Disclaimer: This post has sat in my draft box for over a year. I didn't have the courage to release it until now. After witnessing well-known runners approach this topic, it is time we expose our stories too. I applaud them and want to support the movement to open up the topic of running and body size. Their take on the issue is valuable. Please check out their posts.
My fight with my image.
I remember this day, this race. I fell apart. My mind, following my body, fell apart also. It was after a long training season where I had run all the correct training, hitting workout after workout. I had worked so hard in every running way to be a faster half marathoner. However, the PR race didn't happen. I still had a quick finish time but it did not match my faster training level.
At this final race of the training season, my body called my bluff and I suffered. For the month after the race, I was barely able to run 3 miles at a time. I had fallen off the cliff. My friend, Joe, has always told me that, "If I tried to lose too much weight, I would lose what made me a good runner, my strength."
Fast forward a few years...
It wasn't until I was scrolling through the old photos that I saw this picture of me in a new light. It is just crazy to me that every other time I saw this picture I didn't see how empty I looked. How unhealthy I had become. When this picture was taken I had stopped eating red meat and limited my calories below the amount needed to run up to 80 miles a week. Sleep at night had been put off and reduced to 6 hours. None of these habits were what my body needed in order to recover from my training.
You may look at this picture and say, you don't look that skinny to be unhealthy. Pause, who are you comparing me to? Are you comparing me to a different body type? Only compare me to me.
My body has a natural body weight where it functions correctly. Once at a certain body fat percentage and on a reduced calorie consumption rate, I don't lose fat, I lose muscle, valuable muscle. That muscle is what powers me for miles through a race.
I have already ran this experiment several times in my life. Skinnier does not equal stronger. For every pound of weight you lose, 70 percent is fat, 30 percent is muscle. When I am not properly refueling my body or sleeping enough during training, my body gives strong signs that I am compromising my health. Read up on the Female Triad here and here and here.
It started years ago...
My college assistant coach, with good intentions, pinched and measured and plotted out my size then declared, "lose 10 pounds." No education, no help, no better access to healthy food came with that prescription. So I did what every logical college freshman would do, limited my calories to under 1,000 per day while training and competing. However, it didn't work for me. The weight scale didn't change. I had hit my own individual natural weight limit. I felt like a failure. I had to give up and try to hide that "extra" ten pounds.
So I have hidden those 10 pounds ever since. Afraid.
I often feel skinny enough when around the normal population. However, when with competitive runners, I know I am the largest. I have to look at pictures to see what I really look like. I hide the ones that show an unflattering belly. Keeping the photos that got just the right angle, which has become harder after four c-sections.
When I look at this picture I see a weak and frail runner, and not just because it was at the end of half marathon. I see my body stripped of Shelly Strength. A thin Shelly is not a stronger faster runner.
This gets to the core of my self-image and desire to be skinny. I have talked with friends that are "runner skinny" (super skinny) and they still seek to be even smaller. They tell of the loss of energy and muscle and therefore no better race results. It is an illusion that if you are skinny, you will be a fast runner or even more beautiful.
It is true that the fewer pounds to move over a race distance, the less energy required. However, you need muscle to move over the ground. What will you do if you don't have muscle power at the end of the race when your opponent is blazing by you, is it really worth it?
Is it really worth it to be constantly hungry and continually punishing yourself by not refueling? Do you love a finishing time or place more than the body that God gave you? Does your body truly deserve to be punished?
I don't want to be a deprived runner.
I accept my strong body. I am thankful for my body that grew and gave birth to four incredible, make me cry with happiness, children. I stride forward to forge the road for runners that are strong mentally and physically. I am a competitive runner, one who competes to be better than I was last year. I train and treat my body in a respectful way, honoring its strengths.
It was 20 years ago that I joined a college team in which I ran and lived with runners that had eating disorders.
It has taken all of those 20 years to recover from the damage and to have a realistic view of beauty and strength as a runner. I declare my body as wonderfully made!
How do you punish your body?
Do you appreciate your strengths?
Do treat your body as valuable?
BE YOU! Be the wonderfully made YOU! Like yourself.