Yesterday was the first day I’ve done any running in months. It can be discouraging to run, because any time off results in the need to start back at the beginning. I can go from successfully completing a 5k or longer with intervals of walking and jogging back to walking a mile and a quarter with barely any jogging at all. Living in a hot state doesn’t help and being a woman doesn’t help either. During the summer, it’s hot by 7 am and still hot by 9 pm. To run safely in the dark, I need a friend to run with me. It’s not easy to coordinate schedules and find the motivation to wake up at 4:30 or to change into running clothes and not pajamas at 9:15. Prior to the pandemic, I dealt with this by running on a treadmill at a gym. Since that’s not really an option, my running times are somewhat limited. When I was younger, I was embarrassed by my size, how red I got, how the sweat streamed almost instantly, and I consequently actively avoided running if I could help it. Some time after high school, I tried a 5k and finished near the end, well behind everyone else I knew that I was running the race with. Again, I compared myself to others, to how they looked running, how fast they were, instead of comparing myself against myself. I had just done a 5k which I had never done before. Instead of feeling proud of myself, I was ashamed that I had walked parts of it. I didn’t run again for at least a year after that. It wasn’t until my first year teaching that I just stopped caring about those things. There was a treadmill in a room used for all sorts of things and the principal said I could use it after school when I wanted to. Since I couldn’t get home in time to run before dark, I did treadmill interval training three afternoons a week, taking 90 minutes each week just for myself. I think only the custodian and the principal knew I was in that room, sweating profusely, gradually getting stronger, building my endurance. I’ve learned to answer carefully when I hear people say things like, “you don’t look like a runner”. What does a runner look like? A runner looks like anyone who is running. There is one shoe store in town that I always buy my running shoes from, because they have never made me feel like I shouldn’t run. Instead, they’ve measured my gait, where I place pressure on my feet, looked at my stride length and have fitted me every time with shoes meant to reduce impact and provide support. They’ve never said, “you don’t look like a runner”. They’ve assumed I was, because why else would I be in their store. In a world that uses language like “bikini summer” and “burn off that cheesecake”, exercise can be intimidating. It also doesn’t help when people say you’re brave for wearing compression leggings and an appropriate running top. Why am I brave when any other woman in the same clothing is not? It’s not the compliment you think it is. When the words we use to judge people and ourselves regarding exercise change, maybe more people will do it.
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