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I am a newer trail runner, and definitely back of the pack. I struggle with body image and would love to hear your thoughts about accepting one’s body the way it is, rather than trying to fit the mold of a traditional thin runner.
I was always self-conscious about not having a “runners body,” and that translated to believing I didn’t have a “fit pregnant runners body,” and then dealing with an entirely new body postpartum. The funny thing is, when I looked back at the “old” me, what I saw was a body I loved, and I couldn’t believe I ever hated it. What I realized is that I associated that “old” body, right before I got pregnant, with the highest athletic achievements of my adult life – and it made me appreciate it much more than I ever did when I had it. Now postpartum again, and having had the opportunity to have viewed myself though different phases and body sizes, I’m actively working on appreciating my body for what it is, where I’m at – and how its adapting to let me achieve new things again. I focus on the knowledge that if I’m making choices everyday (fueling, training, etc) to be at my best as an athlete, breastfeeding mother, wife, coworker, and friend – then my unique body is going to be exactly what it needs to be to do what it needs to do.
I’ve never “looked like” a runner. But the reality is that runners come in all shapes and sizes. Running ultras helped me since there are a wide variety of body types in them. In the end though, it was focusing on what my body was doing rather than how it looked doing it that gave me confidence. As you reach goals, be they mileage, elevation, or time-based, thank your body for how strong and capable it is!
One of my ultimate favorite parts of the trail running community is its diversity. It’s truly incredible seeing all different body types out there doing their thing at all distances. If you struggle with body image, make sure to find other runners that look similar to you. Reach out to them, get to know their story! It’s important to remind yourself to celebrate your body and give it grace for what it allows you to do. Your strengths may be someone else’s weakness!
First off, welcome to trail running! Back of the pack or not, you’re among the tribe of trail runners! It’s hard to not struggle with body image sometimes, especially when we don’t see runners that look like us. One thing I do is really carefully curate my social media feeds to feature runners of color, runners of all body types, and walks of life! It changes my outlook when my feed is flooded with all types of runners! My mindset has shifted about what a runner is supposed to look like. Do you run? You’re a runner! And think about how amazing it is that our bodies can power us up and over mountains and through trails! I always try to celebrate the gift of movement and thank my body for letting me do that no matter how much I weigh or what I look like. But the first step for me was changing the images I put in front of myself.
We all are different shapes and sizes…so I would like to say, no worries. As you train, run and eat healthy more, your body will be stronger and that makes you feel good!!! I started thinking differently like… “I can run 100 miles with no injury because I have short but strong legs with no injury!!!”
Some of the most important coaching I ever got was to “take what the body gives.” Meaning, embrace the journey of accepting where you are at any moment and, literally, running with it. There aren’t many runners who haven’t been dogged by gremlins of doubt and comparison at some point, but the truth is that your body is doing amazing things just by setting foot on the trail. And while it might seem you’re at the back of the pack, I assure you there will be people who’d love to run a mile in your shoes. Don’t be limited by the tiny sampling of runners you see around you because it’s not representative of all runners who enjoy the trails; you are not alone. And this: find role models who empower you and remind you that the trails really are for every body. Start with Mirna “The Mirnavator” Valero.
I am a larger-bodied, mid-to-back-packer ultra runner who has completed every distance from 1 mile to 100 miles….if I can do it, anyone can! But it has taken me years to accept my body. My mother once told me I’d die from diabetes like my granddaddy if I didn’t lose weight; that cut/hit hard. I used her words as fuel (though I didn’t take it to heart)- I wanted to be a role model to other womxn that you can be large and you can be healthy. Every day, I find gratitude in what my body can do for me. Some days are harder than others- I work really hard with exercise, stress management, sleep, nutrition and keeping peace in my life, yet I still remain larger than most of my peers. I’ve accepted that I really love my life and am so grateful for what my body does for me, and the more I self-sabotage, the more hurt I am doing to myself and others. Acceptance isn’t an easy journey; I watch my mom battle disordered eating patterns and praise the Higher beings that I have grown past that. Be so proud of yourself, your journey, your body and all of what it does for you every day!
I LOVE this question! The back of the pack is where the party is at. Trust me because I’m a back of the packer too. I started trail running probably 4 years ago at this point and later in life. I was never athletic (I was an oboe player in the band for middle school and high school) during my youth and found running in my late 30s. My family has also told me that I’m short and stout (yes, like a tea kettle. Just tip me over and pour me out). I think the saying is “comparison is the thief of joy” and in the case of comparing our bodies to others this is 100% true. Rather than trying to fit the mold I would say reshape the mold and remind yourself YOU are strong. YOU are capable. You are covering the same distance as other people. And it has nothing to do with a body type of shape. It’s been awesome to see the evolution of running apparel companies to have more size inclusivity in their clothes and their advertisements too. I see a lot more “women like me” now than I ever have before.
If you can, be a part of a local trail race. Look around. You’ll see all kinds of body types all along the trail – in the front, middle and back of the pack. This is one of my favorite things about our sport! The only thing you’ll notice that all trail runners have in common is that we are all strong. I remind myself that my muscles (quads, glutes, calves and heart!) get me up and down technical mountain trails, not the number on the bathroom scale. In fact, I owe my longevity in the sport to the fact that I have prioritized strength and perseverance over “skinniness.” If you run that means you already have the body of a runner. One little trick I use if I’m feeling down on myself is to find a running outfit style or color that makes me feel good – this helps me find that confidence more easily.
