On Being A Fat Happy Runner – A Guide to Plus Size Running

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has written 5 posts on Salty Running.

My big head

Hey, that’s me!

Hello, everyone!  I suppose I should open by introducing myself. I’m Joy, and I blog at My Year To Thrive.  I was really excited when Cinnamon contacted me about guest posting at Salty Running to talk about being a plus-size runner who runs for fun and health without the goal of weight loss.

On my personal blog I write about running as a short, fat, Bipolar woman.  Yes, it is just as fun as it sounds! I am a big advocate for HAES (Health At Every Size) and for people to run in the body they have now rather than saying, “I’m waiting until I lose some weight.”  My mother was one of those women who was always waiting till she lost weight and that stuck with me.  Running is amazing for both your mental and physical health, and I think almost anyone who can put one foot in front of the other can do it, even if they start out a snail’s pace (guilty).

It can be very intimidating to get started running for those of us in bigger bodies for a number of reasons.  It’s harder to find gear, and people can be rude when you try.  Sales people balk at the idea you’re a runner.  I get sales people who don’t believe I’m running.  When I ask for running shoes, they steer me to the walking shoes and keep referring to me as “walking” no matter how many times I correct them.   In a running thread about finding gear for a plus-size women one woman reported going into a store and being told, “If fat people ran, they wouldn’t be fat, would they?” when she asked for things in her size.

For me, another biggie is the feeling that everyone is waiting for me to fail…again.  I tried so many diets, exercise routines and lifestyle changes before HAES, but all of them were attached to the idea of weight loss, and when I didn’t see results they went out the window.

I let go of the idea of weight loss when I got serious about running. I had been reading some HAES blogs and the idea finally stuck with me. I loved running too much to risk it becoming another weight loss casualty, so I changed the way I thought about my body and the expectations of how it should look.  This doesn’t stop people from assuming I do it to lose weight, or from regularly asking me how much weight I’ve lost.  I tell them I run because I love it and my weight is an irrelevant topic.

I like to talk about how I got started running because I was always the girl who hated running and it’s nice to know not all people are born runners.  It’s intimidating to look at someone you know you’ll probably never be and still try to do what they’re doing.  My mission is to let anybody who wants to run know they can.  You just need to start where you are instead of where other people are.  Trust me, they didn’t start out there either! You’re probably looking at years of hard work.

The Great Gazoo talking to Fred Flinstone.

Know how you hate to run? Do that.

When I was 34 something happened. I was walking one day, when magically a little voice said “run”.  I said, “huh?” So it said “RUN!  It’ll be fun.”  So I ran.  I think I made it one slow minute, but I did it.  Then I sprinkled a few more minutes into that run & subsequent ones.  I even started to string those minutes together.  It felt amazing.  I felt amazing.  There have been some stops and starts, but it’s the starts that count, right?

Getting Started
I didn’t use any particular plan when I started–I stink at plans–but I did some research and cobbled together an intervals-based plan that felt right for me.  First and foremost, I would be remiss if I did not mention Salty Running’s own beginner running plan, which also offers you the benefit of following Nutmeg as she navigates the beginner waters.  Couch to 5K is probably the most popular online running plan and, well, they have an app for that.  Running stores often have beginner running courses as well.  Whatever you choose, walk/run intervals (some people call it “wogging”) are the way to go, and you should progress at a rate that is comfortable for you.  Running generates a lot of extra force on your joints and your body needs time to adjust and build up your infrastructure so it’s important to start out slow regardless of size.

duct taped foot

Duct tape makes a great blister cover when it’s time to run.

Resources
People say running is free, but anyone who has run for a while can tell you that’s not entirely true. As a beginner you will need at least a  good pair of running shoes (the “running” part is very important), comfy clothes you can move in and a good sports bra.  There are also socks to think about. You could never know how important the right pair of socks is until you get a giant blister–because cotton socks are usually not the best choice.

Shoes
No. 1 most important thing for a runner.  When you start, if you are at all able, go to a running store and get fitted. They will analyze your gait (while you run on a treadmill with a camera at your feet – you get to watch your feet on a TV!) and help you pick out the best shoes for you.  A great thing about running shoes is a lot of them come in wide widths (editor’s note from Cinnamon: If you’re looking to try on a wider shoe in the store, try mens’ shoes, since their standard width is our wide).  Once a professional has helped you learn what you’re looking for you can save money by shopping online and watching for sales.

