The WEIGHT of the world, the HEART of the matter, and the SPIRIT of the marathoner

Quote from Kristin Armstrong
Quote from Kristin Armstrong

This is a difficult blog to write, but after receiving a very hurtful message from a friend via a social network site…I really felt there were a few things I needed to address.  I’m sure others have been thinking it.  I’m certain some may have even said things behind my back.  But…before I even get to it, I want to emphasize to everyone reading this…

Words hurt.  Words hurt more than anything else can because they can last forever.  Choose them wisely.

With that in mind, please proceed with the rest of this blog keeping an open mind.


Let’s face it…society has put a face on what it perceives as beautiful and perfect.  There is one word that haunts women every single day of their lives.  DIET.  I hate the word.  Yet, there is no escaping it.  You see, society has put this standard of what women and men should look like.  And if you don’t fit into these standards, well, then you should do something about it.  After all…you aren’t beautiful unless you’re 100 pounds soaking wet, right?


Before I start to dissect the word diet…and incorporate it with my life on the run (literally), I think I need to get one thing across about being gluten-free.

I did not choose to go gluten-free because it’s one of the latest fad diets out there.  For an entire year I suffered, silently, from a diet that was literally killing me.  I had turned 30 and life was good.  I had become a vegetarian a year before, feeling good about my food choices…and then something happened.  The food I loved no longer loved me back.  I would eat a meal, and get struck with intense pain in my stomach and side.  I’d feel sick.  My body felt weak and tired all the time.  There were nights I would sit down to watch something and literally fall asleep on the couch.  I had no energy.  I had no idea what was going on.  And, with all of that going on, I was dropping weight drastically…for no reason that I could fathom.  I was still eating like I normally was.  I just never felt good after doing so.  Confused…and, yes…scared…I headed in to see my doctor.  Numerous tests were run with results being inconclusive.  Then…my best friend growing up, Heather, told me to talk to my doctor about the possibility of gluten being an issue.  After the unfathomable money that I poured into hospital tests and blood tests and scans that came back with no answers, this seemed simple enough.

Heather hit the nail on the head.  My body was not absorbing nutrients properly.  I was a Celiac and didn’t even know it.  My body was trying to tell me something…and I couldn’t figure out what it was.  I was just desperately trying to put weight back in, and inadvertently, doing further damage to my system.  The gluten-free diet is not a way for me to quickly shed some pounds.  I have to be gluten-free.  Trust me…I wouldn’t choose to eat like this if I didn’t absolutely have to.  Even a slight spec of gluten in my food can cause a horrible reaction.  And that’s not something I am okay with.  So, when I say I am gluten-free…it is a medical diagnosis…not me leaping onto the bandwagon of the latest diet craze.

But…let’s talk diet crazes…

Women literally spend hundreds of dollars on the latest diet craze to hit the bookshelves, internet, and talk show circuit.  From Atkins to South Beach to Weight Watchers to Jenny Craig to Paleo and everything in between.  Every diet is created to sell you something or on the idea of something.  But, let me also emphasize this…especially to the ladies who are reading this blog…


I know that sometimes it’s hard to look past that reflection in the mirror, but, we are better than what society deems as perfect.  We are perfection.  Every one of us.  We are perfect because we are so different.  We are perfect with our flaws and our scars.  And we don’t need to and shouldn’t punish ourselves for not living up to an unrealistic standard that is pushed on us by the world around us.  Love your flaws.  Love your body, even if it isn’t perfect.  Nothing is perfect…get used to imperfection.

I had a lot of hurtful things said to me when I was dropping weight and couldn’t figure out why.  I did not like being called a skeleton.  I didn’t like the whispers behind my back or the all-out hurtful things that were being said about me.  The smallest derogative comment about being just “skin and bones” would send me into a breakdown of crippling tears.  I couldn’t explain the situation…because I didn’t even know what to make of it.  All I knew was people would say very hurtful things about my body…and it would get back to me.  I’d put on the brave face in public, but if I could find a bathroom, or the safe haven of my car, I’d let the tears flow.  Weight problems work both ways…and the overweight aren’t the only ones who get chided for looking a certain way.

