How to Have a Runner’s Body
BY CASSIE WATT, MLIS
Hint: Have a body and run.
While fangirling on a recent Saturday night, I saw that Lauren Fleshmen would be at the Oiselle Flagship Store the next day signing copies of her new book. I tweeted that I was excited to attend, and Lauren Fleshman replied. Thrilled, I had Twitter-committed to meeting a hero and finding new running gear.
Despite my initial excitement about new gear and personal heroes, I woke on Sunday trepidatious. A not so nice inner voice said, “It's raining. Maggie won't like the long run. Your back hurts. You’re too big to fit into those clothes. You’ll embarrass yourself.”
I was scared of walking into a store where nothing would fit. And I am also scared as I am writing this blog. Speaking publicly about my body is not unlike walking into a store in which you may not fit anything; it is terrifying and wrought with pitfalls and the worst comment trolls.
“In high school I was a cross country star who quit the sport because of anorexia...”, I began. Then I paused. I did not want to tell a story about my worst moment in a sport I love.
I next cut everything except for, “Kara Goucher favorited a tweet and I was like: HUSBAND, PEEL ME OFF THE FLOOR FOR I HAVE DIED.” This was an acceptable tweet, but it was not a compelling blog.
I need to be brave and tell my whole story, because I am not alone. Women runners come big, small, short, tall. We are fast, slow, and everything in between. But the images we often see of runners are idealized and homogenous, and rarely are there positive images of runners who do not meet that ideal.
I AM a runner. I am a very good runner. I do not run a sub20 minute 5k right now, but love the sport, set and meet goals, gut it out at workouts, face my fears, and race with my heart. I am also a mother of two young children, a running nerd, librarian, formerly ranked #9 in the state for cross country, and I am struggling with my weight.
In Lauren Fleshman’s viral blog post “Keeping it Real” she shares her amazing abs in a runway shoot and then her “belly roll” and “thigh cheese” at practice. In her follow-up in Runner’s World she admits that because of nerves the blog sat in her drafts box for months. I thought, “If Lauren Fleshman was nervous to write about her body and found the courage, maybe I can find that courage too.”
Women’s bodies are miraculously diverse. Even throughout our lives, our bodies can change dramatically. Once, while in recovery, someone asked me what I had done to look so good. I answered cheerfully, “Gained forty pounds!” After having my second child Maggie, I became ill and was on bed rest for two months postpartum.
When I was allowed to move again, I was a size 18 (above right), significantly bigger than my prepregnancy size 8 (above left). I wanted running gear, but shopping in my new body was hard. Stores I frequented pre-baby had nothing in my size. I felt uncomfortable entering a running store when I couldn’t identify with the images I saw of women runners. I doubted that clothes that fit models would be comfortable on me, and I was often correct as cuts were too short, too snug. I looked at Oiselle months later, after getting within range of their size offerings, and had a nagging hesitation, “I don't have a 'Runner’s Body' yet, there's nothing for me.”
Then with the blog post We Work for Women’s Bodies Oiselle did something that struck a chord. They published images of fan runners of various body shapes and sizes wearing Oiselle gear with each runner’s size noted. All the runners looked amazing and comfortable in their Flystyle, and each was equally recognized as a runner.
On Sunday morning, I found my courage and told myself, “You ARE a runner, and you are going to take your runner self on a run, and run all the way to that fantastic running store, meet Lauren Fleshman (do not actually do a cheerleading routine at her!) and get yourself a pair of running tights. And if, my dear, IF you do not fit into their clothes, you are still a runner.”
I strapped Maggie into the stroller and I ran the 5.5 miles to Oiselle. Upon meeting Lauren Fleshman, I did not yell, “You are my hero!” then faint to the floor. And, despite initial fears of embarrassment, I left Oiselle with gorgeous, perfectly fitting gear for MY runner's body.
Fear hems us in, and silence begets shame. Here is the thing: Even if nothing in the Oiselle store fit my size and I left without anything in hand, I believe no one in that store would have thought I was any less of a runner.
I ran ten miles today, the farthest I’ve run since before I was pregnant with my daughter. Later this fall I will be running the Moose Pond Half Marathon, and I will not PR. I will certainly PW (Personal Worst), but that seems fitting with the lessons I am learning about owning my runner’s body.
Lauren Fleshman signed my book, "May the next year be full of awesome runs and some hard fought lessons." As a runner, I am challenged to push myself past my comfort zone and come face to face with potential failure. Once I get to the other side of the pain, embarrassment, and gut it out decisions, I might find that failure realized. But, I know that I will often find joy, triumph, and pride.
Cassie is a runner and librarian. Originally from Maine, she resides with her husband James and two children (1 and 3) in Seattle, WA. Cassie is the cofounder and main mediagopher at the Tatyana and Rory Wingham Charitable Projects (www.tatyandrory.org). Her current project is www.run2016in2016.com, a challenge to all runners to log at least 25 miles per week for 2016 to raise money for homeless pups. You can follow Cassie on Twitter at @CassaLaCassa.