Learning to Love Your “Imperfect” Running Body

Learning to Love Your “Imperfect” Running Body

For the month of June, my Believe journal have been focused on body image – a topic all too familiar with many runners.  It has taken me the entire month to come up with the perfect way to present a blog post about this sensitive topic, and I honestly don’t believe that there is a perfect way to discuss it.  Why?  Because “perfect” doesn’t exist. Instead, we must all focus on accepting our “imperfect perfections”.  There is not a single person in this world that has the “ideal” body type we see on magazines, the “flawless” skin disguised by make-up, the beautifully chiseled muscles of our athletic idols, or the frizz-less hair of celebrities.  Instead, we are made up of many unique body traits that make us individuals – our uniquely shaped extremities, our natural skin, our free-flying hair style, and our uniquely developed muscles.  This is who we are.  This is who YOU are.

As runners, it has been instilled in our mind that the best runners are the thinnest, the ones with just the right amount of muscle, and the ones who still look flawless after a race.  But is that realistic?  If you haven’t been to a 5k in awhile, I ask you to sign up for one now.  Go to this race and look around.  Look at the person you’re standing next to at the starting line.  Then look at the fifth person behind you.  Do you all look the same?  Do you have the same hair?  The same amount of arm muscle?  The same shaped thighs and calves?  Most likely each one of you looks different.  And this is what we need to learn to accept – there is no “perfect” body type for running.  As long as those feet come off the ground, those legs are moving forward, and that heart of yours is beating, your body is perfect for running.

While brainstorming for this post, a particular video, titled “Size 26.2”, I watched a few months ago came into my mind. If you haven’t watched the video before, I encourage you to do so because this woman reminds you of why runners should appreciate their body.  I don’t think I’ve met a runner yet that hasn’t complained about some part of their running body.  The most common complaints are:

  • “My calf muscles are too big and I can’t find a pair of jeans that fit”
  • “I have thunderthighs”
  • “My arms have no muscle”
  • “I still don’t have six-pack abs”
  • “I have a pancake butt”
  • “My boobs are basically non-existent”
  • “My feet are absolutely disgusting”
  • “My hair is always so frizzy after I run”

The list goes on.  But as mentioned in the video, these are all complaints we should be proud of.  Without those calf muscles and thunderthighs, how would you reach the finish line?  Yeah, your arms may look like chopsticks, but how would you pump those arms during the final stretch of a race if they were bulky?  And honestly, six-pack abs rely heavily on diet, not just those ab-workouts you’ve been doing religiously.  That flat butt and those nearly-invisible boobs are just your method of aerodynamics.  Your feet look disgusting because they travel hundreds of miles per year – you can replace tires on your car, but you can’t replace your toes!  If your hair is flawless after a run, you must have some seriously strong hair product keeping those fly-aways from (yup, you guessed it) flying away.

As we critique our “imperfections”, we need to be reminded that without those “imperfections” we wouldn’t be runners.  And not every runner has the same body image “imperfections”.  Some runners have long legs.  Some are short and stocky.  Some have broader shoulders.  Some wear their hair in a ponytail.  Others prefer to keep their hair down. Some runners like to run in sports bras.  Some runners like to run without socks.  Jeez, some runners don’t even run with shoes!  So what are we even comparing ourselves to if every runner looks different?  How can we come up with this image of the “perfect runner” when every runner we pass by looks different?

Lastly, I’d like to comment on one other controversial topic among runners.  Eating.  I’ve met plenty of runners who say they run just so they can eat their dinner at night or drink some beer on the weekends.  They run to prevent weight gain. And this is where we get the common running quote of “I run so I can eat”.  But what if “eat” and “run” were swapped in that sentence?  I eat so I can run.  Read it again slowly:  I eat…so I can run.  I fuel my body so I can cover the mileage in my training plan.  I carbo-load so I have the energy to endure the run that lies before me.  I consume nutrients so I can finish a race with a new PR.  I eat so I can run.

So I ask you to answer this today:  What makes your body strong enough to run?

Respect your strength.

Embrace your imperfect perfections.

Be proud of your body.

Be proud of who you are.

Look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself that you are unique.  You are beautiful.  You are perfect.

And during your next race tell yourself that your legs are strong enough, fast enough, and powerful enough to bring you to that finish line.

Love your body – you only get one of them.