February 21 2018
Karen Lyons started running to escape hardship–and couldn’t stop.
My collegiate sports career started out in basketball. It was and always will be my first love. However, the transition from high school to college basketball hit me hard. It mimicked the difficulty of the transition from living at home to moving away to college. I soon found myself getting far too comfortable on the bench, and began running as a way to let out the stress of my first semester of college not going the way I had hoped it would. After basketball ended, I decided to ask the track coach if he’d let me join the track team. I soon became the sole female long distance runner on our small team. About a month later, I medaled in our conference’s indoor track championship. It was then I realized I had found where I belonged: in the world of running.
That first season of track, I trained alone a lot, and occasionally with the men. I was so naïve to running and to training at a high level. I didn’t know what an “easy” day was, but the runner’s high and the improvement I continued to see kept me hooked, ready for whatever workouts and training plans my coach brought my way, even if I didn’t understand the “why” behind what I was doing.
Four seasons of track, three seasons of cross country, and eight All-American awards later, I was granted the ability to come back for a fifth year of cross country, since I did not participate my freshman year. I desperately wanted to fulfill my dream of becoming a national champion, and unfortunately, a slight obsession with running and perfectionist tendencies turned in to a full-blown battle with anorexia.
Related: Running On Empty
I still saw myself as a bulky basketball player. My perfectionist mindset, combined with my own distorted body image, convinced me that was why I hadn’t been able to reach the top of the podium. Obsessive thoughts came around more often. No days off. Train three times a day. Weigh myself twice a day. Eat less. Eat only certain types of “healthy” foods. Run more. And I just kept getting faster.
I showed up to camp the lightest weight I had ever been. My coach was concerned, but I assured him it was just because we increased my mileage. I went on to have a tremendous senior season, setting PRs like crazy. I was singularly focused on winning it all. But I took third at the national meet, falling short of my ultimate goal.
Again, that perfectionist side took the best of me. Instead of being happy for all I had accomplished, I couldn’t stop beating myself up. I took one day off after my season and then began obsessively training again.