I have been following Sarah Scozzaro (aka: Drtyrunner) on Instagram for a while and know that she's a badass ultrarunner. It never would have occurred to me that she suffered from amenorrhea in the past! Since so many of you ask me if I think that you have a future in your sport post-recovery, I HAD to get some answers from Sarah. She's another brilliant example of what is possible when you treat your body (and mind) well!
Let’s start from the beginning. If you were to look back, where would you say that things started to go down the wrong road for you?
I had been a fairly confident child, but my sense of self and self confidence slipped in high school and I bounced from one unhealthy relationship to another, back to back. I look back at this time and realize that I really lost my sense of worth and feelings of control. By the time I started college, I was convinced I needed to lose weight (and that this weight would result in a greater sense of happiness). Around this time, I also decided that I wanted to run a marathon (running had always been a passion of mine, since I was young) and I also came to the conclusion that I could regain a sense of control by controlling what I put into my mouth/body. I hid behind a vegan diet as a way to drastically control what I could/could not eat.
How did you realize that things were not right physically? What were your symptoms?
I lost my period for a year, and initially, I was thrilled! I didn’t have to plan races around my cycle, buy feminine products, or worry about a period interfering with my life. Oh, how wrong I was. After a year of no periods, I was diagnosed with a stress fracture of my pelvic ramus (pubic bone) and was sent for a DEXA scan, where they found my bone density was that of a 70+ year old woman. I was 22 years old.
What was going through your mind when you got this information? Did you finally understand that something was wrong?
I honestly thought things were fine until I got my bone scan results. I wasn’t underweight, I “looked” normal, I was able to run the training runs I wanted to do. But little did I know, my body had been sending me warning signs along the way. The lost period, the exhaustion, no interest in sex, the inability to recover well after hard runs. I thought this was all part of the training process.
What you did to get on the right track?
I changed my diet to include more food; healthier fats, quality protein and carbohydrates. A stress fracture resulted in forced time off, which in turn was just what my body needed. Less stress + higher quality and quantity in food = healing and restoration! And I had a regular cycle again! Yay!
What kinds of struggles did you have?
Body image issues don’t just go away right away. I still struggle from time to time with it; not “looking” a certain part (I am a trainer and coach, and have at times been told I don’t “look like how someone in my field should look”.) But I really was scared about my long term health, and shifted my mindset from looking a certain way or being a certain size, and focused on performance; being strong, healthy, and giving my body what it needed to be able to live a full life and to participate in the activities I loved. So whenever I start to feel like I am not good enough or don’t look the part (whatever that means), I remind myself how strong I am, of all the amazing things my body allows me to do, and all the adventures I have.
How have things changed?
Oh goodness, I am so much happier and at peace with myself than ever before. I am an ultra runner and finding joy on the trails is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I fuel my body so I can get out in nature and explore and share adventures with great people. I don’t put pressure to hit a certain weight (a control area that I had to learn to relinquish) or to fit into a certain size. I want to enjoy what I eat, and know that I can enjoy good foods, including foods that use to be “off limits” (I no longer have “off limit” foods). I can experience better health and performance and I am at peace with my body. I know longer I am in a war against myself. It is so freeing and worth all the struggle it took to get here.
Do you see your old self in some of your clients?
I see women, and women runners in particular, that really struggle with equating their weight with their value and with their ability to be a better athlete. “If I were only thinner I could run faster…” I hear this alot. But you can have a normal cycle, eat healthfully, and train smart. You do not have to be a predetermined weight or have a specific look and enjoy your sport fully.
What would you say to those struggling with the idea of recovery?
Nurturing your body and having a regular and healthy cycle is SO worth it. YOU are worth it.
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