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Reflecting On A Past Defeat, 5 Years Later

Five years after admitting defeat during a high school race, this runner reflects on her eating disorder recovery.

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Hannah Hartzell in her final collegiate race.

I’ve Recovered From My Eating Disorder Defeat

Five years ago, I toed the line at the Nike Cross Regional meet in Terre Haute, Ind. I’d signed up for the race in the hope of salvaging my trainwreck of a season. It was the last race of my high school career, an attempt to end on a good note. But half of the first mile into the race, I knew: my body and my mind were far too consumed by an eating disorder to run the race well.

Fast forward to last week, when I walked up to the exact spot where 18-year-old Hannah had given up. It was there—at the starting line, mind you—where I’d surrendered to fear and lost the joy of competing. Sadly, it stayed that way for three long years. Every time I ran, I wondered, Will I ever love this again?

When I recently approached my final collegiate cross country race, I realized something marvelous: I was not afraid.

Related: 5 Red Flags That Someone May Have An Eating Disorder

What changed? Well, everything. The shell of the young woman I had been was now filled with life and health. The competitor that collapsed in the face of failure was now equipped with fierce confidence. Everything changed in those five years–and the final race of my college career was my chance to show it.

So, I ran.

I ran like I hadn’t ended my high school career as a failure. I ran like I’d never hated my body or been choked with anxiety. Essentially: I ran as if I’d never forgotten how to run.

It was every bit as sweet as redemption could be. As I sprinted to the finish line, it was as if I’d gone full circle. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. I was nowhere near where I’d been as a high school senior. I hadn’t traveled in a circle; I’d climbed a mountain. Yes, I felt the same cold air stinging my cheeks and the same throbbing pain in my muscles, but I could see all the struggle below me and the vista of victory ahead. I’d climbed higher. I’d made it.

I haven’t yet accomplished my goals as a runner, which is good because I’m not done yet. However, that moment was a triumphant ending of a chapter. The second I crossed the finish line, reality sunk in and I began to sob.

I remembered all the times I’d wanted to give up and all the times I’d refused to do so. I remembered all of the doctors and family members and friends who told me to keep fighting. I remembered the tearful prayers and solemn defeats. And it had all been worth it.

Running has always given me the opportunity to better myself, to strengthen my resolve and test my limits. Never was that more clear than last week, when I realized how far I had come. I fully expect running to keep challenging me as I move forward. I will rise to the challenge, I am sure, because I’m a competitor. And I’m no longer afraid.


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