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Running While Big – Part 1

Running group

My big ass and thick thighs have gotten me in trouble again.

“Squats, lunges, leg lifts–all the things everyone hates doing–this is what you need to be doing,” counsels my running coach Jarin, an -enthusiastic fitness enthusiast who is working with our 10K race training program.

We are in a post-run session with a sports medicine expert on injury prevention, a subject of great interest to me at the moment, given the various and sundry devices and braces on both my feet. Being a big girl running can have its challenges.

I stumbled into running as a result of misplaced guilt and an inability to say No. It was the beginning of the year 2000, and one of my gal pals was inspired by the turn of the century/millennium to challenge herself to run a 5K race. Like most women, however, she didn’t want to do it alone, so she cajoled me into doing it.

“There’s a walking group, too. You don’t have to run. Just go with me.”

Though never directly stated, I have a feeling that she was trying to do us both a favor by “helping” me get more exercise. I was the fat single friend to her petite married self, and I’m sure that she thought I could use a hand.

At 5’5″, 250 lbs, she wasn’t wrong, but that’s not why I did it.

I already had a solid walking habit, having grown up in a family that hiked and biked for fun. I loved being outside walking, and I could hike all day. But running, now that was a scary proposition.

There were a lot of surprises when I began running, but greatest among them was the absolute absence of judgment about my weight as an obstacle to running. I participated in a program sponsored by a running club, with the goal to make the sport of running more accessible to women. The coaches were volunteers from the group with he exception of the head coach:  he was the only guy around, and he was serious about what we were doing.

We met once a week for a group run with a coaching session afterward. In these sessions I learned about the importance of the right shoes (doing a “fitting” at a running store), hydration, stretching, rest and recovery. The first night Coach met with us and gave us the stern kind of talking to that I imagine new recruits experience the first day of bootcamp:

From this point on, no matter your former experience in the sport, you are athletes, and I expect you to think and act like athletes for the entirety of this program. We are going to give you the same kind of information that we give professional runners, and we expect you to behave accordingly.

I wanted to raise my hand and say, “But sir, I am not an athlete. I am the complete opposite of an athlete. I’m the anti-athlete. I trip stepping off the curbs. I’ve actually fallen off my own shoes, more than once. Ain’t no way I’m an athlete.”

But, I did as I was told, got fitted for shoes, drank ridiculous amounts of water, and learned to run. It was an education, going from running one minute at a time to running a mile at a time to running three miles without stopping. I went from walker to runner. I was an athlete, a slow, lumbering one, but still, an athlete, and I loved it.

However, I found the realization that I was an athlete and didn’t know it for 30-something years simultaneously exciting and infuriating. Why hadn’t anyone told me this? Why, in all those miserable years of Phys Ed in schools in 3 different states, had no gym teacher ever taught me to run? [Continued in Part 2]

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