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June 24, 2016

Oiselle Team - Better For It

Heather Stephens

After ten years of competitive racing, I moved to Washington, DC to coach track at Georgetown University. Up until graduation from Syracuse University, running ran my life. In order to perform my best, I needed to live a certain lifestyle and that lifestyle was integral to my development as an athlete, as a person, and my identity. When running and racing stopped, the conveyer belt of life stopped as well. I experienced the feeling of stepping off a treadmill. Floating. Without any given direction to float towards. This sensation led into a new chapter of my life, the confusion chapter. 

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My first year coaching, I vowed to give up " the crazy". The running habits and rituals that I had developed over the past 10 years. In college, I went to bed every night knowing exactly when I had to get up to get my run in. I knew the exact points in the day that I would need to fuel my body, and exact amount of energy I needed to preserve for an afternoon workout. Running ran my life. 

Fast forward to the confusion chapter of my life... I could go to bed at night knowing that the next morning when I woke up, I wouldn't HAVE to run. I could run if and when I wanted to. Sometimes I ran early in the morning. Long distances without a watch, just because I could. Sometimes, I ran as short as 15 minutes and called it good enough. 

This newness in running was fun, it was liberating, and in a lot of ways I felt freedom from the grind of it all. Free from the have to, the countless hours of "figuring it out" and getting faster. Free from calculating fueling and free to do the things that the selfish lifestyle of running kept me from doing. 

Insert the tipping point, when rebellion set in. Rebellion from years of tightness and over control. If I wanted to feel real freedom, then I would do everything and anything I could to feel it. This resulted in a lot of late nights, a lot of overeating, too much alcohol, and making up of "lost time". I had finally gained the infamous "freshman 15" in my 23rd year of life. I went to work every day to promote living a healthy lifestyle through running, but I myself was running as far away from it as possible. 

One component of fast running is finding the perfect power to weight ratio. Put a 50-horsepower motor on a 500-pound boat and the same horsepower motor on an 800-pound boat and you can guess which will win the race. As coaches, we had to talk about this kind of thing. It was one key element of developing training and fitness for athletes. But I was so fresh out of the sport, I couldn't help but think of the weight of my own boat. I had no intention of racing, but that lighter boat wasn't only faster, it was a hell of a lot more flashy and attractive. 

And so began the backwards spiral. The late nights could stay, but the too much eating and too much drinking had to go. So I pulled back. I re-learned discipline. Re-learned what it meant to be serious about my health and sport. Until I pulled too far back. Over the course of one summer, I lost 20 pounds. What started as a resolution for health and equilibrium in my life, spiraled into something that was bigger than me. Something that I controlled, but ultimately held complete control over me. Every day, I would eat the same exact thing. Every day, I would weigh myself on a scale. A stupid white scale. Sometimes, I would even seek out other scales just to make sure that stupid white scale was telling me the truth. I ran for loss, not gain. I would workout on a treadmill for 10 miles straight. Improvements in time started to carry less value. I would find a digital scale to determine that value right after my run. 

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(I ran the same exact time in both of these races, but viewed myself completely differently)

Re-fueling post workout became less important. I would refuel hours later when I was with my co-workers at happy hour. Look at me, effortlessly fit. I thought I was in control the whole time, until the realization set in, that my mind was completely and utterly taken over. My life revolved completely around a sickness in my head. 

Cut back on breakfast if you plan on a late night of margaritas, chips and guac. I would lay in bed every night sweating profusely. My body was attempting a change that was 30 years too early. And I ignored those signs and blamed it on my over heated apartment. Nothing. NOTHING. Could get in the way of my routine. I was better than those idiots with no self-control. I was better than that stupid version of myself that couldn't say no. 

People started commenting on my weight and I took it as a sign of success. "What are you talking about?" I would laugh. "I'm just running again, that's all". In part, I believed that. At the time, it was my truth. The cycle continued for exactly one year. Until I decided to make a change in my life. I moved to Seattle to work for Oiselle. I had no idea what was in store for me in that move. I had no idea how much growth would occur for me and how much I would learn by surrounding myself with healthy, strong women. The first time I walked into Oiselle HQ, I saw the poster hanging on the hero wall that would change everything. 

