I've been in Switzerland for four months now and I haven't found anyone to run with, until two days ago. A young guy stuck his head into the shop, sweaty and glowing with that running vibe, when I realized who he was, I know this guy. A guy who went to school down in the valley, a few years younger than me, but we knew
one another from going on school trips together. Turns out he is an avid runner (which I already knew from facebook) but I had failed to realize that he is just as in love with the sport as myself. We promptly made an arrangement to hit the trails the next morning, which did worry me slightly, knowing what an excellent trail and mountain runner he is.
This run was more than just about sharing a trail and sharing time running. As it turned out, and I had known about, my mates sister is in hospital being treated for anorexia and has had a long struggle with "The Bitch".
A 15km climb lay ahead of us, as we decided to attempt the ascent section of the Jungfrau Marathon (which we are both running in 4 weeks time) stretching from Lauterbrunnen to the Kleine Scheidegg. We hit a comfortable trott, enjoying the marvulous view as the mountains, specifically Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau began to reveal themselves as we wound out of the forest. My running buddy is 2 years younger than me, 21 only, but has already had some amazing running experience and success. He told me that he doesn't run to race and compete, he runs because he loves it, he loves what it gives him. He went on to tell me that he went to a psychiatrist (work related) and he had told him that he has an "issue" because its not normal to love running up mountains so much. Well, theres a lesson - just because it seems abnormal to one person doesn't mean it is. We're individals. And what is normal anyway? If you love something then thats your normal, no justification needed.
The beauty of running is that you can cover distance, do what you enjoy and still engage in conversation (although at times laborous conversation).
So we'd been going straight up for the best part of 10km and the serious part was still awaiting us, as was the serious topic. Oxygen debt and attempting to talk is not the easiest thing, but not responding instantly gives you time to think about your response.
My mate is incredible, all he wants is for his little sister to get better (as would most brothers, I'm sure) and for his parents not to blame themselves. I'd go as far and say that he wants to carry their pain. He asked me what it was like for me when I had anorexia and how I got better. I began to reminisce.
My legs started to burn in memory and reality. The incline was getting steeper, the 1'000s of squats I use to make myself do were getting harder and more exhausting.
It all started with an innocent thought - "if I lose a kilo before christmas that means it won't matter if I eat too much at christmas time..." That was the start of a vicious cycle. "Thats what my sister said" he told me, "that she just wanted to lose a little weight".
Food became a game, a tool. It started with little things like timing how long it took me to eat certain foods, but it grew alot more complex until numbers, food, weight and calories were all that occupied my mind.
Every 100gm that I lost was equal to one point on the score board, or even a win. I got hungry for more success and the only way I could measure success was by losing the kilos and making that number on the scales sink.
Usually I'd stop and walk at this point, but my mate urged me to keep trotting, so I did. I watched as he leapt up the boulders, seemingly effortless, like a mountain goat. When we regrouped he asked me what he can do to help his sister.
I had alot of help and support around me, but whenever someone offered me a hand I'd see it as a threat, although inside I was crying out for help. I was trapped. I didn't feel like I was me. I felt like a prisoner within myself. I had moments of being the "old" carefree, happy Belle, but then "The Bitch" would take over because she felt threatened that she could be exposed and kicked off her throne. "Show unconditional love" I told him "no matter how long it takes, but realize, that in her eyes, pretty much anything you do will be wrong." Even when I asked for help or simple everyday things, it would be wrong, even if it met my specifications. If I didn't do it, if I wasn't in control it was wrong. If I asked a question "does my stomach look fat?" and the answer was "No" (the response I craved to hear) it would still be the wrong response, because I was convinced that it wasn't the truth, that the world and all people had conspired against me.
We parted for a good 20min at a section that I decided to hike (my legs were still feeling the 80km from the previous weekend) and my mate decided to run up. He then backtracked and picked me up before we began the 1km descent to the Kleine Scheidegg where we were met with a cute man made lake and exsquisite view of the Eiger towering overhead and a mini avalanche dusting the mountain face as it forcefully made its way into the valley. "Why pay for a train ticket when we can run down...?" So after 2.5hrs of continuous uphill we began to descend into the valley.
As my weight continued to descend my world began to shrink. "I excluded people from my world because I felt ashamed yet threatened at the same time." I explained to my mate, "The Bitch" became the only voice I trusted, the only voice I thought was telling me the truth. In order to avoid further confusion in my head I started to push people away. There were a select few I kept close, but they had to walk on eggshells around me because I could chuck a psycho with any wrong move.
The trail we chose was slippery and rocky. I backed down a few gears, cautiously navigating my way over rocks and boulders, while my mate was descending like Bambi, perfect footing, fearless and thoroughly enjoying it.
"How did you get better?" Well, the thing is I always wanted to get better, I just didn't know how. I chose life. The more I realized and got a taste for what life was like outside the clutch of "The Bitch", I wanted more of it. I started running, and that after many years, became my new addiction, the only thing was that this addiction wasn't killing me, it was reviving me.
"I didn't want to let my family down, and all the people who believed in me." I told him. I detested gaining weight, eating, seeing my body change, but I knew it would become a life or death matter, so I gritted my teeth and kept striving for life.
"I don't know what the exact turning point was, just as I can't pinpoint the point that caused me to spiral down into the traps of "The Bitch".
We passed a gushing waterfall, the volume of water crushing, even just the sight of it. We reached the bottom with 2km of flat left. Now I had my chance to get my mate to chase me. We sprinted to the fountain that was 500m up the road, and I managed to take victory on that section. As we hydrated with the cool glacier water my mate asked me how he can best help his sister. "Be there for her, but realize that only she alone can make the decision to get better, no one can force or bribe her."
After 5hrs on the trails I was thoroughly exhausted but at the same time felt revived.
Trails are gorgeous and uniting. You may cross the path with other people, realizing that you are actually on the same path, just navigating your way differently and at a different pace, thats the path of life.