Athleticism vs body size

This morning while I was running around at Mt Tabor — a super wet, totally perfect, puddle-splashing run that made it feel like I had the whole park to myself, just me and the kinglets and thrush — I was thinking about this book I’m reading, A Beautiful Work in Progress.

It’s a memoir by Mirna Valerio, who started the fat girl running blog (which it looks like has been absorbed into her newer website here). She’s a large lady totally rocking it running ultramarathons and otherwise being a giant badass.

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I was thinking about her not just because I was running and I’m currently reading her book about running, but because I was thinking about the idea of training, and athleticism.

As I’ve written before, I’ve never really super intentionally trained for anything, except for maybe the marathon I ran waaaay back right after college. And reading about how she goes after it so hard, like all this intentional cross-training, and a super commitment to getting up at like 4am for training runs every weekend, and going to the gym every day, and sneaking runs in during lunch breaks, and on and on — all that makes me feel like I’m such a fricken slacker.

And as I was running and thinking about it, I was incensed that it’s totally not fair that if you put the two of us next to each other and were asked to point to the “athlete,” probably you would point to me, not her. Because even though you don’t see me getting up at 4am every morning to go to the gym, or running 18 miles every weekend, or keeping track of my cross-training, I’m closer to the “typical” athletic build; I look more like the “athletes” you see in running magazines. And it doesn’t seem right that she’s doing so much more work than me and is taking her health and fitness so much more seriously than me, but I’d be more likely to be taken seriously as an athlete, just because I fit into what people expect to see. The link of body size to athleticism just seems wrong.

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(nope, nothing to do with athleticism; just honoring the feet that take me places;)

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Post-run, showered and dry and dressed in all my cozy things, reading her book again on the couch, I get to this:

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“Practicing more piano doesn’t make me a perfect pianist, but it makes me a better human being. It makes me more patient with my own learning and myself. It teaches me that I can experience deep joy simply by doing. Ultrarunning is similar. I’m not good at it. I’m not an elite runner. I’m always at the back, and sometimes I’m last. I don’t always make every cutoff, and sometimes I have to be pulled from the course. I’m slower than most power-hikers. People loop me on the course, but aside from some fleeing disappointment, I still want to be out there, in nature. There is still a beauty about simply doing the difficult thing that I will never be good at, for the pure pleasure of having engaged in the process.”

-Mirna Valerio, A Beautiful Work in Progress

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That, to me, is the coolest damn shit ever. That is the kind of admirable thing I wish we talked more about. Sure, it’s cool to win, and I’m not saying we should ignore the athletes at the top of their game, but it’s fricken amazing to be at the back every time and still love it so much. And I wish we celebrated that more, this dedication to something that you’re not “good” at by whatever socially-agreed-upon standards, dedication despite never getting accolades, despite, in fact, often being told that you should probably just quit.

So I’m feeling inspired. Not to train, necessarily, but just to be a better human, and to wholeheartedly pursue things that I’m not good at but do just because I love them.

3 Comments:

  1. Yeah! I’m a “good” athlete because my emotional heart says I am. It’s all that matters. I have rarely, if ever, been physically at the front of any pack – cycling, running, hiking, whatever. It’s those small moments of joy that make me feel like the hero I am. Listen to your own heart, amigos, for what “they” say or think doesn’t really matter.

  2. I admit I can turn almost anything into a competition….even emptying the dishwasher…. :-)
    However, as I’m well past 40 now, I have started focusing more on the whole body aspect of fitness and not just being a fast (relatively speaking) cyclist. This means weights twice a week at the gym (and I HATE working out inside) and trying to be more conscious about stretching and other cross training type activities. I will almost always choose bike as the first form of exercise/fun but as I get older it is more important to be healthy and strong. Being able to open a jar of pickles instead of focusing on being as light as possible is a good thing.

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