When I was about 13 I read a trashy novel about a slim, attractive woman who had lost a great deal of weight and was in love with her best friend’s boyfriend. The part I remember is the man’s private thoughts toward this woman. He knew it was shallow of him, but he couldn’t help the idea that once a person was fat she would always be fat.
I don’t know if that’s why I started running the next year or not, but I do know I became fat sometime around age 7 and that I haven’t felt un-fat since.
My weight has definitely fluctuated up and down through the years, but even at my most fit I was never able to shake the fat kid stigma, at least not on the inside. I ran in high school and dropped from a size 14 to a 10, then I went to college and gained the weight back plus more, up to a size 16. I did the Weight Watchers diet for a few years, running occasionally for fitness. Then I moved to New Orleans and maintained a steady size 12/14 for a while…then crept up to a 14/16. I tried to regulate what I was eating but I kept backsliding.
In 2005 I had already put on a few pounds over the summer, but when Hurricane Katrina hit I descended into a depression worse than any I’d ever experienced. I didn’t have a job anymore so I slept constantly and when I wasn’t sleeping I was watching TV. I didn’t leave the house much. I got really really fat and cried constantly, to a breaking point with my partner. He didn’t know what else to do with me so he bought me an iPod. Oddly enough, it sort of worked.
See, the iPod made me think about running. That made me think about losing weight. The idea of losing weight made me happy. I snapped out of it and put on some loose pants (if you’ve ever been fat you understand that shorts are just stressful) and went outside and ran. But running made my knees hurt!
So I went to the doctor. The doctor weighed me in at 218 pounds–I’m 5’5″ for reference–and told me if I wanted to run I should lose weight. He told me every pound feels like three pounds to your knees when you run, and I should try other, less strenuous exercise before running.
So let me get this straight, I thought, I have to lose weight before I can run to lose weight? What bullshit!
I told my therapist, who asked how running made me feel. ”Free,” I remember saying, my mind filling with the feeling of cool air on my cheeks and sun on my face and that good burn in my legs that signified muscles getting stronger… I realized I was approaching all this backwards. Running wasn’t about losing weight, it was just about running!
So I went running again. Slower this time. More like run/walking. My thighs chafed. My pants rode up. My belly bounced. My lungs burned. I didn’t care. My knees hurt so I iced them and went slower. Slower. Slower. Then one day I graduated to running three miles straight through!
When you’re new to running training is all about building up strength to support your body, so when you’re fat and new to running, you need to build up more strength than a skinnier person might. You have to be extra strong because you have extra body to support. Your circulatory system has more gunk for oxygen to fight through, so your respiratory system has to work extra hard to keep your body moving. All this takes extra time, so you have to be extra patient with yourself.
Six years later my body is completely different. I weigh 154 lbs. I still have a lot of extra skin on my arms and legs and belly and sadly my fabulous fat-girl boobs are gone (thank god for push-up bras!). I still sometimes look in the mirror and wish that pesky arm flab would go away (maybe the bra isn’t the only one who should be doing push-ups) and I still get thigh-chafing on long runs. I became a size 8 (for the first time I can remember since I was 8) not long before my first marathon in 2010, but I gotta tell you, I usually still feel fat.
The difference is that I don’t care so much about being fat or skinny; I care much more about feeling good, and running makes me feel good. It keeps me from being depressed, it helps me focus on my goals, and it provides me with a much-needed escape from my crazy work life. If I happen to be slimmer as a result that’s great, but if I put a few pounds back on it won’t matter too much as long as I’m strong and fast!