Over the weekend, one of my favorite running bloggers, Dorothy Beal with “Mile Posts” posted a new hashtag: #IHaveARunnersBody.” If you already know her and follow her work in the running community even a tad bit, you know she is the creator of the #IRunThisBody movement. You may have seen people wearing apparel that sports that mantra. I personally have a shirt of hers that I bought 3 years ago. Weirdly, I don’t wear it that often because either I ordered a size too small or I refuse to acknowledge that the problem is me and my crappy laundry skills. Regardless, the mantra is out there and it makes sizable waves. When Dorothy posted her first “I Have A Runner’s Body” picture on Instagram, I instantly wrote her my support and praise of it. What a perfect little phrase to go along with with “I Run This Body.” It’s kind of like when you see an infomercial selling a product that mindlessly solves any number of every day problems and all you can think is, “Why didn’t I think of that?” But I believe God uses people in any variety of ways, and it’s clear that Dorothy should be the one to spearhead this movement.
The next morning, I remembered the post and decided that I should find one of those “ugly” race photos I hid away in my cloud drive and post it in support of the “I Have a Runner’s Body” campaign. I just sort of thought, “Hey, I like that hashtag– I’ll help it get a little traction.” I almost posted a “real” picture of myself awhile back when Lauren Fleshman started her “Keeping It Real” campaign, but I just wasn’t brave enough. I almost did a couple of other times, but again, I reiterate I wasn’t brave enough. The Internet can be a cruel place; I just saw no reason to subject myself and one of my biggest vulnerabilities to anyone with cruel intentions. For some reason, this hashtag resonated with me, but that resonance didn’t come from nowhere.
I won’t go into detail here, but certain relatives liked to make it known to me that I wasn’t a “skinny Minnie” in my earlier years. Like every woman on the planet, I have struggled with insecurity about my body as a result of negativity becoming woven into my psyche. And like every woman on the planet, I focus more on what is wrong with my appearance. Heck, I started running as a way to fix what was wrong with it! Almost a decade and probably at least a hundred thousand miles later, I still don’t look the way I want to. That’s because I am aging the way I should expect: my metabolism is not in college anymore and now I have to worry about things like getting enough calcium and Vitamin D, doing more strength-training to stave off decreasing muscle mass, and eating right to ward off early heart disease if not love handles and bat wings. I also work full-time to support myself, have a social life, and other obligations. Frankly, I don’t have time to work on my body all day long, you know what I mean? Even when I got off my butt in 2004 and started working out in my dorm room with a Denise Austin video, I still didn’t look like a supermodel. I just ended up with a smaller, leaner version of myself– that’s how weight loss works. Good enough for me: my fitness lifestyle had begun. Running came along when I got bored with Denise Austin.
Just as recently as a few months ago, an acquaintance of mine introduced me to her visiting relative. My acquaintance introduced me, saying, “Sara runs a lot of marathons.” Her mother sort of cast off the comment with a pleasantry, which I didn’t think too much of because at least I didn’t get the typical “you’re crazy” response, but another acquaintance joined the group just then and, upon her daughter’s introduction, her mother says, “Oh, now YOU look like a runner. You have a runner’s body.” She said that to someone after having just been introduced to a marathoner who also happened to still be part of the conversation. Needless to say, it was incredibly hurtful and a little humiliating, regardless of whether she meant to slight me or not. I felt like someone had just shined a spotlight on my pear-shaped hips and thighs and compared them to my acquaintance’s very svelte physique. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had no right to be doing what I love simply because I didn’t look the part. I felt as though someone had caught me in a lie: “Surely, you can’t be a marathoner, because you don’t have the body.” Even if this woman didn’t mean to hurt me, it absolutely hit a nerve.
Why did one woman’s comment have such power over me? Because runners have a lot of insecurities, too, that we try to overcome with running. Here I was, a self-trained multi-marathoner who currently struggles with not feeling good enough for my sport when I STILL haven’t met my 3-year old 4:00 marathon goal or qualified for the Boston Marathon, who has been handed numerous setbacks with injuries, and who was now being reminded of yet another reason why I wasn’t good enough— and a seriously superficial reason at that.. Just because we runners run all the time doesn’t mean we are superhuman; yes you read that right. This woman’s comment illuminated my current struggle: that no matter how much I run, I can’t get rid of my problem areas. Even though I don’t run for weight loss anymore, I still run to maintain my weight but more so because it makes me happy.
