A runner’s size doesn’t tell you as much as you might think. In my nearly 15 years of running, I’ve had the unique experience of doing so at weights differing by nearly 50 pounds. On my 5’5’’ frame, that’s significant. My weight has played a major factor in my running – but probably not in the ways you might think. Sure, I was my fastest at my lightest weight – yet it was also my unhealthiest; I was able to run my farthest at my heaviest weight; and I was my weakest mentally at my ideal (according to BMI charts) weight.
The summer before freshman year, I was 15 and excited about joining my first high school sport, cross-country. I found running fun and satisfying, so I gave it my all. Then I made varsity and spent the next four years in a love-hate relationship with running; I loved the feeling it gave me to complete a workout or run a new distance, but I hated the competition and nerves of racing at the varsity level. I weighed around 115 pounds throughout high school, falling within the ‘healthy’ section highlighted for my height on the BMI chart. I was comfortable and confident with my body, proud of how it allowed me to run.
The first half of my freshman year in college I dropped to 105 pounds. I had voluntarily chosen to skip joining the cross-country team that first fall, because I wanted a break from the nerves and pressure I put on myself while racing, and I wanted to focus on adjusting to college life. By spring, I could no longer get clearance from my doctor to join the track or cross-country teams because, at 98 pounds, I was too underweight. I stayed at that weight throughout college, and continued running on my own. Although my low weight was due to disordered eating and borderline OCD, my dedication to running had never been stronger. I had unintentionally freed myself from the expectations of a team and was only running for myself. I started running half marathons and even won one in 1:27:00. I realized training solo and racing longer distances was where I felt most at peace – even at such an unpeaceful time in my life.
I put on 20 pounds over those two years, and qualified for Boston with the completion of my first marathon.
A couple years after college, I began dating the man I would eventually marry. Being a professional chef and avid rock climber, he was in incredible shape and knew what healthy really meant, through and through. Within two years of dating, he had completely re-educated me on what ‘healthy eating’ really means, and shown a level of commitment to me I’d never experienced, which gave me confidence to try just about anything. I put on 20 pounds over those two years, and qualified for Boston with the completion of my first marathon. I then signed up for my first triathlon and was soon training for a half Ironman. I put on another 20 pounds over the next two years and found myself at 140 pounds. Whatever wasn’t muscle must have been confidence; I’d never felt fitter or faster in my life. Finally I signed up for my first ultra marathon, a local 50K, and my husband ran it at my side.
Our third year of marriage, we decided to take a stab at parenting. At that time, my doctor recommended I slow down on all the training and even gain a few pounds. I was flabbergasted – gain weight? I was already at my heaviest ever! Turns out, muscle (and confidence, of course) weigh a lot more than fat, so the numbers on the scale really don’t tell you what you want to know. In need of a mental and physical break from all my long distance training anyway, I complied with the doctor and backed off on my workouts. My weight hit 145, and you know what? I still felt good. I still felt fit. I still felt confident. Then….I felt pregnant.
Five weeks after giving birth, I squeezed (barely) into my old running clothes and began the process of getting back in shape. Having lived through birthing a nine-pound baby, I had a very new respect for my body and its capabilities. Running and breastfeeding brought me back to my pre-pregnancy weight within two months, and I won my first trail marathon at 130 pounds, when my daughter was five and a half months old. I felt blissfully happy, confident, and healthy.
It’s been a 15-year journey so far, but I have definitely learned to respect my body at varying weights, and I understand now how little a number may actually reflect your health, abilities, and confidence. Here’s to the continuing journey and embracing health!
By: Audra Rundle