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The Truth About Why I Stopped Running

I’m an Obesity Rebel.

That means I don’t let this disease kick my ass any more. I make sure that I am always fighting back and that it never gets to have the hold on me it once did.

But the methods I use to fight back have changed a little over the nearly 8 years since I started this journey.

One of the keys to my success in weight loss was that I traded my love of food for a love of running. I started running in July of 2011 to deal with grief of losing my father.

Between July of 2011 and May of 2017, I ran a total of 41 half marathons, one full marathon and an average day of exercise for me included training runs that ranged from 5-10 miles a day. I ran a lot. In my mind I was the genuine Forest Gump of the weight loss community.

Running made me feel better.

It helped me deal with my emotions, whatever they were. It got me through the grief of losing my Dad, the grief of my failed marriage, and the grief of a couple failed attempts at relationships along the way.

Whether we realize it or not, when relationships end — whether because someone passed away, someone left, or because you walked away — it’s still a loss that affects our hearts and our minds, and causes a form of grief that we must deal with. I used running, and the emotional high it gave me, to deal with that grief.

Instead of turning to food to cope with my emotions, I ran. As a recovering food addict and self-admitted emotional eater, using my emotions to fuel my fitness became the pillar of my weight loss success.

Running also helped me build up my self-confidence and self-efficacy. Every time I completed a training run for a big event, I felt accomplished. Each time I completed a half-marathon, and hung another participation or finishers medal on the wall, I felt the pride in that accomplishment. The more I did this, the more certain I was in my ability to keep the weight off.

Keeping the weight off, being proud of myself and being at least mostly happy with my new body led to me develop more self-confidence and inner strength. I no longer had all those feelings of unworthiness that I had when obesity was kicking my butt.

I shared my journey with others through my blog, motivational speaking engagements and a newfound career as a Weight Loss Coach and Personal Trainer. And when I saw how my actions could inspire and affect others, I was even more motivated to run. Running was special to me. The love I found for running changed my life in so many positive ways.

And then, everything changed.

If you had asked me 11 months ago, when I completed my last half marathon, why I was taking a break from running, I would have told you that it was because I was suffering from overuse injuries that needed to heal. I would have told you that I had developed achilles tendonitis in both heels and that the pain made running not worth it to me anymore. I would have told you that I was worried I might injure myself in a way that would make it impossible to continue running.

While those all would have been good reasons, none of them were true. I had learned how to deal with my injuries. I was seeing a foot doctor that was helping me work through it. KT Tape had become one of my best friends and although my doctor did want me to slow down — meaning he didn’t want me running a half marathon every other weekend — he never told me I had to stop completely. He understood how important running was to me and my emotional well-being.

So, what was the truth then? The truth was, I had lost desire to run because it seemed to be the point of contention in an emotionally battering, circular argument that was going on in my relationship at the time. We were fighting in a way that was volatile and destructive and almost every time it happened it traced back to one of two things: my running or my career.

The fights were never about running in and of itself. It was about the time I spent doing it instead of paying attention to him and nurturing the relationship the way he wanted me to. It was about the money I spent doing it, even though my part of the bills were always paid. It was about the fact that I was going places he wanted to go, without him. It was about the fact that I could afford to go, and he couldn’t. It was about him not being invited, even though he couldn’t afford to go, on trips that were sponsored or that were all-girl weekend events with my friends.

It really fell apart when I got the opportunity to run in Paris

What I wanted was the sort of relationship where when I called and said, “I just got a sponsorship to go to Paris and run the inaugural Disneyland Paris half marathon,” the reaction was excitement, supportiveness, happiness for a great opportunity for me.

But that wasn’t how the story went.

That story will have to be a whole different blog. It’s too long to make you suffer through today.

