it felt like every weekend I was posting about completing “my longest run post-stress fracture.” Sometimes while running I had to actually say out loud to myself, “you are ok. You are ok.” Somehow, the more runs I did where I did not fracture something, the more confident I became. I even ran by the spot where the injury happened, speeding by at marathon pace and giving it the finger. Nevertheless, I kept conveying to my coach how scared I was, and how this could be a mistake.

After winning my age group at the Sharon Triathlon this past August with a strong run off the bike, my coach turned to me and said, “see? Aren’t you more confident about Chicago now?” My answer was, “trust me, you don’t understand. The marathon and me, it a whole different ballgame.”

I told people I was just “training for Chicago to finish the race and survive.” I even told myself that. Yet, everyone could see that was a crock of crap. I refused to talk about race time goals with anyone, and yet, somehow, people would say to me, “that 3:20-3:25 looks possible,” or “I bet you are going for a 3:20-3:25.”

During taper, I injured my hamstring. I did not run for 10 days. Part of me was resigned to “here we go again, its Chicago, what did you think would happen?” Another part of me was like “fight, fight, fight.” My physical therapist worked with me, and on race week, cleared me to toe the line on Marathon Sunday. A mixed blessing, the weather predictions helped me get my mind off of my hamstring. With a predicted high temperature of 80 degrees and a starting temperature of 70 degrees, Chicago was going to be far from ideal marathon weather.

I talked it over with my coach. The Baystate Marathon was a week later and the weather looked much more promising. I would lose my race fee, but our plane and hotel were refundable. Should I switch?

We decided against it. There was a chance Baystate could be just as hot, and there was a chance Chicago would cool down before race day. Also, Chicago was a once in a lifetime experience given the travel expenses. Baystate could be done any year. Finally, I felt it was important to not let the Chicago Marathon beat me again. I had to show that race I was not afraid! Nevertheless, I prepared myself for a slower marathon time. I made a ton of Facebook posts about the weather. It was as if I felt the need to warn everyone not to expect anything from me.

My coach refused to stop believing. Training for triathlons certainly helped get my body more accustomed to the heat. Since the run is the last portion of a triathlon, triathletes often have to run when the sun is at its hottest. For so much of the summer, I would purposely do workouts later in the morning to prepare myself. However, Chicago was not a triathlon and I had been counting on some help from cooler fall temperatures.

Boarding the plane to Chicago was an emotional experience. The flight attendant announced, “I would like to invite all people running the marathon this Sunday to board first.” My husband pushed me forward. “That’s you.” At that moment, it really sunk in and I started to tear up. I was running this year. I was not sitting out. I realized that no matter what the weather was going to bring, I was truly grateful. 

Right up to the day of the race, I had no idea what my pacing strategy was going to be. Do I try goal pace and slow down if needed? Do I just go slower and treat it like a fun long run? At the expo, I took two pace bands: one for 3:25 and one for 3:20, hoping I would land somewhere in between. That night, my husband was helping me get ready and accidentally tattooed the 3:25 band to the plastic instead of to my arm. “Looks like you just have to run 3:20, I guess.”

My coach texted me, “I know the weather is not ideal, but just do your best. I really think you are going to surprise yourself here!” Several friends from Chicago also told me they thought the weather would not feel so bad to me after a season of triathlons. Still, goal pace was a game day decision right up until the I crossed the starting line.

Thanks to my Chicago friends Richard and Tiffanie for my pre-race coffee and pep talk!

When I left my hotel at 5:30am, it was already around 70 degrees, but it felt cool. I walked to the subway with a man from Puerto Rico. When I got the starting corral, I made friends with a guy whose daughter lives in the same town as my husband and me. While online for the porta potty, I started talking to a woman from Sacramento, CA. Getting the chance to talk to people from all over the world helped ease my nerves. I texted my mom, Bryan, and my coach making jokes about not being able to find transition and not knowing where to rack my bike.

I was originally assigned to Wave 1- Corral D. Over the summer, I found out that one could qualify for Corral C with a sub 1:35 half-marathon. I submitted my 1:34:55 from the Wallis Sands Half-Marathon and was moved up to C. This was a decision I did not think about much until I found out that Corral C would only have pacers for 3:10, 3:15, and 3:20. To run with the 3:25 pacer, I would have to move back to D. Just a few weeks prior, the move to D was a no-brainer, but with the weather being hot, a few friends advised me to start in C, as the 10-15 minute head start could make a difference.

Wanting to start as soon as I could and before the weather got unbearably hot, I lined up in Corral C slightly behind the 3:20 pacer. Yet, I kept questioning my decision. Chatting with the people around me was fun but it also increased my anxiety. The woman next to me had a PR of 3:23 that she ran last year. A few of the men in front of us had PRs in the low 3:20s that they ran fairly recently. Me? I had a PR of 3:30:32 from all the way back in May of 2017 and I was brought straight to the medical tent upon finishing.

Me texting my husband asking if I should run with the 3:20 group. Also a picture of how I felt about chocolate muscle milk after the race!

