I have come to realize that being a woman growing up in America, exposed to major media and culture about our bodies, and being an ultra runner are often in conflict.
As a female in my late 20s, I’ve spent a majority of my life surrounded by media dictating how my body should look. When I was younger? “Flat butts are in!” Now? “Big butts are in!” Go into any store that sells magazine and you’re inundated with messaging about how to get thinner and fitter. It takes a lot of work to not let this type of messaging dictate how one feels about their bodies and their own self worth. Your worth is how your body looks, according to our media. Admittedly, I haven’t been able to keep the negative body image away from my own mind.
This discussion about body image for women has been had a zillion times, but only recently did it dawn on me how this conflicts with what ultra running has taught me. Ultra running has shown me how much my body is capable of, even when my mind can’t fully wrap around it. I’ve run roads and trails. From short track races to 100 milers. What I’ve been able to achieve with this body of mine is pretty impressive, even for someone who doesn’t like to toot their own horn. As one intricate system, this body has pushed through hard things and I should honor that always.
And yet? I still am too self-conscious to take my shirt off for a run, even with temperatures eclipsing the 100 degree mark. The line at which I am proud of my body hasn’t yet crossed the point of being proud of it because of its achievements, no matter how it looks. When I see other runners, I compare myself to them, sometimes thinking, “Well, she has a flat stomach, but hey, I’ve run a few 100 milers!”
Ultra running has taught me that while this community of runners is wonderful (and a lot of why we run them!), at the end of the day, we run our own races. How someone else does typically will not affect us in our racing. What my body looks like and can achieve has nothing to do with anyone else. Many women who give birth say they have a new respect and love for their body because of what it is capable of doing. Without that experience, I can only look at what my body can do on the trails and roads to recognize that, while I’m not going to ever be compared to a model, my body is pretty amazing.
So that’s my challenge to everyone out there who thinks negatively of their bodies: remember what our bodies can do and that our worth shouldn’t be based on how our bodies look. Remember what it feels like to ascend that hill, your lungs pounding, your arms swinging, your thighs burning.
Know that without your body, in whatever shape it is in, you couldn’t do that.