What is important is that he REALLY didn’t want me to go to Paris. His big reason at the time, was that I was ruining his plans for a grandiose proposal. Once upon a time in one of those conversations you have in the pre-commitment stages of a relationship, I had confided in him that my ideal  proposal would be at the finish line of some big event. We’d discussed the Paris half-marathon when they first announced it. How much I would like to run it, how awesome it would be to go to Paris together. How perfect a finish-line like that would be for a proposal, in the years to come.

I had no idea when we had those conversations that I would get the opportunity to run that first inaugural Disneyland Paris event. I had no idea one of my friends would offer to let me stay in a hotel room she already had booked to make the trip more affordable for me. I certainly had no idea that BariLife, a WLS-centric company that makes vitamins, protein powders, protein bars and protein-based snacks would offer to sponsor my run. 

In no world did I think that my opportunity to go to Paris (for little, to no, out-of-pocket cost) would cause the man I loved, the one I was about to move in with and was seriously considering spending the rest of my life with, to throw a fit.

Like I said, he really didn’t want me to go. Or more accurately, he really didn’t want me to go without him. He moved in with me just a couple of weeks after I found out about the sponsorship. I refused to turn it down and pass up such an amazing opportunity, for no reason other than the fact that he wasn’t included in the travel plans.

I paid for that decision dearly, I couldn’t begin to count the number of fights we had about my decision to go to Paris. We fought about my running plans constantly between the time he moved in at the end of May and the time I left for Paris in September.

The fights were ugly, volatile, and made me feel bad about myself.

We were in this circular pattern and it was bringing out a very ugly side of me. I don’t do constant conflict well. I grew up in a household that was very hostile and volatile when it came to arguments. My mother and I fought a lot. This pattern of constant fighting and constant conflict, along with the financial strains that ensued after he was injured in a biking accident, just proved to be a huge source of never-ending stress.  

The more we fought, the more the ugly, defensive side of me came out. I’m good at fighting back with words. I did it for most of my childhood. It’s not something I’m proud of, but in a state of constant conflict I have a hard time controlling it.

He’d bring up how upset he was that I was going to Paris without him. I’d bring up that he couldn’t afford to go even if he wanted to, and that I couldn’t invite him because I was staying with someone else and a sponsor was paying for my trip. He’d make me feel bad by telling me how he wasn’t lucky enough to have friends that would let him stay with them for free, so he could do the things he wanted.

He’d make me feel guilty for not asking my sponsor to send him as well. He questioned why I went to them asking for a sponsorship for just myself when I could have asked for a sponsorship for us both. I’d explain that I didn’t think I could get a sponsorship that big. In short, he faulted me for not making my story more about him, so that he could go on this trip.

As a result, I started to lose my self-confidence. I started to doubt myself.

Was I just lucky like he kept telling me I was? Or had I worked hard to get to where I was, to build the sort of relationships and reputation that allowed for me to get such big opportunities?

The more we fought, the worse things got. That ugly side of me kept coming out — a side of me I didn’t like. I began to see signs of that little girl in side me who didn’t know how to disengage from an argument. The one who would just keep fighting and fighting. And his persistence at trying to strong-arm me into doing things his way had me in a constant state of emotional turmoil.

In this emotional state, I started turning to unhealthy habits as a way of coping. I relapsed into smoking several times. I started drinking too much. Then those things started becoming a source of contention. The more he fought with me, the more I would turn to the things he fought with me about.

To try to persuade me to do things his way, he would point out how my behaviors could ruin my career. He’d ask me what people would think if he told them about all the unhealthy things I turned to instead of food. He’d tell me I was a hypocrite, a liar, that I didn’t practice what I preached about living a healthy lifestyle.

I’d counter with the fact that I never said I was perfect. That I didn’t always make good choices to deal with my emotions. That what I told people is that I could help them lose weight, find the fun in fitness, learn not to use food to deal with their feelings — not how to live a perfect existence, free from struggles.  

I tried to take solace in the fact that I was still doing all those things. But my emotional stamina was dwindling, I was starting to believe all the things he said. I couldn’t take the constant arguing anymore, I knew I was getting close to the end of my rope when it came to my mental health.

