Recently I heard about a devoted ultra-runner who tore her Achilles tendon during a 300-mile race. She wasn’t running when it happened. She was reaching over to grab something out of a car.
People who know the woman speculated that her poor diet might have been responsible for the lack of nutritional support necessary to participate in such events. Apparently, her diet is some sort of restricted thing by choice due to some sort of eating disorder.
Situations like those remind me of that woman a few years back that was a chronic tanner. You might have seen the photos. Though Caucasian by race, she was tanned into some sort of awful brown color that looked like it was burnt into her skin. And it was.
I think I recall that she started having her child join her in the tanning booth and people started to protest. It’s one thing to destroy your own skin and risk cancer. It’s another to risk the life and health of your child.
But as an article on the website Everydayhealth.com notes, any activity that becomes stretched into a chronic need can be termed an addiction.
“It’s more about medicating the mood,” said Pagoto. “Some people do that by overeating, some people will smoke cigarettes, some people will do that by tanning.” She said much like drinking or smoking, tanning can start out as a social activity but then may turn into an addiction. And for many young women, the addiction is also driven by peer pressure, she said.
Dr. Dorlen agrees. “The culprit may very well be the endorphins that are activated when they are under the sun,” she said. “Research indicates that frequent tanning may be a type of substance abuse. Their brains are not very different than a person who gets a cigarette or UV rays.” she said.”
The same thing can happen with running, cycling and swimming. The trick to managing it all is keeping perspective on why we each participate in these sports. Setting and having goals is a healthy, even necessary life function. Hundreds of thousands of triathletes successfully integrate their training with their work and family lives.
But when we hear about someone that is going over the edge in their training, alarm bells go off. That’s when it’s time to openly ask the question, “How much is too much?”
We all know the feeling. The warning signs. Injury, illness or a lack of motivation to do anything other than slog through training are all signs that it’s time to back off or even change perspectives on what is appropriate for each individual.
If we witness people that seem to be stuck in that cycle, it is totally appropriate to ask how they’re doing. Let the conversation reveal what they’re truly thinking.
Often this turns into a brand of confessional in which many other elements of daily existence come into play. People under stress don’t always know when to back off, take stock and get a grip. They keep adding more activity to their workload because at least when they’re engaged, they don’t have to think about how and why their lives feel so manic or out of control. This is the same as self-medicating for emotional disturbances.
Obsession can itself can ultimately turn into an interminably long slog akin to that 300-mile journey that finally slowed our associate to a halt. This brand of immersion is truly a cry for help. The inability to back off is a sign that there might be mental health issues beneath the surface. Anxiety, depression and ADHD can each produce deep-seated pressures to exercise beyond a healthy perspective.
Here’s to hoping that you or your associates do not get to that point. Intervention truly is the moral thing to do. It can help if you reach out to someone in the company of a friend. Or, find a willing counseling source if there are issues such as family problems involved, or possible substance abuse.
I once knew a woman who due to depression ate so many carrots her fingernails turned orange. These challenges do not mean that someone is a bad person or even an addict. They may mean there are complex issues afoot that prevent that person from even understanding their full range of emotions.
The same drives that make us love endurance and multisport events can backfire in our lives if they become intertwined with stress and a desire to escape from the more mundane but still real pressures in life. With compassion and commitment to help, we can all be great coaches to our friends and associates in such situations.