The (Out of) Shape of Things

November 21, 2008 at 8:23 am Leave a comment

For the first time in my life, I have tits.

Don’t get too excited: I’m not filling up shirts with a set of 36Ds, but I think I can safely throw away my training bra. That’s what happens when a person stops working out obsessively. So, unlike the loons on tv, I’m telling all my friends to throw away their running shoes, quit the South Beach Diet, and park it for a while.

We are constantly hearing that obesity is a HUGE problem in America (which I don’t deny), but I think it’s more accurate to identify the discordance between body images and body realities as the bigger epidemic.  As a collegiate athlete at a prestigious university, I was once surrounded by a population with a higher risk of eating disorders than the general public: I wasn’t out of place with my obsessive compulsive tendencies or relentless drive toward “perfection.”

A look at my training log would have suggested I was in the best shape of my life when I ran cross country and track in college. I averaged about 60 miles per week, supplemented with pool workouts on Monday and Wednesday mornings and weight training on Tuesdays and Thursdays. During each of the three seasons (cross country in the fall, indoor track in the winter, and outdoor track in the spring), races occurred on Fridays or Saturdays. A lot of endurance coaches use an athlete’s resting heart rate as a barometer for aerobic fitness. The average adult female has a resting heart rate of 75 beats per minute. Mine dipped as low as 44.

The epitome of cardiovascular fitness, I still couldn’t honestly call myself “healthy.” My muscles were constantly sore and my joints achy. I began seeing a psychiatrist for bulimia during my sophomore year, and he required me to take weekly blood tests to make sure my iron and electrolyte levels did not drop too low. I tricked him by chugging Powerade the night before each test and by taking over-the-counter iron pills with my meals. He always seemed confounded that my levels appeared normal, and I found his naïvety discouraging.

One of the events that precipitated my resignation from the team occurred at the end of my junior year. My assistant coach pulled me aside after a track workout and asked me “if [my] bulimia had improved.” Apparently, one of my teammates had told her about my eating disorder. Why she let over a year pass before approaching me about it seems baffling and irresponsible, especially considering her similar past. Her expression of concern came too late, and it reinforced my belief that many members of the running community tacitly accept (even promote) the prevalence of eating disorders among female endurance athletes.

After I quit competing, I slowly weaned myself from pounding the pavement. Now I rarely run more than two days a week, and I am proud to say that that’s OK with me. If I run more than a few miles, the burning sensation in my chest feels unfamiliar and surprisingly delightful. I have come a long way since the time when I ran over 1,000 days in a row or did at least 800 daily sit-ups. It’s taken me months of being low-key to begin to refuel the passion I had when I started running over a decade ago. I’ll train seriously (but not compulsively!!) again when I’m ready, and I think that day is quickly approaching.

I just hope I don’t lose my nice rack.

Entry filed under: Health and Beauty. Tags: , , .

Excerpt from “Those Bright College Years” In Memory of Alex Davis: May 11, 1986 – December 9, 2008

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