It read: "Think about what you want your body to DO for you, rather than what you want to take away from it. Honor your body, don't talk shit about it."

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Lauren Fleshman's words struck a chord deep within me. I had spent an entire year manipulating my body to look a certain way and at the same time manipulating my mind. Letting construed thoughts rule my life. I was constantly taking away from myself. I was robbing myself of health and happiness. Staring at this poster, I was infused with hope and I was also faced with a decision. I could stop talking shit about myself everyday when I looked in the mirror. I could step off the scale. For good. I could stop over-calculating every morsel and every step that I ran. I had a shot at re-discovering a healthier version of myself and of my running.

One of the Oiselle Team principles of flight centers around the idea of "healthy body, healthy mind". When you surround yourself with people who model healthy body, healthy mind behaviors, who live and breathe and believe in that lifestyle, you give yourself a chance to start fresh and to live that lifestyle as well.  

My first year at Oiselle, I started running and racing again as a renewed version of myself. The stronger, happier, healthier me. The me that ran for the sake of feeling the ground beneath my feet. I ran to breathe deeply. To regain strength. To feel something. To honor my body and give back to it. 

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Someone very important in my life taught me how to view running as a constant. Sometimes, I would run to train for a race, and other times I just would just run for the sake of running. To participate in the pure joy of it.

I have spent two years surrounded by the women at Oiselle. And I feel stronger for it. From them. And I am thankful for the strength. I have reached a place where I feel strong enough to share this regained strength. To share my story and my path with others who might be headed for, or already experiencing the same roller coaster ride.

I won't call myself a pro, but I will call myself better. Better for all the good people in my life. Better for allowing those people to positively influence me. Better for letting my body and my mind heal, and grow stronger. And better because I am able to share the most sensitive parts of my life with people who I believe deserve better.

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Head Up, Wings Out.

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Comments

Beth Theule | June 20, 2016 at 9:32pm

Heather THANK YOU for

Heather THANK YOU for stepping out and sharing your story with us. I doubt I'm the only woman who this has made an impact on. I finally feel in the last 6 months, that I'm learning how to love myself and body again no matter what stage in my journey I'm at. Thank you for your vulnerability and realness. You are a blessing to so many! --From the mom with 2 kids and a double stroller at the LA time trials ;)

Marley Chambers | June 21, 2016 at 12:26pm

Brave

Thank you for being brave enough to share that, Heather. I woke up this morning and was getting down on myself about gaining weight and not being disciplined enough with eating and running. Then I read your article. And all of a sudden everything was clearer, and back right side up.

Elena | June 21, 2016 at 12:48pm

Thank you

Heather, Thank you for sharing your story of courage and strength. As a college runner myself, I can relate to much of what you shared and these same feelings that occur when you have a break from running. Running is such a great joy and we must always remember to be joyful when running. I know your story can help many in our sport. Thanks again. Head up, wings out!

Guest | June 29, 2016 at 8:23pm

Heather- this is really

Heather- this is really beautiful and powerful. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It means so much!

Nancy Munson | January 26, 2017 at 9:05pm

Heather! Thank you for this

Heather! Thank you for this candid account of what so many of us have faced at some point in our lives. I had issues with anorexia in college and after the birth of my first child. I was not an athletic kid growing up but never faced issues with weight or body image. But yes, the "freshman 15" or so hit with college and thus started my obsession with weight. The scale. Everything you described. Eventually, over time, I found a healthier me and over the past 13 years I have become a serious runner. It has been so helpful to discover my "athletic" self instead of just my "thin" self. Though I wonder if one ever really can totally ditch that controlling mindset, I know I need fuel to run and be strong and to enjoy what I love to do. At 63 years old I am a Oiselle Volée team member who is so inspired by the strong woman you, and all my "teammates" and the elite runners aspire to be...and ARE. Camp in Minnesota last fall was a testament to how women can get together and share the best of themselves...each unique, with different backgrounds and goals and abilities. Accepting. Different body types and shapes and strengths and all bonded by the love of running. Thank you for your candor. I had no idea you had gone through this of course, but every time I learn someone's story that resonates with mine, I feel so much less alone. And clearly there are way too many of us who have had to learn to overcome this issue. One thing is for sure, it feels good to be on the path to "getting it right!" Love to you! -Nancy