This post has been floating around in my brain for quite some time, probably since I started running 5 years ago. I’ve never put it out there though. Talking about weight and body type is something that I feel is really important, but to actually do it feels so raw.
At 37 years old, I have plenty of history to share when it comes to my relationship with my body. I could tell you about the college years when I struggled with eating disorders or what three pregnancies in four years did to me. Instead I want to talk about my relationship to my body as a runner.
I have an average-sized body for a female human, but this body is anything but average when compared to other runners.
5 years ago, I gave birth to my youngest daughter and finally decided to reclaim my body. I could probably count on one hand the number of times I ran (on purpose) during my adult life, but because I don’t like to do anything halfway, I jumped right in and trained for a half marathon.
That first year of running was all about seeing what my body was capable of. I felt so proud of every mile I pounded out. I felt so proud of the gains I was making along the way. I remember one run when I ran a 12 minute mile and felt SO FAST. I slimmed down a bit and lost some of that baby weight, and I felt like a runner.
Something shifted sometime after that first year, though. The weight loss stalled. My pace plateaued. That newness and excitement of being a brand new runner faded. The biggest change, though, was that I stopped comparing myself to myself and started looking around at what other runners were doing, how other runners looked, and feeling like I didn’t measure up to my fellow running peers.
And there was a let down, especially when my body reached my current weight several years ago, and hasn’t really moved much since then. I guess, in my mind, I had always assumed that if I kept on running, my body would end up looking like a “runner’s body,” like Shalane Flanagan or something you’d see on the cover of a running magazine.
I’m 5’3, 155 lbs, and somewhere between a size 8 and 10. In the real world, I am incredibly average. I am muscular. I have curves. I have calves the size of tree trunks. In my day to day life, I have reached a pretty solid acceptance of my body. I have come a very long way from the self-loathing of my younger years, and can generally say, with a straight face even, that I am pretty happy with my body.
But here’s the rub. When I shift from regular self to my running self, I suddenly don’t feel so self-accepting. Around runners I feel like I am much larger than average. I look around and see people with the runner’s physique, light, lean, and effortlessly fast, and in comparison I feel like every step of mine is labored and heavy. I start to think how much faster I would be if I just dropped 15 lbs?
When I read running specific articles, I often feel like they are written by elite runners FOR elite runners. Just look at the photos! Could they be talking to me? Logically, I know this is untrue, but on my self-critical days, I read something like Jasmine’s sub-3 hour marathon post on Tuesday and feel like even trying to improve my current PRs is futile. I compare my pace, my weekly mileage, and my “non-runner’s body” to what I see and instantly go from feeling pride at my running accomplishments to a shame spiral of never being capable of doing what they do.
Some days I feel like a real runner and some days I feel like, because I don’t seem to look the part, that I’m just an imposter in the cool kids club. I stand in awe of the people Jasmine talks about who regularly bust out 80-90 miles a week, whereas my highest week of running ever was just over 40. When I broke the 40 mile threshold for the first time, I felt like the master of the universe. When I finally broke the 30 minute threshold for a 5k race, I felt like Shalane Flanagan.
And this is how it should be. I should celebrate every time I squeeze myself into an ultra-supportive sports bra and grasp for my running shoes in the early morning darkness and chase after my running dreams. I should pat myself on the back for even the slowest run, because it’s more than I ever thought myself capable of not that long ago. During my college years, I wasn’t properly fueled to even be able to run a mile. During my pregnancy years, my ankles swelled to balloons just from walking across a room. I’ve accomplished a lot as a runner.
The past 5 years of running have been the most humbling and rewarding years of my life. I’ve learned to challenge my thoughts about my body. I’ve learned to accept my body on its own terms and I fight constantly to not compare myself to those amazingly talented, dedicated, elite runners or anyone else.
So here’s to us, ourselves. We’re all just doing our thing and aiming for our own goals within our own lives. Just because we can only run 4 miles on the average weekday doesn’t mean we’re not as dedicated as someone who can run 10. We can rejoice just as much about running a race at 10:00 pace as someone else running it in 6:00 pace. My level of dedication and achievement has no relation to anyone else’s and either does yours.
My body has curves. My feet sort of make a clompity noise with each step of my run. I loathe any running shirt that’s “fitted” and I like to eat pizza and tacos and hot dogs. And even though runners who look like me won’t likely grace the cover of a running magazine any time soon, there are a lot of us out there, pounding the pavement, dripping with sweat, and striving from where we are just as hard as Shalane Flanagan is striving from where she is.
A body that runs is a runner’s body and a person who runs is a runner. Period.
Do you have a “runner’s body?” Do you have a different level of body acceptance as a regular person than you do as a runner?