Lindsey Herman overcomes eating disorder to find, spread joy
Editor’s note: The following story is about an ultra runner who has overcome an eating disorder. Please note that for those dealing with similar issues, this may be triggering. If you or a loved one is battling an eating disorder, consider visiting the National Eating Disorders Association at www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
By Henry Howard
Lindsey Herman grew up in Albuquerque, N.M., playing soccer and doing Alpine ski racing. While she liked running and her dad ran marathons, she never joined the high school track or cross-country teams.
“I always enjoyed running,” she says. “In soccer when we had to do fitness practices or sprints as punishment, those were my favorite practices. And in high school, every summer I would talk to the cross country coach and really try and get him to believe that I was considering doing cross country instead of soccer so that he would let me go to their 6 a.m. summer practices. But I always knew that I was just going to play soccer.”
Herman is goal-oriented and needed a bigger challenge as a teen. So she set out to do a marathon before turning 17.
As luck would have it the Duke City Marathon in Albuquerque was the day before her 17th birthday. She downloaded a 12-week training plan from the race website. This was during soccer season so she was already in shape and progressively built up her running mileage.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” she admits. “My goal was that I just wanted to finish a marathon.”
Herman completed her goal and the race around the 4:00 mark. Afterward, she kept up with running, focusing on the longer distances.
“I'm one of those people who's just competitive about everything that I do, even when there's no need to be competitive at all,” she says. “I remember telling myself, ‘OK, Lindsey, just keep running for fun. This is going to be your one thing you just do for fun.’ Now here I am and it's my one thing that I want to be really competitive about.”
Her fitness and competitive drive helped fuel her recent victory at the Silver Rush 50. Still, Herman has overcome a lot from her journey from skiing competitively in college to battling an eating disorder to running ultra marathons.
An end to skiing
Herman attended college at Western Colorado University, which is in Gunnison, Colo., where she calls home now. She picked Western so she could race on its Alpine ski team. After her freshman year in May 2017, things took a dramatic turn.
She went to train with the U.S. ski team at a speed camp, like the downhill and Super-G events in the Winter Olympics where competitors go 50 to 70 miles an hour. “This was a really cool opportunity to train with them,” she says.
About 90 minutes into the first day, the team was going over some rolling hills.
“We weren't doing anything crazy and no one before me was catching much air,” she says. “I was thinking they’re probably going into it even faster than I will and I won't catch air. When I landed, one of my skis came off and the other one didn't and it just took my leg with it.”
Herman fractured her femur and tibia, and tore up her knee. “I was on crutches for six months, not even walking for six months. That kind of ended my interest in skiing.”
She eventually got surgery five months later.
"Skiing was not the same for me anymore," she says. “I used to be the person who wasn't afraid of anything ski racing. Now I enjoy skiing for fun but I don't want to risk anything.”
Path to running
Thankfully for Herman, Western had a trail running team that she was able to run with for four years. The team competed in distances from half marathon to 50 miles.
“That was when I got more serious about running and wanted a bit more structure to my running. Then my last year on the trail running team, which was in 2019 to 2020, was when I really started ramping it up and taking it more seriously.”
During the summer of 2019 her boyfriend got a job in Denver for the summer. She worked at her dad’s restaurant there and started taking her running seriously. She told her boyfriend, "When we get back to school this fall, I want to be the fittest person on the trail running team."
Herman ran mostly around roads in Denver, regularly twice a day except for a rest day on Saturday.
“I think it started to come from an unhealthy place,” she says of her training. “I have a history of an eating disorder, and so while I am thankful that I started focusing on running and found my passion for running, it also became a very unhealthy thing really quickly.”
Facing an eating disorder
When she replaced her skis with running shoes, she unknowingly stepped into an eating disorder. (Help is available by visiting the National Eating Disorders Association website.)
While ski racing, she was lifting regularly and her legs were really strong. As a runner, she compared herself with her teammates and didn’t think she “looked like a runner.”
“I don't know if it's because of my perfectionist personality, but it caused me so much distress,” she says. “I remember crying about it all the time. I felt like I didn't look like a runner. I'm healthier now, but then my hardworking or all-or-nothing personality was like, ‘OK, this summer I'm putting my head down and I'm going to look like a runner and I'm going to look like all those other girls and I'm going to be the best one on the team.’ It was not a balanced approach.”
Herman regularly checked the scale, multiple times a day. What fueled her eating disorder was the comparison with others and also an unhealthy relationship.
“I think there were some insecurities from the other side of the relationship that were being taken out on me and I was very easy to control because I'm a huge people pleaser,” she says. “I had someone who didn't know anything about running telling me to do these things, and telling me that I didn't look like a runner.”
While Herman didn’t count calories, she clearly aimed at being calorie deficient, regardless of that day’s workouts.
“I knew nothing about what my needs were, but I took the approach of being in a super big deficit so I don't have to worry about it,” she admits. “Since I’m competitive about everything that I do, that definitely bled into that too. I feel like I got to a point where I didn't care about anything. Eating disorders are really tricky. They can start with a person just trying to be healthy but it becomes very unhealthy very quickly. I quickly got to the point where I didn't care that I knew that it was bad for me.”
A rough patch
But her family and friends cared.
They started reaching out to Herman, concerned about her rapid weight loss. At that point, she was the smallest she’d been since middle school. Still, she convinced herself that because she wasn’t on a specific diet, she would be fine.
“I got very defensive, and thought that they're just jealous of me. They just don't want me to be successful," she recalls.
Herman returned to school in the fall.
“It was rough because the other tricky thing about eating disorders is oftentimes you get a lot of compliments,” she explains. “That made it worse because people said, ‘Whoa, Lindsey looks awesome. You look so good. You look so fit.’ That's the problem. I wasn't fit. I was weak. And I was miserable.”