With that in mind, let me turn to one of my least favorite words in the English language…and beyond: DIET.

Why do I have such disdain for this word?  Because it honestly makes people crazy!!

The difference...
The difference…

I’ve witnessed it.  I see it almost every day with the women in my office.  They fuss over points, and what they eat and if they eat this then they can’t have this…and OH MY GOD…I put on ONE POUND!!  Diet’s bring out the worst in people, rather than the best.  I’ve seen some of the nicest people fall into the diet trap…and they change…and not for the better.  Sure, at first the weight drops off…but then what?  The foods they were restricting begin to be consumed again…and the weight comes back.  And then the diet happens again.  Yo-yo dieting is not healthy.  Not for your body, your mind, or your soul.  Trust me.  We’ve all been there.  Even me.

As I am training for my first marathon, I enlisted the help of a sports nutritionist.  After getting the okay from my doctor to proceed with training, I wanted to be sure that I was doing everything…and I mean…EVERYTHING right to get myself from that start line to 26.2 miles down the road where the finish line waited.  I wanted to make sure I was not only working out right, but I wanted to make certain that I was feeding my body right, treating it right, giving it proper nutrition and proper fuel to function.  I wanted my body to come out of my marathon in the best shape possible.  And I wanted to do it the healthy, correct way.  Which is why I sought the help of a professional.

And already I have learned so much about food.  I already thought I knew a lot…but she has been a huge help to me and has definitely changed the way I view food.  Food is not the enemy.  Say it with me…


Now…stop treating it as such.  Food, to any athlete, is fuel.  It’s what gives our body calories…and those calories give us energy…which we burn…and then we need to refuel.  The problem with such restrictive diets is that, so often, we (I’m included) stay so focused on the number on the scale.  My nutritionist offered me this advice…


We are more than numbers.  We are so much more.  And as you train for a long distance event, such as a half marathon or a marathon, your focus needs to switch from your weight…to how you are treating your body.  And this attitude should carry over into every day…whether you are in training or not.

Ever wonder why fad diets don’t work?  It’s all in the math.  If you usually eat proteins, fats, and carbohydrates (as you should) and you remove one of those food groups from your eating plan, you’ll lose weight…but only while you’re on the plan.  The moment you reintroduce those foods you  haven’t been eating…BAM…you gain weight and sometimes it’s more than you lost in the first place.  Yo-yo dieting and fad diets only serve to tax the body because it sends it into “starvation” mode.  The metabolism goes into hibernation, preparing for scant food supplies.  Food is necessary for energy…so this is definitely not what the aspiring athletes should be aiming for.  The body is like a computer and it prefers to burn energy from carbohydrates rather than fat, since carbs are more readily utilized.  Nourishment is key…and to do that you need to keep your body maintained with high-quality food, especially lean protein and complex carbohydrates, otherwise you end up depleting your muscle tissue and your energy in the process.

This was the first thing I learned from my nutritionist.  I used to go out running for miles without putting anything…anything in my stomach.  Mistake number one.  Because I was running, literally, on empty.  My body had no fuel…so instead of burning the calories from having something in my stomach, instead it was leaching off my muscles, which is draining.  She recommended I eat something before heading out…and drink 16 ounces of water.  I run in the eearly morning hours, so this seemed daunting at first.  But, I grabbed a handful of gluten-free trail mix or cereal when I get up…grab my water bottle I fill the night before, and as I dress, I make sure I get food and water into my system.  I pack a fuel belt with GU or Sports Beans, per her recommendation, as well as put Gatorade in one water bottle and water in the other. Every 3-4 miles, I am to fuel.  I am to make sure I hydrate while I run.  Despite wearing a fuel belt, I rarely ever touched the water I was hauling with me.  That’s changed.

