By C Icart, Staff Writer

Content warning: descriptions of disordered eating

On January 7, 2022, I did not go on a run. I did not push through the pain and exhaustion. I did not value being “disciplined” over listening to my body. This was the first time I did this since March 25, 2020 — the first day of my running streak. Yes, I ran every day for 653 days. At the time, I was not thinking about that accomplishment. I was consumed with the feeling of failure. After all, so many people have running streaks that are way longer. I was following so many other streakers (people who run at least a mile every day) online who had been doing it for years, if not decades. The longest-running streak was done by Ron Hill, who did it for over 52 years.

When I started my running streak at the beginning of the pandemic, it was to see if I could go longer than my previous streak, which ended a few years prior after over 150 days (at some point, I stopped counting and lost track). The whole world was shutting down, and it felt like a great time to get back into it.

You need to be a little obsessive to do something like this: or at least, I was. I quickly increased my mileage, going on hour-long runs several days in a row. It hurt; everything hurt, but I kept running. When I would struggle in the middle of a workout, I would repeat to myself that running is difficult, but I can do difficult things. It’s really that easy to blur the line between pushing yourself and self-destruction.

I was lying to myself, and honestly, I think at times I was fooling other people too. I would post mirror selfies on my Instagram story almost daily, mentioning which day of the running streak I was on. They typically included me in a sports bra and leggings, even though I never left the house without putting a shirt on. Online, you can twist and turn and get the angle just right. In real life, people could see what I viewed as imperfections. I included the world in my daily practice of body checking and regularly got compliments for it.

People think they know what healthy looks like, but they’re wrong; being healthy isn’t something you can simply see. Not all weight loss is good, and not all fitness is healthy. On paper, at that time, I was probably one of the healthiest sounding people: I was vegan, ran every day, did yoga, and went to the gym regularly. But I was so weak. I was going on runs more often than eating meals, and it was catching up with me. My anemia got so bad, I always felt like I was on the verge of fainting.

Yet, I was devastated when I ended my streak. I felt like I was so close to hitting two years. But I couldn’t run anymore. Everything hurt; I was exhausted. I felt like my body had failed me. But I knew deep down that I had failed it. I felt like a driver cursing on the side of the road as their car stopped, knowing damn well they had been ignoring the low-fuel signal. I cried.

I’ve always been a runner. I’ve never been one to face problems head-on. But there are some things you can’t run away from. Years of standing in stores reading the weight-loss tips in magazines I wasn’t going to buy, binging weight-loss reality TV shows, and fantasizing about purging built up the messy foundation of this unhealthy lifestyle. They say, “You can’t outrun a bad diet.” They forgot to mention you also can’t outrun body dysmorphia or all the hatred for your body you’ve been socialized to feel. Sure, many people wish they exercised more, but some of us should exercise less.

It hadn’t always been like this. I actually started running out of spite after a particularly horrendous finish in a 5k my school was doing in grade 9. I never wanted to feel weak and powerless like that again. I knew I was the “fat kid,” and people didn’t think I could do it. I ended up joining my high school’s cross-country team. I wasn’t the fastest, but I was lapping everyone on the couch. That was a time when running made me feel strong, free, and badass. I would live for Sunday mornings, where I’d blast my favourite music and do my long run in the rain — waving at my neighbours, racing squirrels, and discovering new trails and hidden gems in my city. I miss that.

On October 12, 2022, I went on a run for the first time in nine months. I guess it was time to see if I could be reborn. I was lacing back up because I had unfinished business. I never achieved my running goals because I was running on empty, and I wasn’t listening to my body. But I have paces I want to hit, races I’d love to enter, and trails I’d love to explore. I started with a short and easy 10 minutes to see how my body would feel. It was surprisingly normal. I immediately got into a comfortable rhythm, passing people on the seawall. I had forgotten how much running felt like home. A man directing traffic cheered me on, and I knew at that moment that I was so glad to be back.

I am not skinny; I will never look like the fitness influencers online sucking in their tummies in Gymshark outfits, trying to sell me abs in 14 days. I am giving up on the perpetual project of shrinking myself until I disappear. I am an athlete. I fuel, and I train. I don’t diet and punish myself with workouts. I’m sure my return to the sport will not be without hiccups. My relationship with my body, running, and food has always been complicated, but I’m seeing growth. Here’s to more eating and less body checking, more self-loving and less self-loathing, more smiles and sometimes, fewer miles.