To the woman on the canal

Dear ‘I really wish I knew your name and don’t just want to call you Luke’s Mum’,

I hope you are ok. The comments the boy who I presume to be your child made earlier and that you endorsed suggest that maybe you are not. I hope you can fix that. I hope you can be happy. Of course you won’t read this. But I am going to pretend that you are because I would really like you to understand a few things.

I am the fat woman who ran past you on the canal towpath today. You know, the one your boys nearly tripped up as they raced me. The one who ‘lost’ that race to your boys as my scheduled walk break kicked in. The one who was told by one of your boys that had I been thin I would have won. That I need to be thin to be any good. Remember what you did when you heard that? You laughed and then you said ‘That’s right Luke’. Let’s unpick all of this a little bit: It actually happens relatively frequently that kids want to run alongside me for a bit but parents usually call them back or ask me if it’s ok (I don’t really like it but when asked usually say it’s ok and generally kids drop off after 30 seconds or so anyway). It actually also happens on occasion that kids call me fat. But usually this is simply a descriptor and they are quite right in their description. I am fat. I have never heard it as a value judgment from someone so young. I don’t really blame Luke. After all the message that fat is bad and thin is good is everywhere. It’s easy to pick up. But you? I think you know better. Our humanity does not depend on our size. Our value as a person has nothing to do with the width of our hips or wobbliness of our thighs. If you can’t see that I don’t know how to help you.

So here’s what I want you to know about our little encounter and I wish I could have shaken off the shock of it all straight away to articulate this and say it to your face. I’m sorry I just stared at you like an idiot and then ran off.

  1. What you did today, that laughter and those three words crushed me. You validated all of those things I used to know to be true – that I am too fat to run, that I can’t do it, that I don’t belong, that I am not good enough. Indeed, that fat is bad and thin is good.
  2. I was doing my last long run before the London Marathon. It was already tough because plans had changed, I was doing a different route to the one originally planned and confidence was relatively low in spite of going pretty well. I was roughly 7 miles in when I met you, not quite half way of my intended distance. You made me want to go home and give up. I nearly did. You made me cry.
  3. As well as nearly making me go home, in that moment you destroyed my confidence to the point that I nearly withdrew from the Marathon. I opened the email and hovered over the withdraw link for a little while as tears rolled down my face. Then I posted about our meeting on Facebook instead.
  4. The post resulted in so much support and love particularly from the #Run1000Miles trail running challenge group. They reminded me that you are wrong. That I am good enough, that I do belong and that fat is merely a descriptor of my size (I’m a size 16 and hover around the 14 stone mark, in case you wondered – so now you can be truly horrified at just how bad I am). They too made me cry but very different sort of tears. They made me keep going when I didn’t think I’d be able to settle enough to finish my run.
  5. I want you to know that I sobbed my way to 10 miles and then stopped for a re-set and calm down. I also want you to know that until we met I had been going well. I’d felt pretty good, comfortable and happy to be out. After our encounter every step was hard, every yard a battle and every mile impossible. Remember I still had nearly 8 miles to go if I was to complete my goal for today.
  6. Maybe I should say thank you. Maybe I just needed some more mental training, some more testing of grit and determination and maybe I needed evidence of other people believing in me. You forced me into gritting my teeth and slogging it out for far longer than I would have needed to otherwise and because of you I posted something on Facebook which got such an overwhelming response. I will draw on both of these things on the streets of London in 3 week’s time.
  7. You took something from me today which I can’t get back. You took the positivity out of my last long run. You took the joy of having completed the tough part of the training. I can’t celebrate this run in the way that I wanted to because of what you allowed your child to say and then said. I want you to know that this makes me really sad.
  8. I am also sad for you. And for Luke and the boy that was with him, his brother maybe. I wish I could go back and tell them something about winning and what winning means. In the context of our encounter I would tell them that for me winning is being out in the fresh air, it’s being able to run, it’s feeling the air fill my lungs and my legs move, it’s being aware of the strength I have, it’s running further and sometimes it’s running faster but its not about further or faster than someone else – it’s about being a better me. Winning is also about being kind, about celebrating others, it’s about laughing and loving. I would tell them that sometimes coming last is winning. I wish I could tell them something about being fat. I’m not quite sure what I would say here – maybe I would ask them what they think it means. Maybe I would tell them about my life, the things I’ve done, how much of the world I have been lucky to see and the people I have the privilege to know and love. Maybe I would tell them that even though sometimes my brain is poorly I am happy, that I love my life and that I am proud of the choices I have made. Maybe I’d tell them that fat doesn’t really mean anything in any of this.