What does it take to run a marathon, let alone several? It doesn’t matter. Because even after all this time, getting out the door for a run is still the hardest step I will ever take in running. It doesn’t matter what paces I accomplished, how many miles I ran in the months, weeks, or days leading up to my daily run: I still have to make the decision to try literally each and every single time I lace up my shoes. Yes, I love running, but I also love sitting on the couch with my latest crochet project binge-watching Netflix. I love running, but I also love sitting on the porch with a glass of Pinot. Some days, I admit, I don’t want to run. Some days, I choose not to run at all.
Ultimately, running is how I get through good times and bad times. I have looked terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days in the face and made the choice to run instead of go home and wallow on the couch. I’ve given up happy hours because I have to run. More often than not, I tie a vacation in with a race. I’ve met some of my best friends through running, too, and I know that’s how many couples have met. I’ve driven 8 hours in the middle of the night to run a 10AM marathon the next morning, I’ve run a marathon wearing a pair of Mickey Mouse ears, I have willfully laid as still as a rock in a loud, narrow, metal-clanging tube for 45 minutes when I thought I had a running-induced stress fracture in my hip, all because I love running so much. I’m not the only one who dares to make room in their lives for a run: ask anyone who wakes up at 4AM to get in a run before the sun comes up and they have to work 8 hours. In my opinion, as a certified night owl, that is something I could never do day in and day out.
I just really want to know: Why would anyone ever dream of implying that running isn’t for them when they don’t physically look a certain way? Why tell someone they don’t look the part when it’s very likely that running makes that person feel in charge of their life, their health, their happiness? Why would anyone dare to challenge a runner on how he or she looks when running might have saved that person’s life from a chronic, obesity-induced illness, a smoking or drinking habit, stress-induced anxiety, or grief and heartbreak? Why would anyone try to steal a person’s happiness with such a superficial reason as their physical appearance? This is why I’m calling a flag on the play: Everyone who makes the choice to get out and run for the good of their health and well-being has a runner’s body.
I didn’t post the photo because of that woman’s comment. Frankly, that was almost a year ago and, by that point, I had run countless races and had nothing to prove. Runners are used to hearing about how hard running is on the body, not typically anything related to our appearance as runners. However, once I posted the photo on Instagram, with the above anecdote and saying that I hated the photo because it shows the cellulite on my legs jiggling with my step, the support I received was overwhelming. I did NOT expect that response at all. Typically I get about 20-60 likes on a photo that I post, but even two days later, I’m still getting “likes” on it, which have topped over 400. My previous record “likes” on a picture on Instagram is around 120. I instantly gained about 300 new followers, but more important than that, there were scores of comments in support of me, telling me things like I am beautiful, strong, confident, a rockstar, an amazing runner, inspiring. Not a single negative comment or anyone telling me my body issues were in my head, or even anyone saying they wished they looked like me. And I read every single one of them, not just on my post but on Dorothy’s post when she re-posted my picture, which was also picked up by Women’s Running Magazine and the Virginia Wine Country Half-Marathon. Even the former New York City Marathon race director, Mary Wittenberg, commented on my picture! Instead of Internet bullies, I was lifted up by the ever-supportive and encouraging running community. I did not expect that, honestly, and it also taught me a humbling lesson to always expect the good from people.
If you get a few minutes, read Dorothy’s blog post about her new movement. You don’t have to do this, but I challenge you to post a picture of yourself running that you may not particularly appreciate, but at least try to see past any flaws you may have in it. Once you really give it a shot, you might see someone who chose to rise above your physical appearance and accomplish a goal you have for yourself. You might just be able to see past a now baby-less “baby bump” that once housed a human being for nine months or “thunder thighs” that powered through an ultra-marathon or “junk in the trunk” that keeps you from getting injured, or whatever ridiculous names we give our less-than-aesthetic body parts to cope with our insecurities. For me and my picture, I see legs that helped me get through 4 half-marathons in 2 months last year and all the miles that come with it and a smile on my face that says I know I am awesome, and that radiates the genuineness of doing what I love. That, you guys, is my runner’s body.
Be sure to follow @ihavearunnersbody on Instagram, and tag your photos with it. It’s already starting to change lives.
P.S. The old kindergarten advice still works too: If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.