Hello! I am a person who doesn’t fit the typical runner body type mold. I have had people say (with the best of intentions) that they are so impressed at how long I can go because I don’t even look like a runner. It used to really affect me because I wanted to “look the part” so badly. I know what I can do, and I held the belief for too long that those things didn’t count as much because I didn’t look like a typical runner. Trail running is pretty accepting, regardless of pace, body type, distance run, etc…It still bugs me from time to time, being back of the pack, but I’ve trained my mind to just get back to why I’m out there. I don’t want to feed the “not good enough” thoughts anymore. I just want to be in nature and I want to run when I feel like running. Self criticism will tell us things like we don’t fit in and that we aren’t good enough to be a “real” trail runner. Self acceptance will have us trying new things, just like you have done with trail running. Be curious about what your body can do, not what it looks like. Onward!
Our bodies are amazing and the distances our feet can carry us is really cool. No matter who you are or what your body shape is, I think reminding ourselves of this is really important. There is no mold we have to fit in order to adventure on the trails and all of our bodies bring their own set of strengths. So, thank you, legs! Thank you, body!
Welcome to trail running!! The guy who convinced me that I could run 50k was 6’3” and weighed over 200lbs telling me that if he could do it, then I could do it. I loved it then and still love that his frame gave me such confidence. And that being on start lines and taking note of the variety of people and body types lined up and all are able to accomplish the same thing makes my heart sore in the happiest of ways. I grew up in the 80’s/90’s and also fell into the marketing that thin was best (not just for running). That BS marketing and the long term effects it has had on our beliefs, in short, ticks me off and needs to be destroyed. It shouldn’t be novel or new that we show that any body type is an athlete. All to say, I believe what you want to do is what makes you a runner. Your mind, body and soul will be shaped by the miles.
Another idea – this is your super power moment. Find a pair of sunglasses or a hat that you like to wear running. Whenever you wear that item you are a runner, period. I’m a superhero fan, and, I love the power of the mind. Sometimes we just have to encourage our way of thinking with a few props.
I would surround yourself with like-minded and supportive people first, and look up to positive role models who spread a positive and realistic message on body image. I would also encourage you to celebrate what your body can do for you or journal about these things. Self acceptance starts with yourself, and positive self talk.
First and foremost, there’s no such thing as a traditional thin runner. We have been made to feel this way because these are the bodies that traditionally have landed on sports magazines and social media. But running bodies come in all sizes, shapes, colors, and heights. Your body is carrying you places and allowing you to experience some of the best that life has to offer. Remember that a “running body” is a body that runs. Simple as that. Love your body for allowing you to adventure and experience the world around you. Show yourself acceptance and grace. And, for the record, I’m a proud mid-pack runner! Over the years, I have grown to enjoy my position in the middle of the pack, as I feel less pressure to push hard all the time and there’s more time to smell the flowers and take a few photos along the way.
Easier said than done, but instead of worrying about loving the way we look, focus on trusting the ways our bodies work. Many of us wish we could look a certain way or have certain abilities, but remember that our bodies are amazing, resilient, and uniquely ours. It took a long time for me to realize that my pocket-sized body can be out there with the big dogs.
Love these insights and I can totally relate with the initial comment. As a late bloomer trail runner, fellow back of the packer (literally often coming in last), I have bouts of doubt or imposter syndrome; however, they get less and less as I gain more time on the trails. I am grateful that my 51-year old strong body has continued to move forward and try new things.
Thanks for your comment.
I feel like ive been dancing with body image for my whole life.
I used to do a lot of yoga and had a different body than now.
I’m 46 and have just started trail running.
I dont have a pack to run with so my progress is completely personal.
Someone said to me the other day “hey, it seems like you’re slaying it with the trail running, I just go for walks” it was someone I look up to and have always noticed how fit she looks. She was commenting on my attitude and confidence.
I am slaying it.
I talk about it, I show up to drop my kid off every morning in my running outfit. I dont really think my body has changed much but I put on a bathing suit the other day and the parts that usually make me turn away made me giggle.
It is kind of like my precious secret.
No one will know what my body is capable of except me and I don’t have to tell them.
I left a different fb group where everyone was so hard on themselves and self depreciating because of their “failure” rather than their wins.
I really like this group for its diversity and support.
I’m capable of doing things I wasn’t capable of 6 months ago. Thats pretty cool.
I love Erica’s comment about curating your social media feed to show diversity and inclusion in your sport. We ingest images like we ingest food. I’m going to take this to heart, starting by following each of the womxn here!
Thanks Brianne! It’s such a small shift but makes a difference. Taking control of the subconscious programming we feed ourselves is such a radically simple act of self-care!
Your body doesn’t (and shouldn’t) define you as a runner! Definitely agree with the point about diversifying the runners you follow on social media — every body type is out there crushing it!
I still struggle with this too. I’m quite short and petite and I’m definitely back of the pack. I’ve felt self-conscious about the fact that I’m not speedy and don’t have long runner’s legs, even if I have a smaller frame, but I do my best not to compare my pace to others because we all have unique abilities, and I don’t want to lose the joy I have for trail running because I’m focused on my speed, or my body!