I texted my husband a picture of the big 3:20 pacer group sign with the caption, “Am I being dumb?” He wrote back, “Do it!” My husband is a physicist, and one thing about him is that he thinks things over very carefully. I knew if he thought I was hurting myself, he would tell me to move back and start slower.

When it was my time to go, I started running at a comfortable-but-faster-than-easy-pace pace. Since I was told the GPS often gets messed up in Chicago, I turned off auto lap in favor of just checking my time against my pace band at each mile marker. I aimed to be somewhere slightly slower than my 3:20 pace band, and I tried hard to remember the splits on the 3:25 one.

With so many spectators and me just being in awe of the sights of Chicago, I missed the mile 1 marker. Coming upon the first aid station, it was so tempting to skip. What would it hurt, right? Who needs fuel so early on? But I knew if I skipped that one, I’d skip another and another and keep playing a game with myself. My dietitian was clear I had to take Gatorade from every fuel station (with the exception of right after I had a gel). “I am NOT going to ruin this one. I have to give myself my best possible chance.”

During the first few miles, we passed by a couple of banks with jumbo time and temperature screens. 74 degrees read the first. 75 read the second. “Ignore. Ignore. Block. Block. Keep going.”

At mile 3, I looked at my pace band. Right on target for 3:20, almost exact. Fabolous’ song “My Time” came on (I decided to run with headphone but on low enough I could also hear the music from the crowds). Tears began to pool in my eyes, I started signing out loud but softly, “it’s my time, my time, my time.” Shortly after that, I saw Bryan with a “Kate 2.0 sign.” My heart melted.

For those that do not know, when I met with my dietitian for the final time before the marathon, I had serious doubts. “I’ve always screwed up with my nutrition in all my previous marathons!” She told me that instead of thinking about the past, think about this marathon as the first one where I would get things right. Somehow, somewhere in that conversation, we jokingly came up with “Kate 2.0” and it ended up sticking. I wrote Kate 2.0 on my arms that morning.

I continued to check my pace band at each mile marker, remembering each of my dedications. It was a great way to pass the time. I was also surprisingly right on pace with 3:20, even though I felt like I started a bit behind the pacer. At the 10k, I ran by an announcer, “3:20 group looking good.” Wow. I was with them. “Can I maintain this for another 20 miles?” I quickly erased that thought from my head. Thinking about how much I had left was not going to help. I grabbed my Gatorade and told myself, “this is just a fun long run.” In many ways, I was not lying. The course was beautiful and flat. If I wasn’t racing, I wouldn’t be feeling all nervous.

At mile 9, Bryan screamed to me. I almost missed him and then caught a quick glimpse of him with his second Kate 2.0 sign. “I love you babe!” I yelled. At mile 10, after my second gel, my stomach started to feel like it was going to explode. “I’ve consumed more than I used to consume for an entire marathon in just the first 10 miles of this race.” I skipped a Gatorade station in favor of just water.  I also started taking extra water to pour on my head and in my sports bra. The heat was not really bothering me yet, but I did not want to it start.

After telling myself, “this is so much better than bonking from being hungry” and “hey, you are still on pace, aren’t you?” my stomach calmed down. I returned to the plan with the exception of taking my third and fourth gels about a mile later than scheduled to space things out a little more. At the halfway point, I was literally right there with my 3:20 pace band. I was not feeling good enough to speed up, but I was feeling good enough to not slow down. “Just maintain and see how things feel in another couple of miles.”

 I was warned that miles 14-16 could feel pretty lonely, but I was so focused that it did not really bother me. As I crossed the mile 14 mark, Andra Day’s “Rise Up” started playing on my headphones. I start to tear up again. Back in 2019, this song helped me get through my injury. So much felt hopeless and out of control, and this song gave me comfort that somehow, someday, I would get back up and run again.

Inspired by the song, I start to remember the importance of feeling grateful just to be racing. So as not to get too obsessed and to stay focused on listening to my body rather than my watch, I decided from then on to only check in with my pace band every couple of miles, rather than every mile. At mile 16, I was still on pace. At mile 17, I heard a few men near me talking about prayer lists. Since I like to pray for people at each mile, I jumped into the conversation and told them I am a theology professor. One man asked me my name and said I was just added to his list. I asked for his name back and added him to mine. It was just the right confidence boost. One thing I love about running is that I thrive off of the energy and support of everyone around me.

At mile 18, I notice myself running with the official Nike 3:20 pacer. “Wow, how did I get up here?” Two men inform me that they are running 3:20s as well. For them, it’s a C goal due to the heat. Trying not to let their words scare me, I pipe up, “this is my big reach goal. I can’t believe I’m still here.” They tell me I am looking good. One of them says, “just believe in it. Believe in the 3:20. And whatever you do, don’t make a move until mile 25.” Shortly thereafter, I lost them in the crowd but I remembered their advice (and seriously wish I found them after the race to say thank you). Sadly, at mile 18, I also noticed that my left leg was hurting right where my stress fracture was. “This is just in your head.” I kept listening to my music and trying to forget about the discomfort, so long as it continued to stay below a two or three on the pain scale (which it thankfully did).

