I double knot my shoes and redo my ponytail for the fifth time this morning. My watch is synced, my thumb on the start button. Imprecise quantities of excitement and nervousness permeate the crisp fall air surrounding my best running-clothed self. I step up to the starting line and look ahead.
There she is. Just behind the men in shorter shorts than my own, the super fast looking woman in just spandex shorts and sports bra stands confidently in front of me. I’ve seen her a million times before: winning cross country races in high school and college, calmly gliding on the treadmill at the gym, and flaunting her toned abs on Instagram. Her confidence radiates like sunbeams ricocheting off her perfectly sculpted figure, and I swear I hear the echoing hum of angels projecting from behind her. Simultaneously intimidated and in awe, I start my watch as the gun goes off and watch her sprint ahead.
I can’t help but gawk. Her form is effortless. Her flawless anatomy seems made for running, and her arms and legs move in perfect synchrony and rhythm. She picks off the men, all while looking like she’s just out for her morning jog. She maintains equal parts tenacity and poise while surging ahead of her nearest competitors without batting an eye. Goodness, how does she make it look so easy?
I look down at my own body. I suddenly feel awkward and uncoordinated. My arms flail, crossing my body, while my legs struggle to maintain my stride as I ascend the hill. My breathing is labored, my movements beyond inefficient. I’m timid in moving past other runners, unsure as to whether they will re-pass me in another quarter mile. My eyes gravitate towards my watch to check my pace every two seconds. I have at least 30 pounds on her, and I feel every extra ounce in each step I take.
My mind begins to cloud with the same self-destructive thought that creeps up on me in almost every race:
I’m too fat for this.
It’s a bit of a complicated relationship, this running and body image thing. On one hand, this beautiful sport has taught me to embrace what my body can do, not what it looks like. It’s impossible not to respect that this incredible body of mine has literally carried itself on a bicycle across the country, completed an Ironman triathlon, and run thousands of miles over my lifetime. It’s fought hard and won epic battles against injuries, high mileage weeks, and sleep-deprived nights of studying.
At the same time, the competitive, perfectionist part of me repeatedly tears this same body down. I reprimand myself for not being able to say no to that ice cream, essentially choosing not to look and run like that girl in the sports bra. The harshest part of my brain tells myself that the less excess body weight I have, the faster I can be. I put so much time, effort, and mental space into running. Is it really that much harder to eat healthier and lose weight? Aren’t I better than this? Don’t I want to see how fast I can get?
It wasn’t always this way. The unwelcome negative words judging the way my body looks, how it should look, and how I’m so far from that ideal echo endlessly in my head, covertly chipping away at my self-value and worth. I’m reminded of the girl on the bus telling me, “You’re fat and ugly, and everyone in my homeroom thinks so, too.” I re-feel the insecurity provoked by the coach who transformed a discussion of my academic pursuits to one about my weight. I struggle, yet again, with the well-intentioned comments from family members that my joint pain and inability to own faster PRs would disappear if I shed more than a couple pounds. I carry so many unsolicited opinions and pieces of advice that I would give away without a second thought if I was in the business of making others feel awful about themselves.
Does it even matter? I know I’ll never be more than a slightly above average age group runner, but, honestly, the ramifications of such comments have affected me more than I’d like to admit, even beyond running. It’s more than easy to let these pessimistic lies snowball, a slippery slope of self-doubt and contempt that creep into my everyday, non-running life. As much as I try to cover up my insecurities with loose bandages of smiles and positivity, an “I’m feeling slow and fat today” quickly morphs into “I’m not and will never be good enough,” running and otherwise.
I shake my head purposefully and refocus. Maybe I don’t and may never look like her, but I’ve worked and will continue to work hard, too. Mile by mile I’ve slowly but surely mustered up something that almost resembles confidence, and I’m prepared to use it.
She might as well have a target on her back because I’ve made it my mission to reach her. My arms relax, my stride widens, and I take deep breaths. With each expiration, I forcefully kick my anxiety of and frustration with those hurtful words of my past to the curb. I reach deep in my memory, recalling the hours upon hours of training to get to where I am at this very moment. The sacrificed time and energy I spent burning off a disheartening day of work, catching up with friends, daydreaming about anything and everything, and getting to know myself more intimately are moments I wouldn’t give up for anything. The opportunities to test my physical and mental limits, to be disciplined in something when school is daunting and unpredictable, and to bond with others over a common passion are all God-given gifts that I truly cherish. My growing confidence and faith in my running ultimately translates to a growing confidence and faith in myself as a med student, future doctor, and general human being. These deep-rooted insecurities will always haunt me, but for a few miles, I’m able to reflect on the amazing journey towards inner peace that my (imperfectly) beautiful body has led me to.
A smile widens on my face. I don’t look like her, and I’ve re-remembered that that’s okay. I, too, can be the confident, fast girl in the sports bra without changing anything about myself, including my body. But regardless of how we look and our times, what matters is that we do what makes us smile and respect our bodies as the amazing machines that they are.
These deep-rooted insecurities will always haunt me, but for a few miles I'm able to reflect on the amazing journey towards inner peace that my (imperfectly) beautiful body has led me to. • • • Some (entirely too personal) thoughts on body image, self-confidence, and sports bras over on the blog today (see above for link)! Holla at @moiraleigh03 for participating in Operation-Take-Awkward-Pictures-in-Sports-Bras and 7ish effortless miles in the dark! • • • #strongnotskinny #sportsbrasquad! #medschool #medstudent #womeninmedicine #medschoolproblems #medschoollife #medschooldiaries #oisellevolée #capitalregionbirds #womensrunningcommunity #runnerscommunity #runnershoutouts #runshots #halfmarathontraining #mohawkhudsonhalfmarathon