As a reminder, I am on vacation this week and planning to be ‘mostly offline’ – so I scheduled a few post ‘reruns’ from the very early days of the blog (when I had very few readers)! This one was originally posted here.
The other day in her otherwise great post, Laura said “I don’t even “look” like a runner”. My first thought was ‘SURE YOU DO!’ … but my second thought was ‘I know EXACTLY how you feel!’ In fact, just before I started this blog I did a guest post on the subject for Ann’s Running Commentary. Here it is:
Here’s a quick mental exercise: close your eyes and think of a large group of people. Maybe folks you work with, go to school with, ran your last race with, or whatever. Have them in your head? Great – now separate them into two categories: those WITH runner’s bodies, and those who do NOT have runner’s bodies. OK, now place yourself in a group.
First off, I am going to assume that most of you put yourself in the non-runner’s body group. If not, you probably don’t need to read this … at least not for yourself!
Next, I am going to further assume that the division you made was very easy for some body types and difficult for others. Morbidly obese = non-runner; looks like Ryan Hall = runner. But what about someone who looks like Kara Goucher but is 50 pounds overweight? Or someone who has short legs, awkward joints, but is thin and muscular? And when you got to the ‘toughest’ group, what divided them?
Now to break it down further, select 5 people from each side. Five runners, five non-runners. Choose gender as you wish to break down the differences. At this point you should have a pretty distinct idea about who does and does not have a runner’s body – and what it is about YOU that puts you in the ‘NOT’ category.
But what if I said that ALL TEN of these people had just completed a marathon? Suddenly you would start reassessing your decisions. And if I further said that of these ten, four had ‘Boston Qualified’ … but only TWO from the ‘runner’s body’ side? Again your decision-making would be thrown into turmoil.
So … What is the Deal with the ‘Runner’s Body’?
For many of us who came to running not as a high school or college sport but as a purely optional activity later on in life, weight loss was at least part of the motivation. Perhaps overall fitness, but even in that case it generally starts with dissatisfaction over how we look.
As I mentioned before, I graduated high school at 275 pounds and college at 375 pounds … so it is a fairly safe assumption that I was very unhappy with how I looked and felt. As I also mentioned, for me running was all about weight loss and maintenance – and after that the ability to eat more or less whatever I wanted with few consequences. Well, other than the consequence of never really hitting my ‘ideal’ weight, and that when I stopped exercising the weight would gradually come back.
But for the last year or so my goals have been about speed, distance, and seeking constant improvement in my running as well as my diet and overall health and fitness. It might seem like the same thing, but in reality my outlook, priorities and goal system is very different than ever before. I concerned myself with running shoes (instead of whatever fit and felt decent and was less than $50 on sale at Foot Locker), running clothes, form, pace, and general tracking.
I also learned about looking at food as fuel. Again, it is something I have always known and my eating habits tend to be naturally pretty good, but I learned about losing weight by myself with the advice of others in the 80s and again when my wife was in Weight Watchers a decade later. And frankly, aside from ‘eat real food and avoid processed crap’, most of that stuff was wrong. So now I am properly fueling and eating more ‘superfoods’ and learning great (and not so great) new recipes every week.
To go along with it, I started caring more about my appearance. Whereas before I was happy running ~12 – 15 miles a week and being ‘thin’, now I am asking more of myself. Not just more mileage, but also more speed, variety, and overall fitness.
I lay this all out for a reason: for the first time in my life people are quick to assume I’m a runner – I have been told that I ‘look like a runner’ in some form many times this year. Before I would get a ‘oh, you’re a runner’ reaction that was not dismissive but also did not do much for my already crappy self-image. Now I will get comments like ‘you can save on car rentals by running to the plant’ from people I have never directly mentioned my running.
It is weird – because I certainly do not see a ‘runner’s body’ in the mirror. What is it that holds me back? It is pretty simple: I do not see myself as either small or thin. Let’s take those one at a time.
I do not see myself as small: look, I played on the high school football team for a year until a faulty set of pads combined with a well placed hit gave me a hairline fracture on my sternum. More importantly? I played on the line. I played intramural football throughout high school and college – always on the line, where I was a force to deal with. My waist is a 32, and I am not likely to ever be smaller than that. That is small – but not something likely to put me on target for a ~0.5 height to weight ratio typical of elite marathoners. So … I will always see myself as ‘big’.
I do not see myself as thin: part of weighing 375 pounds when I was 23 before I started losing weight is that there are remnants that will never fully go away. By remnants I mean ‘loose skin’. Yuk, I know. Also, having regained 50 pounds a couple of times and the 100 pounds I lost in 2012 means more ‘skin stretching time’. Basically at the top of my stomach I have a ‘six pack’, but by the bottom I have a small ‘spare tire’ that will never fully disappear. While I KNOW it is loose skin in my head, the ‘u r fat’ voices in there always manage to drown out that knowledge when I feel vulnerable.
So … I have a ‘Runner’s Body’, but I don’t.
And that is where the problem begins and ends – inside of my head. Because since I started running in 1989 I have been a runner – and I’ve had a runner’s body. And so do you. It might not be your ultimate goal weight or fitness level, and you might not have the arms or legs or butt or abs you would like. But you have a runner’s body.
Because you know what defines a runner’s body? The body that carries you through the miles of running.