Monday, November 3, 2014

Being Comfortable in My Own Skin

I came across an interesting story today, called What A Real Runner Looks Like? that really piqued my interest. One thing I have noticed over the years about our sport is that there are certain parts of the running community that are starting to take sides.

One one side is the "If you don't run a 5K in under 16 minutes or a marathon in less than three hours you suck", on another is "I'm OK, You're OK, and the running community is awesome" (that's the one I belong to), and another is the division of secure and insecure people who think that runners have to look like runners in order to actually enjoy running. And if you don't look like them, you aren't a real runner. Or something like that. Add the groups that feel the need to fat-shame or thin-shame others, and you have a lot of factions that frankly shouldn't exist, because I'm OK, You're OK and if you are having fun that's perfect because that's what it should be about.

In the story linked above, the author, Hannah McGoldrick, talked about how she posted a video of herself showing off a running outfit. What she didn't bank on was the reaction in the comments section, which ranged from how great she looked to the thought that she was anorexic. Which is even more hurtful because she actually at one time was anorexic but has overcome that and has discovered running and a healthy lifestyle. And if you look through her Twitter account (@byHannahMcG) and blog (read it here) she looks like someone you would very likely see out on a running path in your home town. As in, she is young and fit, and someone who probably a lot of guys smile and wave at when they pass by. So good for her!

The idea of what a runner is supposed to look like has been something I have thought about a lot for a long time. In fact, I remember being in a changing tent after the 2005 Grandma's Marathon and I actually had a guy say to me, "wow, you don't look like a runner!" Well, that might be true, but four months later I dragged my 205-pound body through a 4:07 marathon, so I had something going for me.

Wanna see something funny? Here's me (in the red shirt) with my friend Wally after we finished Grandma's. I actually think I look pretty good!

But it's still been a struggle at times, and one that I'm just starting to come to terms with. Growing up I was quite thin, I was the typical teenage boy in that I could inhale as much food as I wanted and didn't gain a pound. I weighed 155 pounds or so when I graduated high school and 170 when I got married three years later. But other than a stress-induced weight loss that dropped me to about 190 pounds when my marriage broke up six years ago, I've weighed more than 220 pounds ever since then.

And for the record, I got on the scale at 249 this morning.

For a long time, that bothered me. A lot. While most of it was probably my own anxiety and insecurity, I felt like I was judged as a runner by how my body looked. I remember running a relay at about 230 pounds a few years ago, and I could tell some of my teammates weren't happy with me, and I haven't been asked back to run with them since.

I remember a co-worker making a comment after seeing me run at lunch, and so I quit running at lunch, and eventually started running only when it was dark.

It really ruled my life for a long time. Somewhere along the line, though, I stopped caring. I'm sure part of it has to do with a girlfriend-turned-fiancee-turned-wife who loves me for who I am, but a lot of it just comes down to the fact that I run for me, and no matter what I did, no matter how fast I got, there will always be a faction of people that have a problem with me. So why pay attention to the static?

A big tipping point came a couple of summers ago when my friend Bernie invited Darcy and I to participate in a Sunday morning bootcamp at a park in Chicago. Naturally, there were a lot of fit people there, but Bernie (who was a contestant on Biggest Loser) is awesome and so is Erin, his partner, so I knew we were in good hands.

One day, we were doing a circuit training session that included a lap around a dirt path in the park. While the other people were pretty much lapping me on the other exercises, I was killing everyone on the run. On the second or third rep I ran past Erin and she yelled out, "Wow! Running really IS your thing!"

Yep, it is my thing. So why would I let anyone bring me down over it? Once I stopped thinking about what others thought about me as a runner, I started realizing what running did for me.

When I'm running a lot, I feel like an athlete. I walk differently, carry myself differently and have a sense of confidence that I haven't had in a while. This weekend Darcy and I went shopping and while I still had to buy a larger size of clothes, I bought a couple of items that are cut a little tighter, and I actually feel good wearing them. I happily run anywhere, and at any time, and when I show up at races I line up and run instead of comparing myself to others.

I guess I'm just more comfortable with being me, although that took a very long time. Don't get me wrong, I'm working on the weight thing, and I know for sure if I want to be Faster Than Frank in six months I'm going to need to shed a few pounds -- more like 30! I dream of the day that I can get back to running some of the times I did years ago, and I'm really motivated to do that. But at the same time, I'm not obsessing over it.

In the end my a-ha moment came because because I just love running too much. Life is way too short, and as I posted last week, none of us know what it took for someone to get to where they are. It may have been a long, long journey, but they got there and that is all that counts.

I think it's time to quit putting people into categories. What Does a Real Runner look like? A real runner looks like you, or me, or anyone else who laces up the shoes and gets moving. Running isn't a look, it's a feeling, an emotion, a journey and a way of life.

The one thing I like about running is that it can be whatever you want it to be. As I remark to my sons all the time, running is about as pure sport as you can get. A run has a beginning and an end, you get out of it exactly what you put into it. If a race is hard, it's because training was too easy, and if a race is easy it means that training was hard. There is an amazing sense of satisfaction in going out and running a race like a 5K hard, whether you finish that race in 15 minutes or in 31:02, like I did at my last race.

There is beauty in that, a beauty that I haven't found in any other sport in which I've participated. So if the sport is beautiful, then the people who participate in said sport are as well. Which makes all of it a really beautiful thing, and one that we should admire and appreciate, not to mention the people who do it.

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