Does any of this make sense to you? Probably not. Maybe you’re just too much part of the world bombarded with the fat=bad message to step outside of the narrative. I don’t know. I don’t know you. Maybe your own self-worth is so tied up with how you look that you can’t really imagine how it is that almost all of the time I don’t care about what I look like but what I can do. And the thing is, I can do a lot. Re-reading the Facebook comments and reflecting on today’s run made me realise that I won today. That doesn’t mean your boys lost actually, it just means that we weren’t in the same game, or the same league or whatever. We were measuring our achievements very differently. I’m happy Luke and his brother (I presume, I know, I’m sorry if I’m wrong) won the race they thought they were running. Being in front of me as I stopped to walk clearly made them happy. I didn’t lose that ‘race’ though – I wasn’t in it. I won because I was competing with the demons in my head and while you utterly crushed me and briefly gave them the upper hand, I didn’t stop. I won because your toxic words were drowned out by love and support and I was very quickly and firmly uncrushed. I won because in spite of sobbing my way for 3 miles and then taking a break to calm down I ran 13 miles within my target marathon pace and then managed another 2.4 to make sure I covered the distance I had set myself. I won because I’m not angry, I’m not even upset about the comments and your endorsement of them. I’m just sad that you think that to be any good you have to be thin and that you appear to be passing that thinking on to those boys who are going to have a whole load of unlearning to do.

Wishing you happiness and love

J x

Inspire Someone – A Response

On Sunday a fellow #Run1000Miler Paul Newey posted an entry on his blog titled ‘Inspire Someone’. It begins with two pictures of fat people running and the line: ‘What do you think when you see this?’ Well I think the best response in the group was Gary’s: ‘I see two runners competing in a race’ which is what I would have said. Mostly the responses to Paul’s blog were positive, agreeing with him that fat runners are inspirational and it’s so hard for us because were carrying all the weight….blabla. There were a couple of negative comments about how this was just another personal trainer trying to flog his business (don’t think it was) or how it was using fat people or whatever. I tuned out as I scrolled. One comment stuck with me though ‘If I was big and someone used my pic like that I’d want to die of embarrassment’. Oh my. So if someone used an image of me without my permission I’d be pissed off. If someone used it to be offensive, take the piss or whatever I might be a bit upset (depends on my mood on the day, I may just be fucking furious) but embarrassed? Nope. The comment suggested that the person posting it would be embarrassed IF THEY WERE BIG. I sort of wish I had a bikini pic of me I could plaster all over with all the wobbly bits in all their glory – but I don’t. I don’t own a bikini. Don’t get me wrong, I have my insecurities, I’m not a huge fan of my flabby wobbly bits, I get self conscious but embarrassed? Fuck no.

Anyway I digress. So I read most of the comments before I read the blog itself and I wanted to love it and be firmly on Paul’s side. I wanted him to have got the message right. I read the blog. I read it again. And then I posted this:

Hi Paul. First of all thank you. I’m a fat runner. I appreciate the support and the sentiment behind the post. I really do. I really really do. I know how hard it can be – for a long time I preferred to run in the dark when nobody could see me, I’ve been laughed at and commented on – not often but enough. But there is something slightly patronising about your blog. I know that you don’t mean that and it might really just be me and my insecurities. Maybe it’s the them and us – you know the fatties over there compared to the rest of us… I don’t know. Can I think about this a bit more and then maybe do a response to your blog on mine? I don’t want you to change it, I want to love it but there’s just something niggling me. Second issue – the photos – just because they’re on google doesn’t mean the people in them gave permission so this is something you might want to think about. if you do decide to swap them you are more than welcome to a picture of fat me running.

