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Ultra runner overcomes lifelong anxiety issues, eating disorders

Frayah Wasmund has battled depression and anxiety since she was a young child. Wasmund’s self-worth was non-existent. She had no coping skills. Her thoughts were negative.

“I felt like I wasn’t good enough. No one loved me. I was gross. I was ugly,” she recalls. “I thought these feelings were the truth. The minute I graduated high school, I moved out of my parent’s house.”

College didn’t work out. Wasmund partied too much and dropped out.

“I really wanted my life to be better, but I didn’t know how,” she says. “I landed in a Coast Guard recruiting office. The military was the best/worst thing for me. It sure didn’t help my anxiety issues, but it did give me the tools to know how to have a successful life. It also taught me how to be a good and hard-working person.”

It was during her Coast Guard tenure that Wasmund learned to love working out. That set her on a path to complete obstacle course races, which eventually led to ultra running. But first she still needed to overcome her mental health issues and eating disorder.

Learning and loving endurance events

After leaving the Coast Guard, Wasmund was “lost.” She had moved back home, accompanied by her depression and hopelessness. She re-enrolled in college and worked as a waitress.

“My anxiety was also paralyzing and destroyed any self-confidence I was trying to build to start a new chapter in my life,” she says. “I try hard to not ‘victimize’ my past, but it was a tough time.”

Thanks to social media she learned about Tough Mudders. “I was instantly intrigued,” she remembers. “I always wanted to do a race event or something physical but lacked self-confidence.”

One wasn’t enough. She kept signing up for more.

One loop wasn’t enough. She pushed herself to do three loops at each event.

And when that wasn’t enough, she found long-distance running.

“The endurance part of the race fascinated me more than the obstacle part of the race — strangely, obstacle course running made me realize how much I love running!” she says.

Life-changing trail races

A friend told Wasmund about Bridger Ridge Run, a 20-mile race on a ridge of a mountain in Bozeman, Mt. They trained together which built up Wasmund’s confidence.

“We took this amazing road trip out to Montana and I did my first race EVER over three miles,” she says. “It wasn’t pretty — I was in no way impressive. But I finished. My life changed after that race. I knew I wanted to do trail running and finally felt confident that I am a runner. And not only that, I can run for a LONG time on difficult trails which led me into the ultra scene.”

Her last OCR was the World’s Toughest Mudder where she placed third. “But I knew that I was done doing OCRs after that race. My heart just wasn’t in it. I wanted to only do trail running at that point.”

And, boy, did she ever. In one year, she did the Georgia Death Race (GDR), Kettle Moraine, Voyageur 50, Superior 100, the Barkley Classic, Cloudland Canyon and Quest for the Crest. “I had the time of my life.”

Wasmund went from the Montana race to GDR, which she heard about from another friend.

“When I researched the race, it looked insane to me, which intrigued me,” she recalls. “I was so desperate to do a trail race again, especially one that had an extreme difficulty factor to it. I signed up and tried my best to figure out how to train for this thing. I ran a lot. I did a lot of cross training. I honestly had no clue what I was doing, but I knew that I had to get my legs strong and used to moving for a long time. I accepted that I was a rookie and was going to be way behind most of the athletes there. But it never intimidated me.”

The Georgia Death Race is about 70 miles along with 28,000 feet of elevation change.

“I laugh now looking back at that race on how clueless I really was,” she says of that 2014 race. “I remember feeling excited and happy for most of that race. It was my first time doing this and I fell in love within the first 30 seconds. I had so many great conversations with runners who I still talk to today. It was beautiful scenery and the difficulty level kept my mind focused. I guess I just felt ALIVE again. I felt purpose. I felt life to be exciting again. It was like I finally woke up and said, ‘Yes, I’m going to live.’ That may sound corny but I think that is how I got through that race. I was so determined to finish.”

