23 is Hard: The Long Arc

Training for a half marathon is generally one of two options for me: the most empowering thing I’m doing…

…or the most disheartening.

Last weekend, I upped my distance to 9 miles. My run on Saturday was phenomenal. I ran all 9 miles without stopping for a walk break and shaved 30 seconds off my average split time. My split time dropped by a minute on Sunday’s run, but running distance two days in a row is hard enough without expecting yourself to keep up the same pace. I ran straight through again so I still counted it as a progress win.

Then I had to take two days off because, shockinglyrunning long distances is really hard on your body. Especially your legs. (Seriously, if anyone wants to book me a massage I am so down). I wasn’t able to run again until yesterday morning, and my time went from Saturday’s peak at 9:30 min/mile to almost 11:00…and I only did 4.5 miles.

When you have a really good run like I did on Saturday, it’s easy to remember that training is about long-term trends of strength and endurance rather than isolated instances because you’re reaping the benefits of your hard work – when you’re struggling to complete half the distance you did three days ago at a pace that’s almost a minute and a half slower, not so much. Bad runs are one of the biggest challenges I experience when I’m training for a race, because it’s hard to refocus your mental energy toward your overall trends rather than that really, really shitty run you just completed.

Recovering from an eating disorder is similar. Healthy, nourishing decisions can be so easy during one meal/day/week and then seem impossible the next. Some weeks, I feel like I completely regress back to my disordered behaviors of restricting or binging in excess. The past couple of weeks have been like that, if I’m being honest, and it’s been a challenge to remember the long arc of my recovery when the short moments have felt so disheartening. But the long arc does bend toward healthier decisions and growth – it’s just hard to see when the individual moments fluctuate.

At first I was just going to write about the parallels between running and recovery, but I realized that there are a lot of instances in which it’s important to remember that small moments are part of a compilation and not stand-alone indicators of your progress or position. It’s hard not to equate “bad run” with “bad runner” and “unhealthy decision” with “unhealthy person,” because bad moments often seem so much larger when you’re in the middle of them. Not even just “bad” moments – sometimes it’s just a life step you’ve not yet taken that everyone else around you seems to be taking.

Up until recently, I was frustrated by this seemingly unspoken rule that if you’re graduated from college and in a long-term relationship, you should be engaged or married right now. My social media channels have been a constant barrage of white lace, flowers, and bridal showers and it has been a huge emotional suck feeling like there’s something wrong with me because I can’t (yet?) call Boyfriend “Fiancé.” I thought I was stressed about it because I really, really wanted to be engaged or married…but once I managed to dissect where exactly my feelings were coming from, much of the stress I felt was coming from buying into this idea of what my life is “supposed to” look like right now. I love Boyfriend and he’s stuck with me forever, but I realized I am definitely not ready for the financial and legal commitment of marriage. I am just getting my footing being financially independent and figuring out my own professional and personal goals – I’m not in much rush to become Mrs. Boyfriend for a while, if that ends up being the right decision for our partnership at all.

It’s a huge challenge to avoid playing the comparison game with your peers (and even yourself) – whether it’s in distance running, eating disorder recovery, or just navigating the confusing time that is your mid-20s. Feelings of frustration and inadequacy tend to speak much louder than feelings of fulfillment and confidence, so unfortunately those two really good runs or five days of healthy decision-making often get drowned out by one bad run or one bad day (or even meal). In life, the times when you feel like you’re progressing “wrong” can make you forget about the pieces of your long arc that bend you in the right direction – things like strong partnership, professional competency, creative drive, and compassion.

Boyfriend is really good at separating from the negative noise of comparison or the expectation of his peers – a skill I am still learning. Often I (like most people) am my own worst enemy. I look at longer run times and days when the temptation to binge wins and say to myself “You’re a failure. You can’t do anything right. You’re never going to run that race, you’ll never beat that disorder. Why even try?” I see the shiny highlight reels of other peoples’ mid-20s and say “What’s wrong with you? Why doesn’t Boyfriend want to marry you yet? Why don’t you want to be married yet? Why haven’t you been promoted at work? Why aren’t you taking cool trips with your friends or going out every weekend? Why doesn’t your life look like hers? It’s because you suck. You suck at your 20s.”

My internal voice can be a real asshole. She buys into all the bad moments, she pays attention to the steps everyone else is showcasing, she forgets that highlight reels don’t show the messy struggles everyone experiences (mid-20s and otherwise).

She forgets that I’m a human being.

She can be really, really mean.

A big part of recovery in particular has been seeking out my internal voice’s compassionate side more actively – seekingself-compassion in moments when I feel weak or inadequate, seeking permission to be proud when I accomplish something. Seeking permission to be fulfilled with the bend of my arc despite the natural fluctuations in my small increments. Seeking permission to love myself, even in the moments when I feel I fall short of where I “should” be.

Stepping out of the rush of a “bad” moment is one of the most challenging parts of my life right now, but it’s in those moments that it’s most important to remember my long arc. To remember the trend of my choices and experiences is often more important than the small pieces that make up that trend – that neither a bad run, nor a binge, nor a restricting day, nor those “highlight reels” of my peers make me less valuable as a person or less capable of creating a future I am proud of.

My asshole inner voice is committed to casting shadows on the small increments that make me feel fulfilled and joyous: a job that challenges me, a loving partnership, a strong support network of friends and family, a drive to create, a compassionate heart, a commitment to being my best. Those small increments have so much more weight than the increments of bad runs, feelings of inadequacy, moments when recovery strategies are hard to put in practice. But what’s important is that it’s okay to have moments when everything feels like it’s falling apart, because that’s what happens when you’re growing. The key is remembering that those moments don’t define who you are – all they are is an indicator of your experience in the moment.

Sometimes, feeling “not okay” is the only way to grow past whatever you’re struggling with. And that’s okay too.

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