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  • Writer's pictureEm Hale

It's not a sprint, it’s a marathon

Running the London marathon is something most people just watch on TV. Being able to be there and running the iconic course was one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had.

In April 2018, I was admitted for my first inpatient admission for anorexia nervosa. At 18 years old I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and admitted to an inpatient ward two days later. After nine weeks I was discharged from inpatient and spent three years in the community struggling under the grips of anorexia. In September 2021 I was sectioned under the mental health act for anorexia after many visits to A and E. Running has always been important to me and being locked away and unable to run, feel free and enjoy the outside world was so hard.

This April 2023 I ran the London marathon. Not only was I able to run it, but I ran a qualification time for the championship race next year! The event exceeded expectations and I am so grateful for what my body can now do. I have spent years suffering from an eating disorder; being told I might die and being sectioned under the mental health act. I used to struggle to have enough energy to shower but now running the London marathon and enjoying myself.

I raised money for Beat while running the London marathon as I wanted to help an amazing charity which has helped me so much in my recovery journey. Beat is an incredible charity supporting those with eating disorders and supporting families and friends. It is so important to raise awareness around eating disorders so other people don't have to suffer alone.

Running is an activity I have enjoyed from a young age. I started running for an athletics club when I was 13 years old. Although I loved the sport, especially cross-country running, I was always somewhat aware of the size of my body. On the start line for a cross country race, I would feel larger than the other girls and had a negative self-imagine. When I initially started losing weight I did become faster for a while, but this was mostly fuelled by the initial stage of an eating disorder, where you feel invincible and seem to have more energy that is conceivable. This very quickly faded though, making keeping up with my usual pace and the other girls impossible as the eating disorder had a fiercer grip on my life.

As I became more and more unwell, I was unable to run at all. I clearly remember being on a run close to my second inpatient admission and my body nearly giving up on me. Sports can easily become used in an unhealthy way when an individual suffers from an eating disorder, often seemingly very subtle in the actions and behaviours, and allowing you to make adjustments to your life in the name of your sport.

Despite the difficulties balancing sport and an eating disorder can create, sport has been something I wanted to keep up with during my recovery, and I have ensured I can do this by really reflecting on what sport gives me, how it makes me feel, and making sure that it is not a disordered mindset that drives my motivation to engage in sport.

Recovery has allowed me to reach a place where I can run fast, feel strong, and be free. I hold on to these feelings and I do not want to go back to a place where I am unable to feel these. In the depths of my eating disorder, running was a battle that I had to face and was filled with exhaustion, tiredness, and low self-worth. But now that I am in a recovered place, running has become something I enjoy again and makes me feel good. Running has been a big motivator to stay well as the space and freedom it provides brings me a lot of joy.

Recovery is not a sprint it is a marathon. Recovery can take years. There are ups and downs and there is no quick fix. The struggle is isolating and hard. Fighting against such a beast gave me the mental strength to complete the London marathon. While running the marathon I motivated myself thinking I have done harder things than running a marathon. Nothing is as hard as being controlled by a mental illness all day every day. In a weird way, I am grateful for my eating disorder. It has shown me that I have the strength to do difficult things and that I can persist in order to achieve things which make me feel good. But it has also shown me that within this I need to respect myself and my body's needs, to find self-compassion and to take things slow sometimes. Some days I will be ready to fight, and other days I might need to take a step back and look after myself, but that's okay and I understand that now. Recovery has definitely been one of those things, fighting each day to engage in things that were so hard and made me feel like giving up, but knowing that I have done that now, I can really do anything.

I hope that everyone who suffers from any mental illness can enjoy moments such as the marathon for me. Everyone has the strength within to thrive and find moments of joy, no matter what your eating disorder might be telling you. Finding something that fills you with life and motivation is so helpful in recovery, having something to hold onto and use as a motivator to push forward helped me stay focused and know that a better life would be out there for me.

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