Bras
The no. 2 most important thing for lady runners!  It’s hard to find a heavy duty sports bra appropriate for running in the women’s departments, especially if you have a cup size that can not be adequately described by any number of D’s, what follows is a list culled from other plus-size runners that will hopefully help.  And do not underestimate the value of a professional bra fitting! If you can do it, do it!

The hands down favorite among high impact sports bras for the chesty set is Enell.  They are spendy, but I’ve been assured they are worth it and they last. A few others I’ve heard good things about are Shock Absorber, Freya Active Underwire Sports Bra, and Anita Active Extreme Control Sports Bra.  Champion is a perennial favorite, but they stop at DDD.

If you are unable to find or afford one (because when your boobs need scaffolding, it‘s not cheap), you can double or triple up. I wear two bras when I run.

Clothing
It can be frustrating to look for running togs in the plus-size department, and most of what you’ll find is going to be plain dark colors.  The problem is compounded if you are looking for technical gear.  The only really important think is to look for clothes that are comfortable and fit well.

For stores you can walk into, I’m told J.C. Penney has added a lot of plus-size active wear and their Made for Life line is budget friendly and ranges up to 24/26 or 3X.  There isn’t much where I live so I get most of my stuff at Walmart. They have some decent leggings, capris and shorts, as well as tanks and t-shirts, and of course they’re budget friendly.  I especially like their Danskin & JMS gear.  They carry up to a 5X.  Lane Bryant has partnered with Reebok and added athletic gear to their stores. They carry up to a 26/28 or 4X.

There are more options online these days for plus-size athletes. I have a long, detailed thread on the Fit Fatties Forum for plus-size active wear. You need to be a member to see it, but for active plus-size women or anyone interested in a HAES oriented space to discuss activity, I think it’s worth joining. It’s free, so what have you got to lose if you don’t like it? The thread is especially worth it for all the information other women give about how items fit their body shape, the quality, and a few brands to avoid.  Some of the favorites are Junonia, Athleta, Team Estrogen, REI, & Old Navy (online only).

Sundries
Anti-Chafing products are extremely important, especially as your mileage goes up.  Body Glide is the #1 choice among runners.  A newer contender is Monistat Soothing Care Chafing Relief Powder-Gel.  This is what I use and can confirm it works well and isn’t messy.  I’ve read glowing reviews for Secret Shield Skin Barrier Balm, a handmade, veg-friendly product.  Then there’s the old standard of layering Petroleum jelly and baby powder; basic, cheap and widely available. It works great.

For things like fuel belts, mp3 armbands and watches/GPS, the biggest thing is to make sure they are going to fit you.  If not, many brands sell extenders and you can get new bands for watches.

 

I hope this helps a little for those thinking about getting started running and those of you who are already fat happy runners.  When I tell people I’m running and get eye rolls, or when everyone seems to be waiting for me to give up, I remember they don’t define me.  Don’t let other people tell you who you are.  Show them.

Thanks to Salty and her team for letting me visit with you today!  I would love to hear about your own experiences and what has worked for you!

What about it, Salties? Do you have experience as a runner of size or with other runners who are plus-sized?

 

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43 Responses to “On Being A Fat Happy Runner – A Guide to Plus Size Running”

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  1. Salty Salty says:

    Thank you so much, J! I love this post for so many reasons. I totally agree that to be happy and to “become a runner” one needs to do it for reasons other than how she expects running to make her body look. Running won’t make us all look like Shalane Flannagan or even fit into “standard” sized clothing. But running can make us all feel empowered and enable us to become our best selves. When we focus on the health benefits or on our performance and enjoyment of running, itself, that’s when we discover the true magic of it! Non-runners think we’re nuts. I like to think they’re just not enlightened to this truth :) Thanks again! I hope we get many many many women to quit waiting for the right time and get out there today!

    • J. says:

      Thank you! I hope so as well. I know too many people waiting on someday to do what they want, & someday just never seems to come around.

  2. Mint says:

    I love this post too, Joy. I always like seeing people of all sizes at races and in running groups. I have often heard snarky comments about overweight people running and I always reply with what are you talking about – they are out there doing it – that is awesome! I just don’t see why people are so judgmental about it and admittedly, some of your stories made me shudder some. People can be so rude.

    I had never heard of HAES before but I love the concept because I too know so many people who will start a fitness regimen (including running) and quickly quit because it does not work for weight loss. If you can embrace and enjoy running, that is a wonderful thing, no matter what size you are.

