Running the Pyrenees for 'Beat Eating Disorders'
Updated: Apr 11, 2021
It’s been a while since I chatted to you all. Today is my 25th birthday and I’ve decided to spend the morning putting this post together, to share the heart behind my Pyrenees project. It would mean the world to me if you got involved in some way! Whether you are one of my closest loved ones who has supported me through certain challenges, or a fellow athlete who can understand the beautiful madness in running 800km, I know I will be able to connect with many through this project. While the current prospects of international travel remain stilted and uncertain, I cannot guarantee a start date, but I am determined to dive into the Mediterranean sea before Christmas!
Love and respect your body so it can take you to places like this... Cordillera Blanca, Peru.
The project itself will include traversing the Pyrenees mountain range, snaking along the French-Spanish border, from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. The Pyrenean Haute Route is 800km (on a good day!) with 35,000m of ascent, taking in the GR10, the GR11 and all of the best ridges. Initially planning to run it as fast as I could, prioritises have shifted to focus more on the journey, allowing as much time as required to create film, writing and conversation about the project. When I discovered this route earlier in the year, I decided to make it about something bigger than the adventure, to raise awareness and funds towards a charity whose mission is to end the pain and suffering caused by eating disorders.
First and foremost, I would like to thank everyone who has donated so far as it's becoming quite the passion project:
Julianne W, Chris S, Maddy S, The Seaford Family, Drew S, The Emsden Family, Rebecca RE, Amber B and Tom W, Daisy A, George M, Amy C, Sophie H, George W, Tom T, Beth M, Cat L, Ben P, A Farley, J McDonagh, K Orr, and the anonymous donators. Together we have raised over 60% of my target already. Thank you!
Where we belong, living the wild life. This was sat atop Misti Volcano, 5,822m altitude volcano in Arequipa, Peru. You can read the blog post of this trek on my page.
Growing up trekking the Lake District peaks and the Scottish munros, I’ve been blessed with an upbringing that gave me confidence among the hills, in navigation, in reaching the summits or sticking to the ice! Of every landscape on earth, there is something beyond exhilarating in the space between, the 360degree views, the spectrum of colours in a splurging sunrise or the hazy skyline, blue to grey. Living by the sea, I find the same sense of freedom before an expanse of blue, learning that to maintain my mental health I need wide open spaces and certainty in my place in nature. Once you get a feel for the mountains or the ocean, the freeing, soul strengthening wilderness of it, it’s impossible not to return day after day. This is why I have decided to share this project with you all, to invite you to invest time in nature, not just for the plethora of mental health benefits, but for strength in our community.
The reason behind this project goes so much further than my desire to gain more mountaineering experience or for extended time in the hills...
I am doing this to raise awareness of eating disorders, a very real and prevalent issue in the UK today. Eating disorders are serious mental disorders that rule, ruin and, too often, take lives. In the UK, 1.25million people are fighting an eating disorder and especially now with COVID-19, helplines are receiving more calls than ever, with people presenting new symptoms and others seeing their recovery disrupted. What's important to remember is that a person and their eating disorder are two clearly distinct things. I want to make that very clear. But issues surrounding eating are often dismissed or overlooked through lack of understanding or fear of how to approach discussion. How can something as simple as food be such a challenge? However, I want to advocate for a greater awareness of these issues, because I agree, food should never be more than enjoyment and fuel. With the right treatment, support and conversation, recovery is possible. And what better time to reach out and help one another? Especially on your birthday!!
Recovering from Binge Eating Disorder (BED) myself, which controlled many aspects of life for 18months, I want to take this opportunity to raise awareness and help remove the stigma and shame around eating disorders, so that people who need help can access it. We need to stop trivialising symptoms in order to allow those in need to reach charities providing a lifeline when they may have nowhere else to turn. I have reached out to Beat in the past and they provided me with critical guidance at a time when I felt completely lost, not yet understanding that BED is a real thing. And now I know what it is and how to manage it, I’m back in the game!
‘Early in the morning, I’d go up to Humantay and skinny dip beneath the glacier. This slice of heaven was all to myself - I savoured the tranquillity and the sounds of the mountain. For anyone who hasn’t been among them, mountains have a supreme silence about them, broken only by a breeze or the crash of an ice cap above.’ Quote from my 'Solo Running in the Cordillera Blanca' post.
For me, this project represents my recovery and taking back control of my life. Heading back out into the world in the way that makes me feel most alive: tired legs, sore feet, and windswept with a massive smile. Eating disorders are silent predators and the only way to make them a thing of the past is opening up dialogue to help those affected see food as what it is – a deliciously essential part of life! Because there is so much out there to explore and experience once freed from the chains of eating disorders. I hope that if just one person reads this and can believe that recovery is possible, I can turn something that I struggled to live with into something worth its while. If COVID-19 has taught us one thing, it is that community and support for each other is the most precious thing we can share, and I want to use this platform to do just that. While I’ll be running most of it solo, I’ll document the adventure through film, photography and writing so you can come along too, witnessing the beauty that can happen post-recovery.
Nature has all the answers, you just have to listen!
Falling in love with larger mountain ranges after my trip to the Peruvian Cordillera Blanca, I knew that my next adventure had to be mountain based. The first glimpse of those majestic summits, does things. Either you see them and instantly feel humbled by the realisation of your existential insignificance. Or you find yourself taking a deep breath as you contemplate what the hell you got yourself into. I hope to have a combination of these feelings in the Pyrenees, between skinny dips in pristine alpine lakes and summiting Aneto (if I get there early enough in the year before winter takes hold). Of course, I am aware of the dangers and challenges of such a project and will be taking every safety precaution to ensure a successful traverse, all the while knowing my limits and when to call it quits. And you know who you are – I’ll be wanting a few of you to share those moments at the summits and the celebratory ocean dip at the end!
I have set up a JustGiving page at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/isabelsteele where you can read my story and help out with the charity side of things. By donating to Beat, you will be able to contribute towards their life saving services, Helpline and information packs that could help give someone their life back. Recovery is possible and can be such an enriching, empowering process. I’m here to show you just that!
Donating through JustGiving is simple, fast and totally secure. Your details are safe with JustGiving - they'll never sell them on or send unwanted emails. Once you donate, they'll send your money directly to the charity. So it's the most efficient way to donate - saving time and cutting costs for the charity.
If you or someone you know needs help, Beat Helplines are open 365 days a year from 9am-8pm during the week and 4pm-8pm on the weekends and bank holidays. They are incredibly friendly, judgement free, and can help organise the right action plan for you! Never be afraid to ask for help.
Helpline: 0808 801 0677
Studentline: 0808 801 0811
Youthline: 0808 801 0711
Finally, to keep costs down, I’ll be looking to crowd source kit. I have almost everything I need already but all quite heavy. If anyone has anything they wouldn’t mind lending it would be greatly appreciated. I promise to take it on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure and get it back to you in pristine condition!
I want to close by saying...
You are not your eating disorder, your flaws, your situation or your past and you are never alone. But it is down to you to decide how to approach your life. Build yourself a beautiful one.