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How I Healed My Relationship With Exercise

I remember the first time I ever ran a mile. I was around 12 or 13 years old. I was training to run a mile so I could pass my gym class.

At this point in my life, I had tried a lot of different sports. Softball, soccer, tennis, I was not good at any of them. So, I was really worried when I found out I’d have to run a mile non stop to get credit for my middle school gym class.

My mom and I got in our red minivan and drove around the block a few times to see how far I’d have to go to reach a mile. It turns out that if I ran around our block 4 times I’d make a mile. That felt like an eternity. But, I was determined.

I laced up my tennis shoes and set off. As most novice runners do, I started out way too fast. By lap two I was winded. But, I kept going. I remember my mom waiting for me in the driveway cheering me on. After I completed a mile I was hooked.

I loved the high I got from pushing myself. I was proud of myself for finishing. After that I started to run my neighborhood a few times a week.

What started out as a healthy habit quickly turned into an obsession. Like most girls in puberty I started to put on weight and that wasn’t ok with me. I’d look in the mirror and cry as I grew.

So, I ran to keep the weight off. As I got into high school and college I kept running to lose weight. I no longer ran because it brought me joy, I ran to be thin. I developed an eating disorder for a few years. Thankfully, through a lot of therapy, I went into recovery.

But, I still didn’t have a healthy relationship with running. I no longer obsessed about calories, my weight or food, instead I began to obsess about running itself. I ran longer, and faster. But, no matter how hard I ran, it was never enough. I was always “too” slow. For years I signed up for races, and would cross the finish line upset with myself.

I tracked my runs using the Nike run app and a Garmin watch, and I’d often cry when I’d finish a training run and it wasn’t fast enough.

Running used to be something I used for stress relief. After a decade of running it had turned into something very negative. In fact, during the summer of 2020 I developed super painful plantar fasciitis. (it’s a shooting pain in the arch of your foot or heel.) Despite the pain, I pushed myself to keep running.

This past fall I ran a half marathon and 10k. They were both good experiences, but I knew I needed a break. So in November I stopped running completely. It was hard to do, but I knew that I needed to heal my relationship with the sport. I started walking instead.

As a runner the idea of walking was horrible to me. I thought it was for senior citizens. I was too good to walk.

Once, I forced myself to slow down and walk, things started to change. I realized how unhealthy my mindset around running really was. I’ve spent the last few months working to change my attitude around exercise and here are a few ways I did that:

I became mindful of the way I talked to myself in regards to my running. I noticed that I would often tell myself things like, “You’re too fat to be running.” or “You’re so slow, you should be running faster. You’ve been running for years now.” I was being mean to myself and it wasn’t helping. I started being proud of myself for getting out to walk. I spoke kind words to myself.

One of the ways I began to notice my thoughts was by using mindfulness and meditation in my daily life. If you’re new to mindfulness there’s a great podcast episode by Stuff You Should Know.

I also share more in depth how I healed my relationship with myself in my podcast, Girl, Heal. You can listen here:

I did an audit of my social media feeds. I didn’t realize it, but a lot of the accounts I was following were toxic. They weren’t promoting healthy ways to exercise. I started to follow people such as Mik Zazon, Kenzie Brenna, and Sarah Nicole Landry. These women are rockstars and talk about loving their bodies and exercising in ways that feel good to them.

I started to be grateful for running. I’ve always taken it for granted that I can even go out for a run. In fact, at my worst I started to hate it. During my time away from running I took a second to think about what a gift it is that I can get out and run.

I started running as a celebration of my body and health. In the past I used to run to punish my body for eating too much. But, now I run because I can. I run because it helps me maintain my sobriety, manage my anxiety and keeps my physical health in check.

I have fun again. For years, I thought running was about being miserable. I figured it was just a difficult sport and I’d have to suck it up. I’m done thinking that way. I realized that I get great benefits from running 10 minutes. I don’t have to run for a half hour at a hard pace to stay healthy.

I take days off. I was always afraid to take days off. I thought I’d lose all the progress I’d made. But, I took a few months off and am slower than I ever have been. The time off was exactly what my body needed.

I do ten minute guided runs. Seriously, you can do a great workout in 10 min! I use the Nike Run app and the guided runs helps so much. Coach Bennett talks to you and encourages you through the whole 10 min.

I changed my mindset around working out. I no longer use words like, just or only when it comes to working out. Any time that I can get a workout in is valuable and I refuse to diminish it.

I’m compassionate with myself. This has probably been the most beneficial thing for my mental health. I read Kristen Neff’s work on the subject and it’s been life changing. I still hold myself accountable for working out, but am no longer hard on myself when I can’t get a workout in. You can take a quiz here to see how self-compassionate you are!

My relationship with exercise is by no means completely healed, but it’s in a much better place than it was. How’s your relationship with exercise?

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