    • J. says:

      Thanks, Mint! Yeah, people can be pretty judgmental about a lot of things. I’m thankful that so far the worst I’ve gotten is people assuming I’m not really running. I have heard a lot worse from people, so I feel pretty lucky.

  3. Rachel says:

    “…for people to run in the body they have now rather than saying, ‘I’m waiting until I lose some weight.'”

    Yes!!! I loved this whole post but I think this sentence is sooo important! I have no clue why some people are judgmental when they see bigger runners… running is awesome and everyone should be doing it, in my opinion :) And (as I like to remind myself because I am not very fast) no matter how slow you are running (or wogging!), think about how much more you are doing than the average sedentary American!

    (plus I just want to second Cinnamon’s note about men’s shoes, for any other wide-footed women out there… although New Balance and some others offer D width women’s shoes, branching out into men’s shoes with my first pair of trail shoes, which fit me better than any shoe EVER, made me realize I had so many more options!!)

    • Mint says:

      Ooh – I meant to comment on that too (Cinnamon’s note). I never thought of that and I always have to go half a size up because the shoes are too narrow. Think next time I am going to try on the men’s instead! The men’s racing flat colors in the brand I like are much cooler too – bonus! :)

      • Salty Salty says:

        Mint, we are always opposites on what works for us and stuff like this. It cracks me up! I find most shoes are too wide! I especially cannot wear Saucony or Asics. Their shoes are just too wide for my feet. Mizuno, Brooks and Nike tend to work better for me. Now I know to stay far away from mens shoes! :)

        • Mint says:

          Haha! Well I wear Mizunos and their toe box is a wee bit too tight (read: black toenails) if I don’t size up. They used to do widths in my model, but haven’t for the last few years.

          • Salty Salty says:

            I love Mizunos, but next time you’re in the market check out Brooks. They are similar to Mizunos, but a touch wider in the toe-box for most models. PS I run for a team sponsored by Nike (who’s running shoes I discovered I loved after not wearing them since HS!), not that you’d ever know it – LOL!

      • Cinnamon Cinnamon says:

        The men’s shoe colors are ALWAYS better. It drives me nuts!

    • J. says:

      Thanks, Rachel!

      I think I might have tried on a pair of men’s shoes when I was fitted at the running store. I tried on so many though, most of them are a blur. My biggest problem w foot fit though is my feet are wide at the ball, but narrow through the heel. For me I find Saucony’s women’s wide fits me the best, & the salesperson showed me how to use the extra holes at the top of the shoes to get a better fit in the heel. (OMG I never knew those had an actual purpose! Just another reason to get a fitting at your LRS.)

  4. Boobs that need scaffolding — love that! but yes, I agree, two bras work great
    . I call it double-bagging!

    • J. says:

      Thanks, Jennifer! I remember when I read somewhere about layering your bras if one wasn’t enough, & it was like the clouds parted. Definitely one of those moments when I could have kicked myself for not thinking of that.

  5. Mint says:

    Joy – check out the new entry on I <3 to Run's Facebook page called "Hey, Fat Girl."

    http://www.facebook.com/benefitsofgiving

    Perfect timing to complement the points made in your post. :)

  6. Ginger Ginger says:

    Yay! So happy to have you guest post! I enjoyed reading about how you started running. I think that’s something anyone at any stage, size, age, etc. can relate to when they take the first steps. Great post!

  7. G says:

    Love this! I’ve gone through a lot of the same stuff as a fat runner. I had the same kind of “aha!” moment– when I realized I wanted to run, and decided I wouldn’t put it off until my body looked a certain way. (I credit HAES and Fat Acceptance for helping me to accept my body and stop doubting what I was capable of.) It’s still not easy, but over the years I’ve gotten lots better at running, and people are really mostly supportive– if a little surprised. :)

    • J. says:

      Thanks! I really enjoy following your active adventures. We’ve talked about lifting especially, so it’s really inspiring to see what all you’re getting up to.

  8. Mary Trieu says:

    Love this post! This post really spoke to me. As a 5’3″, 200+ pound runner who runs for health and not just for weight loss, you really hit the nail on its head. Although, I haven’t received any negative comments when I tell people I’m a runner. Most people do automatically assume that I am running in order to lose weight or when I’m doing yoga or any other kind of sport. For instance, a few months ago, I was doing my usual 3 miles run around my neighborhood lake when a homeless guy asked me, “how much weight do you planned on losing?” I said, “not much”. Even though, I should’ve asked him how long he plans on being homeless. Ha! Anyways, I’m so happy you wrote this b/c I was thinking of blogging about the same thing. Thanks for the comprehensive post on being a Happy Fat Runner!

