#RunOttawa2016 #OttawaRaceWeekend #HalfMarathon

The beauty about running in the Ottawa Race Weekend it the unique story that everyone carries - a certain passion or motivation behind running a half or full marathon. There is something humbling about the entire city coming together as a community in order to help support complete strangers in achieving their goals. In the midst of a heat wave, the residents of Ottawa ensured all the runners stayed safe by turning on their sprinklers and handing out freezies. 

This past weekend, the community of Ottawa helped me reach one of my long-term goals: running the half marathon in race weekend.

My camaraderie with running began a few years ago when I traded in my pointe shoes for running shoes. It wasn’t an easy decision. However, running provided me with the same endorphins that I had once experienced in the ballet studio. Running is an individual sport, which means the pressure to perform falls solely on myself - a concept that I had become all to familiar with following my years as a ballerina.

Starting anything new is never easy, something I constantly share with others whenever they tell me they are not a runner. And, neither was I. However, my background in professional ballet certainly prepared me by establishing my competitive nature and determination.

I started slow with casual 5k's whenever life was feeling all too overwhelming. With regular training, my body got stronger and I watched my endurance increaseat a healthy increment.  Then my competitive nature kicked in, as I asked myself how far can my run take me?

10k runs became my perfect match as I watched my skills of agility, postural control and stamina transfer from the studio to the street. And so, running was always there and it became my outlet for dealing with the life's daily stresses.

Almost every doctor will tell you that exercise is good for you, however many fail to mention that TOO much exercise can be harmful.

When first faced with my mental illness, goal setting became my primary coping mechanism. Slowly, I began setting daily goals. Things as simple as getting out of bed or getting outside at least once. These goals provided me with a sense of hope, something to work towards. As I gained my strength back, my goals became more long-term. Each week I would set a goal, then each month and finally each year.

My goal that year - following my diagnosis of clinical depression - was to run the half marathon in Ottawa Race Weekend, a total of 21 km straight.

For the first time, it was a goal JUST for me.

Training provided me with an outlet to push away the monsters in my head, while offering a reason to get up each day. However, when it came to training safe and smart, my mental illness clouded my judgement. I didn't believe in rest days and strength training never found a way into my workout regimen. Soon, my obsession with cardiovascular training controlled my life. If I missed a run, I panicked and I'm not talking about that little hint of guilt one sometimes feels. In my case, I experienced full blown panic attacks

Coming from a Kinesiology degree, I consider myself well educated about healthy and active living. Yet, only until recently have I found myself able to actually practice what I preach. I was completely consumed by this misconstrued definition of health that I had developed regarding my own body.

It was a chronic injury that forced me to come to terms with a harsh reality: my eating disorder.

Barely able to walk, my physiotherapist instructed me to stay off running for at least six months while I regained the muscle I had lost from excessive exercise and restrictive eating. This meant dropping out of the 2014 Ottawa Race Weekend, abandoning my goal of running my first half marathon and focusing on a new goal: survival. 

 

 

These past two years have been far from easy, yet what I am learning from it all is unmeasurable. I am learning to love my body - a difficult and slow process following my years as a ballerina. I am learning what it really means to be "healthy." I am learning how to train safe and smart. Taking time off from running forced me to turn to other facets within physical activity. Now strength training and condition play a huge role in my daily exercise routine.

Most of all, I am learning what it means to be recovering from an eating disorder. Everyone's definition of recovery is quite unique, with no one person sharing the same. In a sense, there are two components of recovery: clinical and personal recovery. For individuals who suffer from mental illness, clinical recovery is quite difficult to maintain as it is often defined as being free from symptoms. This is a notion that is close to impossible to achieve when it comes to mental illness. However, personal recovery remains SPECIFIC to the individual. Whether you are still experiencing symptoms or not, it is about finding a meaningful purpose in life - a reason to hold on to hope. Majority will still experience symptoms, however they will feel stable in themselves.

And so, although two years behind schedule, this year I came back stronger and healthier in order to accomplish the one goal that kept me alive at my lowest - running in the Ottawa Half Marathon.

Reaching the 20 km mark was quite emotional for me. I wasn't thinking about the pain or exhaustion of making it to the end of the course. Instead, my mind was filled with the memories of what I had overcome in order to run this far.

For the first time, I was in control of my body and stepping across that finish line was my way of proving I was a hell of a lot stronger than my eating disorder.

Moving forward #RunOttawa2016 will always be remembered as a day of many "firsts"

My first half marathon.

And the first day of my recovery. 

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