Wasmund dealt with leg cramps, but aid station volunteers helped her out. “The community truly welcomed me in and wanted me to succeed,” she says. “I truly felt that. I was so proud of myself for finishing and beyond surprised that I finished seventh for females. It was one of the best days of my life. It started a new chapter in my life.”

A strong family unit

Later that year, her life entered a new chapter at the Superior 100. That’s when she met her husband. They now have two boys: Miles, 3, and Jack, 16 months.

“My boys are so important to me and teach me so much about love and life,” Wasmund says. “They bring so much joy and happiness into my life. I’m truly having the time of my life right now because of them. Motherhood has suited me very well, and I’m so happy I’m able to share my love for this sport with my children. It’s important to me that they see this side of their mother and be a part of this amazing community.”

Motherhood has taught her a lot.

“It’s important for us mothers to still have our identity and be a ‘self,’” she says. “I’ve never realized the emotional/physical toll motherhood has until I became one! My husband and family supports and wants me to still have this side of me. I went through a small stint of postpartum depression with my first child, and it was what prompted me to start running again. Running, getting self-care, and seeking help allowed me to recover and find coping tools so I could be the best version of me for my children. Running is so much more to me than just running — it’s truly been my key to a strong and healthy mind.”

This year she plans to do Superior 100 again in September, hoping to beat her time from 2014. She is also in the lottery for GDR in 2020. “I’ve always wanted to go back to that race with a bit more experience under my belt 😉. I’ve always wanted to do Badwater and to do more races out West. This year I’m focusing on building back up with the 100s and have a fun 2020 with ultras!”

‘A heart of gold’

Like me and Ryan Norton who was profiled earlier, Wasmund is an ambassador for Bigger Than The Trail (BTTT). She first learned about it at the High Cliff Ultra, her return to racing after Jack was born.

“Tommy Byrne gave a speech before the race about Bigger Than The Trail — and I was immediately intrigued,” she says of the founder of the non-profit organization that advocates for mental health awareness. “Since I’ve become a trail and ultra runner, I’ve met a lot of people who have overcome a huge challenge in their personal life. I see a lot of these people giving back and sharing their stories.”

Wasmund wants to be able to give back to those who are still struggling.

“I feel like I owe that to the world,” she says. “A lot of people reached out to me when I was struggling, and now I feel like I need to do the same. The ambassadors that are associated with BTTT all have a heart of gold. They also have overcome huge struggles and genuinely care so much about this community. I hope this will help other people feel comfortable to reach out for help and get services to start their journey to more light in their lives.”

‘Living with a bully in your head’

While in the Coast Guard, Wasmund used working out for stress relief. But there was a downside. She loved seeing the weight come off. She relished the compliments.

“So, I started limiting my food,” she says. “As time passed, the mood of my day was what the scale said. I started losing so much weight that I could tell it was making people uncomfortable.”

Wasmund understood that she was having an issue. But figured that “she’ll just eat a hamburger tomorrow. I can stop this anytime.” But she couldn’t. The thought of eating more reignited the anxiety.

She says an eating disorder is like “living with a bully in your head. It bosses you around and makes you feel validated and worthy if your weight is as low as possible.”

For months somehow she lived on 200 calories a day — one-tenth of the recommended total.

“I noticed my health decreasing rapidly,” Wasmund recalls. “I couldn’t even work out anymore. I would be afraid to go to sleep because my heart was acting very weird at times. One day, while on duty, I collapsed as I was leaving the building. My commanding officer sped me to the hospital and they were worried that I was having a heart attack. My heartbeat was so low, and I was scared for my life.

She fessed up to her commanding officer who helped her get assistance.

“My commanding officer took me under his wing as he knew I’ve been going through a tough time for a while,” she says. “He found a rehab and drove me there himself the next week. He will always be someone I will remember and be grateful for. He said, ‘I promise your days won’t always be this dark. You will find your path, Frayah, you deserve a good life.”

The officer was right. Though little did he — or she — know that path would be on trails.

“He also said, ‘You can do anything you set your mind to. I wish you would believe that. Finish something. Finish rehab. Go out in life, find your passion, and finish your goals. If you start completing your goals — you will find your path in life.”

