RUNNING SCARED

TIMES STAFF WRITER

"I can't have an eating disorder. If I did, I couldn't be running as well as I am."

Kim Mortensen told herself that repeatedly for two years before learning she was suffering from anorexia nervosa.

Mortensen, a national champion in cross-country and a national record-setter in track during her senior year at Thousand Oaks High, has stopped running competitively.

She retains the athletic scholarship she earned from UCLA, but she might never run for the Bruins again.

Her health is her primary concern.

"It's been very difficult," Mortensen said. "I was in it for two years and it's taking just as much energy to deal with as it took me to run."

Anorexia nervosa is a disorder in which preoccupation with dieting and staying thin leads to excessive weight loss.

One percent of teenage girls in the U.S. develop anorexia and up to 10% of those might die as a result, according to The American Anorexia/Bulimia Assn.

Mortensen's anorexia can be traced to the summer of 1995.

That's when she began to cut fatty foods out of her diet and increase the intensity of her training so she could have a senior season she "could be proud of."

Fast foods were prohibited at that point, but her diet got progressively more strict.

Candy and cookies were eliminated. Fruit juices were out because they contain too many "empty" calories.

Granola bars and several types of nuts were soon added to the banned list because they contain small amounts of fat.

Breakfast typically included a cup of nonfat yogurt and an apple or a bowl of cereal and an apple.

Lunch was a sandwich, some carrots and perhaps an apple or orange.

Dinner included some form of carbohydrates, but in small portions.

Her daily intake of 800-1,500 calories was woefully inadequate for an athlete in training.

"I just felt so scared because I was so controlled about my eating," Mortensen said. "I wanted to be able to have less restraints on what I ate, but I couldn't. It was torture."

Kim's mother, Judy, herself a former anorexic, tried to get her daughter to eat more--with no success.

Kim would listen attentively as Judy told her why she needed to eat the additional food, but she couldn't put it into practice.

If Kim ate something extra in the morning, she subtracted something in the afternoon.

"You can only do so much," Judy Mortensen said. "It's like you can lead them to water, but they have to take the drink themselves."

Said Kim: "It was all about control. I felt that if I could be disciplined in all aspects of my life, I could be disciplined on the track. And no matter what happened, I could withstand any amount of pain out there."

Mortensen's intensive training and restrictive diet drastically altered her physique.

From competing at 115 pounds as a junior, the 5-foot-3 Mortensen withered to 95 pounds as a senior.

Eric Peterson, women's cross-country coach at UCLA, was so concerned about Mortensen's weight loss he asked her about it on a recruiting visit to the Mortensen home.

"I asked her what the biggest difference was between her junior year and her senior year," Peterson said. "There was a little silence and then she said, 'Well, I have lost a lot of weight.' I then said, 'Look, if there is something going on, let's get it out on the table.' "

Kim doesn't recall the question, but she said UCLA's team doctors closely monitored her weight and tried to limit her training regimen.

Dr. Aurelia Nattiv examined Mortensen before the start of her freshman cross-country season and advised her to limit her training to five runs a week with a cross-training workout on another day. But Kim often added a 60- or 90-minute hike to the equation without telling anyone.

Compulsive exercise is among the characteristics of someone suffering from anorexia and Mortensen constantly cleaned her dorm room or her parents' house when she returned home.

"I always had to be moving," she said. "I always had to be doing something. It was very compulsive. It was very obsessive. Everything just became a habit."

Her eating disorder also adversely affected her social life.

She'd make up excuses for not going out with friends because she was afraid they'd end up eating somewhere.

"It was emotionally very confining," she said. "It was almost like I was in prison because I began to isolate myself. It's confining because you can't go out with your friends because they're might be snacks or food around and everyone will be wondering why you're not eating anything."

Mortensen first suspected she might be anorexic midway through her senior year at Thousand Oaks, but her running flourished long after that.

After winning the national high school cross-country title in December of 1995, Mortensen set a national high school record in the 3,200 meters the following May.

Her 9:48.59 clocking in the Southern Section Masters Meet bettered the national outdoor record by more than 11 seconds and her 9:52.80 time in the state championships was the second fastest ever. Her career best of 4:44.9 in the 1,600 was the fastest in the nation that year and she was chosen Track & Field News magazine's national high school female athlete of the year.

When she signed a letter of intent with UCLA, Peterson called her "one of the most exciting distance runners I've ever seen at her age."

But Mortensen's friends worried about her health.