So, I don’t love the blog post. It’s been on my mind and I think I’m getting closer to being able to articulate why. So here are my thoughts

  1. I think Paul is genuine. I think the blog post is well intentioned and genuine and I think Paul is really trying to be supportive and lovely and caring and I think he really does see the hard work, mentally and physically, that these runners put in as inspirational. The blog comes from a good place, the right place.
  2. Mostly I like the blog
  3. There is something slightly patronising about it though – the tone is a bit them v us. Us is the ‘normal’ folk, the runners. Them is the fat runners, the not normal. He says:

To go out running when you have this shape takes much more mental strength than physical fitness. You’re not only fighting a battle against your own body but also against your own mind, more so than the rest of us in my opinion

Hm, well does it take more mental strength than physical fitness? This is loaded with assumptions. Fat does not necessarily equal unfit. I’ve always been fat but not always unfit. I’m not as fit as I’d like to be now but I know plenty of thin (or are we calling them normal?) people who are less fit. There are also assumptions about what goes on mentally. Yep I used to be a bit (ok ok A LOT) self conscious and I liked the cover of darkness but not anymore. I no longer care who sees me in my running kit. Wobbly bits will wobble – that’s life. And I really really don’t think we’re fighting against our own bodies. I mean really? Ok so granted, my body doesn’t always make this running thing easy but I’m not fighting it. I actually think it’s quite amazing really. I do fight my mind – daily. But that’s not because I’m fat, it’s just because I’m a fruit loop. So I think the thing with the paragraph is that it assumes that fat people struggle more than ‘normal’ people and I don’t think that’s right for either fatties or non fatties. I think running can just be bloody hard. I think sometimes the battle is physical and sometimes (mostly?) it’s mental. If the #Run1000Miles group has taught me anything it is that runners are not really so different from each other – tall, short, fat, thin. It’s kinda the same battles and where the emphasis falls is far more about where we are in our running journeys than about whether we’re fat or not.

4. Paul refers to the comments and and abuse fat runners face. Yep. Been there. But I’ve also been lucky. It’s been minor. The idea that a running club for obese people had to close down because of it is heartbreaking. People are cruel sometimes and I want to say thank you to Paul for calling out that cruelty and for adding his voice to the opposite message.

5. ‘These ladies and gents need to be encouraged’. Hm. Do we? Or rather: Do we need to be encouraged more than any other runner out there? I don’t think we do. Surely all runners like a bit of support and encouragement. Actually those who do need encouraging are those not yet out putting one foot in front of the other. And this is why actually Paul’s blog is important (thought possibly unlikely to be read by those it could benefit most). Fatties stuck on the sofa need to know that for every abuse shouting twat out there, there are 50 (at least) supportive, encouraging, friendly faces excitedly waiting to hear about their journeys, ready to be proud of them and their achievements. I can say all of that – but I’m also fat so that leaves room for doubt – normal people might not be so encouraging. Well Paul, sorry to label you normal but thanks for adding your voice.

6. Through the blog post and the comments on it in the group there is also an implicit and almost hidden assumption that fat people run because they want to get thin (normal!). Actually in my experience that’s mostly not true – particularly with fat people who have been running a little while. I think I probably started running to shift pounds – that hasn’t been my ‘why’ for a long time and it’s not the ‘why’ for many fat runners I know.

