On September 24, 2017, in Paris, Colin and I crossed the finish line of our first half marathon.
It was a feeling of triumph unmatched to anything I’ve ever felt. Mostly because I knew I was proving people wrong as I crossed that line, tears in my eyes, cheered on by Mickey Mouse (I did mention it was Disneyland Paris, right?) Yes, I finished a half marathon, and I did it while fat.
I have never been skinny. I haven’t been the weight people want me to be since college, when I was dancing 10-20 hours a week, just for fun, and rarely eating much because dining hall food was terrible. So when I graduated and started working 50-60 hours a week at a very stressful job, I gained weight.
I consider myself very fortunate. As a kid (and even a teenager), I never thought twice about my weight. My incredible parents never mentioned it or aspired for me to be anything other than happy and loved, and my wonderful friends were too concerned with writing stories between class and joking around. I lived in blissful peace, buying the clothes that fit me, wearing them, going to jump rope practice, and eating family meals.
It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized that for many other people (particularly women), weight had been something they worried about all their lives. Though none of them would ever utter a single bad word about anyone else (I know, I have awesome friends), I saw the way they thought and talked about themselves. It broke my heart. And it changed something in me. Over time, I found confidence in my body shape, which was easy, because I was an average weight. Well meaning relatives would compliment me on the weight I lost since going to college, and though it was kind, it hammered into me that it mattered that I kept that up.
So when I did gain a significant amount of weight, my body image plummeted. At the same time, I found myself around people at work and otherwise who constantly talked about their workouts. I mean, constantly. Fun fact – there is no more boring topic of conversation than a workout. After a bit, I decided to make more of an effort. We started eating better. We did 100 days of different exercises, challenging ourselves and getting stronger than ever.
But I didn’t lose much weight. Sure, a bit, but that wasn’t the point. At least, that’s what I’ve tried to convince myself. The point is I was strong. The point is I was fit. The point is I felt good. I told myself daily while my friends started drinking protein shakes as meal replacements. It was hard not to compare myself with them, even though I know they wouldn’t think about me that way. I felt like I had something to prove.
Not much changed when we moved to Berlin, except one thing. On a whim, I started running. Then Colin joined me. Then, my sister mentioned a 5K in Disneyland Paris. That was totally doable, and fun.
And then, drunk on finishing our first race and Disney magic, I turned to Colin and suggested it.
“This year, 5K. Next year, half marathon?”
Before I knew it, we were signed up for the 2017 half marathon through Disneyland Paris.
Over the next 12 months, we trained. Hard. I went from being proud of finishing a 5K to running one 3 times a week. My breathing got easier. My resting heart rate dropped. My legs got more muscular. We went farther and farther and I stopped feeling like I wanted to die. Sometimes, I actually enjoyed it.
And I lost no weight.
But for once, it didn’t matter. What I had been trying to pound into myself was actually becoming reality, mile by mile. I could see a change in myself and the way I thought about my body. I was in awe of how far I could go, how much I could push. My thighs were no longer something to be ashamed of – they powered me through, kilometer after kilometer. I knew I could do it, and I knew Colin believed in me (even if he was always just a bit in front of me – but hey, it’s a very good view 😉 ).
So I moved through the world with newfound confidence, running with my wonderful husband and preparing for race day.
Of course, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. I threw up once. I cried more than a few times. I thought I couldn’t do it.
But worse than all these was when I would proudly chirp “I’m doing a half marathon in two months!” to a coworker, friend, or loved one, and I would see it flash across their faces. That moment of doubt, where I could hear all too well what was going through their heads:
Sure she is. No way she’s going to finish. If she’s actually training, shouldn’t she be skinnier? She probably is walking it, not running it.
It was really painful. The lowest low was when my German doctor, who had to sign a permission form for me to run the race, took one look at me and said “People who look like you don’t finish half marathons. You look wrong. You are too fat to run. Besides, you have to train for something like that.” (This was two months before the race, I had been training for 10 months and running regularly for a year and a half.) She still signed my form, because my stats were all excellent, especially my BP and heart rate. She had no medical reason to think I couldn’t do it. She was just a total jerk who said what everyone was thinking based on the way I look.
But you know what? Screw ’em. All of them. Screw the judgmental doctor. Screw the well meaning people who told me I should try something easier. Screw the people who said “Huh” in a doubtful tone after hearing that my vacation plans included running 13.1 miles.
Who the heck has the right to doubt someone else’s accomplishments or goals? Or to care a bit what their BMI is, or how often they work out? Trust me, you might think you’re being subtle with your judgement, but people absolutely know, and it’s none of your business.
So when I ran, through the sweat and tears (in a Minnie Mouse costume no less), I remembered everyone who doubted me. When I needed fuel, I replayed the looks and unkind words of the people around me. I remembered the friend who said his type was “women with runner’s bodies,” who clearly just meant that he liked skinny girls. I thought about all the people who try to sell 30 day cleanses, promoting the idea you should starve your body to “remove toxins” and somehow that will make you a better person. I remembered one of my childhood friends, who told me her worst fear was being fat. I was like Arya in Game of Thrones, crossing names off my list with each kilometer.
But sometimes anger was not enough. Then, when I needed inspiration, I looked at the wonderful runners with me, of all shapes, sizes, weight, and ability. We were all working together, and not one person on that course gave a single damn about how anyone else was doing. I looked at my incredible husband and amazing sister, who were running with me (also in costume – the family that costumes together stays together) and supporting me along the way. I thought of my sweet brother cheering me on, and my mom who made signs for him to carry as we ran by. I have a support system who believes in me, but more importantly, I believe in me. I knew I could do it, and it was the best feeling in the world.
When I finally crossed that finish line, it was in utter triumph. I had done what I set out to do. My incredible body worked and carried me that far. And I did it with two of the people I love the most in the world.
So you might look at me running down the sidewalk and think that I’m a joke. You might dismiss all people who look the way I do as lazy and fat. Go ahead, I don’t care any more. Plan your next scheme to convince women that the way they look is not enough. I’m not buying it.
I’m a runner. I have a runner’s body. And this body isn’t planning on slowing down any time soon.
Until next time with another (hopefully lighter) post,