“Wow, look at her thighs jiggle!”
“Ew, tattoos? That’s no lady!”
“OMG, I wouldn’t have the nerve to wear a sleeveless top in public with those arms!”
“Who does she think she is, trying to run? Go back to eating cookies, Fatty!”
The people I pass every afternoon when I run may think these things, but fortunately, they’ve never said them within earshot of me. Sure, they wouldn’t need to. The demons in my head are screaming it loud enough for everyone. I’m overweight. I’ve been overweight for all of my life, except for the latter half of my twenties when I was just downright fat. The “size 28/32, 330 pounds of my-knees-hurt-going-upstairs” kind of fat. It was the accumulated weight of years of depression and the stress of just scraping by translated into abusing my body with comfort eating and painfully little physical activity.
I slimmed down from that and I’m hovering around the 270 mark now. I’m still not happy with that weight, it’s still heavy enough to stop me from achieving my ultimate weight loss reward of learning to ride horseback (though only by about 20 pounds), but at least it’s a toned 270. I’m a size 20/22, I can run up and down stairs with nary a twinge and I don’t hate what I see in the mirror anymore.
In fact, last Thursday I finally decided that overweight or not, I was going to run. You see, I used to run a lot as a child until I hit about 13 or so when because of my weight it just became too hard. I still wanted to though. I ached for that feeling of utter freedom that comes with effortless speed, the landscape blurring as you race past, the wind of your passing lifting the hair from the back of your neck and flying it behind you like a banner. I dreamed about it, genuinely, a few times a month and every morning afterwards I would wake mourning the loss of that freedom of movement, that speed.
Even beyond the health benefits of running (it can strengthen your bones, improve your cardiac health immeasurably, increase your lean muscle mass and improve balance, there are even studies which support the idea that runners are less prone to dementia as they age, and on average feel about 15 years younger than they actually are) there are emotional and psychological benefits. Running releases endorphins, the body’s feel-good chemicals, leading to what many call “runner’s euphoria”. I would certainly agree with this one, after running I feel like I can take on the world! Additionally, running (indeed any physical exercise) can help battle depressive episodes, makes you feel powerful and because you are trading flab for lean muscle mass, the physical improvement in your appearance can exponentially increase your self-image.
So this all sounds wonderful, but what if you don’t look like the girl on the cover of Runner’s World or that gentleman with the large white smile and the lean physique who just blew past you at a dead run? How to you stop the demons in your head that telling you that you can’t run, that you shouldn’t, that you’re only embarrassing yourself and the people you are running with? Those nasty little voices that say you should just give up and get out of the way of the REAL runners?
You can, however, ignore them. You might have to live with them, but it doesn’t mean you have to listen to them. Sure you’re slow, maybe your thighs DO jiggle as you run, but none of that matters. You’re doing this for you. You’re doing it for the sake of the freedom it brings, the sense of power and confidence. You’re running because days, weeks, months, years from now, you will be in better shape than before, stronger, healthier. You run because every day is a battle against the demons that tell you that you can’t and there’s no way you’re going to let them win. Keep going, keep running, but keep your eyes open.
You’ll start to notice that whilst there are lots of beautiful men and women running along the same paths you’re travelling, gliding along on premium running shoes and barely puffed, there are a lot more runners who DON’T look like that. They look more like you. They are older, or heavier, or jigglier, red-faced and panting like an elderly steam engine trying to climb a mountainside. They’re just like you, not listening to the self-criticism, ignoring the demons that tell them they aren’t good enough.
Run despite the demons. Prove them wrong. Silence them with your success.