Professional distance runner and Hive Gold athlete Ellie Abrahamson shared with Honey Stinger why doing everything ‘right’ didn’t make her a better athlete.
During my final year as an NCAA D1 cross country & track athlete for Wake Forest, running consumed the majority of my time outside of classes and homework. I devoted several hours a day to running, general strength/weight lifting and recovery. I never considered professional running as an option, so at the time, I thought I only had one year left of running forever.
The end date on my running career encouraged me to go all in. I trained hard. I ate as healthy as possible. I stayed in on the weekends. I did everything ‘right’ because I thought I had to do everything ‘right’ to become the fastest, fittest version of myself. I don’t blame myself for thinking this way. The idea that one must do everything ‘right’ to run ‘fast’ has become so ingrained in the collegiate distance running culture, and I fell victim to it.
As a freshman, sophomore and junior, I never thought that hard about running. I went to practice, ran the workouts and moved on with my day. Running didn’t consume my life or my identity. I didn’t do everything ‘right.’ I ate unhealthy food, I went out on the weekends, and I spent more time writing papers and attending *unproductive* group meetings than I did sleeping.
During my senior year, I gradually started changing my lifestyle. I cleaned up my diet. I went out less. I tried to sleep more. My intentions were normal – I wanted to become the best runner I could be in the short time I had left at Wake Forest, but looking back, I don’t think I had to make nearly as many sacrifices as I did to run well. The small changes I made to my lifestyle at the beginning eventually became all encompassing. My candy consumption went from daily to weekly to never. My nights out went from every week to biweekly to never. I took my normal intentions so far that they became abnormal. I became so healthy that it was unhealthy. My life became lifeless.
I got so caught up in the lifestyle surrounding running that I lost sight of why I run in the first place. There are so many reasons why I run, many of which can be found in RunRepeat’s article “71 Benefits of Running Backed by Science.” I’ve been running for nearly 10 years, and I can attest that running has a “rejuvenating effect” on my mind and body that “[elevates my] mood” and “boosts [my] confidence.” I run for this rejuvenating effect and to improve my well-being. Once I started making a bunch of sacrifices to become a better runner, running lost its rejuvenating effect on me. It made me anxious and stressed rather than happy and carefree.
Yes, I ran significantly faster during my senior year than I did during my freshman, sophomore and junior years, but I didn’t run faster solely because I made a bunch of sacrifices. Yes, eating healthier foods and going out less often helped me run faster. I shed body fat, and my energy levels increased. However, rather than crediting my consistent training, increased mileage/intensity and improved race mentality to my faster times, I gave almost all credit to my new lifestyle. I started believing I could only run fast if I ate 95% healthy, looked shredded and rarely went out.
Since graduating college and turning professional, I’ve had to change this mindset. I’ve had to prove to myself that I can run fast while also living a balanced, relaxed and more sustainable lifestyle. I’ve had to learn to credit my training for my fast times over my diet, appearance and social life decisions. I’ve had to let go of the belief that one must do everything ‘right’ to run fast.
Letting go of this belief hasn’t been easy. A part of me still believes my breakthrough in running only happened because I made sacrifices to my lifestyle. It’s easy for me to believe I’m only ‘fast’ now because I shed body fat, gave up on a social life and started doing everything ‘right.’
I wasn’t the fastest runner growing up. I wasn’t the most talented athlete. I had to work hard over time to get to the level I’m at now. I have to constantly remind myself that my breakthrough in running happened not only because I started making healthier choices but also because I started training more often, more consistently and more intensely. I’m here to tell you firsthand that you do not have to do everything ‘right’ to be the fastest, fittest version of yourself. I don’t do everything ‘right.’ I enjoy my fair share of unhealthy food. I don’t look shredded all the time. I go out when I want to. Shockingly, I’m running faster times than when I did everything ‘right.’
Moral of the story: do most things ‘right,’ but eat your favorite candy too. Go out every once in a while. Challenge yourself, push yourself to the limit and work harder at something than you ever have before, but also live a little. I promise you’ll run farther, faster and most importantly, happier.
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