Back on track

The running track…what used to be my second home for the best part of my teenage years. I started in Year 7, aged 12 and absolutely loved it. I was fast and I just loved running. It became more serious when I was about 14. There was rarely a day in the week when I wasn’t training or competing. I dedicated all my time on focussing on being the best I could be, trying to get personal bests to help me achieve my ultimate goal of becoming a professional athlete. That was the dream. But instead I became a professional anorexic. That is the nightmare.

If I wanted to be a professional athlete I had to train harder, I had to run faster and that is where anorexia started to creep in (although I didn’t know it at the time). Ultimately, if I wanted to run faster I had to be thinner. So, from the age of 14, striving to become the professional athlete, my weight loss attempts began. Athletics and running weren’t fun anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I had a brilliant training group with lovely people and I did occasionally get the odd P.B., but niggling away in the back of my mind was that constant desire to lose weight and be thinner. And obviously, it’s very difficult to train efficiently when you have barely eaten all day. But to me, the only reason I was running badly was because I was too fat.

Bex Quinlan teenage athlete eating disorder running
Bex Quinlan as a teenage athlete

I’d always hoped that when I went to university, I would get the good coaching that I needed and  I would be free to lose the weight I needed which would set me on my way to achieving the dream. But the nightmare became a living hell. Over the course of the 8 months I was at university, I progressively lost more and more weight and my running became worse and worse. It was torture. I hated it. How could my running be getting worse when I was losing weight? The more I could feel my dream slipping away, the more I slipped into the nightmare. Eventually, it didn’t matter that I couldn’t run well anymore because I could be thin instead. The running and athletics simply became a way to burn calories, although by the end I couldn’t physically run anymore. My identity as an athlete was gone and the following years in hospital developed my identity as an anorexic.

I never imagined after 4 years of a revolving door taking me in and out of hospital that I would ever step foot on a track again. That part of my life had gone. But now, 5 years since my last admission, I am stepping back on the track. And I am pleased to say it didn’t pick up from where it left off. Last week I completed my first training session and it felt incredible. It wasn’t a slog like before. Yes I ran slowly and didn’t complete the whole session but that wasn’t shattering my dreams, it was taking me away from my nightmare.  The dream of being an athlete has gone, and I know I risk the negative emotions and drive to be the best coming back but, on the other hand, if I can stay mentally (and physically) strong enough, it has huge potential to help me.

I’m going to try and keep numbers out of the equation. My life at the moment is dictated by numbers-weight, calories, exercise…you name it, I’ll number it! But I’m going to keep my athletics training number free. I’m not going to measure distances or times. I cannot and will not let it be about that. Last week, being with other people, belonging to a group and doing something that I did actually used to love just made me feel happy. Running felt fun again and I was back in my second home. And that is what I am going to hold on to. The idea that losing weight could help me run faster was tested and failed. I know that gaining a bit of weight would help my running, and life, get better. Whilst I’m not ready to take that risk yet, in the not too distant future, running and training again could help me break free from the nightmare.





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