I felt my heart drop to my feet. I was shocked, unable to move, unable to speak; entirely stunned by the words I had heard. As he walked out the door, I was hit with the realization that I was alone, and I instantly hated the way it felt.

To have someone tell me that they didn’t love me, was devastating. It made every inch of my body ache with a deep sadness. Upon hearing these words, I was thrown into a state of fear; a state of confusion that made me question, “what the hell just happened, and what am I going to do now?”

So what does this heartbreak have to do with fitness? We all have coping mechanisms. We all have habits we turn to, to handle life’s complications and stressful moments. In my case, I tend to handle my emotions, frustrations, and stress with exercise. Now, you may think this is a healthy way of maintaining sanity through difficult situations. However, when that method of coping turns into a way to run from your feelings; to suppress them beneath an over-worked, overly-exhausted, over-exercised body, problems arise.

The day after being broken up with, I did the only thing I could think to do, I ran. I went to the park, trying to convince myself that crying would do me no good. I tied my shoes, turned on some music and began running. I ran and ran and ran, until my legs were too tired and I could no longer hold back my tears. The next day, I did the same thing. I left church, convinced that I was okay, and took off for a ten-mile trail run. I focused on the steep hill that left me breathless, the rocky trail that forced me to remain alert, the open sky, that cast a vibrant blue contrast against the rolling hills of gold. I let myself feel the sharpness of the sun and the resistance of the wind. But, as I allowed myself to feel every possible sensation along the trail, I refused to give into the ache that pressed against my chest.

As the weeks followed, I threw myself into swimming harder, cycling faster, and running harder than I had ever before. I woke up at 5 a.m. to start my days with cycling and swimming. I ran on my lunch breaks, desperately choking back tears. I ran extra miles after work, to avoid going home to loneliness.

A permanent pit resides in my stomach, making it impossible to eat. All I could think about was training. I signed up for half marathons and triathlons, to prevent myself from using time to focus on anything else. I worked and worked out. I stopped spending time with friends, and for a while, I stopped answering my phone. Everything in me wanted to run away, to escape the pain. For me, that meant focusing everything I had on work and training.

Again, this may seem healthy. But, suppressing all emotion and destroying your body is by no means healthy. The first month I ran on mostly adrenaline and exhausted my energy storages. I began to lose weight, muscle and began to feel incredibly fatigued. I stopped sleeping because I was anxious all the time.

It was finally on my work trip to San Diego that I realized I had to get healthy again. I’ve since decided that training for my races is important, but I can’t use the process to disregard my feelings. I can’t put my body through hell, to make up for the fact that my heart hurts more than I can explain. I decided it was time to get healthy about training, which meant eating well, sleeping, and pushing myself as hard as I can, but allowing my body rest when needed. I’d be lying if I said I’ve now got it all together. In fact, I’m still a mess, but I’m learning to be okay, even though my heart still hurts each day.

I think you can learn a lot about your strengths, weaknesses, your heart, your mind, your faith, and so much more through challenges. I know I am!