At mile 19, we enter Pilsen. A Mariachi band is playing, and I am loving the music.
“This marathon really is enjoyable and a once in a lifetime experience. Even if I slow down, I have to soak it in until the very end.”

Mile 20 is also emotional. In all of my previous marathons, mile 20 was the point where I would hit the wall and crash from intense hunger and nausea. This time I am not feeling that way. I am tired, but I have more left in me. I take my fourth gel, and notice I am now slightly behind 3:20 pace but not by much. I am still happy and hopeful. After all, my goal was sub 3:25!

Mile 21 is Chinatown. I look for Bryan, and for my sister and brother-in-law but do not see them (I find out later they were screaming for me and I missed them!). I am disappointed, but I quickly remove the thought from my mind. It’s time to really get down to business here. My legs start to really cramp up, and it’s the first time I notice the heat. I start to worry my sub 3:25 is in jeopardy and I just want the race to be over. Suddenly, I hear a noise- “Kate! Kate!” It’s my friend Richard who is volunteering as a course marshal. I yell “Richard!” and I feel a sudden burst of energy and I pick up the pace. No way am I giving up! It is the boost I need to get to the end, where I plan to look again for Bryan, Renee, and Alasdair.

At mile 22, I notice I am now again behind the 3:20 pace by a minute or two. I start to freak out and my mind starts to play games with me. “Kate, come on, you knew this was too ambitious. There was no way you were getting close to 3:20, or even breaking 3:25. Hah!” Then I start to think, “just skip the Gatorade, you aren’t going to make it now anyway.” I start saying really nasty things to myself, and I have to fight it. “No, no, you are not going to ruin my race!” I have to give it my very best shot, and that means taking in my nutrition and continuing to run as hard as I can. I decide at that moment to completely stop looking at my watch. Instead of keeping track of pace splits, my strategy becomes to pass people. I start picking people one at a time, and once I pass someone, I pick a new person. Guy in blue shirt. Lady in pink shirt. Dude in yellow. It distracts me and suddenly I am at mile 23. “Come on, Kate. You can do a 5k in your sleep.”

At mile 24, people are screaming. “2 miles left! 2 miles left!” I take double Gatorade, really feeling the heat. All of the screaming makes me want to speed up, though I am careful not to go too hard until I get closer to the finish. The volunteers and the crowd are so helpful and so kind. I then hear “1.5 miles left!”

Shortly after the mile 25 marker, I see a big sign “1 mile left!” At this point, I am hurting so badly but I know I am going to finish and that I am going PR. However, just by how much is still to be determined, so I know I cannot give up. I look for Bryan, Renee, and Alasdair but do not see them (they were apparently there too screaming super loud). At 800 meters to go, I kick it up another notch but am cautious. My legs are really bothering me, and I do not want to burn out before the finish. I am so grateful for all of the signs, especially when we make the final turn to run up “the hill.” I put “the hill” in quotations since it really is not that big of a hill, it just looks like a mountain because it appears at mile 26.

I give it everything I have as I make it up the small incline. 400m to go. I look at my watch and see 3:20 something. I know at that moment I have not completely stayed on pace, but the disappointment is so brief it can barely register. I am STILL IN THIS! 200m to go. I sprint. 100m to go. I start putting my hands in the air and I scream “Yes! Yes! Finally!” It is the moment I have been dreaming of for years, finishing a marathon happy and qualifying for Boston on the new standards. I am not going to let anything get in my way. It is not going to be 3:20, but it is going to be the fastest I can get today, everything I have.  I say to myself, “I promise, if I make it across this finish line and qualify for Boston, I am going to go for it. I am going to share my story and I am going to raise money and awareness.” I cross the finish in 3:22:14.

Or do I? “Wait a second, did that happen?”

It seems too good to be true. I keep running. What if I didn’t go over the mat? What if I stopped too soon? Finally, I notice that the people around me have started walking and a volunteer tells me I have finished. I start to cry. I do not care how weird I look! “We’ve made it! We’ve made it to the top of the anxiety pyramid!”

I start making the long walk back to the family waiting area. I run into the man who was praying for me. He finished in 3:11, and we have a great conversation. Tired as I am, I am enjoying the trek. It seems like everywhere I look, I am being offered something new. My medal. Pictures. Chips. Bananas. A blanket. A wet towel. Beer. Muscle Milk. My phone starts chiming, and I have a ton of messages from people who have clearly been tracking me.

It takes a while, but I finally meet up with Bryan, Renee, and Alasdair. They have the most amazing signs, and I almost start to cry again. It is one of the happiest moments of my life- definitely on the top five. My legs are incredibly sore, but I smile the entire subway ride home, even when going up the stairs. I love Chicago!

