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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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?