If you're looking for Worthy Running Day 4, you can find it here.
Today, I want to talk about body image - and I've a story to tell. I feel like throughout my life I have dealt with body image issues of some kind or another. Admittedly, I've not really talked about it openly because even me mentioning it would usually evoke a response like: "Really, you have body image issues? But you're a D1 athlete. You can't talk about body image issues." Such responses were typical from people not in sport, or at least not at a beyond-high-school level. I didn't know that I wan't allowed to have these types of issues… or so it has often felt that way.
I think, though I may be wrong, that body image issues are most prominent in the Olympic sports; and perhaps the reason is because it is often these sports were the body is most on display. You're either in a speedo as a swimmer, or extremely short shorts or tights as a runner. (These are only a few examples; I know that there are others I could list.) As a distance (or rather mid-distance) runner, I often felt that I was too heavy - just too big and too stocky. I would look around at the other competitors in cross country or the track events I was running, and I would see the tiniest waists and skinny yet super toned legs. Most of the guys running the races I was in couldn't have been more than 130-140 pounds (some less)… and absolutely bird boned. Standing next to them on the starting line, I would sometimes become overly self-aware of my "thunder thighs" (or so I called them) and my wider than usual overall build - hips, shoulders, etc.
As an overly anxious person already (aren't all gays?), and with some obsessive tendencies, I have gone through several phases of unhealthy eating. Actually, to put it more accurately: I've at times had a rather unhealthy relationship with food. (I know people like my mom would read this and think: "But Coopie, you've always eaten so healthily!) I can't say that I've ever really under-ate, but I have absolutely become obsessive about what I've put into my body - with regards to both contents and amount. There would be days that all I could think about was food, and not because I was hungry, but because I was planning it all out - all the time. This paired with another obsession that I developed while running competitively: I became obsessed with weighing myself - always in hope of being lighter. Even at my lightest, I always had the idea in mind that if I could be just a couple of pounds lighter that it would translate to being a couple of seconds faster on the track.
I would look at myself in the mirror and, knowing what some of my teammates looked like, think that I was overweight (for a distance runner) or that my muscles just were not toned or defined enough. What was I doing wrong? The answer: nothing.
During my fourth year on the team, I finally gave up on trying to micromanage everything that I did. I let myself really start to enjoy my training, and truly adopted the best philosophy with regards to running: you have to enjoy it… just have fun. Sure, I still ate healthily, but not obsessively. Also, I stopped fretting about my weight and instead decided that I would embrace my strengths. I gave up on caring what my body looked like and started to pay more attention to how my body was feeling. I don't know if I ever told anyone this, but from January 1, 2017 until the week of the Big Ten Championships, I did at least 100 push-ups every single day, regardless of what other strength work we had for practice. And because I couldn't do 100 push-ups in one set, I was also doing more core to break up the sets. When it came time for the championships, I had never felt more fit and prepared in my entire life. I still go back and watch the race video occasionally, and yes, I do think I'm one of the bigger guys on the starting line (if not the biggest), but I also knew I was one of the strongest. My proudest moment of those championships isn't actually the final result of winning the Big Ten Mile title, but the fact that I ran three 1-mile races in under 24 hours, and all of them were in 4 minutes 7 seconds or faster. (If I recall, they were 4:07, 4:06, and 4:01).
I felt unbreakable - and that's another lesson that I feel I've learned over the years about my body: it's quite resilient. Countless teammates of mine, and runners from other programs, missed entire seasons or even years because of injuries. During my entire time running for the University of Minnesota, I never suffered from a major injury (besides heartbreak, but that's an entry for another time ;)). I may be bit stockier than most other runners, but that can have its advantages, too.
I want to also briefly mention body image issues coming from another area outside of running, but just as much a part of my identity: the gay community. It is so unfortunate how obsessive most gays are with how they look - as if everything depends on it. As much as I appreciate Pride, I have a simultaneous disdain for that time of year, but mostly of the months leading up to it when I start to see social media posts from gays preparing to starve themselves and make 10 weekly trips to the gym so that they look good wearing no clothing at a parade/march (that has now become, in many ways, only a party). Maybe I shouldn't be so cynical…
I guess what I am trying to say is that "there is no one size fits all" - a cliché. I thought that to be fast, I had to look a certain way. I thought that to be gay and be noticed, I also had to look a specific way. Neither of those are true.
I am currently building base mileage with the hopes that races will be held in person after Covid-19 is under control. I want to run the marathon. I know that I'm not the typical bird boned individual gifted with the talents to be successful at that distance, but I don't care. I'm going to keep doing what works for me and have fun doing so.
I hope that this post was worth your time reading (and thank you to those reading!). If you feel like supporting me and my fundraising challenge, please click here to pledge a few pennies! While there's been no new pledges yet today, I'm not feeling discouraged. Right now, pledges total $2.84 per mile run, and I've run 60 miles for the first five days of December. That's a total of $170.40! Let's see if we can break $3.00 in total pledged for tomorrow!
Thanks for reading, friends! Stay Cooped Up!