  9. Juney Li says:

    I read this in 2013 and Joy – you rock !

    I’m 199 lbs in a skinny Asian land. I know exactly how it feel… SIGH !

    It’s very good article. Thanks :)

  10. RacerWife7 says:

    I started running in August 2012 at about 206#. I’m only 5’4″ tall. So, that’s really heavy for my short frame. I bought my first running wear at Kohl’s. Their FILA line runs on the larger side. I bit the bullet and got myself a pair of black FILA leggings with neon green stitching and a FILA top that matched. They fit perfectly. Since then, I’ve lost 19 lbs and have moved down a size. …But, I still love the FILA line. ;) I highly recommend it. …Oh: there are a LOT more choices online than in the store. So, do look there. If need be, go to a store to try on a few things to get an idea of what size would work best for you. Then, search for Kohl’s coupon codes and go shopping online. FILA is an inexpensive line to begin with at Kohl’s. But, isn’t it SO much better when you can get 30% off of something that’s already on sale?? ;)

  11. Wonderful!! So many people think that they can’t run..but I think they are thinking of the end result instead of starting small and building up from there.. Way to go!

  12. Mandee says:

    I just started running a few weeks ago. I’m 31 year old plus sized diabetic. I just felt I needed to do something!! My boyfriend came home from his day with his buddies and told me one of them had found an app called Zombies, Run!. I immediately downloaded the 5k training version of it and am absolutely loving it! Since I’m not so in shape and have never run, I’m doubling up on each “week” of training (instead of only going through each week once I go through it twice). I couldn’t be happier! My endurance is slowly going up and I found I can now run a full minute multiple times during my runs. I think what helps is that I’m doing it for myself. I’m not doing it to lose weight but notice that I am. My boyfriend even downloaded the app and is running with me one day a week. I’m proud of myself for doing this. My goal is to participate in a fun 5k at the end of August even if I can’t run the entire way.

    • Mint says:

      That is awesome Mandee! Keep up the good work (and fun) and be sure to let us know how your 5k goes!

    • Cinnamon Cinnamon says:

      I’m so happy that you’ve found joy in running, and I think it’s great that you’re cycling through each week twice. It can be very difficult to have the patience to train slow, but the rewards of going easy on your body are so worth it. That said, don’t forget to stretch too!

      Yes please do keep us posted! And if you have any questions, just click the “Ask a Salty” link at the top of the page any time!

  13. Jacks says:

    Hi, I loved your post and wanted to add that I think you need to just get out there and do it too. If you wait for the right weight to run, you’ll never do it.
    I used to run all the time in senior school and loved it but I piled on the weight as a grown up.
    I recently took up running again as a 110.5kg adult (That’s 244 pounds for you non-Europeans!).
    Although I agree with the HAES idea and absolutely back the idea that you need to do what works for you and what makes you feel good, I am running for weight loss and that is my biggest motivator.
    Not to please other people but to please me.
    To enable me to walk into a shop and buy clothes that I like, not just clothes that will fit me.
    To do more fun other sports as well and be good at them. I love mountain biking but I would also love to have a go at a triathlon and also an adventure race.
    I want to improve my health to be around to watch my son grow up.
    At the risk of incurring the wrath of HAES supporters, is it really Health at EVERY size? If you’re classed as morbidly obese and your BMI is over 40, is that ever “healthy”
    Hmm. Maybe I’m getting in too deep on this? And maybe I should actually write about these thoughts on my own blog over at http://www.runfatbirdrun.com?!!
    Come and visit some time and let me know I’m not just talking to the ether…
    Jacks

  14. angie says:

    Thanks for writing this. I really needed to hear this today!

  15. Annie says:

    I started running at 320lbs. It has liberated me! I’ve done 5k races and haven’t even been last. I’m now down to 260, working my way up to one day do triathlons. :)

