Stressed & Starving to Star-Performing

Athletic, malnourished and stressed.

Doesn’t a sound like a combination for a successful athlete does it?

So you’d think it’d be easy to ‘just change’
Just eat more, just run less, just push through the anxiety, just cope with stress better.
Right?

Wrong.

I am not too proud to say I was (and am once again) a phenomenal runner; a winning athlete, and have been from a young age

As a young athlete regularly competing in school Cross Countries, becoming Essex 1500m champion and making my way to the Inter-counties,
I realised if I put in the hard ground work and trained more, there was somewhere I could go in the sport. I had always been slight due to being athletic, with running being something I lived for (luckily something I LIVE for once again).

 

There are so many tropes surrounding the sport, suggesting, ‘the lighter you are, the less you carry, the faster you run.’ something I was soon to find out wasn’t true.

Training slowly built up, school was enjoyable and my friends were great, life seemed to be easy and nothing seemed to stress me out.

This soon changed.

For me it all began to rapidly decline after an expedition to Peru, a trip that turned out to be far more life changing than I anticipated.

After deciding to commit to an expedition to Peru following my GCSE’s, the stress of missing home soon got to me. From the onset of the trip, I realised home was somewhere I took for granted and wished to be.

Struggling to maintain my positivity whilst battling with emerging self-controlling traits, and not being about to train for 3 weeks, I resorted to restricting my food (not a good decision).

Within 3 weeks I went from having a ‘perky, juicy bum’ to have no bum at all; the negativity of a festering eating disorder was taking over. My athletic build was now aesthetically non-existent. Having initially had an extremely low body fat percentage, I now not only had no body fat, but also had no muscle to go with it. I was struggling to engage in any activity at all.

On my return, I was thinner than I had ever been and succeeded in reaching that goal.
Surely this would make me a better runner?
I saw the shock on my parents and coach’s faces. To be honest with you, I did not see what the issue was.

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Stress. 

The start of 6th form then rapidly arrived; stresses increased, friendships wore away and training continued.

All these pressures competing together encouraged the constant dialogue in my brain telling me to malnourish myself.
Whilst Maths was never my strong point, even I could tell that “pressure + disordered eating” was not a good equation for creating a successful athlete.

Whilst I couldn’t see it, apparently others could. Repeated statements from girls at school to the nurse saying they were worried about me, followed by phone calls home and words from my parents, suspicion began to escalate and people began to stare and talk.

This all continued to add to my behaviour, stressing me out and spurring on the downward spiral I was caught up in. My coach could see I was no longer the strong athlete I once was, struggling to get through 3 reps of half a football pitch, I wasn’t what you would call a ‘strong’ runner.

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What It Meant To Feel "Fat" 

The concept of “feeling fat” and “feeling heavy” is a tough one to explain to anyone who hasn’t had an eating disorder before.
But it was the sheer stress of battling through exams, repeatedly being disappointed by races and training, experiencing my mother go through radiotherapy, and to top it off, losing one of my closest friends to cancer, that meant I really felt this “weight” making up for the lack of weight on my body.

I was stuck.
I felt as if I didn’t know how to get out of this mentally dark stage I was experiencing.
The mind controlling me wasn’t the happy Hannah I knew, the stress of life and an eating disorder had taken refuge.
 

This couldn’t continue.

"You're No Longer The Runner Everyone Knew Hannah"

I find it difficult to pin point the exact time I realised I needed to get out of the mess I was caught up in.

A major turning point was the day my parents told me I was ‘no longer the runner everyone knew Hannah to be’.
This hit home, telling me I needed to change.
I wanted to change 
I just could see how I would ever get there.

Repeated conversations from my father, a man who only intervenes when things really get serious, began to wear in.

But change didn't come fast.
Attempts to change, flying forwards and falling backwards, picking myself up and dusting myself down. Learning to challenge my behaviour and constantly question the negative dialogue in my head.  
The vision of being this powerful athlete I had dreamed off spurring me on, and two devoted parents sharing in the same goal. 
Multiple attempts later and I finally got there.

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You Can Achieve Anything You Put Your Mind To. 

Although the journey is extremely long, and at times you may feel as though you are getting nowhere, the fight it worth it.
To anyone wanting to pursue any sport competitively, don’t lose sight of what you want, and remember, stress is one of life’s rich ingredients, don’t add too much of it.

Find gentle ways that help you cope with it, allowing you to switch off from the chaotic world, such as colouring, an activity I often resorted to in my down time.  

Food is fuel, not a foe.
We need it, it is our source of energy and our source of strength. Success does not come to those who train hard unless enough fuel is put in the engine.

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Bigger, Better, Faster, Stronger

Amongst the multiple lessons I learnt, all contributing to the stronger, more determined, and dedicated athlete and individual I am today, the most important factor of all was my support network.

The loyalty and support I received from my parents, and No.1 Coach, helped me realise who I really was.
They supported me through the major lows, when I was pulling out of races after 100m, crying due to having no energy at all.
Luckily, they stuck by me and are here to experience the PB’s and the exciting journey of seeing where I can get to.
Due to their support, I am now who I know myself to be, a tougher cookie than I ever was before.

Always remember, stress shouldn’t be more powerful than you, and you shouldn’t let it lead to self-destruction.


Follow Hannah

Hannah is once again a competitive athlete, she writes her own blog combining her two passions; writing and running. 
Follow her on @hannahirwin_
 


Need Help?

If you or anyone you know is struggling with any of the issues that have come up in this post please follow up the links below: 

BEAT; UK's Leading Charity For Eating Disorders
Offering online articles and advice, helplines, youthlines and group support. 
https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/

NHS: Information about eating disorders, symptoms, treatment and support available
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/eating-disorders/


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