7. Something that was said in comments (Gary again I believe): ‘sometimes people just want recognition as a runner not because of their size’. I think Gary is my new hero. A while back my osteopath told me I was quite flexible for my age. I felt like punching him. I’m actually probably quite flexible for someone 10 years younger too so sod off. There’s the same thing with running sometimes and there are undertones of this in the blog – a sort of ‘aren’t they doing well for fatties’.  This is coupled with a slightly irritating ‘oh my god they’re so amazing’ attitude and ‘I couldn’t do it if I was that size’.  You don’t know that, you’re not this size, you’re just saying that because it sounds like the sort of thing you should say (Paul – I’m being unfair here I know).  Sorry but sometimes being told that you’re ‘brave’, ‘inspirational’, ‘courageous’, ‘strong’ is really exhausting (sometimes it’s also uplifting and amazing – sort of depends on the context). No I’m not. I’m just a fat person who runs. I’m delighted if by me being out there doing my wobbly thing others can take something from that which helps them go chase their dreams (or let’s face it – just get off the sofa). I’m not inspirational because I’m fat. If I am at all it’s because of my story in the same way that every runner is because of their story. We all have our whys and we all have our demons and we all run… So yes, inspire someone and hell yes keep running ladies, gents and unciorns but don’t make exercise of any kind about size, don’t assume fat means it’s harder, don’t assume thin means easier. I’m with Gary, I see two runners. The rest is kinda irrelevant.

BTW – I’ve been ignoring my Sunday weigh-ins – because quite frankly, they’re irrelevant!

 

Ice 1 – 0.5 Jess

I hate slippery conditions. Doesn’t even have to be ice, just a bit greasy will do to freak me out completely. It’s getting worse too. I hate it. But I hate being defeated more. Today I really wanted to try the 8 mile ish loop at Bolton Abbey that forms part of the half marathon course on the 4th February. I was more than happy for it to be a slow run/walk to take in the bits of the route we’ve not run before and to just enjoy being out.

It was cold this morning with a thick frost on the car. The pavements looked icy. Hm. I figured the paths at Bolton Abbey would be fine though, ice doesn’t stick to the gravely paths… Well the car park defeated me. I was in tears with a heart rate well above where it should be before we even made it to the loos. But the paths would be better.

They were better. Much better so we set of running and then hit a couple of patches were it was a little slippery. Nothing at all to worry about really. I managed the first bit by committing and keeping moving but I was irrationally terrified, the sort of fear that you know makes no sense. I knew what to do logically, I could even see a clear path through the next little section but my legs and rational part of my brain couldn’t override the other bit. The bit that was making everything tense and was screaming STOP. Kath stopped us. She said I was just going to hurt myself and she was right so I sobbed my way back to the car and home. I felt like I had lost myself what would no doubt have been a gorgeous run. If only I could just have got my butt through those patches….

I was sulky. I hate being defeated like that. My weekly total was still in single figures, I hadn’t done a long run, it was still cold out, it was gorgeous out… Kath asked if she was ok to go for a run (obviously yes) and said she was tempted to go ‘up’. I was tempted. I thought that maybe she could simply pick me up on her way back down if I plodded along following her up the hill. I got changed and we set off.

IMG_8337We walked the first bit together and there were some icy patches which I whimpered my way through. It’s all about relentless forward motion. I know this. As the road levels a bit before the next climb, Kath set off running (there she is disappearing off into the distance) and I kept walking – the plan was to conserve energy and run the later hills which are more undulating though overall up. I stopped briefly to chat to our neighbour who was walking his dog. Then I crossed the road to set off on my running bit – but the road was slippery. Not icy as such but that sort of funny frosty. I took a few steps and realised that everything was tense and my feet were already starting to hurt. Not sensible.