Apparently that meant ultra running. “I went to rehab for four months,” she recalls. “It was hard. I struggled a lot in the beginning. I got through it and was able to go back to my job in the Coast Guard. Life wasn’t easier but I had coping skills now to never allow myself to get that unhealthy again.”

Advice from one who’s been there

Perhaps what she learned the most about her experience is that in order to recover, you must find a way to love yourself.

“It’s not about the food,” she says. “It’s about how we view ourselves and how we cope with things. You must be patient and understanding of yourself. You must be forgiving of your mistakes and know that you can’t control what people think and feel about you. You must see the beauty in your imperfections.”

And, of course, it’s important to connect with people who are positive influences.

Surround yourself with people who value YOU, not your physical appearance,” she says. “Surround yourself with things that matter in the world. Regardless of having an eating disorder or not — if you are having a hard time with depression/anxiety/self-esteem — seek help. You truly do not need to suffer. You don’t have to think the way you are thinking. You can change your thinking and it will change how you view the world. People can you help you get there. You do deserve a wonderful life — and it starts with liking/accepting who you are. You must believe that you deserve that, because you do.”

Some believe that those with eating disorders never truly recover. Wasmund doesn’t necessarily agree with that sentiment.

“Since doing ultras, I’ve learned how important it is to be strong and healthy,” she says. “The feeling of wanting to finish and to do this sport has been the first thing I found that could defeat the temptation of coping by having an eating disorder. I have my children/husband AND the ultra community, and I feel 98 percent recovered. I mean it when I say how lucky I am to do this sport. I’ve put my body through hell, and I can’t believe I went from almost losing my life to finishing 100s.”

Wasmund admits she is often too hard on herself and expects to much out of herself. It’s different now, however, as she understands how to apply coping skills to issues. That allows her to be more accepting.

Inspired by her grandfather

Looking back at her early races, Wasmund pushed her limits.

“I still battled inner demons and tried to figure myself out at the same time,” she recalls. “It seemed like this metaphor of completing difficult or long races meant I could also get my life back on track. Completing these races would boost my self-love, self-confidence and self-worth. I started to like myself again. I started to feel purpose. It allowed my mind to get out of this darkness and see the beauty in the world.”

It’s a lesson she carries with her today.

“I think of how lucky I am to even be doing this,” she says. “If my brain gets too congested with doubt, I try my best to just think ‘Hey, how COOL is this? I’m running 100 miles in the woods, that’s pretty awesome.’”

During races sometimes that “inner bully” can resurface in her head. Wasmund has learned to let it talk but ignore it.

“I remember that hard moments will pass, but only if I keep putting one foot in front of the other,” she says. “Luckily, I do have a little voice that I DO listen to, which says ‘Keep going; there is a finish line. There is a lot of time for a lot to happen.’”

Wasmund attributes her successes in racing to her steel determination to cross the finish line and the man she looks up to.

“I was losing the most important person in my life, and the only true male role model I’ve ever had, my grandfather,” she recalls. “He was dying from dementia and it shattered my world. I gave him all the medals I earned with racing that year because running was the only way I could deal with the pain of knowing I was losing him. I hope he was proud of me. He was a forester and loved the beauty of the world. Maybe I have a little of him in me when it comes to how I want to live.”

Speed drill

Name: Frayah Wasmund

Hometown: Madison, Wis.

Number of years running: 7

How many miles a week do you typically run: 60 to 80

Point of pride: My children and husband.

Favorite race distance: 100 miles

Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Peanut butter/honey bagel. Harvest bowls. Water. Pedalite.

Favorite piece of gear: Handhelds.

Favorite or inspirational song to run to: “I can handle it” by Steven Furtick

Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: “A lot can happen if you keep putting one foot in front of the other.”

Where can other runners connect or follow you:

• Instagram: Frayah1

• Snapchat: Frayah1

• Blog:

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