And in the month I have been doing this…guess what?  I’ve become a stronger, better, faster runner.  I’m finally getting the hang of treating my body with the respect of an athlete.  Food…is fuel.  So, after going over that, I learned more about glycogen…which is the carbohydrates that are stored in the muscles and liver…and when they are not fueled or topped off during long workouts and runs, they become depleted.  The result…hitting the wall.  I needed to balance some nutrition out…making sure my carbohydrate to protein ratio was around 2:1 or 3:1.  And she (as a gluten-free, vegan, distance runner) even gave me fantastic sources of vegetarian protein and recommended a few recipes and snack ideas.

I have grown into a lean…mean…running machine.  And since figuring out what was wrong with my body 2 years ago…and moving forward to properly hydrating, fueling, and recovering after running and workout sessions, my body has only become better, stronger, and more efficient.

Yes…I am petite…but I come from a family of petite women.  Judging me based on what you perceive to be “the norm” is hurtful and harmful.  Calling me a “skeleton with skin” or other such hurtful words is not helping me any.  And when you have no idea what I’ve been through or am dealing with, it is unfair to even make the assumption that I am not taking care of myself.  Thank you for your concern…but I am taking care of me.  It’s been a long road.  It still is a long road.  And I’m not 100% happy with my body.  My self-image is not good.  And every time someone says something about me that is that hurtful…it only sets me back.

WORDS HURT!  And you can’t take them back.  You can apologize…but it doesn’t erase what was said.  That’s the horrible truth.

Athletes…both men and women…treat your body with respect, treat it well, and fuel it right…and the results will be far more than you could even imagine on any sort of diet.  Trust me.


Dean Karnazes Quote
Quote from Dean Karnazes

A common misconception that runners hear all the time is that we are destroying our bodies.  The constant pounding on the pavement is wearing down our joints, we’re destroying our bodies, and that so-and-so died from running a marathon.

Do people die after long distance races.  Yes.  Was it the race that killed them?  Nope.  It’s normally a pre-existing condition that perhaps they didn’t even know about.

Runners are not only the nicest people I have come into contact with, they are also some of the healthiest.  But, it is inevitable, we all get hurt at some point.  But this is no different than any other sport?  So, why do runners take such a hit when it comes to injuries?

I wish I knew.

I’ve been injured twice.  The first injury came when I boosted my race mileage from a 5K to a 5 Miler.  My foot suffered a stress fracture and I developed runners knee from trying to land differently and alter my gait.  This was back in 2011 when I first started running.  I recovered, but it took a couple of months to heal.  With the permission of my orthopedic doctor, I was still allowed to run in the Chicago Half Marathon (my first half marathon) on September 11, 2011, because he knew I’d do it anyway…but also because he was giving me exercises to do to get my leg back into working order.  It worked.  I had to tape my knee up…but I ran my first half marathon without ever having run over 5 miles on the road.  I was determined…and even though I was unprepared, nothing felt as good as crossing that finish line and meeting up with my friends Heather and Cathy at the end of it.  AMAZING.  I couldn’t wait to do it again.

My second injury happened because I was running injured.  I was at a 4 mile race almost a year ago.  And after hobbling through to the finish line, I ended up stepping off a curb and tearing my plantar fascia.  This was extremely painful.  I couldn’t even walk.  I had my first DNS (Did Not Start) on two races.  I was on crutches for 2 weeks.  And then…I got in to see my doctor who got me in to see a podiatrist…and the situation improved.  I was in the midst of training for the Indianapolis Women’s Half Marathon…and I told my podiatrist this exact thing.  And he told me as long as I took it easy…I could still run it.  He taught me the Low Dye tape job, and that took me off my crutches.  And soon, I was out running very slow 2 mile runs…easing into more mileage as he allowed…until I made it to half marathon weekend.  That race was a hot mess.  With 90% humidity, it was red flagged from the start…but I made it through better than expected…and that was that.