Isolation leads to change
Herman returned to running but suffered an injury at the end of the trail season. That also kept her on the sidelines during the spring season.
After graduating in May 2020, she started working with coach David Roche after a prompt from her teammate, Maddie Hart. As the pandemic shut down life as we knew it, Herman stayed on campus. Her isolation made her realize that she needed a change. (Hart is another former skier who has found success in ultras. Revisit our interview here.)
“At the time I'd already been working with a dietician and a therapist, but it was too much,” she recalls. “They were awesome, but I needed more than that.”
Even though she was a new client of Roche, she texted him, saying that she thinks that she needs to go to an in-patient eating disorder center.
“Of course, in the David Roche way, he responded, ‘Oh my god, this is so exciting. This is the best. This is the best decision.’ He was so excited and encouraging."
In July, Herman went to Opal Food and Body in Seattle, based on Roche’s recommendation and because she knew that facility helped Amelia Boone. “She's a bad-ass athlete and she went there, so it's probably good. I should go there too."
The three-month stay was challenging but rewarding. Herman missed the small town of Gunnison. She just wanted to run and go home. She cried every night.
“I definitely wanted to leave every single day,” she says. “It was the hardest thing I've ever done. It was so different. But I knew that it was worth it because I knew how miserable I was before I went. I didn't know what I'd go back to if I didn't do this."
Fueled with joy
Herman’s competitive drive comes from her dad, who was a runner, soccer player and competitive Nordic skier.
“I would go running with him when I was younger, so I was always trying to keep up with him,” she recalls. “I have an older brother who now is not into athletics, but he always did the sports before me when I was younger, so I was always trying to keep up with him and wanted to be better than my older brother. I think that's where it comes from. And my dad's side of the family also has a lot of perfectionists.”
After recovery from her eating disorder, she was fueled with joy from Roche and the competitive spirit that flows through her genes.
On July 10, Herman lined up for her second 50-miler, the Silver Rush 50 in Leadville, Colo.
“The coolest part for me about this race was that it was direct evidence that thinner is not faster,” she says. “The 50-miler that I did in 2019 started out at 5,000 feet and had 3,000 feet of gain. And Leadville started at over 10,000 feet, had 8,000 feet of gain, and went above 12,000 feet a few times, and I finished the most recent 50-miler hours before I finished the other one.”
And no woman finished Silver Rush faster than Herman this year, who won with a time of 8:02:15.
Shoot your shot
On race morning, she felt good and decided to push it to see what would happen. Or, shoot your shot, as Roche advises.
"Maybe I should go for it a little,” she thought. “The worse that's going to happen is I'm going to blow up and I'll move on and I'll do another race. I knew that I needed to be smart and I tried to stay comfortable. It was interesting because a lot of people at the beginning kept telling me that I was going too fast, especially the men that I was passing.”
Herman led most of the race, even though she went off-course briefly twice. With about four miles to go, the realization dawned on her.
“I kept looking back and I didn't see anyone,” she says. “I knew I was getting really close to the end. I was getting pumped up, thinking, ‘All right, this might actually happen.’"
Close to the end, she saw flagging going two ways.
“I had no idea which way I was supposed to go. I ended up adding over a mile of single track. I figured the second-place woman definitely passed me by now."
Feeling defeated, Herman returned to the point where she went off course and there was a volunteer fixing the flags.
“I was kind of bummed,” she says. “I could hear the finish. And I got to the top of a steep ski slope and I heard the announcer say, ‘The first woman," and they were holding the tape out for me to run through and I was like, ‘Whoa, I still got it.’ I really didn't know until right at the end.”
Win, lose or get totally lost, Herman exudes positivity. It’s a trait that she had as a child but was masked while she struggled with her eating disorder.
“I think my eating disorder took away all of my joy,” she says. “I was not that person any longer. Because when you're not fueling your body, you're miserable all the time and you're annoyed with everyone and you can't think about anything except for food. I’ve learned some of that finding joy from David. I credit Megan and David so much with my outlook on life now and running. I am so thankful for them. I feel way more joyful than I've ever felt before.”
Name: Lindsey Herman
Hometown: Albuquerque, N.M. (Currently calling Gunnison, Colo., home.)
Number of years running: Running for fun — since I can remember. Running for fun, but with some bonus structure — two or three years.
How many miles a week do you typically run: 55 to 70
Point of pride: “Dropping everything to go into partial hospitalization for an eating disorder in 2020 so that I can chase epic athletic and life dreams now!”
Favorite race distance: “To be determined. Currently, I am loving 50K to 50-mile distances. Half marathons are fun, too. Every distance is a unique adventure and I am here for all of it!”
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: “Before long runs, my go-to is an English muffin with almond butter and banana. This might seem boring, but I ALWAYS make sure it is arranged in the shape of a smiley face on my plate. That way, I know I am getting ready for FUN! Coffee is a non-negotiable.”
Favorite piece of gear: Coros Apex watch.
Who inspires you: “This is a hard one. I am so inspired by so many people! If I had to pick one person right this moment, it would probably be my step-mom, Emily. She is a total badass. Athletically, Megan Roche, Amelia Boone and Danielle Snyder are some of the women I look up to most. Collectively, the entire SWAP team inspires me on a daily basis!”
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: “I CANNOT STAND music when I run. ’Til I Collapse by Eminem has been my favorite pre-run hype song lately, though!”
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: “My life mantra is based on an excerpt from a Walt Whitman poem, ‘Strong and content, I travel the open road.’ A recent favorite of mine, though, has been ‘Crush bitches.’ They are both equally meaningful to me in life and athletics!”
Where can other runners connect or follow you: