When my coworkers ask me how my race went last weekend, I tell them it went well. I tell them I’m surprised I’m not more sore. I tell them the course was hard, and I didn’t quite make my time, but that’s okay. I tell them Yellowstone was beautiful. When I first sat down to write this blog post on Monday, I built such pretty structures to tell you how much I learned and how this race was a profound metaphor for my life. But in the end, the reality is far less appealing.
Telling you how my race really went terrifies me. It makes me feel insubstantial and vulnerable, and it robs me of any possible eloquence or dignity. Even now, trying to decide how best to explain this, I’m steadying myself with a glass of wine.
How did my race really go? Terribly. There are honestly few ways I can imagine it could have gone worse.
For those without the back story – last September, I somehow convinced my sister to sign up for the Yellowstone Half Marathon with me. At the time I had run a good number of 5k races and thought this would be motivation to up my running game. We even challenged each other to run 1,000 miles in 2017 – all part of the preparation for June 10th and the 13.1 miles through the Gallatin National Forest. At first, I was good. I followed my training plan. I joined a running group. I really tried. But then my excuses slipped in and little by little I allowed myself to become complacent. And so we arrive at Mile 8, somewhere deep in the Gallatin National Forest, when my frustration and self-loathing could no longer be contained, and my cursing and grumbling turned into tears.
Before we go further, I want to make one thing very clear: I am not scouting for sympathy. I am not looking for reassurance or compliments. What I want is for you to understand what it feels like to be a fat girl running.
I have this picture in my head of what it looks like to wear running tights and an oversized t-shirt. It’s never the most flattering look, but it’s surely a step forward from the frumpy nonsense I usually wear to work. And while I know I’m never going to be that girl with condescending hair that flits past me when I’m sprinting full tilt, I like to think at least sometimes I come across as a real runner. But then I see pictures of myself like this:
What this picture doesn’t show is the feeling I get when a random stranger says “you go girl” when I’m out on a run. Or when I get a card from my coworkers wishing me luck on my race. In that first second, it’s amazing. It makes me feel like I am doing something I can be proud of. But in the seconds that follow the unspoken sentiment sinks in: good for you – out running… even though you’re fat. I have never seen someone cross the road before to give another runner a high five. That happens to me. People want to be encouraging. They want to show me their support. Because fat girls don’t run – especially not in public.
Back again at Mile 8 – my frustration comes from two things. First, knowing that I am living down to the expectations of others. Second, knowing my expectations were set far too high. Why would I think I could run a half marathon in under three hours when my BMI is above 34? Why should I kid myself like that? According to the calculations, I’m obese. According to society, I’m repugnant. According to the running subculture, I’m a prime example of what people are running from. People congratulate me and encourage me because I remind them of the alternative.
This is where, in another more positive blog post, I would talk about overcoming these negative emotions. I would bust through stereotypes and feel comfortable in my own skin. But like I said in the beginning, the reality is far less appealing. When I crossed that finish line and completed my first ever half marathon, all I could feel was disappointed. I didn’t feel accomplished or proud because I know that it was my personal failing that kept me from doing better.
There are some days when I feel trapped in my body, and I feel every crease and jiggle that shouldn’t exist. In photographs, I try and hide myself – physically trying to make myself smaller, so people won’t see the space I take up. I look at the Facebook posts of athletes showing how they “really look” and wonder how much worse I look in person if photographs can be so forgiving. I know all these feelings come from my bad choices. If I only made better choices, all of these feelings would go away. But I’m not fooled – my insecurities are far more subtle than the physical.
At Mile 8 while I was forcing one foot in front of the other, my weight was only the catalytic dispair. Losing weight, being fitter, being able to finish a half marathon in a respectable time – these are only my surface insecurities. What I really worry about is that I’m not strong. That I can’t persevere. That I have no self-control and that I’m not good enough at anything. I am constantly trying to prove to myself that I am good enough, worthy enough. I spend all of my time worrying about what comes next because I can’t expect the best. I know that there is always someone better – someone prettier, someone more talented – to come and take my place. I am never going to cross that finish line first. I can only hope to cross that finish line quickly enough to be proud.
That is what I want: to be proud of something. To be proud of myself. This is not something anyone else can give me, I know that. I have to prove it to myself. I am on a search for the inalienable value that every human being should feel. While I am neither religious nor an alcoholic, I can’t help but think of the serenity prayer:
God give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Being a fat girl running is a battle. It is a symptom of the large war I fight within myself every day. I can see inside me the potential for greatness, but somehow I must align my expectations with my abilities. I need to accept the reality that is in front of me while constantly striving to be better: I may be a fat girl running, but hey, at least I’m fat girl – running.