"They said something to me because of the obvious weight loss," Mortensen said. "But I just said, 'It's nothing. I'm fine. I'm feeling good.' I was like, 'If I'm really doing that bad, then how come I'm running the best times of my career?' I did that a lot."

Mortensen's logic is common with anorexic athletes, said Dr. Angela Guarda, an assistant professor of psychiatry and director of the Eating Disorders Program at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

"Because they're training at such a high level, their performance does improve initially," Guarda said. "But eventually, there is a point of diminishing returns as the consequences of starvation or bingeing and purging behaviors impact on their endurance."

That point came at the end of Mortensen's freshman cross-country season at UCLA.

She was regarded as one of the top three or four college runners in the nation after finishing second to eventual NCAA champion Amy Skieresz of Arizona in the pre-NCAA meet and in the Pacific 10 Conference championships. But she failed to qualify for the NCAA championships when she finished 27th in the District VIII meet.

A hamstring injury played a part in her disappointing performance, but Mortensen felt listless the week before the race.

"I think that was my body's way of saying, 'No more,' " she said.

Mortensen sat out her freshman track season after her weight dropped to 87 pounds in January of 1997, but she placed first and second in her first two cross-country races last fall before being sidelined with a stress fracture in her lower back.

The stress fracture, which typically occurs in elderly women, not 19-year-olds, was the injury that forced Mortensen to confront her disorder.

"I realized I had a problem before then," Mortensen said. "But the stress fracture showed me how much damage I was doing."

Tests revealed Mortensen suffered bone loss, common in anorexics.

The bone loss influenced Mortensen's decision to take a break from running and deal with her anorexia.

She sees a psychologist once a week, eats three balanced meals a day and has spent much of the summer working as a counselor in a kids' day camp in Thousand Oaks.

"I'm learning a lot about myself," she said. "I'm learning that I was such a perfectionist that I felt like I shouldn't need help. Asking for help was like showing weakness."

Guarda says people with eating disorders tend to be "perfectionistic overachieving introverts who are eager to please others and are sensitive to criticism."

Mortensen says she fits that description.

"I was a very compliant child," she said. "I tried to be perfect in everything I did. I tried to be the perfect child for my parents and I always tried to help everyone else. I was a people pleaser. I'm finding out that it's OK not to be perfect. It's OK to make mistakes."

There are times Mortensen misses running, but she doesn't want to return to the sport until she has beaten her anorexia.

She's using the time off to become more involved in things such as her church choir.

"We're just hoping that she'll be able to deal with [the anorexia]," Judy Mortensen said. "And with her talent for running, we're hoping she'll eventually get back into that--but with the proper perspective and balance.

"I would like to see her run again, but not make it so all encompassing in her life. She just didn't have another life before. Running was everything."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Making Her Marks

When Kim Mortensen ran 9:48.59 in the firls' 3,200 meters as a senior at Thousand Oaks High in 1996, she broke the national high school outdoor record by more than 11 seconds. The following are the all-time national and regional performer lists in the 3,200.

ALL-TIME U.S. LIST

*--*

Time Individual School Year 9:48.59 Kim Mortensen Thousand Oaks '96 10:00.0c Mary Shea Cardinal Gibbons, N.C. '79 10:03.07 Erin Keough Langley, Va '87 10:03.0 *Suzie Tuffey Bergan, Ill. '84 10:04.2 Cory Schubert San Jose Del Mar '83 10:06.2c Cheri Williams Livermore '78 10:07.5c *Lynn Bjorklund Los Alamos, N.M. '74 10:07.9 *Kim Whitaker New Braunfels, Texas '83 10:08.0 *Patty Matava Bellvue, Wash. '82 10:09.0c Martha White State College, Pa. '78

*--*

ALL-TIME REGION LIST

*--*

Time Individual School Year 9:48.59 Kim Mortensen Thousand Oaks '96 10:11.79 Vickie Cook Alemany '82 10:15.79 Denise Ball Newbury Park '82 10:16.42 Amy Skieresz Agoura '95 10:19.10 Tania Fischer Chaminade '83 10:19.55 Andrea Neipp Highland '97 10:19.63 Deena Drossin Agoura '91 10:26.75 Michelle Mason Buena '81 10:29.96 *Melissa Sutton Newbury Park '86 10:34.90 Jeannie Rothman Westlake '91

*--*

c--converted from a two-mile time. Times in hundredths are fully automatic. To convert hand times to fully automatic times add .14 to hand times. *--junior. Others are seniors.

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