Many people have asked me what my next goal will be. The answer is that beyond the 2022 Boston Marathon, I am unsure. To be quite honest, running a marathon again has taken a toll on me physically and emotionally, even though this one went well. I wrote out this report because I felt it important show others that fighting the voices of anxiety, an eating disorder, fear, or addiction do not make you weak, they make you a warrior. I used to think “I shouldn’t have these thoughts,” but now I say, “I sometimes struggle, but I am a badass who fights.” And even if I, or you, have days that you cannot fight the thoughts or the pain, or that you need extra help fighting, that does not make you any less of a warrior. Recovery is not perfection.

That is why I am running the 2022 Boston Marathon for ANAD. ANAD provides free support groups for people struggling with eating disorders regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, or size. I have been a proud volunteer with ANAD for the past few years. Everyone deserves support, and I will not shut up until that is recognized.

Challenging the Traditional Gender Binary is not a Disorder: The Insensitivity of the Diocese of Marquette’s Comparison of Gender Dysphoria to Anorexia

The Diocese of Marquette recently received attention for issuing a guidance stating that “a person who publicly identifies as a different gender than his or her biological sex or has attempted ‘gender transitioning’ may not be baptized, confirmed, or received into full communion in the church, unless the person has repented.”

To defend this, the Diocese compares transgender persons to persons suffering from anorexia.

“In this disorder there is an incongruence between how the persons perceive themselves and their bodily reality,” the guidance says. “Just as we would refer a person with anorexia to an expert to help him or her, let us also refer persons with gender dysphoria to a qualified counselor to help them while we show them the depth of our love and friendship.

This shows not only how insensitive and close-minded the diocese is toward LBGTQIA+ persons, but also how out of touch they are with the reality of those suffering with mental health issues (many of whom are also gay or transgender).

According to ANAD, eating disorders, of which anorexia is the most deadly, kill one person every 52 minutes. Although extreme weight loss and/or body dysmorphia sometimes accompany an eating disorder, less than 6% of people with eating disorders are medically underweight. In other words, anorexia is not simply a thin person thinking they are overweight (which already is a problematic term given that the BMI is a racist, sexist standard that was invented to measure populations of white European men, not health). Going to sleep at night and not knowing if you or your loved one is going to wake up due to the physical effects of an eating disorder is an experience that I would not wish on anyone. I cannot believe that living with an eating disorder is living how God intended one to be, although I believe God’s love is never far from a person in the depths of one. 

Being gay or transgender is neither disordered nor unhealthy. The disorder, rather, lies in the hearts of those who remain closed to any challenge to a strict gender binary.  God desires our human flourishing, and unlike the case of an eating disorder, I cannot believe that a person being able to perform the gender identity that fits with what they feel in their heart is against God’s will or intention. What kind of God would want otherwise? The only reason being gay or transgender is life-threatening is our reactions. According to the Trevor Project, 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered suicide in the past year. As a college professor, I have read and talked to numerous students who have lost their faith in God due to the cruelty they have experienced from Catholic parents, clergy, teachers, and friends. I always tell them that with this reaction, they show a knowledge of God deeper than most. In the words of Edward Schillebeeckx, “it is better not to believe in God than a God than enslaves human beings.” Whatever “God” would treat them as such cannot be God at all.

When I was fifteen, I witnessed a gay teenager get kicked out of an eating disorder treatment program, a program he did not feel comfortable in since it was clearly and explicitly designed for cisgender girls. I can still vividly remember his mother’s cries. Perhaps, being only fifteen, people might let me of the hook for not saying or doing more. However, thirty-two year- old recovered me with a PhD in theology has no excuse and refuses to stay silent any longer.

I am a volunteer support group leader for people struggling with eating disorders, many of whom are transgender or non-binary. Transgender college students report experiencing disordered eating at four times the rate of their cisgender classmates. Eating disorders are linked to the experience of being forced to hide one’s true identity from others, to not be able to express themselves freely (something non-binary people would not have to do if we could all be more kind). Eating disorders are hell as it is. Imagine on top of that having to worry about where you can use the bathroom, or whether your relationship will be recognized by others, or whether you will be forced to leave your church, your gym, or even your family simply for being who you are. I hear stories like these all the time.

If the Catholic Church truly cared about people with anorexia, this comparison would never have been made. And, of course, the Catholic Church cannot claim to care about those with eating disorders and at the same time, deny sacraments to non-binary people. Eating disorders are issues of gender, sexuality, race, ability, and socioeconomic status. Discrepancies still exist among who gets diagnoses and treatment and who does not. You cannot be a true mental health advocate if you do not acknowledge this and attempt to dismantle gender and racial biases in health care.

Sure, many of you may tell me that this is just one diocese statement, that its likely not going to be put into practice in many parishes, and you are right. However, the words have been said and damage has been done. The pain of being rejected by one’s “home parish” is not always remedied by just going to a different, more progressive one, which, while it might be kinder, still cannot marry a gay couple. Also, not everyone has access to multiple parishes in their neighborhood.

The denial of sacraments to gay and transgender Catholics should bring pain to all of us. Leaving others out does not bring joy. Rather, it makes a mockery of the sacraments, which are not contests but encounters with God that are not meant to be reserved for the “in crowd.”

And yes, it also time for the Church to do something about weight stigma too. Funny the diocese mentions getting help for someone with anorexia, yet I cannot tell you how many people I know who have heard disparaging weight jokes from the pulpit during Lent.

It is sad how religious people often want to claim a certain “type” to be holy. Yet, God is beyond human, and therefore God does not have a size, a race, a gender, a sexual orientation, etc. So, really, we are all called to see the image of God in so many different people and places, and relationships. Maybe that’s challenging and uncomfortable sometimes, but Christianity was never supposed to be easy.

Err on the Side of Love, Caution and Sensitivity: Having An Anti-Diet Culture Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving, let us work together to challenge our biases regarding weight and size, and to eliminate body and food shaming as much as possible. Comments that might seem silly can really hurt someone. Also, remember that people often struggle in silence and not all struggles are physically visible. Thanksgiving is already a very difficuIt holiday for many people struggling with an eating disorder, or who have been harmed by diet culture. It ALWAYS makes sense to err on the side of love, caution and sensitivity in your interactions.

Stop commenting people’s body sizes

A person’s change in weight could be due to an eating disorder, cancer, gastrointestinal issues, depression, and various other struggles. Complimenting someone on something that is a result of mental or physical struggle is extremely harmful. Furthermore, a person may already be sensitive about their bodily changes and they do not need to hear from you. Compliment people for other things.

“I love the dish you made.”

“Your new haircut looks really nice.”

“You always know how to make me laugh.”

“I’m proud of how well you did on your math test.” 

These things are a lot cooler than weight too!

Define being “good” or “bad” by how you treat others, not what you or others eat

You are not “bad” for having another piece of pie. You are not “good” for skipping desert, and you are not better than the person next to you who desired some pie. If you want to be “good,” bring food to a homeless person, spend time with someone who is lonely, send a gift to someone who could use some cheer. Those things actually make the world better.

Stop talking about food as if it needs to be earned

If you do a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning because you enjoy it, great. I am doing one myself, provided I come back from my academic conference feeling OK. Share fun pictures of yourself running in costume or talk about the beauty of the course, or how proud you are of finishing, but please avoid comments about earning your turkey or punishing yourself for pie. Thanksgiving is there for all to enjoy regardless of what they did that morning or plan to do the next day.

Do not make derogatory comments about ANYONE’s body

Just as it is not OK to make racist comments just because you assume there are no people of color in the room, it is not OK to poke fun at the bodies of people who are not at your dinner table. Remember that when you call a person of a certain body type unattractive, undisciplined, or any other name, you are not just insulting them, but anyone who is of a similar size. You are also sending a message that a person becomes less loveable if their body changes.

If you are concerned about someone, approach them calmly and privately and focus on their behaviors and emotions, rather than their size/appearance

If you do suspect a loved one is struggling with food, approach them in a calm, non-judgmental manner when you are away from the dinner table. “I notice you seem to eat very little and I worry you are struggling” or “I notice you did not seem to enjoy the same stuff you did last year and I am concerned” will be taken better than “you look awful” or “you look like a skeleton.” Focusing on behaviors will also tell the person that your concerns are not superficial and reassure them that they deserve care regardless of their size (a big fear of many people with eating disorders is that if their appearance changes, they will no longer be deserving of support).

Set boundaries for yourself and your loved ones

Remember that not everyone is aware of the harm of certain comments or behaviors, so, at first, it is always best to take a gentle approach. “Please do not remind us of the calories in everything.” “We do not believe food needs to be earned at this table.” “We would appreciate it if you would not comment on people’s body sizes.”

Some will be happy to learn and will want to be sensitive to your concerns. Sadly, some will not. It is also OK to set boundaries if someone continues to intentionally (the key word here is intentionally- we all make mistakes from time to time) cause harm to you or a loved one.

“I really love your company, but I will not be able to invite you back if you insist on commenting on my child’s weight.”

“I know you are on a diet but talking about it constantly in my presence is triggering and I need to ask you to stop.”

“Your comments really hurt my friend’s feelings and she is important to me. I will not tolerate her feeling bullied at our table.”

“This conversation is tough for me to listen to, I am going to step outside for some space.”

Advocating for yourself can be really hard, which is why, if you are the loved one of a person who is struggling, STAND UP FOR THEM!

“I Get Knocked Down, But I Get Up Again”- Sharon Triathlon Race Report

Long story short, I was very excited for this race. My coach was doing it, and quite a few teammates were doing it. I had wanted to do this race very badly in 2019 and was told that I could not handle it. Watching my friends enjoy the post-race BBQ on Facebook while I was at home was pretty awful. If you read the rest of this story, you will know why I am laughing as I write that (even though I believed this person, who shall remain unnamed, for a very long time).

Thankfully, Sharon is only about a 30 minute drive from Brighton, so we left the apartment around 6:20 to get there at 7. I ate my UCAN in the car, and began my pre-race worrying. My new triathlon bike was sitting in the back of the car, and I kept wondering if I made the right decision. This would be my first race with her, after not feeling ready to ride her for either Patriot or Falmouth. For those that do not know, riding a triathlon bike is quite a bit different from riding a road bike, and it takes some time to get used to it.

