I should really let these two incidents speak for themselves; more importantly, I should really commit to writing blog entries more frequently as one of these incidents is a major victory while the other was soul crushing and pretty devastating.
Before I get into discussing these two items of both success and disdain, I just wanted to share this picture. 6 years ago, I ran my first half-marathon.
It hurt so much afterward. It sucked SO MUCH. Kentucky’s runs aren’t a joke because they’re all hills and this one was, without exaggeration, mostly hills. I remember cresting a hill and immediately seeing another three hills in the distance. I was not a big hill runner then and I’m not a hill runner now. ANYWAY.
So, the scale. I feel like every person who has ever endeavored to lose weight knows this battle: the scale. It doesn’t matter how much ass we kick, it doesn’t matter how healthy we eat, it doesn’t matter our physical capabilities and noticing them increase. All that seems to matter, in the battle of weight loss, when it comes down to it, is what that number says after a couple of weeks of hard work. If that number doesn’t change or go down, or GOD FORBID, IT GOES UP, then anything we’ve done, any sort of progress we’ve made is totally moot and should be discounted. At least, that’s how I felt.
Last summer, I got down to 96kgs (211lbs), which is a mere 12kgs (26lbs) away from my goal weight of 85kgs (187lbs). But, you know the whole thing with life and fuckshit and just mentally derailing. I went home, I partied a lot, I lost a lot of things that were (and still are) very important to me, including my motivation. I crept back up to 104kgs (229lbs). I gained 8kgs (18lbs) in the span of a few months. I got back on to the wagon recently, started going back to CrossFit, running again, got back into the groove of intermittent fasting but the weight was not coming off like it was before.
I cut down on alcohol. I started hiking on the weekends. Kept running, kept going to CrossFit, making good food choices and yet, every single fucking time I stepped on the scale the number was either the same or higher than it was the few days or weeks before. I would wake up feeling great, full of energy, step on the scale and within SECONDS feel like shit about myself.
Okay. Let’s recap here. I go to CrossFit anywhere from 2x-5x a week. I run 5-7km at least once or twice a week. I hike mountains on the regular. I drink water and Americanos– no soda, no juice, nothing. I intermittent fast like it’s my job. I DID A 185lb deadlift two weeks ago. But. I’ll be damned if that number didn’t define everything about me and who I am and what I’m capable of and how fit I am and no the fuck it does not.
So, I got rid of it. Bye. Now, in the heat of the moment and fueled by the desire to break my bond and reliance on my scale, I felt like I had made an amazing decision. I took the weight log off of my FitBit dashboard. I removed the weight off of my Fitstagram profile. I started to disentangle myself from the web of deception I had woven throughout years of battling my weight and for the first couple of days, I felt great.
But, the panic. Oh my fuck, y’all. The absolute panic I felt the first time I went to weigh myself and realized my scale was not there. How was I supposed to feel about myself then? How was I supposed to know if it was a day I was going to be nice to myself or if it was a day I was going to spend berating and punishing myself for taking up more space? Fortunately, I’ve developed better coping mechanisms in the past few months, I talked myself through the panic, and I went about my day. What I’m noticing now is my self-esteem is gradually improving. More and more every day, I’m finding that I’m hating myself a little less. The numbers on the scale can’t define me if I don’t know what they are. I’m still active. I’m still doing all of my things– the only difference is I’m forced to look at what I can do and noticing physical improvements without tying an arbitrary number to it. I appreciate the subtle way my clothes are changing shape. I notice more definition in my biceps. My cardiovascular strength is revived. There is so much more to my physical health than the scale.
Fuck the scale.
Which, now, brings me to the second part of the title– I fell down the stairs. This week, I had a pretty fucking excellent week leading up to the Gyeongju Cherry Blossom 10k. I started this new eating challenge with a friend of mine that’s essentially removing all processed sugar from your life, as well as dairy, alcohol, and coffee. Let’s go ahead and establish I have no intention of ever removing coffee from my life long term. I love it. It brings me joy. It stays. But, I was interested in changing my eating intentions and creating stronger habits, especially in in challenges that would force me to cook at home, so I agreed to try it with her.
I knew ahead of time, too, that there would be days that I did drink. For example, my very dear, old friend, Aaron, came to Korea to see our friend Katelyn, so I went up to her city to visit with both of them and of course, there was drinking.
We had a great time. They came down to Daegu, we threw down, and it was just so enjoyable being around them, showing them Daegu, and catching up in each other’s lives.
I tried out a couple of different recipes, ate some grains intentionally for the first time, and was forced to try to find foods that fell into my eating categories when I forgot snacks. One day, I ate a bunch of grapes and walnuts because that was, legitimately, the only food I could find in a mart that was something I could eat inside of this challenge. But, it’s truly forced me to consider what I’m eating, the ingredients in prepackaged food, and also, just how cheap it is to cook at home and prep food for the week. My taste buds are also popping right now– fruit tastes SO SWEET to me. It’s amazing how much your tastebuds change when certain things are removed.
Finally, I come to Friday. This past weekend was packed full of plans for myself, hugely active plans, that involved several different cities in Korea. As I am less than 50 days away from leaving a country I’ve called home for 4 years, I am desperately trying to pack in as much as possible in my free time. The plan was I would run the 10k, take a bus to Busan to meet my friend Alex, and we were going to hang out in Busan, go to SpaLand, which is a huge sauna and bathhouse, and then dick around in Busan with each other. On Sunday, I planned to hike Palgongsan, the tallest mountain in Daegu.
On Friday morning, I packed up my gear for my race, packed bath items for the sauna, packed my changes of clothing, updated my running playlist, and went through the checklist of everything I normally do when I go out of town for the weekend. The one thing I did not do was pack my snacks ahead of time and prepare for dinner on Friday night. I left my job at 6, got on the subway and immediately went to DongDaegu, the train station. I bought some tangerines and some tofu pockets with rice. I should have taken a later train and eaten dinner in Daegu because EVERYTHING CLOSES AT 9 IN GYEONGJU. I got to Gyeongju, checked into my hostel, and started the fruitless search for food. At one point, I misstepped, and my ankle rolled a bit, but I caught myself. My adrenaline spiked, and I immediately thought– “You have to be careful, Kara, you clumsy fuck.” Legit, that was my thought. I finally found a restaurant that was open. The guy at the bottom sent me upstairs– he thought I was with the foreigners up there, and on the way back down the stairs to get the menu, my ankle collapsed from under me and I fell down the stairs. I tried to catch myself, but I landed hard on the same ankle I had lightly rolled earlier and I just fucking knew I wasn’t racing the next day.
The swelling and pain were immediate and it was so intense for a second it took my breath away. I honestly, truly thought I might have broken it this time, that I would be spending my last two months in Korea in a cast unable to do most of the things I wanted to do. I gingerly walked on it, I still had full range of motion, and while I tried to convince myself there was a chance, I knew that I had lost the chance to run. With tears in my eyes, I went to a convenience store, bought a bandage, a cup of ice, and tylenol, and went back to my hostel defeated, sad, lonely, and hungry.
I strapped the ice to my ankle inside the cup and my husband called and I just sobbed. I was so upset. I had been looking forward to this experience, to having these final moments in a city I love so much, only to have it taken from me in a stroke of bad fucking luck the night before the race. I went from angry to sad to devastated to hopeful to infuriated and back around again. I laid in my bed in my hostel, foot elevated, ice cup strapped to it, hoping maybe there would be a miracle and my body would heal itself quickly enough in 7 hours for me to run this 10k.
But, that didn’t happen. I woke up in pain. I dressed like I was going to race, but I hobbled back to the train station, crying, and bought a ticket back to Daegu at 6:58am. I was crushed. I had so many friends reach out and express their sympathy, but there was nothing they could do. There was nothing anyone could say that would make me feel better, there was nothing anyone could do to make me feel less shitty about the whole situation. My plans for the weekend were decimated. I was denied an experience I had been treasuring for so long. I was fucking furious. I shut down on a lot of people. I stopped speaking to most of my friends on Saturday, but was finally coaxed out of my hate cave by a few people who I am just so fucking grateful for.
Instead, on Saturday, I ate sushi. I bought new BTS buttons. I bought a new bullet journal to transition into my new adventures when I leave Korea. I ate an oreo tart. I watched the new Jumanji movie with three people who have become so very important to me. I ate a cheese tart. On Sunday, I walked, gently, through Daegu with Robert. I ate a lamb sandwich and peach pie. I started a new role playing game. I made the most of a weekend that threatened to undermine me.
I just went back and re-read my blog entry from after I finished the Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon and I was going through a lot of similar things then that I am now. I was struggling with a lot of the elements in my life that I could not control, but I was still pushing through, even when I felt like I wanted to quit or when I forgot about the important things in my life.
Who I am is not created and defined by a missed race or an Oreo tart or a number on a scale; who I am is created and defined by how I rise and respond to challenges, if I approach people and situations with kindness, grace, and understanding. I am created by the compassion I can give myself in moments when I want to hurt or traumatize myself because I am not living up to my self-imposed high standards.
Life goes on, even when I feel like it won’t. or even when I feel like I’ve missed something so important to my life that it will be incomplete without it. One missed race does not make me a failure and one missed experience does not mean my life is void of fulfilling experiences. One door closes, and another one immediately opens and maybe, just maybe, the events of the past few weeks have been trying to lead me to this moment. There will not be another Gyeongju Cherry Blossom race for me, sure, but there will be other races. There will be other chances to rise to occasions, to be strong, to push through adversity. There will be other experiences, other adventures, other new things to try, feel, see, and breathe.
There will always be cherry blossoms.