Hey hey. Before I start this one off, I’d like to mention that I’m not writing this for attention. I’ve wanted to write this for a long time, but I was worried about the reaction I would get from my family, coaches, and friends. However, lately I’ve come to realize the prevalence of this issue, and I’ve reached the point where my desire to help other athletes outweighs the negative consequences that I could face for publicizing my story, my struggle with body image, and my eating disorder.

I want to make it clear that you don’t have to be in the hospital to have a legitimate problem. I suffered with an eating disorder for about nine months, and not once did I see a doctor about it. Eating disorders are easily hidden. I don’t want my parents, teammates, or coaches to feel bad that they didn’t pick up on this, because even I didn’t realize that I had one until after the fact. It’s uncomfortable to define it as an eating disorder, because it feels odd to think that there was something “wrong” with me, but for lack of a better term, that’s what I’ll be using in this post. Alright, let’s roll.

Ever since I began running competitively, I’ve noticed that my body looks different from the typical distance runner. Most successful distance runners are stick-skinny, with flat abs and lean muscles. Not that I don’t have lean muscles or abs, but I definitely have more muscle mass than the average athlete of this sport.

My relationship with eating went downhill at the beginning of last summer. I remember my lack of caloric consumption was unintentional at first. I would wake up, eat eggs and fruit for breakfast, go to the barn to ride horses, spend the whole day there and only eat a granola bar, then hop in the car and drive to track practice, snacking a little bit on the way. I was just too busy to worry about what I was eating. I noticed that in a few weeks I looked “fitter” than I ever had before. But I wasn’t healthy.

My mile time last summer dropped from 6:03 to a 5:37 (I actually ran a 5:13 1500, which is the equivalent of a 5:37 mile, but that’s besides the point). I was running more than I had ever run before, and eating less. I was fast, but I wasn’t satisfied with my body, and I compared myself to my teammates and competitors. I thought if I looked more like the girls who beat me, I could run more like them too.

I don’t actually remember when I started consciously restricting my calories and portion size, but I know that I did it all through my freshman year cross country season. I didn’t do it in an alarming way either. I ate a lot of fruits and veggies, lean meats, and healthy carbs, but nothing I ate was very calorie dense. To someone who saw what I ate, I probably just seemed really disciplined. I don’t think I ate dessert or junk food the entire season. I was hungry often. I even weighed myself a few times. I remember weighing about 116 or 117, and wanting to weigh 115 (which now makes absolutely no sense to me). Meanwhile, I dropped my 5k time by three minutes.

I thought I had finally figured out how to be fast. I ignored the first warning sign. Every time I went to the doctor during cross country season for a check up or physical therapy of some sort, they warned me what to watch out for. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t want to believe it. I figured things would just get back to normal eventually, and I was faster than I had ever been before, so clearly… I must have been doing something right.

Wrong. I got sick every few weeks, and it kept interfering with my training. By winter, after running a 5:37 in the mile in my first indoor meet, I decided I needed a break from running (after a significant amount of convincing from my coach). I took three weeks off and force fed myself. Not physically, because I needed the extra calories, but mentally. I was used to seeing a sparse amount of food on my plate come dinner time, but now it was packed full and washed down with large smoothies. I ate a lot of fat too. I can recall one night where I was driving home with my dad and he told me that I was going to eat a large baked potato with butter at dinner. I started crying, and I had no idea why. I ended up sneaking half of the butter into the trash.

Coming back to running after that three weeks off was probably the hardest point in my running career (until this injury). To be completely honest, I felt “overweight” and slow. I think I gained 5 or 6 pounds in that three week period, and everything I did just felt awkward. I slipped back into an unhealthy eating pattern for a little bit, but I fought it. Every race that I ran, I would zone out. I didn’t have a cohesive team, and my school track coach called me slow to my face and made indirect comments about my physique. I ran a 5:59 mile at indoor states and got dead last, the worst race performance I’d had. I almost quit running, but I knew that that’s not who I am. I don’t quit anything, ever.

Running was everything that I knew about myself as a person. It defined me. And it wasn’t going well. I felt empty and hopeless. I give endless credit to my club track coach and my parents for helping me rebuild my confidence. Everyday was a bit of a struggle with my relationship with food, but I got through it. I got faster. I was finally healthy again. The aha moment for me was when I met my coach up in Virginia for one last indoor meet post-states, and I ran a 2:29 800, a one second PR that felt like I had just set a world record. Sascha Godfrey was back.

I went on to run a 5:17 mile and 2:25 800 this track season and secured my position as one of the fastest freshmen in the state. I missed qualifying for New Balance Nationals by one second. I was healthy and strong and fast. I ate dessert whenever I wanted it, and chips were often incorporated in my diet. I think I weighed around 123, nearly ten pounds more than the 115 that was once my “ideal” weight. I no longer see my muscle as a disadvantage, instead I embrace it. It gives me a killer kick that I’m ever so grateful for. I’ve learned that runners come in all shapes and sizes, and one body type is not more advantageous than another.

I pledge to never again let a number define my worth. PRs, calories, weight. These numbers are insignificant and are not correlated whatsoever with who I am. I also pledge that I will not cheat my way into getting fast. If you want to be fast for one season and then burn out and get injured, lose weight. Scientifically, it works (or at least it did for me), but this way of running and living is not sustainable. You WILL end up with stress fractures and you WILL be sick all the time and you WILL be ultimately unhappy, no matter what you tell yourself.

Until now, my running didn’t really have a purpose. I just ran because I loved it and I was decent. But now, I want to run fast to show other athletes that you can be strong AND successful as a distance runner. I looked up to a couple of seniors this season who were healthy and strong and also killed it out on the track. I also look up to a few professional runners, particularly Allie Kieffer. Allie is so strong and so beautiful and so fast and so resilient. I will forever appreciate her for sharing her struggle with body image with the public, and for paving the way for strong, not skinny runners in the professional world. I hope to one day mimic her success.

I want to be a role model as well, and someone that athletes can turn to if they’re struggling. I’m posting this because I don’t want my peers to feel alone like I did. Things are beginning to unfold at the collegiate level, but body image issues and eating disorders are still hidden from the public eye when it comes to high school. It’s time we stop pretending that they don’t exist.

I’m eternally grateful for every setback in my running career. Though I did some short-term damage to my body, I’m so glad that I went through this early on, because I know that I have a bright future ahead and the more competitive I get, the harder the struggle with my mind would have been. I am certain that while I may continue to struggle with this from time to time, I will never let myself slip back to my lowest point.

On a side note, for those of you who have asked what’s up with my injury, I honestly have no idea. I can’t run, walk, sit, or sleep without pain. It’s been exactly two months since the initial injury, and these past two months have been a roller coaster. I’m still not sure what the problem is. Maybe it’s tendinopathy, maybe it’s a stress fracture. Whatever it is, I know I’m stronger than I’ve ever been before, both mentally and physically. I’ve discovered a lot about myself, and I think I’ve figured out who I am as a person outside of running. I know that when I come back, I’m going to be a better runner than ever before. But man I would love to come back right now. I miss the adrenaline rush and I miss the sweat and I miss my friends. I miss chasing my goals. I have days where I’m content with where I’m at, and I have days where I unravel in tears, but i’m keeping my head up and my heart strong because there is a better future on the horizon.

Writing this felt very vulnerable, and I’m vey nervous to actually hit the share button. But if I could help even one person, that would make it SO worth it. So here goes. Thanks for reading, and just remember that it is possible to be thick and quick.

– Sasch