The water temperature the day before was 79 degrees so I had prepared myself for no wetsuits or lava shorts. I had my friends praying to the patron saints of swimming, St. Adjutor and St. Marina, for cooler water temperatures. When we arrived at transition, I noticed some people were wearing wetsuits, and someone announced that the water temperature dropped to 77 degrees. I yelled to my husband to run to the car to get my wetsuit. While he was rushing there, I ran into a bunch of people who told me to go with lava shorts instead to avoid overheating and save transition time. I called poor Bryan while he was at the car to let him know not to rush back.

The swim was time trial starts, and my friend Sheri and I wanted to start together. Thankfully this time, she was amendable to not going first and we stuck ourselves somewhere toward the beginning but with quite a few ahead of us. The water felt great, and given the warm temp, I was glad to not be in the long-sleeved wetsuit. However, about 1/3 of the way through, I noticed something hanging over my face. The outer layer of my googles had somehow peeled off. Thankfully, I still had protection on my eyes, but the plastic in my face was definitely annoying. “Just ignore it, just keep going.” When we made the first turn at the halfway point, I sped up and passed a few people. I could not wait to get the goggles off. Strava says 919 yards at 1:51 pace. The race says 750 yards at 1:57 pace.

I pulled down my lava shorts while running through transition. This was it. The moment of truth. Sheri was right ahead of me, and we actually mounted our bikes together. Having her next to me helped, since mounting my tri bike still scares me. I got on and started riding. I yelled out “Roo Bitch!” (the name of my bike, that will be another story for another day). At first I took it easy to get my bearings and then got into aero and sped up. For the most part, the bike was enjoyable, and I passed quite a few people the first 8 or so miles. I had to slow down and come out of aero for turns (thankfully there were not too many of them), which is something I want to work on in the future.

At mile 8, two or three guys also on tri bikes passed me but then at mile 10, there was a substantial hill where I passed a couple more people. By mile 12, I was feeling really happy and strong. “I did it, almost there, nothing went wrong!” Or so I thought.  I made the turn into the finish line and it was very narrow. At dismount, the road was kind of bumpy. I slowed down, unclipped, thought I jumped down to the space in between my handlebars and my seat, but apparently did not go far enough. My leg got stuck and I began to wobble. At that point, I knew I was going to fall and just let it happen. I got right back up, did not even accept the hand of the worried volunteer next to me. “Thanks, I’m OK, I gotta run! I gotta run!” The race said 12.4 miles at 19.9 mph. Strava says 12.4 miles at 20.6 mph. (at least my moving pace was over 20!)

As I ran to the transition area, I tried not to focus on my disappointment. I knew that fall cost me some time, and I also knew the bike was not as fast as I had hoped. Running is such a mental sport, so I knew I had to just let it go or I would carry that disappointment with me and let it affect my run. “OK Kate, this is YOUR sport. Now is your time to shine! All the hard stuff is over!”

My dietician told me over email a few days before to have a gel before the 4.4 mile run. I did not want it at all, but I knew I needed every advantage possible in this run. I took it out of my water bottle and got it down on the first part of the course. I decided not look at my watch at all. I tried to pass the person in front of me. Once I got that person, I got the next person, then set my sights on the next one. My goal in every triathlon is to let no one pass me on the run. Mile 1: 6:50.

Second mile had some rolling hills. It reminded me of the course for the Loco Marathon- constant up and down and up and down, but nothing major. I still had no clue what my pace was, but I knew if I looked down I would freak out, so decide to just keep running based on feel. Mile 2: 7:04.

By mile 3, I was still feeling pretty good and I picked up the pace. A dude wearing Alphaflys passed me, and I made it my goal to try to pass him again. In my head, I referred to him as “Alpha!” By mile 3.5, I realized I was not going to catch him, so I just said, “keep Alpha in sight, that’s good enough!” Mile 3: 6:59.

At mile 4, I picked the pace up again. I could still see Alpha. Tubthumping by Chumbawumba played in my head. “I get knocked down, but I get up again…” I realized that was the theme of this race. I knew this was a strong run, and I had energy in the tank to push it more. Mile 4: 6:47

With .4 to go, I hit the gas for a 6:36 pace. I saw my husband and the finish line and started signing “I get knocked down, but I get up again….” A guy who I passed at the last turn suddenly came barreling in front of me but I didn’t care- he’s not in my age group anyway!

As I crossed the finish line, I looked down at my watch. First, I got the really good news. Average run pace: 6:53 (and this is the only sport of the day where Strava and the race results matched). I had been aiming for 7:15s with my coach, so this was amazing! I was completely thrilled! And I didn’t even feel that bad. Sure, I was happy to stop, but I feel like I could have kept going if I had to do so. Then, the final time: 1:27:32. Not my A goal of 1:26, but also way better than my C goal of sub 1:30.

As we made our way to the results booth, I suddenly realized that my knee was hurting. I looked toward the ground and saw blood dripping down my leg. Apparently, I hurt myself more than I realized, but I felt nothing while running!