  16. Erin F says:

    6 weeks ago, I started a couch to 5k running program with an iphone app called “ease in to 5k.” I’m a fat woman who’s always done classes like Zumba, step aerobics, Nia, etc for exercise. I still like those classes. They are really fun and a good work out. But they don’t make me feel the way running has so far. When I started, moving up from 60 second running intervals to 3 minute intervals made me so nervous. But, I’m going through a big transitional phase in my life, and as a way to cope I decided to try something I’ve always thought I could not do. I’ve always thought I hated running, thought it was something my body just couldn’t do. “My boobs are too big.” “It will mess up my knees.” “I’m winded after running down the block.” The truth is, I thought I couldn’t do it because that’s the narrative I’ve been given as a fat person. That’s what the world tells us. I’ve also been harassed while exercising in public more times than I can count. I’ve been following the program religiously, and my body and my heart are surprising me at every turn. It turns out, I CAN run, and I love it. I LOVE RUNNING! How can this be?! Last night I ran the longest I have ever have: 20 minutes without stopping, about 1.7 miles. I’m closing in on my 5k goal – and I actually believe I can pull it off. Last night I started thinking, “maybe my body was made for running.” 2 months ago, the thought of running for 20 minutes straight seemed totally unattainable and even laughable. I’m still trying to find the right words to describe how powerful I feel in my body, how utterly liberating it is to develop a different relationship to fitness and my own strength of body and mind. Heartbreak has recently gutted me, and running is helping me come back to myself, to my power. This community is important. We need each other. I need support to keep going out, in spite of the yelling, the jeers, the stares. “You don’ t know me” often runs through my mind when people give me grief. I turn my music up real loud and only make eye contact with friendly people (and cats). It turns out: I didn’t know me. Thanks for writing this.

    • Salty Salty says:

      First of all, anyone who gives you grief is a raging asshole. You are awesome and a complete badass for ignoring all the naysayers, yourself included!

      Second, while I was never fat, maybe slightly pudgy when I started, I can otherwise identify completely with your story. I started doi run/ walk intervals almost exactly 9 years ago (8/1/04). I ran 30 minutes straight by the end of October. It felt like it took forever and each week I was nervous about overdoing it, but I made it and now I’m running a women’s running site, so you never know where it will take you.

      Good luck and keep up the excellent work. I’m rooting for you. Please keep me posted on your progresss!

  17. Jordan says:

    Timex GPS watch is fantastic and fits fine on my large wrists, with room to spare.
    reviewed in detail here
    http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2012/03/99-timex-marathon-gps-in-depth-review.html

  18. Jenn N says:

    Thanks so much for writing this. At 5’7″ and 250 pounds and having just started the C25K (and hating it!) program, I’ve found your post super helpful. I am looking for new sneakers, running sneakers. After 2 weeks of C25K, the shin splints are horrible when I run but I don’t want to give up on it.

    I found a great sports bra (I am a 38 H or J, depending on the type) here: http://www.barenecessities.com/product.aspx?pf_id=Glamorise1166 I barely fit into the G but it works much better than a double bra.

  19. LaShonda says:

    I just wanted to say thank you for just telling me I can do it… Just like you have yes big woman do run… As I was taking my walk I just wanted to run just start somewhere. I am 248 pounds and yes I do want to lose weight.. But I also always wanted to run, something that I told myself I would do if I just lose 40 to 60 pounds then I would start… But you are showing me and telling me… That I don’t need to wait I can start now…. Thank you so much for been a wonderful example to me all and all other plus size woman who have a dream to run… May god bless you.

  20. Tess says:

    I am 5’2″ and 257 pounds and have been running/jogging/walking for about a year now. I am not losing weight very fast – about 15 pounds lost. My biggest problem is that I am a pear. I don’t need a great bra, but wish I had something to hold my belly and butt compressed yet still let me move. I am using some 3X Nike dri-fit capris that are comfy, but I feel the strain on my lower back. Any suggestions? I have done 4 5Ks and my best time is just under 45 minutes.

  21. LisaW says:

    I just read this post, and I’m in week two of a Couch to Running program. I’m 5’5″ and close to 250 lbs. After just a few wogs, I’m already addicted! I do get looks in my ‘hood, but I’ve also had women and men shouting encouragement out car windows as they pass by. I’ve tried running before, but never a guided program, and well, I think I would overdo it, and quit soon after starting. This time, with a training app on my phone, I feel much more confident I will succeed. I have already signed up for a 5k in the fall, because I need that motivation. I feel SO much better reading Joy’s post, knowing there are other women out there like me – making that effort to improve their health – You Rock!!

  22. Spud says:

    Thank you for this blog and all of the posts. I have been walking for 2 months now after being a couch potato. I am part of Black Girls Run but thought I needed to lose weight (285lb, 5’4″) first. I am so encouraged now to get running. I walked my 5k in June but I am ready to run!

  23. Awesome post. You are encouraging because I am a walker and have not been able to progress to the a runner. You may get me there.

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