I turned round, sent Kath a text to confirm I was turning back but she was fine to carry on and set off on a slow jog. I got back to the road and really didn’t want to go back down, it felt like giving up so instead I turned right and followed the road. It was mostly in the full sun so just a few wet patches. It’s a bugger of a pull, always seemed fairly flat

IMG_8346
More of a pull than it looks!

in the car – it’s not. Further along there were a couple of sheltered patches where I picked my way through on the grass verge – ‘look ahead, relax, keep moving’. A left turn took me back down into the village. I wasn’t looking forward to the down because I’m not great with down at the best of times and add slipperiness to that… well. But it was ok. I kept to the sunny side and in spite of a few patches of ice I only stopped a couple of times to stand in for cars and take a few pictures. I was about to stop once, running out of mental strength to keep going through an icy patch so I said out loud ‘Stupid girl, you’re fine!’ before realising that there was someone walking just in front (hadn’t seen her because of the bend in the road). I got a bit of an odd look as I went past. At the bottom of this slope I was back on part of our sheep loop and I felt more confident – more like I knew the road and which bits to avoid. I even ran most of the way up Ilkley Road.

IMG_8351
Me Stopping for a deep breath and mind re-set before tackling the next section 

So, not the 8 miles I wanted but still 3.12 miles. Slow miles but purposeful miles. I hate icy, it did win today but it didn’t defeat me completely. I feel much better for having gone out again! Tomorrow is another day, maybe with another run!

Week 1 of #Run1000Miles: 12.47 miles and Sunday Weigh in – I’m exactly the same as last week

Aaaaargh Body Image

Aaaaaargh, body image. I am struggling with that. Of course I have my moments and my insecurities but generally I don’t actually pay much attention to body image. Particularly since Dopey training it’s been about what my body can do not about what it looks like. Before that I didn’t even think about that – my brain was always more important and powerful. But at the minute…. wow.

It’s that time of year maybe – lots of ‘party wear’ in the shops and advertised, the fashion, diet and fitness industries are ramping up their campaigns and even the models used to advertise more realistically sized underwear look remarkably skinny as far as I can see. So there’s that and then there’s some other stuff I won’t bore you with including my sense of just not being able to run at all. So if I can’t run and I’m struggling with some of the yoga sequences I could easily do not so long ago then focusing on what my body can do is actually not very helpful because the answer is: not much. I can’t measure myself by number of miles I run because I’ve hardly run any through November and into December so the dominant measure, the number that suddenly becomes important is the one on the scales. I know it’s not important, I know, I know, I know. But….

I have actually lost weight and I actually fit into some jeans I haven’t worn for ages (and I don’t even have to lie down to fasten them) so it should be all good. But there I go again equating lighter and slimmer with better. Urgh. Actually I want to be fitter and stronger; lighter and slimmer may (or not) be a side effect of that. So why the niggle, why the doubts, why the insecurities? Why can’t I get slim = good and therefore I am not good enough out of my head at the minute?

Enough of that. Let’s try and focus on what I can do. Today was the second run on the half marathon plan. 3 miles ish with some speed work – 4 sets of 30 second strides in this case (basically accelerating to flat out sprint over the duration). I didn’t exactly feel energetic and bouncy when we set out. I also felt ridiculously self conscious in running gear – running gear I have worn hundreds of times without giving it a second thought. We had a warm up jog down the road and then did the first 30 seconds as we turned slightly uphill on our usual route. 30 seconds is a fucking long time when you’re trying to accelerate to full sprint – uphill. It was ok though and after a short recovery walk we continued on at a slow pace. It was really windy and I was struggling to breathe a little but the second 30 second acceleration was also fine. I tried to keep up with Kath as she pulled ahead but no chance. Next came the slopes which I really struggled on today and then my head went. Why am I so bloody crap at this?!? And given that I am so crap at this why the hell am I still trying? I nearly fell over several times on my way down the former golf course to the canal because I couldn’t really see for tears.

Once on the canal I got my act together and did another 2 lots of 30 seconds acceleration with short recovery walks after each one and then I walked up the hill and slowly ran/walked the last bit home. I didn’t enjoy it, I didn’t really get a buzz from the running or even from having done it but it did help clear my head a little. The afternoon was undoubtedly more productive than it would have been without the run.

