It’s Thanksgiving week and although I don’t live in the United States anymore, I have been inundated with friends and family expressing their anxieties about the holidays. It’s not just you, it’s everyone. Although, I will say that there’s a considerable amount of EXTRA chatter of nervousness coming from “us”; the runners, the athletes, the healthy eaters, the nervous, the type As, the in-trainings, the no-periods, the I-need-exercise-to-functions. It would be easy for me to say that all of your worry boils down to two things; am I going to have time to train on Turkey Day and how can I not eat 90% of what’s on the table because it freaks the hell out of me. But, it’s not that easy....we’ll get to that.
Oh wait. Don’t get me wrong. I know that you are thinking of those magic two things, too. You may very well be doing insane amounts of planning to get extra training in on Thanksgiving day. I see you, up at 4 am before everyone else to get in a quick half mary before the bird goes in the oven. I see you, late for dinner because you were out (whoopsie!) dicking around on the trails with your pals until late afternoon. I see you, running TO and FROM the 5K Turkey Trot because I mean, three miles is like, why even botherrrrr? You knew the holiday gym schedule before they even posted it. You nabbed your spot in the only yoga class they’re doing that day in September. Two words for you ultrarunners: Thanksgiving. Fatass.
And the food, oh the food. You might also be subbing the shit out of some butter/marshmallows/fried onions to cut back on what you have decided is way too unhealthy for dinner. Do not even try to come at me with “Oh I just decided to simply roast the green beans/brussels sprouts/broccoli this year because it just tastes better” and “Baked sweet potatoes are soooo much yummier than a casserole!”. You are bullshitting me AND yourself. This goes double for anything with the word “crustless” in the name of the recipe. Come. ON.
If you don’t cook, it’s worse, right? If you have to be the guest at someone else’s dinner, you’re either clinging for dear life to that one dish that you brought, that probably you alone will eat (let’s be real, no one wants your tofu/salad/fat free soup), or you are scanning the table like some kind of Carb Sonar is mounted to your head and you’re looking for something...anything safe. Beep...no...beep...nope...beep...NEVER...
But like I said, none of this is the point. The point is that you are doing all of this because something else is uncomfortable. It’s not the run or the casserole or the can of french fried onions. It’s the fact that today everything is pushed off its axis in a way that is not festive, not fun, not warm and engaging. You’re forced to do some things that you are either apprehensive about doing or don’t want to do, at all, and you’re compensating by holding on to the things that you think you need to get by. I know because I did it too.
Every holiday for as long as I can remember, I got up early and trained before I did anything else. At first, I got questions and side-eye, but after a while no one asked where Jill was going at 8 am on Christmas morning. Everyone knew. It would be so easy to say that I was trying to burn off calories or compensate for an indulgent dinner. Isn’t that what everyone thinks? Especially if you’re on the smaller side, it’s so easy to hide behind that or let people pin you there. But, look deeper. Is that what it is? I don’t think so. I think there’s more to it. There was for me and you and I are not so different, are we? So, I think there’s more to if for you, too.
Being small was the dangerous end result of a compensation mechanism gone awry. Let me say that again, I was not trying to be small, I was trying to compensate for the uncomfortable feelings that, well everything...including holidays, made me feel. I did not want to feel them, so I numbed them out with movement and restriction.
In my case, restriction is a fear-based reaction to Celiac Disease. I hate pain. I don’t want to be sick. I will, therefore, eat very little rather than even risk getting sick. My aunts are not about, “Let me make you some GF stuffing, honey.” And I always felt too awkward to waltz in with an entire dinner for myself. So, I would pick on salad and bits of turkey and a half a pomegranate after the morning’s beat-down on the roads or trails. Add two glasses of prosecco and stomach acid from nerves and what do you get? Better question: what don’t you get? Holiday fricking cheer.
But why? OK, here goes. I was abused by a family member as a child and spent the first half of my life avoiding him on holidays and all of the holidays since trying to act like it didn’t rip me to shreds. When the terrible story came out, I was asked to not tell anyone since it would destroy the family. Some secrets are too big to keep, but training on holidays helped me cope in two very important ways. One, I did not have to be present. Two, I got so blasted by endorphins that I was magically able to smile and clink glasses the rest of the day. Where is Jill on Christmas morning? Why, she’s the only place she can be.
I assure you that I did not know any of this back then. I was hiding out behind the “athlete” thing, the “Celiac” thing, the “skinny” thing. Any of those would do, but they were not the real explanation. And I did not get to the truth until after I stopped running because my body fell apart.
When I was forced to stop, I was also forced to listen. What I heard was a hurt voice from a hurt kid that needed hear that yes, for you too, Jill, it’s all going to be ok. You can stop now, let’s figure this out. You are loved, 50-mile ultras or not, you are loved. You matter as you are and you’re awesome even without a runner’s high, so pull up a chair, sweet girl, and hold my hand.
And maybe your story is different. Maybe you’re afraid of being compared to your cousins who are simultaneously going to medical school and winning Rhodes scholarships, so completing marathons makes you feel like you measure up. Maybe you hated being the chubby kid whose cheeks everyone wanted to pinch and now you you cling to “tiny” or “athlete” so that you can keep that FAR behind you. Maybe you don’t want to be scrutinized by your family since your divorce and you know you’re going to get questions about whether or not you want to have kids. They should all know that you haven’t gotten a period in two years. That would shut them up, but quick. Or maybe it’s something else...
But I can tell you this: if you stop, just for a moment, and let it get REAL uncomfortable...that’s when it starts to get better. It’s hard at first, there’s no doubt, but I promise that the unraveling is worth it. That’s when the Turkey Trot can go back to being a plain ‘ol 5K with your Pop. Christmas morning can be cinnamon rolls with a smile and not a macro calculator. You won’t even need that 10-miler to get through the first four hours at grandma’s. Just do yourself a favor this holiday before you gear up and head out the door. Consider, just for a moment, what it would be like to let it all go. Just try. And please... eat the damned crust.
If you need me to keep you steady...I’ll be here, just find me: firstname.lastname@example.org