Endurance Racing and Body Image

This is a repost of guest blog I did back in March, and thought you would enjoy...

I admit that a major part of my start with running was because of my weight. I was desperate to lose weight, and heard running helped melt the pounds off quickly. Couple that with my yearning desire to earn a Mickey Mouse medal at the Disney Marathon, and that was it. I had decided to learn to be a runner.

I started running a little bit at a time, increasing it as I could. You may have thought that body image issues disappear after middle & high school, but for some of us, they linger on. Seeing thin women at the gym sprinting on the treadmills at times inspired me to do more, and other times made me depressed to think I’d never get there.  Even though running and using weight watchers helped me lose about 30 pounds, I have yet to make it to my goal. Even then, my goal weight is 150. 150, which sounds like heaven to me, is the Athena category for racing, and nowhere near what most endurance athletes are.

Advertisements for clothing, and endurance gear features slim, fit women. As inspiring as it is to see these muscular, toned, bodies wearing the gear I lust over, I feel sometimes like I don’t belong in this sport. Trying on triathlon suits & wetsuits was an eye opener, as even the XL was tight enough to make me feel like an overstuffed sausage. Horribly unflattering, and destroying to my self-confidence. Looking at pictures from my first triathlon, I am ashamed at what my body looks like.

Yet, I love my body. Those large thighs are what power me up the steepest hills on the bike and trek through the end of a tough run when I just don’t want to go any further.  Those curves allow me to look shapelier in my swimsuit. The thick arms help propel me through the water. I love my body but long for the discipline to fine-tune it to make myself more efficient. I’ve heard it estimated that you are about 2 seconds slower per pound of fat for each mile run. If that is the case, I could have ran yesterdays 10K , 7.23 minutes faster, since I have 35 pounds that I would love to lose.

I’ve tried hard to change my attitude on my body image since embracing a healthier lifestyle of running and multisports about 5 years ago. I try to see my goal as getting healthier, improving my body to improve performance, losing weight to feel better, rather than working to be thinner to fit a certain mold. It’s a hard attitude adjustment to make, but a necessary one in order to repair our relationship with our bodies. After all, “Your body is a gift and you’re fully responsible for its upkeep. Try to accept it for what it is, and reward it on a daily basis with proper food, exercise, and gratitude.”

What are your thoughts on body image and endurance sports?
Have you ever felt out of place in this endurance world?

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Teamarcia said...

I'm about 50 lbs less now than I was at my heaviest (pregnancies not included). Sometimes I still see myself as that fat girl. I love that you have a positive self-image. Keep that no matter what size you are and be inspired not intimidated by those who are doing things you dream of.

Lisa said...

I sometimes have body image issues, especially at triathlons where there are more really fit women than I see in running events. However, most of the time, I'm okay in my own skin.

BabyWeightMyFatAss said...

oh yes the lovely body image. I was doing ok when I was at my lowest in my 5 years at 169. Now I'm 20 + than that and my body image to me is in the crapper. Then I just saw a picture of me about 2 months after having my oldest and whoa that's not good. lol. But I'm better today than that day.

Aimee said...

I definitely struggle with this. I am about 20 pounds away from my goal weight which would put me at a very healthy weight but still at the high end of normal on the BMI scale. I have a really hard time calling myself a runner even though I have run 10 races to date including 2 half marathons. Last week a photo of me running a 10K was in my town newspaper. My initial reaction was, "ugghhh look how huge my legs are." I know that this is a terrible way to react. In all reality I am really proud of my accomplishments so why is it so difficult to acknowledge them. Instead of looking at the flaws in the photo I should have been focusing on the look of determination in my face, the strength my legs give me and how terrific I feel since I started running. I will keep working on it and I'll definitely keep running.

Great post!

~* Jenn *~ said...

I struggle with similar issues. I have lost 125 pounds, with another 6 or so to go until my "goal." And, even at my "goal" I will always be the big girl in the room. Its frustrating but I keep telling myself that I am healthier for it. I don't have nearly the positivity you do, I wish I did - but I still see myself as I was before!

CupCake@ Bigger Girls Can Run Too said...

I most definitely have body image issues, and that is one of the many reasons I started running as well. While it has taken me some time to appreciate how much I have actually lost, I do sometimes still see myself as the fat girl. And I know I am a slow runner- not just because of my weight, but also because of my previously lacking endurance.

However, despite all of this, I am learning to love my appearance and be proud of it. A year ago, I couldn't stand to look at myself in the mirror. Now, it's not so bad. I see strong legs, a core that's getting stronger, diminishing back fat and so many other things.

It's hard to change one's own body image, especially after years of negativity. And yes, I do often feel that I don't belong in the world of endurance sports. I'm a slow runner, but I still consider myself a runner, and that's the important thing. We are awesome, even if we don't fit the "normal" endurance athlete image.