After cleaning my leg with a towel from our duffel bag, I saw my swim and my bike times, and was crushed by disappointment. Slower than planned. Yet, my run was amazing. I also am first place in my age group, and fifth woman overall (out of 119 competing that day). Waiting to see if anyone who started later would finish faster than me was agonizing. In the end, no one did and I kept my age group win!

Getting to hang out with friends while waiting for the awards ceremony was a blast. I am a very stubborn person and tend to hang on to stuff for too long. I had to tell myself, “let it go. Sure, your bike could have been better, you could have not fallen, you could have done x,y, and z, but you also are lucky to be here.” When I see the final results, I also feel a lot better. The top 4 women are quite a bit faster than me. Even with everything going smoothly, I could not have beaten them. So, no regrets!

My coach came in third overall male, and my friend Wes came in first overall male (competing in the elite category). It was fun getting to cheer for them.

There was not as much fanfare for the age group awards, but we still get our names called out and a chance to stand on the podium for pictures. I never got to stand on a triathlon podium before, so it was a great feeling.

That is what I love about triathlon, my friends. It is three sports and two transitions (and yes, those matter), not just one event. As someone who can be very hard on herself, triathlon has taught me that you just have to take things one step at a time and keep going. Everybody, even the elites, has a sport or two they are stronger at, and a sport or two they struggle with. If you get so down on yourself for a subpar swim, or for people passing you on the bike, you risk not showing off what you can do on the run. Likewise, if you let fear of the run bring you down, you risk holding back on the swim and the bike. Similarly, you also cannot stop and celebrate if you are first out of the water, you have to keep going because those people way behind you are eager to catch up.

I would 100% enthusiastically recommend the Sharon Triathlon. I hope to be back next year, though there may be an Ironman in the works, so we shall see….

Learning from Simone Biles: What About Those Who Are Not Famous Olympians?

Simone Biles has accomplished and survived so much in her 24 years. She is the first US female gymnast to win four gold medals in a single Olympics. She was placed in the foster care system as a child before being adopted by her grandparents. She is a survivor of sexual abuse. In addition to this, as a black woman, she has also had to deal with the racism that pervades the sport of gymnastics. Over the past few days, I have thought so much about how happy I am that today’s young people and my future children have Simone Biles as a role model. I have also worried that we will not utilize this moment as the learning experience it should be.

We are aware of many of the details of Biles’ struggles because of her fame. It is also easy for us to lend our support with the click of a button on Facebook, or a heart emoji on Instagram. Offering support to Biles may also be more comfortable to us because of all of her triumphs. When speaking about mental and physical health, our society often perpetuates what is called the “myth of overcoming.” Michelle Lelwica explains in her book, Shameful Bodies: Religion and the Culture of Physical Improvement, that when people with mental or physical struggles are visible in popular culture it is because they “overcame” them in some way: the person who excels at sports, the person who writes books, the person who defies the odds. Of course, I am in no way saying we should not be celebrating such scenarios, but we also need to remember the struggles of “the ordinary people,” the children growing up in foster care who are not winning Olympic medals, the people struggling with mental illness who are not top athletes or scholars, the sexual assault survivors who have not written books or gone on television shows.

To really honor Simone Biles’ bravery, we have to act, not just offer sympathy on Facebook. That action has to start in our own communities. Athletes not competing at high levels (anyone who moves their body intentionally for the purpose of enjoyment or competition is an athlete) should also be encouraged to put their mental and physical health first, and the care of doctors, dieticians, and physical therapists should be available to them. We must work to de-stigmatize the decision of students to stay back a year, or to take a semester off to protect themselves. As Biles posted on her Instagram recently, “the outpouring of love and support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishment and my gymnastics which I’ve never truly believed before.” It is heartbreaking she never saw this before. Ideally, this is something she should have been told before she ever won her first medal. It is even more heartbreaking that some people will never make such a realization, pushing themselves to the point of exhaustion, injury, or even death; or feeling worthless when pushing through pain is no longer possible (the body is not infinite).

One thing I have learned as a college professor is that my students all have stories, and those stories are not always neatly visible on their faces, on their bodies, or in their writing assignments. Students who “look healthy” may be struggling with a life-threatening condition. Students you see in class smiling everyday may be working to heal from the trauma of sexual assault. They may be the primary caregiver for a sick parent. While I am aware that racism, sexism, ableism, and homophobia exist, as a white cisgender woman, it can be all too easy to forget just how much these impact individual people in their daily lives: the fear and terror the young black men feels after the murder of George Floyd, the horror of the young Muslim woman pressured by friends not to wear a veil on the subway to protect her safety, the transgender student with nowhere to go for holidays because their family home is not safe space.

I have often been shocked at some of the stories of pain that have been disclosed to me in my short time as an educator, and I always feel blessed when a student trusts me enough to share. I also know that there are stories that I do not know, and stories that perhaps no one will ever know.

