by Candace Hill
Track and field is a sport that’s all about numbers, but sometimes it’s not the figure on the stopwatch that causes the most stress – it’s the one on the weighing scales.
In the past year, that number has sometimes felt like the only thing that mattered, and anyone who’s been there will know how much that attitude can mess with your mind.
People always joke about new college students gaining the ‘freshman 15’, but for me it was a reality. My target racing weight is 138lbs, but after several months living in the dorms at the University of Georgia, I was up to 153lbs.
As a junior I had a lot of success, so it was especially hard to take this year when, for the first time in my career, I didn’t win a single 100m race.
But this is how – and why – it happened.
First of all: the injuries. Last November I hurt my right knee and couldn’t run on the track for two months and after that, I hurt my left heel, then my right quad – injury after injury after injury. After a while I was like, what else? Is my arm going to start hurting?
People always talk about the transition from high school to college being difficult, and now I know what they mean.
Academically, the workload was actually easier in college but it was challenging in other ways.
On campus, I’d hang out with peers who didn’t have the same obligations and I’d get distracted. I’d say, okay, I’ll go to this party, but you quickly forget you’re not a regular college kid – I have a professional career and I can’t take part in all these activities like people who don’t have practice every day.
Then there was the challenge of eating right, directly related to that number on the scales.
I was living in a dorm so we didn’t have a kitchen to cook healthy stuff and as a result, I’d eat at the dining hall, which didn’t have a lot of healthy choices.
My coach noticed the weight gain, as did my Mom, and it wasn’t long before others started pointing it out to me. I wasn’t hitting my times in workouts, and I began to focus less on training and more on weight and body image.
I went to a nutritionist who put me on a no-grain diet, but when that wasn’t working I would look online at the latest fads: military diets, liquid diets, things like that.
It was stupid, and one day my Mom even said to me, “you’re going crazy.” I was like, “I know.”
But it’s a hard thing to get right.
In workouts I was slow, and our goal was to get my weight down to 142lbs, which I managed, but then I’d soon go back up to 147. I was fluctuating like crazy, and that was really challenging to deal with.
I’d be in the dining hall with my friends, walking past the cookies and hamburgers and thinking: dang, I can’t have that. I’d be eating chicken salads and even then, I always had to watch my portions because too much of anything makes you gain weight.
A big reason for the weight gain was that I was surrounded by junk food and also I would stay up late. To stay awake I’d reach for snacks, and even ones you might think are healthy like smoothies, fruit drinks, granola bars are so often loaded with sugar.
It was tough, being surrounded by fellow athletes, friends, who all seemed to be doing extraordinary things. I’d go on Twitter and see amazing results, and while you’re happy for them you can’t help thinking about how you can’t run, how you’re injured. Social media makes you feel like everybody is setting PRs except you.
Even when I was able to train, I would put a lot of meets on hold, warming up and pulling out, saying to my coach that I didn’t feel like running.
You can sense what others are saying, what they’re thinking.
People would always tell me, “the pressure’s not really on you, Candace, you put this pressure on yourself,” but deep down I knew people were probably thinking: this girl ran fast at 16 and now she can’t even come close to her PR – was it a once-in-a-lifetime thing?
People talk and unfortunately comments made behind your back will sometimes get back to you, but just like on the track, all you can do is stay in your lane. If I believe I can do stuff, I know it’ll happen.
That’s why, in July this year, I decided to take two years out from college to focus 100 per cent on track. For too much of the past year I felt like I was putting my time more towards school, and because this is my job now, I need to give track more attention.
We’re going to have to focus to make the team for the World Championships next year and I want to PR – it’s been three years since I did – and use 2019 as a huge launching pad for 2020.
A lot of my injury problems last year were because I didn’t focus on recovery. I wasn’t on top of treatment because I had school, but now I can come home from practice and foam roll, get massages, see the chiropractor – things I put to the side in the past. I’m getting into yoga and meditation, and I can also get more sleep this year, which is so, so important.
These days, I live in an apartment off campus but it’s still around the area so I can get the college vibe. I also now have training partners which I didn’t have in the past, and that’s been motivating me a lot – I used to dread going to practice by myself.
I feel really confident about the future and as for the past, maybe it all happened for a reason.
If it wasn’t for me gaining excess weight then I wouldn’t have learned the importance of nutrition, and if it wasn’t for all these injuries and sitting out races, I wouldn’t have learned the importance of getting treatment.
On the road back, we spent a lot of time doing rehab and recovery, putting in extensive time towards healing, and for the first time in a long time everything is not hurting and I can say that I’m pretty healthy.
Hopefully it stays that way, because right now I feel like it’s all coming together.