The Extra Mile

A Poor Diet Can Lead To Bigger Problems

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Like any other hard-working athlete, success seduced Casey Smith. In the fall of 2004, the Arlington resident was on a roll when she won a slew of local races, including the Army Ten-Miler. That November, Smith finished third at the Philadelphia Marathon in a personal best of 2 hours 45 minutes 23 seconds.

Shortly thereafter, Smith began to lose weight. "This shouldn't be happening," she told herself. But in the world of elite racing, particularly for women, fast times are often a function of body weight, and racers tread a fine line between competition and self-destruction. By the spring, Smith had shed 15 pounds from her 5-foot, 100-pound frame. At the St. Patrick's Day 10K, Smith dropped out of a race for the first time.

"At first, I was worried," said Smith, 27. "But then, I said I'm feeling good, my workouts were good, and I started running pretty well again. It's hard to describe what was happening. Lots of runners watch what they eat."

Smith began to work with a nutritionist and sought professional assistance. She didn't regain the lost weight, but she realized she had a problem and resolved to adopt "a healthy attitude."

"Eating disorders, that's crazy," she says now. "How does that ever happen? But keeping the weight off becomes a subconscious thing; you don't want to put it back on. It's like an addiction."

Smith continued to train at a high level, logging around 60 miles a week. Her efforts paid off with impressive results in April when she ran personal bests of 57:14 to finish 11th at the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run and 35:04, good for fifth place, at the Pike's Peek 10K in Rockville. But her body started breaking down. First, pain in her knee hampered her training. Then, what she thought was tendinitis above her ankle forced her to stop running completely in May.

After battling the pain for months with physical therapy, Smith had the ankle examined two weeks ago and learned she has a complete fracture of her fibula.

"It's absolutely related" to her eating problems, Smith said. "If you don't eat correctly, your body starts to eat itself."

Maintaining a regular diet continues to be a struggle for Smith. "It's still not easy," she said. "I find myself trying to talk myself into eating something still. It's part of being a driven, Type A personality."

Which of necessity is on hold for six to eight weeks until her leg heals. Smith's plan to run the Chicago Marathon in October is canceled. "Right now," Smith said. "I don't have any goals other than to get myself able to run again."

ยท GODSPEED: Michael Mann, 37, from Hampton, Va., who ran a 2:47 marathon in March to mark six months from his surgery for lung cancer as reported here, resumed chemotherapy and radiation treatment last week.

-- Jim Hage

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