My love for running comes from deep within myself. Running for me is an indescribable sensation that, to this day, I believe to be my true gift and calling. In the middle of a race or a hard tempo I used to physically get the chills. It felt like an external force ran over and through me, lifting me out of myself and transporting me to a different dimension. To this day, when I get the feeling of absolute serenity in the middle of a run, I take a moment to thank whatever force gave me the capacity to use my body in a way that makes me feel so deeply and utterly connected to myself.
This story begins with a discussion of my continued passion for the physical, emotional, and spiritual sensation of running because this passion often gets drowned out in stories of eating disorders and disordered eating in the running world. These stories tend to tell cautionary tales of (predominately female) runners who had great potential and a passion for running, then developed an eating disorder resulting from internal and/or external circumstances, and sadly wasted their potential and lost passion due to their contentious relationship with food during their competitive adolescent years. I’m not saying that these stories aren’t beneficial, they are- they have served to shed very important light on the gendered and systemic issues within competitive distance running. However, these stories tell the same neat, tidy, narrative over and over again. And while they are good for raising awareness, they also dehumanize and drown out the voice of the protagonist- the young, late-adolescent female runner; reducing her particular and complex story to an easily digestible narrative that ends in despair, a loss of purpose, and a loss of identity. I am telling my story- a story that does not end in despair, but instead in hope, renewed purpose, and fresh perspective, because I think the dominant narrative needs a bit of tweaking- we shouldn’t need to see female runners who developed eating disorders as failed savants in order to believe their stories and to hold relevant actors and systems accountable. In order to begin to unravel the neatness of this dominant narrative, the story I will tell is short and sweet, but also complex and messy- it doesn’t give gory details of systemic issues or reasons for why I developed an eating disorder nor does it detail the rise and fall of a promising runner. Instead, it details the messy, not-easily-digestible story of a female girl navigating life with passion and finding out who she is.
As a young girl with a genetic condition in which my bone age, and therefore physical development, was 4 years behind my actual age, I was bullied and felt disconnected from my peers. I found running around the beginning of high school and instantly fell in love with the pure sensation of the movement. It helped me find purpose and connection in a world in which I otherwise felt left-out and disconnected. I ran after school by myself around the neighbourhood, with my mom through the woods, and in the snowshoe trails at the ski hill. Without realizing, I became fast. I entered a race. I did pretty well. Doing well gave me a bonus sense of purpose and connection and served as a security blanked to help me navigate the big, scary high school social world. I started to train hard. Then my body started to change. I looked fit. Finally, I liked my appearance. From as young as I could remember, I resented my appearance- its small stature is what caused me to be ostracized. Now though, my smallness was an asset- it made me fast, it made me fit, it gave me more success in the thing that brought me security. Now, instead of wanting to grow like I did before, I wanted to stay small- it was my secret weapon, it actually gave me security to be small- so I embraced it as a big f*** you to high school social life. I stayed small, got fast, won titles. Then, my mom realized I had an eating disorder. She got me help, I recovered, and I actually got even faster. However, despite being recovered from my eating disorder, you can’t change genetics... my bone age was still 4 years behind my actual age. So, when I went to the US on a scholarship and started running 70 miles per week on age-15 bones, I got injured. The toxic university culture meant that my injury wasn’t treated properly, so I moved back home. I tried training on my own and got injured again. I tried training again and finally I didn’t get injured. My bone age had developed to a point that enabled me to be injury free, and I was still eating disorder free. Now though, uninjured and training hard, I realized I didn’t want to run competitively anymore. I started becoming passionate about other things in my life- political philosophy, relationships, art- and I realized I didn’t need a security blanket anymore- I was no longer the ostracized, 13-year old me. And, in fact, using running as a security blanked was stopping me from being able to feel connected to running. In order to keep running as my passion, I chose to quit competing. I don’t know if I’ll compete again or not. I don’t know if I would have kept competing had I not had an eating disorder, a genetic bone condition, or a toxic experience at a US university. But I also don’t know if I would have even started competing had it not been for these things. The point is, no one part of my story defines me- not the systemic abuse from a toxic university culture, not an eating disorder, not a genetic bone condition, not my young success, and not my dropping out of the sport. Together though, all of these parts have led to the person I am today- someone who goes for a light jog to prep her mind for research, who runs hard tempos just for fun. A fiery girl who has a deep passion and connection to running, but who has chosen to pursue new passions and seek new experiences. And for that, I thank my whole messy story- the hard bits and all.
- Hannah Bennison
Such a great story Hannah – you’ve overcome so much, and are such an inspiration to other athletes! Thanks for sharing your story with us.