When I was in junior high, gym class was mandatory, and, like most fat girls, I absolutely hated it. One fall day we went out to the football field so the guys could play tag football. The girls weren’t allowed, though (because we’re fragile, right?), so we had the lovely pleasure of running laps for the entire period–unless we could kick a football through the uprights. We got three chances–between laps, of course.
I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to do it, that I would have to run. I was terrified that other people would see me run, or more accurately, that other people would see that I couldn’t run. I was 13 years old, I weighed 185 pounds, and I wore a size 16.
Running, you see, is to a fat girl what Mt. Everest is to a hiker, what the Tour de France is to a cyclist. Running is the pinnacle of what I ever hope for my body to achieve, but nearly impossible to reach. So close, and yet so very far away. It’s something that I know I should be able to do, but I just can’t.
Running is fear. It’s depression. It’s self-doubt. It’s anger. It’s regret. It’s self-hate, and it’s masochism.
But it is also beauty. It’s inspiration. It’s motivation. It’s confidence. It’s pride. It’s self-love, and it’s achievement.
If we can run, well then, we’re okay, and we’re not really fat. On the other hand, if we can’t run, we’re just big, fat losers.
To a fat girl, running is success, and not running is failure.
As a fat girl, I’ve long had the dream of running, of the wind rushing past my face and my feet slapping the pavement. And for years I’ve tried to run. Every time I went on a new weight loss kick, there would be some effort to run. I’d get new shoes and some new tunes and head out to the rail trail, where I’d run for something like 10 seconds at a time. Maybe next week I’d run for 15 seconds. By the time I made it all the way to 30 seconds of running, something would come up–shin splints or a summer heat wave or winter coldness or pregnancy or a new job–and I’d stop.
But the dream has always been there.
Now I’m on another weight loss kick, and something is different: I’m actually losing weight. I’m determined rather than motivated. I’m making small changes to my every day life rather than going for a complete overhaul. And I’m running.
Earlier this year I embarked on a running program called 5k in 100 Days, led by a man named Brad Gansberg. It’s similar to programs like Couch to 5k, with some variation, and a lot of people I knew on Twitter were following the program as well.
At this point, I’m running 6:1 intervals–6 whole minutes of running! Multiple times in a row! With only 1 minute of walking in between!
This is nothing short of miraculous for me.
I’m among the first group of runners to go through this program. We’re in Week 11 now, with only a few more weeks left until we make it to 5k. I’ll admit, I haven’t been perfect with my runs, or followed the schedule exactly, but I’m running.
What’s more, on my last two runs, I actually broke through that wall you always hear about. You know, one minute it’s hard and you’re tired and your body hurts and you think you can’t take another step … and then suddenly it’s not and you’re not and it doesn’t and you CAN. Yeah, I got there. Twice.
Running–actually running, rather than just trying–is everything I imagined it would be, and so much more.
It is achievement and pride and self-love. It’s also victory, and overcoming the odds, and beating back that voice in your head. It’s proving yourself capable. It’s aspiration. It’s self-worth. It’s showing you your own value.
Running is freedom, from our past, from what we thought we were and what we thought we couldn’t do.
Running is triumph.
Now, I will recommend 5k in 100 Days to anyone who wants to learn to run, and I do. But the actual program or schedule you follow isn’t the point. The point is, push yourself. Do more than you think you can. Go further than you did last time. You can do it. You can be more. You can run.
That day in junior high, I didn’t have to run. I kicked the football through the uprights on my first attempt. I think I was so scared of running that I simply willed it to happen. Looking back, I wish I hadn’t.
I wish I had run.