NOTE: This piece originally ran 3 years ago for The SF Marathon, and was edited for clarification and grammar.
But, after trying to love myself today, post-half-marathon, it felt worth revisiting.
When I woke up last Tuesday, I knew I shouldn’t run. I had injured my leg at Surf City the week before, and it wasn’t feeling any better. It was tight and kind of painful and none of it felt right.
After a few years of running, I frankly should’ve known better. I should’ve known that, even with a marathon 5 weeks away, I should rest. No, the marathon wasn’t what got me out of bed and got me to put on my running shoes that morning, despite my better judgment. Confession time:
I woke up that morning feeling a little fat.
Now, that’s a big thing for me to admit. Firstly, admitting that you feel fat or even just not-great is not sexy or becoming in any way. I try to be a big believer in loving your body (and, generally, I do). As an advocate for positive mentality in running, I also am a big believer in being happy with who you are, as long as you’re healthy and you feel good.
Still, with all my positive attitude and happiness about running and the self and blah blah blah, I have to admit that, as a 24-year-old woman who lives in Los Angeles, sometimes I wake up feeling a little gross.
My struggle with weight isn’t really a traditional one. Sure, I grew up in Laguna Beach, California, home of the perennial beach bunny. As a chubby kid, I definitely didn’t fit that mold, but I was never really picked on for my weight. My parents were very attune to what kids deal with, and always made it a point to tell me I was pretty and loved. I’ve even been lucky enough that I’ve dated generally good guys, and have yet to be with a guy who has ever said anything negative about my weight– a huge bonus for a curvy girl.
Still, even though I had a lot of support systems and luck, I’ve struggled with my weight since I was a kid. I always felt kind of chubby and like I was never going to be skinny enough to be like “other girls” (I don’t know who these other girls were).
I remember, in middle school, a girl in my class put her feet together and her thighs didn’t touch. This blew my mind.Are you kidding me!? I thought. How can her thighs not touch in the center?! My legs touch all the way from my calves up!
Cut to my senior year of college. I was chubby and unhealthy throughout most of college (I recall lots of cookies-for-dinner nights). That year, though, I began working out– nothing crazy, just a few hours every week. I noticed my body changing. I was way hyped. I started eating healthier too. I dropped a few more pounds.
Then, I got engrossed in the stress of my senior thesis. I was so stressed, and felt so out of control that I pretty much stopped eating. Looking back, I estimate that I ate under 800 calories a day. I pretty much subsided on 4 or 5 cups of green tea, and a handful of grapes or a few pieces of fruit every day. After a few months, I noticed that my clothes were a little loose. Without having really looked at myself in a while (since I was so caught up in my work), I jumped on a scale. I was far below my goal weight, the lowest I had ever been in my post-adolescent life. I finally looked at myself in the mirror, expecting to look glowing and thin.
The girl looking back at me was a little surprising.
I had dark circles under my eyes. When I lifted my shirt up and raised my arms, I could see all my ribs– I could count them. My collar bone stuck out in a really weird way that I didn’t like.
Ironically, my thighs still touched.
When I started training for marathons, I began looking at my body in an entirely different way. My body had always been this thing I fought against. It was this thing that I hated and that didn’t do what I wanted it to do and didn’t look how I wished it would look.
As a runner though, it was hard to hate my body and be able to succeed. My mind and my body had to work in tandem.
My body was the vehicle, and when I mentally pushed myself to run 15 miles and my legs responded by actually doing it, I finally started feeling gratitude for what my body was giving me. When I had the mental elation of burning past another runner in the last half mile of a race, it was those muscular-always-touching calves that I had to be thankful for it.
I actually started to like some things about my body. I felt good about myself. No, I was never going to be a size 0, but, after training, I could run 26.2 miles. There are definitely some trends that these hips will never pull off, but they are able to get me through 5 hours of running straight.
I knew my body image had changed one morning, when I was running before going to work. I looked down my legs. Each time they hit the pavement, I saw my quads flex on impact, pushing me forward every step, every mile.
Damn. That’s pretty hot.
I can’t stress enough how much running has changed the way I view myself, and I hope it’s a message that I (or you!) can pass along. I wasn’t the only middle-schooler that struggled with my weight. Recently, the National Heart and Lung association polled a group of girls. 40% of them said they had tried to diet.
They were between 9 and 10 years old.
It’s not easy on men either. The same organization polled a group of fifth grade boys, and 45% of them said that they had felt dissatisfied about the way their bodies looked.
These issues, this battle with what our bodies are and what they can mean to us starts young.
When you work out and take care of your body, it’s important to not only know your weaknesses and set goals, but to show a little love towards yourself too. After finishing my first marathon, I felt limitless. I was the kid who had cried to get out of the weekly mile, and now I had run father than I ever thought I could. I had my body to thank for that feeling.
So, as I take a little break from running (oh, yeah, that run I did last Tuesday? I pulled my calf. Learned my lesson, huh?), I’m using it as an excuse to fall back in love with my body. I sit in the jacuzzi and actually relax for the first time as I love my body by letting it heal. I look at myself in a new dress, and try not to feel guilty or boastful by thinking Huh. I look good. I do cheesy, clichéd things like yoga in the park while I enjoy a beautiful day.
Oh, and I maybe reward it with some frozen Cherry Garcia yogurt too.