To stop the fighting, I started making sacrifices.

Since the fights often centered on the things I consider foundational to the person I have become since my weight loss — my career, the time devotion to my blog, running — these were hard sacrifices for me to make.

I stopped blogging. I didn’t really have anything going on I was comfortable talking about or sharing anyways. I was embarrassed about how things in my life were going. I was ashamed of some of the things I was doing and afraid to talk about them. After all, he’d convinced me that talking about my struggles would ruin my career and reputation.

I couldn’t stop working, I couldn’t work any less than I was, I was barely making it financially as it was. So, I started running less. At first, I gave up all the Disney runs that seemed to be the major focus of his jealousy. I made a promise that after Paris and Princess and TinkerBell, which I already had plans for, I would try not  to do anymore Disney runs or trips without him.

That didn’t work either. Instead,  we’d argue about my wanting to go on a weekend trip with my friends to Myrtle Beach, Washington DC or Atlanta. So I stopped trying to travel for runs at all. I committed to only participating in local races.

When that didn’t end the fighting, I committed to only doing virtual runs, running around town with one of my best friends instead. But the fighting still didn’t stop. We just fought about other things. And soon the fighting was so bad that trying to add running back into the mix just caused me more anxiety.

So, finally, I just stopped running.

I don’t know if I should say that I lost my love of running. I just think running got a lot of negativity attached to it. Because of the problems it seemed to be causing, it didn’t provide me that release from my emotions because any time I was doing it I knew it was going to cause me more problems.

This all left me feeling like running had been stolen from me. It had been taken away and turned into the villain of my relationship. I gave away a piece of my heart when I decided to love someone, and he wasn’t happy with just a piece of it, he wanted the entire thing. I wasn’t allowed to love running as much as I loved him.

He had successfully accomplished that goal, whether he ever intended to or not. Running wasn’t helping me deal with my problems anymore, it was making them worse.

Looking back now, I realize that what I should have done was lace up my running shoes and run as fast and as far as possible from the relationship as I could. I thought that if I stopped running, we might stop fighting, and I might have that amazing love story I had been dreaming of since I was a little girl.

But I think that love story ended the moment I decided to go to Paris without him. I just didn’t accept it, and I wasn’t strong enough to walk away then. My heart was involved. Instead, I hung on for a year and by the time it was over I had two big holes in my heart: the one I left on the ground somewhere in Paris when I decided to allow him to steal the joy of running from me,  and then one that got left in my heart the following April when the relationship finally came to an end.

If I had it to do all over again, I’d go back to the moment he told me he didn’t want me to go to Paris, and I’d end it all right then. I’d lace up my running shoes, like I did the night my father was dying, and I’d run the hell out of that Paris half marathon, using running as my trusted method of dealing with grief. Except that time, it would have been the grief of a relationship that didn’t work out.

But I don’t have a time machine, a magic wand or a re-do. Instead, I must find a way to get past the fear and anxiety that swells up inside me when I think about running. I need to get past all the other reasons I convinced myself and others that I shouldn’t run. Because the truth is, I want to run again. I’m just scared it won’t ever be the same. And fear, my friends, can be one of the biggest obstacles you’ll ever face in your fitness journeys.

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Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is an ISSA Certified Personal Trainer and Cooper Institute Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies. Her training and coaching services are offered exclusively through GoGirl Fitness Studio.

Did you miss the blogs about that amazing Inaugural Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Adventure? Just want to reminisce with me about the most amazing run I ever did? Check out these past articles on Desperately Seeking Slender.

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We Will Always Have Disney Paris

… We will always have Paris!

There is a famous line from a famous movie of which I have never seen: “We’ll always have Paris.” From what I understand it’s a line used in parting as the lead character realizes that the end of their romance is over and he fondly consoles her by reminding her that they will always have good memories.