You see…the heart of a runner is nothing to mess with.  Runners are very passionate about their sport.  And you can tell when someone truly loves running simply by the way they talk about it…or the way they interact with others who share that same passion.  I have been welcomed into so many running groups.  I feel so blessed to have these people in my life.  It means I don’t ever have to run alone.  I can talk about anything and everything to these people because…they get it.  They know.  They understand.  Because they have the heart of a runner too.

Look at what happened at the Boston Marathon.  I wasn’t even there.  I knew people who were.  They were all safe.  But the impact of that event affected me so deeply.  I found myself depressed.  I’d run through my thoughts and fears and the “what-if” scenarios every time I hit the pavement.  I’d just run it out…for those who couldn’t.  I donated money to the One Fund…more than I can even count anymore.  That attack just tore my legs out from under me…it affected me on such a deep and emotional level.  And that’s what it means to have the heart of a runner.

And when someone indicates that this passion you have is destroying you…it’s not only insulting…it’s inaccurate.  And, dammit, it hurts like hell to be told all the time that running is bad.  Running is not bad.  Running is my freedom.  Running is my “me-time.”  Running has brought so many amazing people into my life.  Running has taken me places I never dreamed.  Running has helped me improve myself continuously, push a little harder, and to just remember to have fun.  Running is fun.  And, hopefully, I’ll keep chasing down my dreams.

My body has never been stronger…my heart has never been prouder.  I am a runner.  And I’m not going to stop.


Runners train tirelessly and sometimes endlessly for one thing…and that’s to meet a goal.  They may not reach it the first time, but they keep trying.  If they fall down, they pick themselves up.  If they fail, they try again.  When others crumble before the finish line, they turn around, help that person up, and carry them across.  This is the spirit of running.

And, let me tell you, I have spirit.  Yes…I let the careless and thoughtless words of someone hurt me and tear me down today.  But I’ve had countless people pick me up, lift me up, and guide me back onto the path I am taking.

Knock me down…I’ll get back up.  I’m not perfect.  But I don’t have to be.

What I am is a human being…with feelings and emotions and expectations.  And, unfortunately…I do have self-image issues.  And I do lack confidence at time.  And yes…sometimes I even doubt my abilities.  Sometimes I hear that voice in my head telling me I can’t…and I silence it, push a little harder, and prove to myself that I CAN.  Life isn’t easy.  And it does have it’s bumps and roadblocks.  But…if you have a strong spirit…you can accomplish great things.

Osho Quote
Quote from Osho

I know that I am doing everything right when it comes to my training and my body.  I have gotten a physical check-up and an okay to start marathon training from my doctor.  I am consulting with a sports nutritionist.  I am following all the guidelines she laid out.  I’m discovering how important it is to fuel, hydrate, and…REST.  Rest is essential to the body and although I hate rest days…I respect them…I take them…and I come back stronger thanks to them.  If that’s not spirit…I don’t know what is.

You want to see what the human spirit is capable of…then go watch a marathon.  Be inspired.

Me…I think the events of this morning have only gone to make me more determined to do great things and to prove to myself and all naysayers just what I am capable of.  I am going to focus on the positive and prove that I am a bigger and better person.  I will take the high road.  That’s not to say I still don’t get upset and cry when I think of what was said to me…I will allow myself that.  But I won’t let them take away what means so much to me.  Never.

As someone in a running group said to me this morning…sometimes it is best to take a moment and reflect on all the amazing things your body has done- the finish lines crossed and the ones yet to cross- then take a moment to look in the mirror and yell yourself you are a beautiful work in progress.


And so are all of you!

4 Replies to “The WEIGHT of the world, the HEART of the matter, and the SPIRIT of the marathoner”

  1. Karen, you are one of the most beautiful people I have ever met!
    I remember when you were trying to figure out what was going on a couple years ago and how you have come out of it with more strength and determination.
    I’ve actually remembered some of the foods that you’ve written about and recommended them to customers who were looking for gluten-free solutions, you have helped more people than you know!
    Big hugs to you hun!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: