Running can be a scary proposition, especially for an overweight, middle-aged woman. Becoming a personal trainer and running coach? Even scarier. But that’s what I did at age 45 – I quit my cushy corporate job and despite not looking even remotely like a fitness model, I opened a successful personal training studio, wrote a book about how to become a runner in the body you have right now, and became certified as a running coach.
A lot of people thought I was crazy, but I knew it was what I was meant to do in this world. Why?
Because I have been facing down the fear of being an overweight athlete in a size-six world for close to 20 years and that near-daily act of courage…of lacing up my running shoes, heading to the gym, and joining the ranks of the uber-fit on rows of treadmills taught me that I can do anything I set my mind to.
Starting an exercise program when you’re overweight can be intimidating. We live in a world where being fat is viewed as a character flaw, rather than simply the result of eating more than your body needs for fuel. Putting on workout clothes and walking into a gym where you don’t look like everyone else is an act of courage. But at least you can blend into the background of a Zumba class to feel less like an imposter.
Running on a treadmill, alone, where everyone can see and judge you for your sins can seem like the ultimate act of defiance of an intolerant world. Or the ultimate act of crazy.
Either way, a lot of women avoid it because deep down inside, they’re afraid someone will tell them they don’t belong.
When I first started running, I had the same fears. I worried that people would mock me for thinking I could do it. Or that they’d lecture me on how I would have a heart attack, or ruin my knees. Or tell me that i wasn’t a real runner because I was slow. And then I’d have to argue with them that it was my body and my business and all that stuff.
Every time I went for a run, I steeled myself for these discussions. I held debates in my head and stored up witty one-liners to shut down my naysayers.
But you know what? Not once…in almost two decades…has anyone told me I’m not a real runner. Or that I was going to destroy my body by running. Or that I was too fat to run. Not once. All of my worry, all of my internal arguing, was really just me trying to convince myself that I wasn’t a failure.
Turns out, I wasn’t ever afraid of what other people thought of me…I was afraid of my own opinion of myself. And that is something I can control.
Once I figured that out, I knew that I had to spread the message to the world, and help other women like me – women who wanted to be runners but thought they didn’t belong in the world of running – put their shoes on and pursue their dreams. To let them know that regardless of what they are afraid of, they can cross running off the list. They belong. They matter. They can do whatever they want to do, and even though it might be hard, and might not fit in with what society expects, it’s nobody else’s business.
If you run, you are a runner. A REAL runner. All you need to do is believe it, and it will be true.