In a world that often equates success with sacrifice, our next Underbird reminds us that joy is the true essence of achievement. Carrie Verdon’s road to the Olympic Trials is one of patience, falling in and out of love with running, only to return with a healthier and happier relationship to the sport. As we hear from our athletes about who they are and how they came to the Trials, we hope Carrie’s story inspires young athletes who are coming to a fork in the road to take the longer route. Enjoy the views, the way the road flows with the natural curve of the land, and most importantly… seek out the forget-me-nots.

This blog mentions disordered eating which may be harmful or sensitive for some readers. For more resources or help with disordered eating please visit NEDA

Have you ever seen a forget-me-not flower? They are teeny-tiny little blue flowers with a bright yellow center, and often hidden out of sight in the underbrush. Some of my favorite memories were spent running through blankets of those tiny blue flowers shaded by giant redwoods on soft dirt trails in the Oakland hills back in California where I grew up. In high school when I first started running, I would have a long run on Sunday every weekend. My Dad and I would run together for almost every single one of those runs. We mapped out a point-to-point run, through the Oakland hills, all on trails that were surrounded by beautiful forget-me-nots, that ended at our front door. We would get my Mom to drop us off, and we would run the entire way back home. Sharing those miles with my Dad on those early Sunday mornings filled with fog and forget-me-nots made me fall in love with running.

I fell in love with the shared miles with loved ones, the sense of adventure I got while I was out on trails, and the joy that came with pushing your body to its limits. I loved the simplicity of it. I could go anywhere it seemed, and all I needed was my two feet.

I had a lot of success in those high school days. I was part of a cross country team that won state, I made Footlocker Nationals as a junior and had the opportunity to continue running in college. As a young and naive girl, I saw glimpses of success in myself and wanted more. When I looked around, I saw what I thought success looked like in others. I saw girls starving themselves to the top and thought that was the path I needed to be on too.

I continued my running career at a college that had high expectations for performance, and the idea of success being achieved by making yourself the smallest version of you was an ever-present voice in my head. By my sophomore year, I was stuck in a bad place with disordered eating. I had seen success, and that was giving my disordered eating leverage. But the truth is that I was preparing my body to fail me, and soon it would all come crashing down around me.

I broke both of my navicular bones. I broke my calcaneus bone and a metatarsal. All within the span of 3 years. All from running in a body that wasn’t fueled to do so.

I was spiraling in silence. Knowing what I was doing, but not having any control over my inner thoughts that were telling me to keep doing it. To be honest, most of my time during those years is still a blur. I don’t know if I’ve blocked those dark days out, or if all of my energy and brain power were taken up just surviving the day.

By the time I graduated, running had morphed me into someone I didn’t even know anymore. I had spent the last 3 years climbing up a ladder just to be kicked back down with injury time and time again. I didn’t know who I was without running, but I didn’t know who I was with it either.

So I stopped. I walked away from the sport that had been the very core of me for the last 9 years of my life. The thing that defined me, the thing that motivated me to get up and out of bed every morning, the thing that had once brought me so much joy and freedom. I hadn’t felt what I felt running through the redwood forests full of forget-me-nots with my Dad in years and knew I couldn’t continue living like that. So I stopped and started talking about it. I opened up to my partner and broke the silence of shame I had been living with for so long. I asked for help, something that had been so vulnerable and scary for me to do, and instead of being met with judgment like I was expecting, I was met with so much love and support. The more I was able to talk about it, the more I was able to identify triggers, notice patterns of disordered eating, and start looking at myself in a new light.

I got my Master’s Degree, I started teaching, and I spent my days hiking, climbing, fishing, and exploring the mountains I call home now. The time away taught me how to be me again. It provided me time and space to get healthy both physically and mentally and learn what it means to feel joy and truly live again. It was during that time away, that running finally called to me again. I started having dreams of running through forests of forget-me-nots and knew it was time to come back.

I met with a local coach, Lee Troop, and joined a team of runners pursuing their dreams post-collegiately. In my first meeting with my coach, he emphasized the importance of fueling yourself well to give your body what it needs to train. In that moment I felt like I could finally breathe, after it felt like I had been holding my breath trying to be the smallest version of myself for years.

In the years since I have been back running, I haven’t clawed my way to the top. I haven’t fought to get where I am today. I haven’t tried to change anything about myself or push against any opposing force. I’ve just let it come. I’ve enjoyed the joy in every step along the way. The good runs, the bad runs, and the runs that have taught me lessons.

I’ve learned to be me again, and running is just one of the many things I do that help me feel like me.

I’ve found my forget-me-nots again with running, and I’m not going to let them get away from me again. I even got a tattoo of a forget-me-not on the back of my calf to remind me of the joy that running adds to my life.

I’m grateful for the struggles I went through because they have allowed me to see running as a gift. Something I GET to do. Our bodies are pretty freaking awesome, and I’m grateful I am here to use mine to chase some of my wildest dreams. When I stand on the Olympic trials start line in February of next year, I won’t forget the joy that has made this journey worth it—because joy is always worth it.

Carrie’s holistic and sustainable approach to running has helped her achieve a PR of 2:31:52 in the marathon and 70:10 in the half. More importantly, her joy-filled approach is visible to all who watch her train and compete, and ultimately fuels her many other passions including teaching, coaching, hiking, fly fishing, and even playing the banjo!

You can follow Carrie on Instagram and Strava. Meet the whole Underbird team here. Look out for their stories in coming weeks.

November 03, 2023 — Carrie Verdon

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