Normally, I would share this article in my reading round-up but it resonated so deeply with me that I kept coming back to it on runs. Lanni Marchant (@LJM5252) is the current Canadian record holder in the marathon. She’s also a practicing attorney. Marchant gave a recent interview about learning to love her body and appreciate it despite not “looking” like a marathoner. I understand where she’s coming from 100%. As grateful as I am to be part of elite tents, there is nothing that sparks insecurity like standing next to a group of runners who are half your size. It doesn’t take much to convince yourself that if you are bigger, you must also be slower.
Body image issues in running start early and run deep. I started running at a time when the “thin is faster” trend was in full swing. We were encouraged to lose weight and restrict food. Teammates were praised for losing weight. I distinctly remember not being allowed to get a snack on the way home from a race if I didn’t PR. I also distinctly remember a coach from a nearby high school telling his athlete “not to worry about Waterman, she’s heavy on the hills.” I carried those words with me with me for years. I hated having to wear our team shorts because I was convinced I was fat. Once in a while when I’m climbing a hill, I still hear his voice.
Now that I’m responsible for 35 gorgeous, fit high school girls, I cannot imagine ever telling them to lose weight or change their bodies. The body types on our team run from short to tall, from ultra lean to muscled out and you cannot tell by looking at any of them whether they are fast, slow or in between. In many ways, the landscape is shifting on the desired body type for cross country running. Stronger runners are getting the best performances and more importantly, lasting longer than a season or two at the college level. We’re not out of the woods, however, as long as old school coaches continue to push for the classic long distance frame. While coaching last week, Will heard another coach berate his athlete for “letting that ox by her.” I pray that the “ox” didn’t hear his comment.
There are ramifications from this for elite and regular runners alike. I know women who run in pants year round because “they hate their legs” and know extremely fast men who talk about being too fat. I’ve overheard and witnessed shame from people at races who worried that they weren’t the right body type to be running and it crushes me. Regardless of what we look like, if we’re running, we have runner’s bodies. We may not all be sinewy and lean, but we’re all runners.