Some students get straight As while in treatment for mental and physical illness, others cannot. Some people may experience horrible racism or sexism and “stick it out,” others may leave their particular team, or school, or workplace because it is a toxic environment for them. Some people may become champion athletes after an illness or injury, others will not. The latter are not “weaker,” nor are the former “stronger.” There are a variety of factors that contribute to how a person handles trauma, including but socioeconomic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, level of familial support, etc. What we need to work on as a society is creating a world where there are not barriers limiting a person’s ability to make the choice that protects their well-being (and also knowing that choice may not be the same for all people).

So, I guess with all of this, my point really is simple. You do not know a person’s full story. Be kind. Do not judge. And every person, regardless of their level of fame or talent, is more than their accomplishments.

Worried About Starting Again After a Long Hiatus? 9 Tips for Getting Back after COVID or Injury

In many parts of the country (and the world), the moment we have all been waiting for has finally arrived!  Gyms are open, races are happening, groups are meeting again. You are supposed to be elated, right?

Not necessarily. Some of us, especially if our training was altered or curtailed by the pandemic, might be feeling frustrated or scared. Returning to sport after a long hiatus can be difficult. What if I am slower than I used to be? What if it feels harder? What if my body has changed? There are a lot of “what ifs” that might be running (no pun intended) through your head.

If your sport is something that brings your joy, then finding a way to safely return is super important, and its crucial to pay attention to both your physical and mental health. Also, this is useful not only after the pandemic, but when injury or other life events might limit or stop our training for a while.

  1. Stop the comparison before it begins by making some new goals.
    Run or bike courses for their beautiful scenery, interesting locations, or challenging elevation rather than for time. For those that really have trouble staying away from the stats, re-set your PRs. Plenty of athletes are setting “post-pandemic PRs” or “post-injury PRs.”
  2. See what options your favorite races or events have to offer.
    I recently completed a half-ironman triathlon. Due to the fact that many people had trouble training in all three disciplines during the pandemic, the race offered an aqua bike, as well as a bike-run option. Many races and events are also being more flexible with their deferral policies, or allowing people to switch distances (i.e. dropping from a marathon to a half-marathon)
  3. Remember and reconsider your why.
    Maybe you run races to raise money for a charity that means a lot to you. Maybe you bike to share your love of sport with your children. Maybe it gives you a chance to connect with people. Maybe running has brought you healing through mental health struggles, divorce, illness, starting a new career, etc. Use your why as motivation. Put mantras on your refrigerator or work computer. Enlist some supportive people to remind you of your strength from time to time. I never would have gotten through my stress fracture without my support system.
  4. Enlist the help of a coach
    Oftentimes, it can be tempting to do too much too soon, or to just not start at all because you do not know where to begin. Sometimes planning out your own workouts day-to-day can be a lot of mental strain especially when working, taking care of children, etc. A coach can not only make a training plan for you based on your current needs and goals, but can also be there to offer support, advice, and encouragement.
  5. Stay away from the scale, fad diets and nutrition advice on the Internet.
    Bodies change. Weight fluctuates. When monitoring weight, it can be easy to start thinking “I perform well because I weigh this…” or “I did not perform well because I weigh this…” Performance has to do with a lot of factors including but not limited to time spent training, experience, weather, nutrition, stress, proper gear, etc. Anyone on the internet can call themselves a nutritionist and sell you a “magic plan,” but think about it- you are not going to feel much like training if you are on a juice cleanse, or fasting, or cutting carbs. You need energy to make your return. If you are concerned about your eating habits or fueling for your sport, seek out a registered dietician.
  6. Find communities that are affirmative, and delete or avoid ones that are not
    Sadly, some coaches and gyms promote toxic messages, especially in light of the pandemic. You DO NOT have to put up with quarantine body shaming, food shaming, or other hurtful rhetoric. You DO NOT have to earn your food, and you HAVE a right to take up space RIGHT NOW. Check out the “Athletes Against Diet Culture” Facebook group if you are in need of a space to talk about sport that is free of weight loss and diet ads.
  7. Treat yourself
    Buying a nice comfy outfit, new gym bag, or sticker for your bike might make you feel good.
  8. Training with others can be helpful, but be cautious
    Community is certainly one of my favorite parts about running and triathlon. Other athletes can be really helpful with advice and empathy. However, other athletes are not a substitute for professional advice or experts on your body (unless, of course, your running buddy is a physical therapist and even then, they are not an expert on your body the way you are). The most frustrating thing I did to my physical therapist during my stress fracture was Google and compare. As she had to remind me, she and my doctor knew my injury, my medical history, and my treatment plan. Other people may have other circumstances that made their injury worse, or not as severe. Other people also do a lot of things that are not necessarily beneficial for their long-term athletic goals. You are YOU, and YOU need to return at YOUR pace on YOUR time.
  9. Make sure you are ready, and you want to return. It is OK if you don’t.
    Some of us may have a strained relationship with our sport. If you cannot find your “why” or your sport only fills you with dread, maybe you need a longer hiatus, or maybe it is time to break away. You are more than your sport, and there are so many amazing things to experience.