How I’ve Embraced Nutrition as Fuel & Learned To Be Grateful for My Body
Read or listen as you please!
You know when you’re doing 65 down the highway and your car’s fuel light comes on, but you know you’ve got at least another 35 miles before you actually need to worry? But then next thing you know the mileage light turns off, and a bright “E” starts flashing and dinging, and you’re panicking about where that next gas station is? Dangit, why didn’t I just fill all the way up last week?! Turns out, that’s where I was just a few short months ago. My body was my vehicle, and I had no idea that I was making it do 65 miles an hour while running on empty, my body flashing E and dinging alerts.
Bit By The Big Apple
I lucked out with what was remembered of my performance at the 2018 TCS New York City Marathon. Most people remember me leading the elite women’s race for a few miles, making my “big screen” debut.
Don’t get me wrong, this is one of the coolest memories about this race for me too, but here’s what really sticks in my mind: me desperately struggling to make it through the last three miles of the race, willing my body with every single ounce of energy I had to just make it to the finish line. What is wrong with me? I’ve trained this distance so many times. I run near this pace at ALTITUDE, why is my body not on board? Come on man, why can’t you just push a little bit more? This is humiliating.
Through the work I’ve been putting in over the past couple of months after that race, things are now starting to make sense. Here’s what my body was telling me at the time: “Dude…I am literally trying but I have no fuel to make this car go! And that bagel four hours ago isn’t gonna cut it.”
Bad Habits, Crazy-Runner-Brain Thoughts, & Wake-Up Calls
Up until this point, I thought I was managing my nutrition just fine on my own. But my finish at New York was a wake-up call that if I’m serious about chasing down my dreams of making it to the Olympics (which I am), I’m going to have to be 100% all-in with every aspect of my training…especially nutrition.
Not long after the race, I contacted Amanda, sports dietician, fellow runner, and owner of Active Fueling (aka badass lass), whom I tried to work with on & off last year but found myself Houdini-ing out of fear countless times. She’s going to try to make me lose weight. I count my pace splits, not my calories. I am a runner, I can eat whatever I want. She’s going to make me gain weight — I’m going to be Pillsbury-biscuit-ing out of my buns and crop top!
Amanda graciously welcomed me back with zero judgement or questions. We started out easy, working to balance calories, carbs, protein and fat logging everything on MyFitnessPal. So far so good. We set calorie targets based on my body and how much energy I was expending on my runs. I started to feel better, becoming more comfortable learning about food as fuel.
I had a 10k race in January that went well (I won), but still I felt like I didn’t have energy at the end. Here’s why: I was still completely underfueled! What the heck, man?! But I had no idea because here’s where my crazy runner-brain kicked back in: The target is 2500 calories? Awesome, if I eat 1700 calories, I’ve just crushed the day! Lower numbers, like lower times, equals faster, right? (Empty fuel light flashing). Looking back to the days leading up to this race, I was almost 900 calories under our goal. No freaking wonder I feel like garbage still.
What was I doing?? Why was I manipulating my caloric intake? I knew it wasn’t right, but why I was I doing it? The more I started digging into it, I realized it wasn’t just about the nutrition — it was about how I was perceiving myself and my worth as a runner, especially at an elite level. Anyone else have these ridiculous irrational runner brain thoughts like I did?
- Everyone will notice that bagel you had for breakfast.
- Stare in the mirror critiquing what needs to be changed and analyze how you look in each race photo. Foolproof plan to boost self-esteem. *hearty eye-roll*
- I can eat more calories today because I have a long run tomorrow that will cancel them out.
- It’s my off day so a bowl of cereal and a PB&J should suffice for the whole day.
- If you don’t look like an elite runner at the starting line, no one will take you seriously. (What does that even mean?) Skinny yet shredded arms, toned but not too big legs, chiseled abs are imperative.
- If I want to run as fast as other elite runners, I should look like them. So restrict your calories, especially leading up to race day, do a million core exercises especially leading up to race day, and compare your body to theirs.
Workin’ Lime to Chive
(Trying to make a clever Dolly Parton food header. Nailed it.)
I dug into the uncomfortable part of the trunk of my car and finally pulled out the dirty laundry I’ve shoved into the far corners of the abyss for so many years that I had tried to ignore. It has been uncomfortable, vulnerable and challenging. It has taken SO much work mentally, physically, nutritionally to understand my bad habits and work every day to change years of negative thinking. But I am doing the work, and it has been amazingly worth it! My training has never been stronger, and I’m excited to see how fast I can go with enough of the right fuel in my body. I’m really proud of this which is why I’m excited to share…and believe me, it’s super tough to admit this.
Here are six things that I have realized and changed that I hope can help any of you struggling with the same fears around body image, weight, self-confidence, eating, nutrition, or any other crazy-runner-brain thoughts:
- I stay off of my scale. I trust Amanda and her nutrition expertise. I also trust my body to tell me how it’s feeling vs. what meaningless numbers on a scale are telling me. I let go of control and learned why I was trying to control what I looked like. My team is the experts. I don’t need to know the science behind Oz; I just need to trust in its magic!
2. I stopped cramming for the test the night before…meaning I’ve stopped doing my old rituals like last-minute-abs the night before and morning-of a race, manipulating calories the week leading up to a race, and stressing about all other meaningless things. I do the work every single day in training, which gives me confidence that I have what it takes in the race. This is so much less stressful!
3. I stopped comparing my body to other elites. I asked myself, “do you want to “look” like an elite athlete or perform like one? Choose nutrition every day!” I even put this on my fridge. It doesn’t matter how fast the Ferrari looks, it won’t be able to perform if there is no fuel in it. Duh.
4. I thank my body for how strong it is and how it allows me to put hundreds of miles on it, pushing the limits. If I’m not grateful, who knows how long it will want to stick around. Each negative thought is like a 20 lbs. weight in the trunk of my car…it’s hard to haul that around especially if there’s already no gas in the tank.
5. I am a carb-eating-machine, and I embrace learning about food as fuel! Amanda’s philosophy that has worked so well for me is that we are fueled by carbs. Wait, fruit is carbs?? I’ve had fun creating new things to try and eat…like breakfast nachos! #charboloading
6. I have grace with myself. I didn’t know what I didn’t know before. This growth is part of my journey. It’s not perfect. I’m not perfect. But I’m having a blast regardless!
Runners, elite and non-elite, come in every shape and size. My body and your body is exactly how it’s supposed to be. Trust that it will adapt to how it’s supposed to be with the training you put in. I know that as runners we are naturally competitive, but please be thankful for the vehicle you were given. It doesn’t matter what the body style of a car looks like, it’s the engine that matters. Whether you’re a Mini Cooper or a Tesla, just own it! Trust your body and fuel it properly. I promise you’ll be amazed at the difference!
*Please note, I am not an expert in nutrition. These are just my experiences. Please seek out professional guidance on your nutrition journey. Similarly, please seek out professional help if you are struggling with an eating disorder or body issues — ask for help and don’t apologize for it! You are worth it.