I ran my fourth 5K of the year this morning. And by "run," I really mean "jogged, then power walked, then kinda waddled for about a mile, but totally finished at a sprint while everyone at the finish line was looking!" My pace was a whole four seconds faster than the last run I did, and, darn it, that's improvement. I had a lot of time to think during today's race - particularly between miles 1 and 2, which are my weak point, physically and emotionally - about how I'd never really be a runner and this was a disaster and I was totally fooling myself to pretend I'd ever improve. But I came to another realization, too - underneath all the discouragement and mental self-flagellation, I had a stone-cold confidence about the situation. I was confident that I wouldn't time well, and I certainly wouldn't place, that it would be hard, and I'd fight myself the entire way... but that I'd keep going, I wouldn't stop, and I'd finish strong. And I did.
At my first 5K back in April of this year, I was more nervous than you can imagine. Not only was the physical aspect overwhelming, but I was embarrassed. I wondered how someone my size and my fitness level could even pretend moving their hulking mass 3.1 miles around the course was a good idea that had any possibility of NOT ending in utter disaster. I could feel the eyes of everyone around me as I imagined they haughtily scoffed in my direction and wondered what the fat girl thought she was trying to prove and how long it would be until she dropped out. But, I didn't drop out. I finished. And I thought I was going to die. I spent the time between miles 1 and 2 chanting in mantra-like cadence "this was a bad idea, this was a bad idea." But when I hit that Mile 3 marker and saw the finish line, I felt like King Kong on steroids. (Bonus points if you get that reference.) I ran under the finish line and felt like I was going to explode from sheer excitement. My time was 54:10, but no one could say anything that could make me any less proud of what I'd accomplished.
My second and third runs were those novelty-type runs that are popular (and awesome) right now - Color Run and Aqua Run. At both runs, I found myself surveying the crowd, seeing if I stood out as the fattest one there, and trying to avoid the judgmental stares of those around me. But I ran Color Run faster than my first run, and, even more importantly, I felt better after I'd finished. In contrast to my run in April, where it took nearly two days before I even felt like a person again, I finished Color Run feeling awesome. Aqua Run I didn't time, but I had fun, and I played around, and I finished and again felt awesome.
This morning, I arrived at check-in and I could again feel people staring me down. This was a much smaller event, only about 64 runners. I was petrified of coming in last. I had visions of being the last runner left on the course, of running to the finish line as they were breaking it down and yelling "No! Wait for me!" as everyone laughed at the fat girl who couldn't run. Instead, the small crowd of runners were very supportive, smiling and chatting as we waited to start. Still, there were wayward glances here and there. But I realized, for the first time, that I didn't care. I truly did not. I had done three 5Ks already this year. I had business being there. I knew I would finish, no matter what they thought when they looked at me. I know at my first few runs, my mind was awfulizing the stares and glances and making them seem worse, more malicious than they were, because the deep-rooted shame I had about my own fitness level was exacerbating what was already there and transforming it into crippling disgust. I thought I was going to fail, so I assumed everyone else thought that, too. Today, I came out knowing I would succeed and that made all the difference.
Today was a harder run for me than the last two. It was chilly, which was rough on my asthma, and I had a terrible cramp down the back left side of my body that didn't let up from about a half a mile in. But, still, something amazing happened. For the first time, I passed other runners! People who started ahead of me finished behind me. I never thought I would pass anyone, and yet, I gleefully realized, not only was I not last, I was gaining on those ahead of me! Also, short of the first minute of two of the race where everyone is sorting themselves out from the start and organizing the pack, no one passed ME until a few late runners caught up near the end. I finished strong, ran under the finish line, and crumpled onto the curb to collect myself. But I. Felt. AWESOME.
"Running While Fat" is definitely a phenomenon I know other overweight runners have experienced. It's hard to be around fit runners who you know can lap you without breaking a sweat and not feel drastically unqualified to step onto the race course. But I'm finding my confidence building. It's empowering to know that, while they may finish in a third of the time I do, I'm heaving three times the body mass they are around the same course and still finishing strong. Maybe I will never be a "runner." But I'm finding myself out there on runs as I realize I'm not letting my weight define who I am an what I can do. As I divorce myself from the image of that fat girl who can't run, I'm finding the woman inside who doesn't care what anyone else thinks, who just wants to push herself to be better than she was the time before, and who might be just a little amused at the stares of people who never thought she'd finish as follow her across the finish line.