The Ultramarathon Diaries: Body Image and Running

The Ultramarathon Diaries: Body Image & Running

Hi, I’m Millie and I’m going to try to run an ultramarathon. The Ultramarathon Diaries follow my journey from a sometimes runner to an ultra-athlete (Jk, or something near) over a year and a bit – join me won’t you?

Body Image and Running

I wanted to talk a little bit about how I got into running and a few of the barriers I’ve come across so far including body confidence. 

I’ve been an occasional runner for about 7 years now. I started in my last year of uni when a friend began training as a running coach to help people do the couch25k and I was her guinea pig. I can’t say that I was hooked.

For the next 3 years I ran on and off, and it was more off than on to be honest. My main motivation for going was to lose weight and I didn’t lose it fast, so I didn’t like it.  I also didn’t like the way that I looked when I was running and avidly avoided people and shop windows.

Without going too far down a self-reflecting rabbit hole here, I think a big turn off for running was my weight itself. I was low on body confidence because of my weight, cringe-worthy sweat levels and the beetroot colour my face went every time I did any form of exercise.  Coupled with this were a collection of confidence shattering incidents that occurred when I was jogging through the city a few times. I really hate wolf whistling, but having someone wolf whistle to get your attention and then yell “you ‘effing’ whale” as they speed past really takes the biscuit (or actually puts you off biscuits as you develop a mild eating disorder).

Just on a side note, having been overweight since my teenage years, I’ve got into a habit of regarding every unsolicited comment (nearly always from men) as sinister, mocking or just downright misogynistic – because they always are and there’s no justification for it. The worst thing that I’ve heard of in this regard was a close friend who actually had a man run up beside her while she was jogging who grabbed her belly and said ‘better lose that chub, love”. Phew, that annoyed me a lot just typing it.

Because of this I avoided shopping for any running gear because I couldn’t face the tight fitting clothing. I also tried to run at night time to avoid too many people.

When I finished uni and returned home to the peaks I went a bit more because I could run for 20 minutes in the morning without seeing anyone and felt better for it, I was probably jogging twice a week and didn’t really do any other form of exercise. A year later we went travelling for 11 months and I gave up running completely.

Back On Track

After we came home from a year away I was almost 2 stone lighter – because we ran out of money 9 months in, not because I got fitter. I wanted to keep it off so launched into a schedule of exercise classes with an incredible group in the Hope Valley called the Lean Queens. I felt more confident and stronger but I was still a weak runner.

Luckily lots of people at the day job were doing the Great North Run so there was quite a bit of peer pressure to go for a jog. There was no way I was going to do a half marathon but I could aim for 5k without stopping so I did. 

Everybody sweats, get over it.

About this time I had one of those ‘stop and reflect’ moments too which I owe to my awe-inspiring brother. He was playing rugby league semi-pro at the time and we were watching his matches fairly regularly. He’s always been really active and at uni he was training and playing every week with long gym sessions and a nutritionist to boot. And he sweated … a lot. He was bright red and soaking on the pitch. But no-one thought he looked ridiculous, he looked passionate and athletic – his sweat was proof of his determination to get those tris and support his team.

So if we were the same genetically with our red faces and wet hair then it didn’t matter that I looked like that when I ran. I realised that rather than be ashamed of it I should be proud of what my body was achieving. Because humans have evolved to sweat to regulate body temperature, right? It’s the most natural thing in the world so I was going to embrace it.

So I felt less self-conscious when I ran and because I wasn’t trying to lose weight I could enjoy it more. And then I got hooked on hitting the hills and bagging the miles.

I can hands down admit that I never thought that travelling uphill as fast as possible would be something that I’d ever do willingly, let alone enjoy it. But I started fell running and really liked it. I wasn’t confident enough to join a club or compete but I wanted to do it to prove to myself that I could. And a little while after that I discovered the whole world of ultras.

In my next blogpost I’ve started my week training diary, sensibly starting at week 1. Check it out here.