I haven’t always been this way. I haven’t always been vegetarian, and although I grew up as a pseudo on-again-off-again runner, I didn’t always stick with it. What I can tell you is that I grew up with two active parents who have always quietly inspired me. I say quietly because they never asked me to be a runner and they never asked me to be more active. They simply lived by example, they walked the walk.
When I was eight years old, my mother ran the Boston marathon. It was April 18, which also happens to be my birthday, and I also happened to be a stinky, miserable mess because I had some unknown GI tract disease that I was sure was going to be my demise. I have never been so pissed at my mom for not being with me at that very moment in all my misery. I remember speaking with her on the phone, and she said to me, “Leigh, I want you to remember this day because you’re going to be proud of your mom one day for running the Boston marathon.” I had no idea at the time precisely what that meant, but now that I’m adult, of course, she was right. I’m not sure if it was that day, but somewhere along the way, my mom and dad must have planted a seed, because I now have a new disease: The Running Disease. It’s very serious.
Growing up, I ran a few 5k road races here and there, sporting some traditional, supportive, motion control running shoes. Even at a young age I was told by running shoe gurus, docs, and the orthotist that I had another type of disease: I was an Overpronator. It turns out that this is also a very serious disease, because my shoes got more expensive and I had to wear something called custom orthotics, even in my soccer cleats!
Let’s jump ahead to my college years. I always owned a pair of running shoes, but they were quickly gathering dust in the corner. The orthotics were moldy, I’m sure of it. I’d forgotten about running for a while and was known as the girl who brought a 6-pack of Bud heavy tallboys to the party along with a BBQ chicken calzone from Oscar’s in Knoxville, TN. In case you were wondering, I finished all that. By myself. Also, in case you were wondering, a calzone consisted of a large pizza crust folded on top of itself to create the calzone. More or less, (probably more) I was basically eating a large pizza to myself on any average Tuesday evening. Real talk: I was overweight. I still remember the day that I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror as I was walking across my room in baggy gray sweatpants and bra. My skin looked old, my hair was stringy looking, but most importantly, the face looked unhappy and swollen. WHO THE HELL WAS THAT?? I suddenly saw myself going down a bad road. Why didn’t I see it before?
That day, I decided I was going to make a change. I hadn’t been on a scale in years, so I hopped on my roommate’s scale to get an idea of the damage. This was bad. Really bad. The next day, my beautiful roommate, Katie, took me to the local Bally’s where she belonged and we did 25 minutes of running followed by 20 minutes on the elliptical trainer. THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO DIE. After the workout, I was shaking like a leaf and starving, so I rewarded myself with a cheese pizza. Afterall, I deserved it right? I’d burned off all the calories, right?
Over the next 5 years after the gray sweatpants incident, I would lose a significant amount of weight through diet and exercise, but usually gained it back because I was doing the Lean Cuisine deal, the Lean Pockets (diet cheeseburger Hot Pocket anyone? Check out the sodium in those!!) Slim Fast, you name it and I probably tried it.
I also attempted running again and was pretty decent at the shorter distances, so I began running 5k races again. One day, when I was 21, I decided I was going to try to run a marathon. I had some aches and pains, but I figured that comes with running. Everyone gets hurt running right? I went for my first 10 mile run without too much excitement except for some mean chafing between my thighs. Otherwise I thought I’d escaped unscathed. The next day, THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO DIE. I had a new disease, the My Hip is Going to Fall Off Disease. More about this in future posts.
To make a long story short, I spent the next 5 years fighting different ailments that I associated with running such as Runner’s Knee, ITB syndrome, Leg Length Discrepancy, Possible Torn Labrum of the Hip, Iliopsoas Tendonitis, Tendonosis, Rectus Femoris Tendonitis, Lateral Ankle Sprain, SI Joint Pain, Low Back Pain, just to name a few. Sound familiar to anyone? So what was the treatment? There were many suggestions:
- Surgery to fix the torn labrum in the hip and torn ligaments in the ankle
- More expensive, supportive running shoes
- Custom orthotics because you are an Overpronator (which by the way, when combined with the most expensive stability shoes on the market may directly contribute to a lateral ankle sprain)
- Grow your left leg to be as long as your right (I still haven’t figured that one out yet)
- Stop Running
I gave number 2 and 3 a valiant attempt, leading to more and more injuries.
Then, there was one suggestion I had not considered before. Steve Vighetti, a physical therapist at the University of St. Augustine, was assisting in my treatment for my lateral ankle sprain. He was someone that I greatly respected, as he was a FAST runner, and the go to guy for running injuries. In fact, I was calling out splits at our school’s 5k sporting my sweet boot for my sprained ankle when he ran by. Or at least I think he ran by. All I know is, someone flew by with a cute little boy in jog stroller, his hair blown back, cheeks flapping in the wind, giggling uncontollably. I’m pretty sure the guy pushing the stroller was in first place at that point. My sweet friend, Melissa said, “that little boy probably thinks he’s in a wind tunnel!”
Anyway, Steve kidnapped my expensive running shoes one day and pulled out my custom orthotics, my medial wedge for my Overpronation, and my heel lift, and threw them on the floor like abandoned children. “What are you doing?” I asked him, terrified. “I NEED THOSE!”
“Do you ever think that all this junk may in fact be your problem?” He asked me matter of factly. I’d never thought about that before. However, that day, Steve successfully planted another seed. Fast forward another 3 years, and I now have another disease: The Barefoot Running Disease. This is by far, the best disease of all…
So you see, I haven’t always been a barefoot runner, and I certainly haven’t always been vegetarian. What I know now is that my lifestyle choices today allow me to feel more alive and more excited about running and eating than ever before. The journey to today has not been an easy one, and this is why I need to share my story. I’ve had as many or more running injuries as the average runner, and I’ve struggled with eating for most of my life. Today I feel like my body is strong and lean, and ready for the upcoming Portland Marathon with the support of plant foods, my Vibram Five Finger See Yas http://www.vibramfivefingers.com/products/Five-Fingers-Seeya-Womans.htm, and my loving husband, Mike. This will be my second full marathon and I hope to follow it with a 50 miler next year. So here we go, come along with me. Happy Reading!