I had never thought of myself as a “runner”, really. In college, as a fencer, we jogged and did suicide sprints and other cardio training things, and while I was decent at sprinting (thanks to Ballet-level calf muscle strength), I sucked at long distance running. A mile? Oh god, a whole freaking mile? run, run, *puff, puff*, walk, walk, jog-run-get out of breath again, repeat ad nauseum.
But over the summer, I got a smartphone. And the thing with smartphones is that you can get all kinds of apps for them. And some of those apps are The Best Thing Ever. So I downloaded Zombies, Run for a fun change of pace for my walks. And then I found that I didn’t just want to walk anymore, I wanted to run. So I did. And then, I had the best luck ever: I looked for exercise wear at goodwill, and they happened to have a bra that was my exact size, which is pretty much a huge miracle, because my size is a large size but not a common large size. So I saw it as a sign: go run, woman! You were meant to run!
And I did. And it was hard at first, but also good. I eventually got to the point where a mile was no big deal. And then 2 miles, not a big deal.
And so I went for it, signed up for a 5K, and finished in fairly decent time.
My guy has been encouraging me all the way. He used to run cross country in high school and college, and continued throughout his adulthood, joining 10K’s and various races like Bay to Breakers in San Fransisco, but in the last 5-10 years, he’s phased out most of his running in favor of other athletic pursuits, like tennis. But inspired by me, he started running again. He goes on runs with me about twice a week or so.
And sometimes, it’s difficult for me to run with him.
The problem is, I am a very slow runner. I’m big, and I have large breasts which are all fibrocystic and sensitive. I flop, I jiggle, and none of it is comfortable. I haven’t done anything more athletic than walking for over a decade, so I haven’t got much in the way of muscle mass, and so I’ve have to build it up, and it hurts a good deal because I am not young anymore. For all these reasons, I prioritize endurance over speed. I’m happy slugging along at 13 minutes/mile on the grass, enjoying the stars and moon in the evening sky, or the jackrabbits and turkeys and occasional hawk in the park behind the cemetery, for 2-4 miles.
But when my guy is with me, he needs to run at his own pace, which is significantly faster than mine. Even though he has almost 2 decades on me in age, he can pretty much lap me easily. What he lacks these days is the endurance to keep that pace for a mile or 2 or 3. So he’ll run up ahead, then walk, letting me catch up, then take off again, and so forth.
Which is nice for him, but for me, mentally? Kind of sucks. I feel slow and fat and gross, and my self-talk tends to become very negative. For example, I tend to compare myself to his ex-wife, who was and is an amazing athlete. Who was and is way more conventionally beautiful than I ever was or ever could be. Who is thin and lithe and extremely well proportioned, in the conventional aesthetic sense of hip-to-waist ratios. And I think that that’s what my guy is thinking about. How much he loved her, loved sharing runs with her, how well they could run together. And how I just can’t because I am so fat and lazy and ugly and generally unworthy.
Yeah, negative self talk is nasty stuff, and I’d become an expert at it, given my depression and history of emotional abuse.
But fortunately, the “high” of running can often push the negative self talk into the background, and I can distract myself with the music and storyline of Zombies, Run, as well as the obstacle course that off-path grass running tends to provide.
But it gets really bad when we’ve gone running at the track. Not enough distraction, and running on a flat surface in a circle that’s only 1/4 mile around is boring. So boring. So the negative self-talk doesn’t get pushed down as easily, and the jarring of each footfall only makes every jiggle of my body that much more obvious and painful.
I tried to explain this the other night to him, as he was saying that track running can be just fine because what’s important is that you get into that zen running state, and you learn to push yourself with little mental games, varying your speed, etc.
I tried to explain how I need the distraction, but I don’t think I was able to. He’s never had to live in a fat body like mine, he doesn’t know how painful it can be, especially when you have large breasts.
He ran with me in the 5K. He did the thing he always does, running ahead, then taking a walking break, but we finished together, and I ran my guts out at the end. And I really enjoyed finishing with him, and I really enjoyed all the camaraderie of the other runners and the cheers from the support crew and random race watchers in the neighborhood.
At the heart of this experience, I have discovered some important things about myself:
-I do enjoy running. I plan to continue to do it and train for races for a long, long time, because they are fun!
-I love my guy, and he loves me, in the best way: we can help each other become better people. I love that I inspire him, and I love that he tells me about it in plain, simple language.
-I’ve got some ugly body issues that I will probably always grapple with, but at least I am aware enough now of some of the patterns which allow my jerk brain to take over. I need to run in nature (grass, parks, trails) to distract me from myself. Tracks suck. Maybe they won’t always, but for the foreseeable future, I should avoid them to protect my brain from itself.
-It’s ok to get frustrated with my guy for being unaware of my lived experience. He’ll learn. It’s ok to kind of not like him very much, sometimes. It’s ok because that’s just how people are, they’re going to annoy you and get on your last nerve and do stuff that you interpret as unkind, not because they’re bad people, but because they’re people, and they can’t know everything that’s in your brain or heart. What marks this pattern as different from previous relationships is the sense of respect that I feel from him. I feel appreciated. He uses his words and gestures to communicate how much he appreciates me. So the frustration and annoyance I feel from time to time just doesn’t have a chance to linger. And he doesn’t approach every problem or disagreement between us as a sign of doom for our relationship. And I am learning not to do that as well.
-It’s important to seek out inspiration from friends and family and the internet, too. Like Fat Girl Running. She is made of pure-grade awesomesauce and one day I’d love to meet her. Also my friend H who trail runs and bikes like a badass, because she so totally is.