In light of international women's day 2017 I thought I'd share my thoughts on being a female runner.
Before I started running I ate conservatively, avoiding carbs drinking green smoothies etc on the bid for the "thin" body paraded in magazines as being healthy and idyllic. But when I started running I realised two things 1. I needed a strong body not a thin body for the longer distance trail running I was doing and 2. running bloody lots means you can eat a hell of a lot more. Woohoo!
I am a firm believer that a strong runners body is primarily built from running. Long distance, hill work and short strides all build the muscles in your legs needed for running, much more so than pressing heaps of weights in the gym. Personally I also do regular body strength & light weight conditioning work in line with a plan from my physio to address imbalances in my body and I do yoga for some stretching and to strengthen my upper body (and because I enjoy it!).
So I was a little taken aback when engaged in a conversation with a lady in our changing rooms recently who was off to the gym whilst I was off for a run. She was talking about her PT session and said “Cause you know I think it’s much better to be strong than skinny” I was all ready to high five her until she added (with a look) “no offence”! I paused, a little in shock at what wasn’t actually a back handed complement but was really a body shaming comment (intended or not), and so I responded with “I completely agree. I’m training for my second ultra-marathon so need to be strong”.
The reality is we come in all shapes and sizes (particularly women), what is strong for one is not the same as another. For me I have an athletic physique, it’s from an entire lifetime of being active (I started Karate at age 5, football at age 10, hockey at age 13 and running at age 30!) and I’ve always eaten pretty well. Particularly now that I’m (almost 2 years) vegan and running consistently 50k+ each week it’s hard for me to be any bigger than I am. And to be honest I shouldn’t have to be. I shouldn’t be judged by others for the body that I have as result of my healthy and active lifestyle. This body lets me climb mountains, again and again. It lets me run for hours on end and it lets me see some of the most amazing things that mother nature has to offer. It also keeps me healthy, relatively illness free and gives me energy to get myself through a my full time job.
My wife and I are both very active, we each have a BMI of 20.9 which for our age is in the 10th percentile. But we look very different. My wife has a rock hard torso, always has, never puts on flab on her guts. I on the other hand have the pouch (you know the one I mean!) no matter how thin I get there’s always a stubborn little fat pouch under my belly button and some love handles – it’s just my body shape. I also have way bigger thighs and butt than her but thinner lower legs and a narrower back. Women carry more fat than men, we need it to maintain healthy baby making organs, it’s how we’re built. At the Mrs’s training group she had a lady say that she was targeting reducing her BMI to 20 by the end of the 6 week program having looked up pictures of what a 20 BMI looked like and wanting to achieve that look. She was in shock to discover that the Mrs was closer to 21! She thought she was at least 15! Which is crazy. She had in her mind a picture of what she thought was a body she wanted (based on a number – 20) but when faced with the reality of what that looked like (and what she looked like – at least 3 breast sizes bigger for a start!) she realised it was probably an unrealistic target and achieving 22-25 BMI was probably going to get her the aesthetical results she desired. It’s unrealistic to pick a number or a body shape that you want to target when your body just wasn’t built that way.
Think about what goal you have set yourself and ask yourself why you have set it. If it’s for someone else (so they’ll appreciate the way you look or envy your look) then I suggest you reassess and find a goal that will make you happier and will help you achieve something incredible. Maybe you’re just getting into fitness and that goal is losing some weight so that you can walk or run in your first 5k - great go for it. Or it may be like me, ensuring you keep your body strong and capable of running 50k.
Either way focus on yourself and not others – both when judging yourself and more so when judging others. There’s plenty of people judging how women look we don’t need other women doing it too!