Well Being

Athlete to Addict: When Exercise Becomes Obsessive

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Ever since I started running marathons, I've annoyed a lot of people. “Can you meet for breakfast?” Nope, gotta train. “Wanna go out for drinks tonight?” Can't, I have to get up early to run in the morning. “Want to go to this party, this restaurant or this event with me?” No, no, no — I'm too busy running or too tired from having run.

That's pretty much the way it's been. I've had family members not speak to me, friends write me off and others label me as hard-core, weird or even addicted. But, in my mind, I was none of those things. I was simply a girl on a mission to run 26.2 miles. Anyone who's ever trained for a marathon knows what I'm talking about.

That being said, training for a major goal does take up a lot of your spare time. And for those folks who are not a part of your running or triathlon circuit (where we all feed on each other's passion), it can become intolerable. You may pose a threat to others now, making them feel like they are not good enough because they too are not getting up to run for three hours tomorrow morning. Or, you may simply become an annoyance because all of a sudden, your long runs, tempo runs, recovery runs, hill runs and speed runs are all you talk about. At a party with fellow athletes, you are in heaven because everyone is comparing their workouts, injuries and black toenails. But any gathering with non-athletes can be sheer torture. I mean, there's only so much “Oh, your kids are so cute” talk anyone can endure, right?

I obviously fully support anyone who has exercise goals and puts in the significant time and commitment to make it happen. Most marathon training plans require hitting the road 40 to 50 miles a week, which, when you add in time for stretching, cross-training and naps, can translate to ten to 15 hours a week (a lot, considering the American College of Sports Medicine now recommends three hours and 40 minutes of exercise a week). Set your sights on something like an Ironman and now you're looking at significantly more time spent. But does this mean we are addicted or “weird” as some of my friends and family members think? Definitely not.

Yet, there is a point when exercise goes from being a healthy goal to an unhealthy obsession. If you walk into most gyms, you will find that one girl who looks a bit too frantic on the stairmaster and continually goes from machine to class to road and back again. Does this mean she's an addict? Or to be more specific, does she have anorexia athletica — a condition that defines someone who is compulsive about exercise? And if she does, is that a bad thing?

Yesterday, Good Morning America ran a segment about extreme exercise and when getting fit goes too far. Take a look at the story and then tell us when you think exercise crosses the line:


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