“Can trail running develop into an unhealthy addiction?”
This question struck me as ironic. My experience has been quite the reverse.
If you happened upon the 20-something version of me, running along a trail, chances are I would not meet your gaze, offer a greeting or share a smile. Chances are you might mistake me for a teenage boy or a girl with a terminal illness. You would see me struggling to make it another mile during a run which likely offered me little joy; just a momentary respite from the non-stop chatter, rumination and disquiet in my head.
Running was not my addiction. Running was the balm that soothed my aching soul during those very dark years. By age 25, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and entered treatment. At 5’9″ and 90 lbs., my body was failing. I lacked the maturity, strength and courage required to address the painful issues underlying this destructive behavior. Instead of meth or cocaine, I chose starvation.
During those years, the fear and sadness that engulfed my being made any sort of self-reflection or exploration nearly impossible. In the whirlwind of any addiction, we lose sight of ourselves. I was, literally, lost.
While in treatment for my eating disorder, I was not allowed to exercise. I remember calling my best friend from college, sobbing….what would I do without that rush of endorphins, sweat and sharp release? The familiarity and security of running had provided a sort of soothing rhythm to my days. She taught me a deep breathing exercise over the phone, one I still utilize to this day. Inhale…2, 3, 4; Hold…2, 3, 4; Exhale…2, 3, 4. I was running.
Thankfully, through much support, I recognized that the most powerful tools I have are my mind and my voice. Identifying my thoughts and feelings and expressing them authentically and truthfully in a kind and appropriate manner (a skill most folks learn much earlier in life??!) -this is my practice. I’m still working on it.
Training for & running my first marathon at age 27 marked the beginning of the end of my addiction. There was no room in my life for the old Erin. Running long distances on trails requires fuel, oomph, guts, drive and spunk. The old me would have never even made it to the start line. DNS.
I approach running with such gratitude now, as I know that through running I found myself. The dirty, muddy, sweaty, smiley Erin is my favorite Erin. I’m really not sure if I would have uncovered her if running had not stubbornly stuck around.
I suppose I sound like an addict when I say that I cannot imagine my life without running. Yet, the familiar path of addiction is one that I simply refuse to venture back down. I can safely say that running free on beautiful trails in the mountains is the single most reliable antidote to ever being pulled down there again.