On being a runner who doesn’t look ‘like a runner’
This past weekend, I ran my first 5K of the season. I had spent a lot of time doing speed work and strength-training my legs and running in the heat. I’ve also spent quite a bit of time over the past month teaching my body to run fast on tired legs, a skill I will really need to hone if I am ever going to have a strong run leg in my triathlons. So when I lined up for the start of the 5K, I was feeling really good and confident. The humidity and the heat didn’t faze me, nor did the hills on the course. I knew I could handle it.
My confidence was well-placed as I ended up running my second-fastest 5K, a time that was fast enough to get me first in my age-group and third female overall. It’s the second time I’ve placed in the top three overall at a race. I have to admit – it’s kind of exciting! Plus it motivates me to work hard on building my speed and my endurance in hopes of one day actually being able to come in first. I believe this can happen, by the way. I just have to work harder.
Anyway, as much as I’d like to have a post that is all about bragging, that’s not what I really want to write about. What I want to write about are the race photos. Brian found the finish line photos and showed me the women who came in front of me and the women who came behind me. He pointed at them and said, “Look at them. They are all serious runners, and you are right there with them.”
I looked at all of the ladies and realized that they all looked like what you expect runners to look like. They were all compact and muscular, with flat stomachs, visible abs, sinewy thighs. Probably they all had body-fat percentages in the teens.
And then there was me.
I don’t look like a runner. I look like a basketball player, or maybe a swimmer. I look solid and sturdy and thick. I’m tall – taller than most women and even most men. My stomach isn’t flat. It hasn’t been since…actually, I don’t think it ever has been flat. My thighs are muscular but not lean. And “compact” is a word that describes my car, not my body. When I sign up for races, I qualify for the Bonnydale or Athena weight divisions – the female athletes who weigh over 150 pounds.
I don’t look like a runner.
And yet there I was, the third woman across the finish line. My body was slick with sweat, my face red with exertion, my feet barely touching the ground because I was running so fucking hard. I may not look like a runner, but I am one – a good one, too. And I’m only going to get better.
Afterward, when we dropped off our cards with the timekeeper, I saw that there was only one or two cards in the containers set aside for the female runners. Brian and I grabbed our post-race refreshments and went to a nearby tennis court to stretch out. When I thought about the results of the race, I had to laugh because it all seemed so ridiculous. “I’m like walking proof that you don’t have to have visible abs to be fast,” I said.
The more I thought about this, the more pleased I was. I hoped other women saw me and thought that they didn’t have to look like ripped fitness models to run fast. I hoped they understood that having a flat stomach or fat-free thighs were not a prerequisite for speed.
We need to talk about how the world is filled with runners who do not “look like runners.” There are triathletes who do not “look like triathletes.” There are dancers who do not “look like dancers.” And yet we’re all out here, running and competing and dancing and doing all kinds of things with our bodies, things our bodies look like they should not be capable of doing, and yet there we are, doing them.
I don’t look like I should be a fast runner, and yet I am.
It’s not about what we look like. It’s what we do that counts.