I get more feedback than the average gal when I run. I hear “right on!” from dudes I am trying to ignore. “You go girl!” is a common one from the ladies, too. This happens on the road, on race courses, out on the trails. If I see ten people out on my run, I can almost guarantee at least one or two of them will say something to me. If you closed your eyes and listened to my run, you’d think I’m one impressive athlete, but you’d be wrong—I am definitely not a fast runner.
I am a fat runner.
You read that right. I run a solid 11-minute mile on a flat surface, and it’s not rare to catch me chugging up long hills at a less-than-blistering 13-minute pace. People cheer me on because I’m straight-up chubby, and it’s not often you see a 30-something woman carrying 40 extra pounds along for 5 miles, except for perhaps on reality TV.
Sure, runners are generally an inclusive bunch, and on some days the cheering masses are right—I do need a little affirmation. Still, often those hurrahs just serve to remind me that no matter how many hours I’ve logged on my feet, no matter how many more miles I’ve run than they have this week, I’m still considered less of an athlete because of the extra pounds.
I combat the feeling by reminding myself of my boosters' good intentions, make a mental note that I should not be turning lemonade into lemons, and feel lucky that I am, in fact, doing great (and weren’t they kind to notice?). It usually works.
Last spring, while training for my first half-marathon, I often ran a particularly hilly 6-mile route. I killed it on those hills back then, and I loved taking in the views from the road. One freakishly cold afternoon, I rounded a bend on my way back downhill to see a chubby 20-something woman jogging toward me, hustling her way uphill.
Finally, I got it: The urge to say “you go girl!” was overwhelming.
I found it hard to suppress not only because she was chunky, but because she was running hard and smiling and clearly working her butt off on that hill. I opened my mouth to cheer her on, and closed it again. We both knew we were athletes, and that with every step we were at proving that women don't have to be skinny to be healthy.
It took a long time to get to the place where I worry more about my fitness than my body fat, and I plan to stay here by cooking (and sharing!) my mostly plant-based recipes. Rather than pursuing weight loss, I try to focus on health in my cooking, eating, running, and writing, while trying to fit it all into my crazy life. There will be days when I skip the cooking, running, and writing altogether, and weeks when my infant son keeps me up so much at night that junk food takes the place of sleep, but I’m ok if my pursuit is of “good enough” and not so much perfection.
All that to say that I will likely continue to be the big girl on the race course, and you are welcome to cheer me on.