The Skinny on Running

Yesterday there was an article posted by Runner’s World about a woman, plus-sized, who is an accomplished ultra-distance runner. Although many people were inspired by her journey (myself included), there were some comments where her size was criticized. A couple that I read, I had to stop reading after awhile because the criticisms were raising my blood pressure, but a few that I read actually went as far as to say that she wasn’t really a runner if her miles were too slow and her body was too big. I felt my jaw tighten when I read those. (By the way, ultra-running is about endurance, not speed. And distance running in general, for the average runner, is more about endurance than speed). Another one I read directly attacked her weight, implying that she must be a binge eater or something like that, in order to run that many miles and still be plus-sized. I breathed out a puff of frustration and stopped reading after that one.

I don’t typically comment on these threads because I can’t separate from the discussion once I’m involved in it. That is, once I post my thoughts, if someone responds back to me it’s hard for me to step away. I didn’t want to be articulating and rearticulating my feelings about this all day. I’m too sensitive for that type of back-and-forth, so I posted nothing.

But it did rouse feelings. So here we are.

The immediate issue, the one obvious at first glance, is that runners come in all sizes. A size does make a runner not. I have been smoked by women who had at least 20-30 pounds on me, sometimes more, even back when I could hold a 7 ½ minute mile over 10K and half marathon distances. There are physiological reasons for this, such as lactic threshold, speed training, pain tolerance and even mental sharpness. But since I’m a psychologist, not an exercise physiologist, my concern has more to do with body image. I work with both athletes and people with eating disorders. Everyone’s body is different and skinny does not always mean fit. In fact, I have worked with athletes whose performance declined when their weight was too low. As a thin woman, runner, athlete, I have experienced this too. If my weight gets below what’s healthy for me, it affects my performance. Runners come in all shapes and sizes. And if you are getting out there, you are a runner. Running is about discipline, perseverance, commitment and pushing past limits. These are not easy things to conquer on a daily basis when there are all kinds of excuses. Anyone who is out there, no matter the speed or distance, no matter the size of clothes worn, is a winner.

I could go on, but hey this is a blog, not a book, so I’m going to switch to another point of examination, the more implicit insinuation of these comments. Here is a woman doing something that is not easy, something that requires an inordinate amount of discipline, sacrifice, endurance. She is someone who inspires others – particularly those who do not fit the paragon of the runner’s body type - to get out there, chase their dreams, do something they thought they couldn’t, something hard, something life changing, something great. This is what she embodies. Why put someone down or undermine someone’s accomplishment when they are doing something extraordinary, like running 100 miles? It diminishes the spirit of running, a sport that usually highlights the goodness of humanity.

Of course, I have seen posts like this on social media covering all kinds of topics and people have a right to their opinion. I just always found solace in the running community. In my experience, we-runners always stick together, help each other through the toughest parts of speed work, long runs, races. We always seem to recognize that we are all in this together, working for each other, not against each other. Again, everyone has a right to their opinion. I guess some of these criticisms on a runners’ thread, made me particularly sad. It took away from the essence of running: a sport that I feel brings us all together, everyone alone, on the road or trail, experiencing the obstacles of life with a deeper understanding that life is filled with bumps and hurdles, and although alone on our respective paths, we are all in this together.

Life takes courage to live. This is the heart of running. If someone has the courage and wherewithal to run, they are 100% a runner.