Next up is a 6 miler at the weekend. I vaguely remember 6 miles being really quite scary. Now 6 miles is just 6 miles. Progress of sorts.

 

 

 

 

Exploring new places, re-trying old ones

After the beach run on Friday we had planned another run from the Wild Running book for Saturday on our way home: the estate drive loop around Cragside house and gardens just outside Rothbury. We got up and had breakfast (not a full fry-up given we were running but a rather delicious bacon bagel instead) and got on the road. Seahouses to Cragside was a lovely scenic drive, not sure how long it took but it really wasn’t far.

We parked, changed our trainers and sorted our pockets out and headed for the visitor IMG_6606 2centre to use the loos. Then we set off. I knew the route was about 5.5-6 miles long and a road running round the estate. That’s all I knew.  I had no idea how much uphill I was going to have to do but just looking at the estate made clear that it was likely to be significant – for me anyway. It was raining, grey and atmospheric. Gorgeous really. We set off on a slow plod up a slope, stopped to walk as it turned into a steeper slope, ran a little as it evened off, walked as it went steeper, ran a bit, got grumpy because it was so bloody hard, kept it together and ran from tree to tree and walked a bit and ran a bit… the first mile and a quarter were relentlessly uphill and my legs were tired from running on the beach the day before, my calf muscles were tight, I was cross at myself for being so stupidly bloody unfit. Eventually though it levelled out and at 2 miles I got my act together and my head in the game – the view helped.

Miles 3 and 4 were awesome – ok so they were mostly sloping downhill but they were gorgeous. We each had our own personal cloud of flies around us which was a little irritating but I started to remember to look around and take in the colours, all sorts of different greens and browns and the rain felt soft and welcoming somehow. Mile 5 contained a few more ups and I did walk a little again but I was still enjoying it and then IMG_6602 2we saw a deer. She’d been grazing by the side of the road and as we approached skipped away across the road and off into the woodland. We caught another glimpse of her a little further on but then she was gone. We puffed up the final hills to the visitor centre and car park and got out wires crossed resulting in both of us being rather grumpy for a little while. We got changed in the visitor centre toilets and then had a jacket potato and drink in the cafe. – and started talking to each other again. Then we drove home. There are loads and loads of paths and trails to explore on that estate and we will undoubtedly be back!

We thought we might have another little run today and had planned a route which would take in the short wood trail and the uphill golf course track. Yep – I’m determined to get better at trail and at uphill – eventually together and I haven’t run the wood trail for a little while. I decided on my Mizuno trail shoes and off we went. All fine on mile one. Just after the one mile point we turned off onto the trail. I overthink this usually, I’m too hesitant, I don’t trust my feet but this time I just kept going – slowly but going. I didn’t stop once on the trail, just kept moving. My feet were hurting like hell. I don’t think it’s the shoes, I think it’s just different running and I was probably more tense than usual. By the time I got to the end of the trail I was pretty much in tears. We stopped a few minutes and I stretched and wiggled toes and let it pass. Rather than push too hard and risk injury we cut the route short and headed towards home. Still, 2 miles run and half a mile walked up the hill home. Happy with that.

So I have had 3 days of pretty awesome running and for that I am rewarding myself with the RunDisney Shorts virtual run series medal for July  (Bling whore, it’s terrible, I know). Rest day tomorrow and then on with the training plan’s next run on Tuesday.

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I brought back Sunday Weigh-In a while back and then haven’t really posted anything on it- it’s because I’m grumpy about it. My weight is resolutely staying the same. Exactly the same. It went down a pound randomly a couple of week’s ago and then went back up to the same number. Quite honestly I am sick of seeing that number. I am going to try and have a saintly week (oh apart from maybe tomorrow where I may be going out for tea) and see if the number shifts. I’ve even made Kath get on just to check that the scales are working!