Marathon metaphors

Recovery, it is said, is more like a marathon than a sprint.  It's long.  It's grueling.  And you have to pace yourself. 

I got thinking about this metaphor today, and I remembered something my old boss (who had run several marathons in the past) used to say.  He said the "obvious" halfway point of a marathon, which is just over 26 miles, is at mile marker 13.  After that, technically, you're on the down slide. 

My old boss said that any marathon runner will tell you that the race isn't half over at mile 13.  No, at mile 13.2, you're still at the beginning.  Many runners don't consider themselves beyond the halfway point until they hit mile 20.  My boss? His "halfway point" was mile 25.

Mathematically, passing mile 25 of a 26.2 mile race is far beyond halfway.  It's not that my boss had math difficulties.  Rather, those last 1.2 miles seemed just as long as the first 25.

Which reminds me a lot of recovery.  It's sort of like you're trudging along, and you look at the mile markers, and you feel like you should be further along.  You think "I'm nearing the end. I must be nearing the end."  But there's always three, seven, ten more miles.  How in the heck are you going to endure for that much longer?

The last bits of recovery seem to take the longest, and sometimes you just have to buckle down and endure.  Those last 1.2 miles--the seeming endgame of recovery--feel as long and as intense as the first 25.  And it's hard for people from the outside to understand this.  Outsiders are measuring distance through math: half of a marathon is 13.1 miles.  Period.  But when you're actually in it, those kinds of calculations don't really capture the emotional experience.

I don't think I'm exactly at mile 25 yet.  But it does help me better understand why recovery can seem to take so damn long, when you feel it should be over by now.

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EDNOS said...

You have beautiful analogies. This makes such sense.

Amber Rochelle said...

I just decided to start a blog back up this past week and used this quote, from Grey's Anatomy. It seems so true of recovery from an ED. I like the similarities to running a marathon.

‘After a trauma your body is at its most vulnerable.
Response time is critical so you’re suddenly surrounded by people; doctors, nurses, specialists, technicians.
Surgery is a team sport; everyone pushing for the finish line, putting you back together again.
But surgery is a trauma in and of itself.
And once it’s over the real healing begins.
We call it recovery.

Recovery is NOT a team sport.
It’s a solitary distance run.
It’s long, and it’s exhausting, and it’s lonely as hell.

The length of your recovery is determined by the extent of your injuries.
And it’s not always successful.
No matter how hard we work at it, some wounds might never fully heal.
You might have to adjust to a whole new way of living.
Things may have changed too radically to ever go back to what they were.
You might not even recognize yourself.
It’s like you haven’t recovered anything at all.
You’re a whole new person…
With a whole new life.’

PJ said...

Actually I'm getting the feeling that it's even harder than a marathon as you have to keep contending with the '1 step forward, 3 steps back' problem. Those damn mile-markers keep getting moved around while you're not looking!!!

Rachel said...

this is amazing! thank you so much for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Carrie, I love your blog and find that it offers a wonderfully well written "indsider" explanation of eating disorders and recovery. I was wondering if you could help explain a little more about the recovery process in relation to refeeding and weight restoration.

It seems in your blog, as I have experienced in my own struggle as well, despite having successfully reached and maintained weight restoration and full nutrition, you continue to fight eating disordered thoughts, feeling, and even behaviors/relapses at times. Why does the cycle perpetuate once you have been w/r and are eating adequately? From what I have read about the biologically based belief of eating disorders and seems to be the common thought of parents of children with ED is that as long as full nutrition and a high enough weight is reached, the ED thoughts and symptoms will go away.

I understand that recovery cannot occur without full nutrition and a healthy weight, but once those have been established and maintained, why do we falter again? Is there more to it than the biological effects of starvation since the thoughts exist before the action?

Tiptoe said...

We were sharing our recent marathon/half marathon stories last week at a happy hour with our running group. It is true that for most people it is the 20/21 mile mark that is the toughest to get past.

A few people who have run several marathons said that yes the first 20 were pretty easy if you sufficiently trained but the last 6 were all about heart. I think this is true even with recovery. Those last 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, miles are the hardest, and you have to put the most effort in there.

Anonymous said...

I am a half marathon runner. Marathons scare me. I think it's because I constantly hear about people "bonking" at miles 18, 20-ish, and 23. And that's so true with recovery. There are set backs, even as we get closer to 26.2. We have to take walk breaks. Maybe we trip on a rock or a shoelace. Then we get up and trudge along.

Carrie Arnold said...


Really good question there. Let's see if I can express myself succinctly on this:

Weight and nutritional restoration are necessary but not sufficient for recovery.

That is, you can't have recovery without a return to normal weight and eating patterns, but that alone doesn't guarantee recovery. In some people, a return to healthy weight does allow for ED symptoms to sort of melt away. That's not usually the case, though.

My thinking is this: without normal weight and eating habits, you can't recover. But often, other therapies are needed to help recovery other than eating and weight gain. Weight restoration didn't eliminate my ED thoughts, but it does let me begin to deal with them more rationally in therapy and address co-occurring anxiety and depression issues.

So much for succinct, eh? ;)

Abby said...

In keeping with the marathon metaphor--pun intended--I'll add that even if a runner stumbles and can't complete the race in a desired time, it doesn't mean the miles they have already run are erased. Every step forward is just that--a step forward. Even if they have to stop for a long, long time to regroup, they (can) learn something from every challenge.

That said, I don't run anything other than my mouth, so I suppose I'm not qualified to make the comparison ;)

Joy said...

I have to tell you that this is one of the best posts I've ever read! It applies to eating disorders and every other "difficult" in this world! Thank you!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Carrie! Well put and certainly a lot more succinct than my rambling question. :)

Anonymous said...

Perfect metaphor! I haven't thought about it this way, but so so true! Recovery is easy to start, but oh so hard to finish. But people finish marathons, and we can finish ours!

Girl, in Progress said...

Love love LOVE this metaphor.

Recovering from ED myself and just completed a marathon a few months ago...SO true.

Will be posting a link to this on my own blog. Thanks for this analogy, Carrie!

Jen @ said...

I love this metaphor. It was incredibly poignant!

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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