This is what a runner looks like

15 Jul
I used to hate my thighs. Now I love that they give me power.

I used to hate my thighs. Now I love that they give me power.

This is not a Fitspiration story. There is no before and after photo. No weigh-in or declaration of a new “lifestyle change.” It’s not about how much healthier I am or more attractive I feel. It’s about how I learned a skill and got over some baggage, plain and simple.

I grew up with intellectual parents who never played sports. Gym class was torture. And even though I know now in retrospect that I was of average size, I always felt like the fat kid. Track and field day was the absolute worst. I remember being forced to participate in sprinting races, finding myself winded and in tears within seconds.

I was similarly puzzled when gym teachers assumed that I knew how to play sports. No one ever taught me the rules or any of the skills. It made no sense to me that we were entitled to instruction in math and writing, but not in the basic skills required to master athletic pursuits. So I stumbled along and dropped gym after the mandatory ninth grade class was finally over.

Until my mid-20s, I led a typically sedentary lifestyle. I always felt like my body was useful for carrying my head around, and not much else. Until I threw out my back at the age of 25 and decided that I didn’t want to live in pain. So slowly and with trepidation, I began a gym habit. I soon discovered that exercise was actually something I enjoyed.

At the time, I did lose a considerable amount of weight. Much of this was associated with the emotional baggage of a couple of bad relationships and the side effects of anti-depressants. But when I found my comfortable, active place on the size spectrum, I was still considered fat by conventional medical standards. And I still am.

More than 10 years later and after a few bleary-eyed years of early parenthood, I decided to teach myself to run. This involved exercising outdoors, in shorts, in busy parts of the city (I live downtown). It was initially very exposing. I kept thinking, “Does that man see how slow I am going … and do my thighs look huge … and why am I out of breath?!?” But I used one of those Couch to 5k apps, took it at my own pace, and soon gave zero fucks about what anyone else thought.

For bigger people, exercising in public is a radical act. And it’s one of the major barriers to beginning any sort of fitness routine. The threat of mockery or cruelty keeps fat people off the streets and out of gyms. The idea that you need to be slender to work up a sweat is self-defeating and perpetuates body imperialism.

Decoupling exercise from any specific weight-loss goals has been revolutionary for me. The only “results” I am seeking are stronger legs and lungs and the ability to keep up with my three year old daughter. It also helps that when I exercise, I can severely cut down on the number of chiro and massage appointments I need to remain pain-free.

So for the last few months, I have been blasting punk music and congratulating myself every time my feet strike pavement. I’ve been enjoying cool summer mornings and late evening sun. I’ve been running a little further and a little longer each time. And on Sunday, I completed my first 5k race, finishing in a shockingly fast 32:29.

Amanda Bingson: Olympic hammer thrower and total bad ass.

Amanda Bingson: Olympic hammer thrower and total bad ass.

Having a sense of athletic accomplishment is an entirely new experience for me. It’s not something that was ever intuitive and it did not come easily. But I am inspired by athletes like total bad ass Amanda Bingson. She’s an Olympic hammer thrower, 5’5, and more than 200 pounds of dense muscle and power. She was kicked off her high school volley ball team because she couldn’t fit in the uniform. And now she’s an Olympic athlete who says, “I’ll be honest, I like everything about my body.”

I choose to take Bingson’s words to heart: “Whatever your body type is, just use it.” My strong thighs, formerly a source of shame, are now site of power.

But my decision to run is not a virtuous one. It’s a choice, like any other. “Health” is relative and not a moral virtue. And you really can’t judge a person’s fitness level by the size of their shorts (or volley ball uniform).

Bingson is what an Olympian looks like. And I am what a runner looks like. Though I still can’t quite believe it.

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6 Responses to “This is what a runner looks like”

  1. PERRIER Denise July 15, 2015 at 11:58 am #

    Congratulations, Ariel. You are a woman of substance, guts and smarts. And you are modelling strong values to your daughter. Keep those kms coming and those thighs strong. Brava!

  2. NancyTex July 15, 2015 at 12:34 pm #

    A subject near and dear to my heart. Bravo! Love this uplifting post.

  3. Jess July 15, 2015 at 2:21 pm #

    I love this post! Destruction of the female stereotype (blonde, size 2, suspenders) is waaay overdue and it’s so good to see women like yourself recreating the face of women- I have no doubt this will inspire other girls like myself to love ourselves no matter how much society has outed us
    https://halfgirlhalfteacup.com

  4. stonefit July 16, 2015 at 4:33 am #

    Reblogged this on Stonefit's Blog and commented:
    They run and win…!

  5. dianerein July 20, 2015 at 7:10 am #

    I absolutely love this post. It’s been very hard for me to start running outside, and I still prefer quiet country roads, but as I stuck to it, I found I genuinely loved moving and running. So yes, I’m a runner, and there’s pride when I say that, and I feel beyond proud when I see others enjoying it, no matter what their bodies look like or how fast or far they run.

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