Obviously since I am quoting this movie, I will have to actually take the time to watch it. This might be a painful experience for me. I am not really big on 1942 black and white movies and no matter how good you tell me it is, I’m going to ask you why you need me to go back and relive the past. However, I can hardly use that as an excuse when that is what I am about to do here today.

Writing a memoir of my good memories and being pressured into watching movies that were made back when we lacked the technology of bright colors and high-definition picture are two very different things. Right? If you feel me here let me know.

I digress. The point here is that I have this amazing experience from my recent trip to Paris to share with you. My photos from it, unlike Casablanca, are in color, so in my mind that makes this entire blog a reasonable time expenditure from my normally busy day.

I’ve already written a very detailed account of my Paris trip that will be posted on The Bari Blog in the near future. I’ll spare you the details that will be given there and instead share the emotional side of my Paris adventure with you.

The emotional reactions that we have to things are unexplainable sometimes. As an example, I really thought that when I crossed the finish line of my first full marathon and completed the Dopey Challenge during the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend this last January I would break down in tears of joy at what would be a monumental accomplishment in both my fitness and weight loss journey. I didn’t though. I felt accomplished. I was extremely proud of myself, but there wasn’t an overwhelming emotional reaction to it.

Honestly, I haven’t had that sort of raw emotionally overwhelming reaction to completing a half marathon since the first one I ran in honor of my father on Father’s Day back in June of 2013.  I’ve ran a few half marathons since then and while each and every one of them gives me that amazing sense of accomplishment and allows me to experience that all-so-often talked about ‘runner’s high’, none of them had quite touched my heart as emotionally and as deeply as that first one had.

Every run brings with it a different experience. Sometimes the joy I get from participating in a half marathon event is rewarding to me because I’m lucky enough to have the privilege of being next to someone who I have helped achieve the accomplishment of crossing their first finish line. Typically that is one of the biggest motivators and emotionally rewarding experiences there is for me.

Sometimes it’s the simple joy of running next to one of my dear friends. I run with one of my best friends quite often and every time we run together I think of how blessed I am to have a friend that enjoys the half marathon craze the same way I do.

Paris was different. Paris had an emotional charge to it that I am not really sure I can explain, but I am going to try….

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Welcome to Disneyland Paris RunDisney 2016

When the opportunity to do this event came knocking on my door I knew it was a once in a lifetime chance that I couldn’t pass up. It was an opportunity I knew without a doubt my Father would want me to take. Unlike my previously sponsored runs, this one wasn’t about me taking someone else with me to have their first half marathon experience, it was about me going to France to represent the Bariatric Community and share that experience with everyone and that meant a lot to me.

I honestly believe that when it comes to fighting obesity we can achieve anything through determination, hard work and courage. I think those are three of the fundamental necessities of recovering from obesity.

Recovery from obesity is not a simple process. You have to be willing to keep fighting even when it gets hard. You have to be willing to make big life changes that are not always comfortable, fun, or easy.

You have to have the courage to face whatever is going on in your life on an emotional, mental and physiological level that has driven you into the depths of obesity.

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August of 2009 at Disneyland in California at my highest recorded weight of over 420 lb.

You have to be willing to triumph over plateaus that make you want to pull your hair out. You have to be willing to eat healthy when your emotions are on overdrive and all you really want is comfort food. You have to be willing to rally yourself against the social pressures of using food as method of having relationships with people. You have to be willing to exercise even on those days that it’s hard to talk yourself out of bed.

The fight against obesity is a battle where bluntly often only the strongest thrive.

And yet, each and every one of us possesses that strength. Each and every one of us has it in us. We just find it at different times in our lives and at different points of our journeys. I’m a prime example of this. I didn’t beat obesity the first time I fought it. Heck I didn’t even beat it the third or fourth time I fought it. I tried and tried and I feel on my face time and time again.

In fact if there was a big boss to fight at the end of a video game and it was named Obesity I would have probably thrown the game controller at the television screaming in a temper tantrum that it was too damn hard.

