I’m part of a very motivating, caring and diverse tribe of female runners online and there have been some comments coming through recently about how some of them have been told they don’t have ‘a runner’s body’. It got me thinking about what a runner’s body is and what it means to have one.
There really is only two criteria you need to fulfil. Do you run? Yes. Do you have a body? Yes. Then you have a runner’s body. It’s that simple. There are no required measurements, no genetic markers, no visible indicators that will tell you whether you have a body that can run. The only way to know whether you have one is to run. Can you? Then congratulations, you have a runner’s body.
I know I’m making light of this but it really is an exceptionally serious concept. I was told by various individuals throughout life what my body was and was not capable of. All of those comments ate away at my self esteem and contributed to how I viewed myself and what I was capable of. However I was fortunate enough to have others in my life who also planted different, more productive seeds.
One was my PE teacher, Mrs Jackson. I was not a star student in PE. I’d got it into my head that, as part of a rather unathletic family, I too was destined not to be successful in this area. I made a comment along those lines before a fitness test in Year 8 and she tore it down, telling me that it wasn’t my body letting me down but my mind and if I wanted to achieve in PE, I could. As proof, she nudged, pushed and cajoled me through my fitness test and I achieved a B, a huge improvement on the D I’d received in every other test. While I didn’t continue to push myself in sport as a teenager, that seed stayed with me and is something I still hold onto – I can do it, if I choose to.
I’m grateful for the confidence I’ve nurtured as an adult so that ill informed and potentially destructive comments now merely sting and don’t crush me. A physio once told me that my injured leg was caused by the fact that I continued to run despite not having a body built for running. I didn’t bother to ask him what one of those looked like or where I could get one, I just found a physio that didn’t have such a limited view of the world.
Recently, seeking advice after spraining my ankle, a doctor told me that people of my size needed to be very careful if they were going to run as injuries like this were more likely to happen. I’m not sure how injuries like ‘falling in a hole’ (which is how I sprained my ankle) happen more to people ‘of my size’ – do people who weigh less float over the top of them? Telling him that it was lucky he hadn’t told me that before running my marathon shut him down pretty quickly.
Ultimately, the truth is simple – I have a runner’s body. I know this because it has carried me over short and long distances for the last four years. It ran a marathon. The day after it had run a half marathon. It ran over 1000km last year. People who walk past me on the street or see me in work clothes may not realise that it’s a runner’s body as they don’t see me run but it doesn’t change the type of body I have. We have to make sure we all call people out who perpetuate the myth about needing to look a certain way to be considered an athlete. As Kelly Roberts says, strength doesn’t look a certain way, it feels a certain way. And, sprained ankle aside, I feel strong enough to get ready for marathon #2.