Half marathons have been hot for the past few years, and I love that more and more people are making it a goal to complete a half or even a full marathon.
But these long-distance races don’t have to be for everyone.
I don’t mean that you physically cannot run a half marathon. If that’s a goal of yours, you have every reason to go for it. And you absolutely CAN do it.
But if you’ve ever gone through an eating disorder or have been particularly obsessed with the diet mentality, training for a half marathon can be a danger zone. Here’s why.
This type of training can trigger those same instincts that come up when you’re obsessed with dieting and body weight. If you fully commit to doing well, then planning and evaluating your food intake is a big part of the training. This is not helpful if you’re trying to practice intuitive eating and mend your relationship with food.
There’s also the possibility of guilt and shame when you miss a run, feelings we’re trying to let go of.
Training runs are often over an hour long, so if you have a history of binging and purging, you might have a hard time viewing your runs as steps toward your goal versus punishment for eating.
You might trigger the mentality of, well I didn’t run today, so I shouldn’t eat that, or you give yourself “permission” to eat because you ran.
The majority of people who train for half marathons experience these thoughts on some level, and it’s totally normal. People will eat more on days they run long and will eat different macros on their off days. It’s part of the training process.
But if you have a history of obsessing over these factors, of letting numbers define your worth and punishing yourself with exercise, running half marathons might not be the best thing for you to get involved in.
Run for the Right Reasons
I fell in love with running in 2013, when I started training for my first half marathon. I loved how hard it was, how it allowed me to think through things or just zone out. I loved the community I became a part of and met some of my best friends through running.
I loved it so much that I ran 9 half marathons and a full marathon within 2 years.
But it also triggered my obsessive dieting tendencies. I tracked calories, fat, carbs, protein, sugar, etc. I read everything I could about the nutrition side of things and tried to stick to the guidelines as much as possible. For me, that meant I was often eating more than I was comfortable with just to meet a guideline. I wasn’t listening to my body.
After my full marathon in 2014, I was burnt out. Not exactly from running, but from the tight restrictions I had set on my life. Planning meals, bedtimes and weekend activities around runs was making me feel a little neurotic. Keeping track of every mile and calorie, hitting a certain number of miles each run – I got tired of it.
I wanted to do other types of workouts, but I had a quiet fear looming underneath all of the races. I thought if I kept up with the running, there was no way I’d ever fall back into gaining the weight I had gained in college. In fact, I was so afraid of that, that I didn’t even take advantage of all the calories I burned during marathon training. Read: I didn’t eat one cupcake during that whole 6 months! #regret
The funny thing is, I started to gain weight during my last two half marathon training sessions. My body was just as done with running as my heart was. It was ready for a change.
I knew that I was running because it was another way to make sure I was staying skinny. Even if I did love it, I obsessed over it for the wrong reasons. There were more important things for me to be spending my time on, like pursuing my dreams as a writer.
So, I hung up my running shoes and adopted a new mindset around exercise. I could do whatever type of workout I wanted – weight lifting, yoga, pilates, dance, walking maybe even running! – and focus on being healthy. My new goals became to stop weighing myself, stop counting and tracking everything, and stop forcing myself to do anything I didn’t truly want to do.
Two years later, I still live by that fitness mindset. I believe I’m in the best shape of my life, all because I learned to trust my body to balance out the exercise I do with the healthy food I eat…and a good mix of indulgences.
Tips for Running Half Marathons if You’ve had an Eating Disorder
What do I want you to take away from my story? Exercise is a necessity for health, but it shouldn’t be an unhealthy obsession. Do what YOU want to do for exercise, and if you happen to enjoy running half marathons, by all means go and do it! But if you have a history of an eating disorder, here’s my advice:
Do it for fun.
I advise against setting a time goal for your race, because that will tempt you to track things. Do it because you CAN complete one. And trust me, you can.
Go run without a watch.
Maybe you track your miles, because you don’t want to get to half-marathon day without having gone on a couple double-digit-mile runs…that would be a rude awakening! But avoid keeping time for each mile, just celebrate each mile ran.
Avoid tracking your food intake.
Understand that you’ll need more carbs, but use your intuition. Avoid tracking calories or macros. Instead, go by fist-fulls. Know that you’ll likely want 2 fist-fulls of carbs at each meal on a heavy running day, and be cool with that. Resist the urge to track! Listen to your body, and eat when you’re hungry. Stop when you’re full. Please!
Practice positive self-talk and self-care.
Sometimes we think we didn’t do much of anything if we didn’t write it down, (or is that just me?). Instead of tracking your miles after a run or your macros after a meal, say something positive to yourself. State an affirmation…”I am getting better at running every day.” Congratulate yourself for your accomplishments and for nourishing your body.
And of course, take good care of yourself. You’ll need a good chunk of sleep every night, healthy and energizing food, and likely some extra pedicures. Reward yourself!
Running half marathons has several benefits to it – the exercise, the challenge and the community are all great aspects of races. Exercise should be a part of everyone’s life, but only in the way that is healthiest and best for you. Do what you love and what makes you feel great. Your physical appearance will be a reflection of your overall balance.
Have you ever run a half marathon? Are you able to train without obsessing? Tell me about it by leaving a comment!