Once I came so close that I lost nearly 200 lb. and weighed the lowest I had ever weighed in my adult life. Then I gained every single pound back and had that entire journey to have to do all over again.

 

But my inherent belief that if I can do this, anyone can do this was exactly what was driving me to be at the start line in Paris. That message is the one that I feel the most obligation to convey to my community.

I’d been to Paris before, as an overweight teenager. If you’d asked me to run twenty-one kilometers while I was there I would have told you that I didn’t want to go. I wasn’t at a point that I was ready because we all arrive at that juncture at a different time.

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My dearly missed friend Joy Muller and I where we first met at the Inaugural OAC Your Weight Matters Convention in 2012

There was another big emotional drive for me in Paris. Several months ago I lost one of my dearest friends. A fellow bariatric patient, and someone whose presence in my life had made a substantial change in my direction. A mental health practitioner by trade, without ever really being asked to, she had assisted me in my pursuit of chasing happy after I had accomplished healthy. A fellow runner and fellow Disney fanatic, she had been a monumental person in my life. Joy was one of my true “ride or dies”. In fact, back at that first half marathon I ran, when I hit my wall and I wasn’t sure I could do it, she had been the one I called, in tears, looking for words of encouragement and motivation.

Finding out that I was going to be running in Paris had been a sudden thing. The opportunity first presented itself when I was in California at the TinkerBell Half Marathon and my friend Jess offered me a place to rest my head if I could figure out how to get myself there. I flew home from that trip and in a two-day turnaround headed out to Nashville to attend the WLSFA Annual Meet and Greet event. It was at that event that I had spoken to the folks at BariLife and knew that I’d be going to Paris for this run. Though that information wasn’t public yet, when I got home the following Monday, Joy was one of the first people who I called to tell it. I knew that as a fellow Disney maniac and someone who had been a pillar in my world, she was going to be super excited for me.

Five short days later on May 21st, when Joy passed away, I felt a grief I hadn’t felt since my father had left the world. It had taken my breath away. It took everything I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Now here I was in Paris, getting ready to run the event that we had talked about over and over again in the days before she had crossed life’s finish line and I knew, without a shadow of a doubt that Joy was going to be with me for each and every kilometer of that 21 kilometer run.

I feel the presence of those I have lost when I run. It’s something I cannot describe or give a real world explanation to. This half marathon had a double dose of that going on for me because I just knew the whole way through that Joy and my Dad where up there cheering for me.

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The Facebook photo posted by my friends the morning of my Half Marathon prompted the most emotionally filled start line of my running career.

And then there was you. The Bariatric Community and the amazing friends and family that I have within it…

When I woke up Sunday morning and grabbed my phone to rush out the door for the start line I noticed that there was an unusual number of posts on Facebook that I had been tagged in. I wondered what the heck was going on.

When I opened my Facebook app to investigate it, I was literally overwhelmed with emotion. My Facebook timeline was filled with posts of my before and after photo with a caption that said “Thank you Pandora, 260+ pounds lost, 32 Half Marathons, Inspiring Thousands” – Many of the posts included personal comments from people in the community thanking me for what I have done to try to motivate and inspire others as well as offering me words of encouragement for the event.

Tears fell down my face in what was without a doubt the most emotionally charged start line experience of my running career. Even now as I write this my eyes are watering.

I am unsure that words can convey the emotions that ran through me. There was a moment in this journey after I had lost my weight where I decided that what I wanted more than anything was to help other people fight obesity through fitness. When you make a decision like that, you do it because you want to help others. When the people who you want to help and that you care so much about do something like this, without you knowing that it is coming, it lets you know that what you are doing really is making a difference.

I felt something I can’t really say that I have ever truly felt in such a towering way. I felt recognized. I felt relevant. I felt appreciated. As I kept seeing my before and after photo with the words “Thank you” written on it, I kept wiping the tears from cheeks, and all I could do was hold my hand over my heart, try to catch my breath and keep whispering to myself “No, thank you.”

RunDisney uses the slogan “Every Mile is Magical” for all of their events. While I have enjoyed each and every RunDisney event I have done, they are by far my favorite half marathons, this run – this particular event – was by far the most magical run I have ever experienced. It had nothing to do with the fact that I was running through Disneyland Paris theme parks, it had to do with the fact that I had overwhelming sense of love and happiness right there in my heart every step of the way.

 

At the start line I vowed that I would do nothing but enjoy every moment of this experience. I stopped for any photo I wanted to take. I took moments to stop and appreciate every little thing that caught my eye and capture it to share with those that had touched my heart so much. There was never a wall where I was running out of steam or where I worried about reaching the finish line. There wasn’t a moment that I had to push. Every single mile was pure joy. This was by far the most beautiful, magical and emotionally rewarding run of my career.

Every moment of running through the Disney theme parks, running through the residential streets surrounding it, running through European countryside, cornfields, seeing castles off in the distance, every kilometer marker, every Disney character standing on the side of the course, every marching band and group of cheerleaders, each one was viewed with an appreciation and emotion I have never experienced during a run before. It was magic. Pure magic. And I had all the most important people in my life in my heart sharing it with me with every little rapid beat as I ran.

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An emotional moment  just after crossing the finish line of the Inaugural Disneyland Paris Val d Europe Half Marathon

Leading into this run I had concerns. I’d flared up my achilles tendonitis really bad trying to switch over to new running shoes and I was having to take extra special care and precautions to try to ensure that my ankles were not hurting too much to be able to run on them. Just a couple of weeks prior I’d had the experience of having to walk the last three miles of an event I was running because the pain in my ankles would not allow me to run. Yet on this day, on this run, for 21 full kilometers my ankles never once complained. All my worry and fears were gone and the only thing I felt was this overwhelming sense of love, appreciation, and closeness to those that mattered most to me.

If you had told that overweight teenager that was in Paris twenty-five years ago that someday I would be back here, and that I would spend nine months of my life on the year I turned forty, participating in a Disney based running adventure where I ran a total of 84.1 miles with countless training miles in between, I would never have believed you. Heck if you had told me that six years ago the day I was having my surgery I wouldn’t have believed you then either. I wasn’t ready to be that girl yet. I was nowhere near ready. I didn’t have the determination or the courage yet. Like I said earlier, we all get there at different times in our journey.

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The Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Finish Line

But when I crossed that finish line… or I should say when I flew over the finish line, with my arms stretched out like wings and the RunDisney volunteer put that Castle to Chateau medal around my neck commemorating my journey from the Dopey Challenge in Orlando to the Pixie Dust Challenge in California to this Inaugural Half Marathon in Paris, I started to cry.

I knew that something extraordinary had just happened to me. I knew that my Father, Joy and my community were all proud of me, and I knew that I had just done something I would be telling stories about for the rest of my life.

Castle to Chateau Completed!

The finish line in Paris doesn’t actually say “Finish”. It’s in French, so it says “Arrivee” which translates literally to “Arrival” and somehow, this particular finish line had a completely different meaning to me. I knew the moment I approached it, because of the emotional response that I had to it that I had just arrived at a new point in my weight loss journey.

This was a defining moment for me.

This moment changed something inside me.

I knew, with more certainty than I have ever known anything before, that I was and am headed in the right direction and that I am nowhere near finished yet.

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Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is a  Cooper Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies and Motivational Speaker studying to become a Certified Personal Trainer.

Please Support My Sponsor! Visit the BariLife Website for all your Post Operative WLS Protein and Vitamin Needs!

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Author: Pandora Williams

Author of Desperately Seeking Slender

This is #MyBariLife

BariLife has decided to send me back to Paris to represent the WLS Community as I attempt to find my love of running again.
Please take the time to visit their website and check them out!

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