No matter how big, how old, or how skilled: Your body is amazing

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, then you probably know that I have struggled with body image and disordered eating. You may also have figured out that endurance sport (both distance running and triathlon) has helped me to appreciate my body for what it can do

For the most part, I’ve learned I don’t have to look like the tall, thin women on the covers of magazines. (Yes, there are times I catch myself poking and pinching my body, wishing it was different. I imagine that will always be the case for me.)

Despite my misgivings about my shape, my body is a pretty amazing machine, and most days that helps me to accept that I’m built like a tank, rather than a race car. After all, tanks are pretty strong and indestructible. They’ve got their advantages. I can just mow right over those race cars. 😉

Recently, John and I went to a local sprint triathlon to cheer on our athletes and friends. The son of a our friend of ours commented on being passed by an older, “big” guy.

“I figured I would catch him on the run,” the young man, who is a tall, thin ectomorphic body type, recalled.

But, he didn’t catch him.

There are all types of bodies in triathlon and running. Yours will fit right in.

Here’s the thing: you can’t judge the person by the body. I’ve learned that lesson over and over and over again in triathlon.

Yes, much of the time, the fastest guys are the thinnest guys–especially when it comes down to the run. I recently wrote an article for the July issue of Runners Research News discussing in detail the ways in which lower body fat and weight are correlated with faster run times.

So, yes, we want to be as lean as is possible for our individual bodies. That’s good for our health and our athletic progress.

BUT, body size and composition do not account for all of the variance. And, leanness differs from body to body – especially for those of us who may be more densely muscular than others. For example, a mesomorphic body will be larger and heavier than an ectomorphic body, but those two bodies may be equally matched on race day–playing to different strengths.

What I’m trying to say is that we can’t give ourselves arbitrary excuses, such as body size, for why we can’t do something we may want to do.

I’ve heard more times than I would like to about how a friend or acquaintance could never do what John and I do because: they are too big (or small); they are too old; or they have convinced themselves that they can’t swim, bike and/or run.

Body type and size is highly variable in endurance sport – yet, we don’t always recognize this. The problem is that, culturally, we have a very limited conception of what it means to be “athletic.” With the Olympic games coming, we have begun to see images of athletes who are at the top of their field. But, even in this venue, the media has reported comments about some of the female athletes being “fat” or “chunky.”

Olympic hurdler Jessica Ennis. Does this look like the body of a “fat” woman? I don’t think so either, yet there are some who have said she’s “carrying too much weight” and that she is “fat” or “chunky.” To me, this looks like the body of a BAMF.

These women, such as Jessica Ennis, are some of the fittest women in the world, yet because their body type does not conform to some fake photoshopped image on the front of a trashy pop culture voltaren magazine, they are deemed fat or big or ugly.

I’ll wait here while they kick the ass of their haters.

Beyond just body size, however, there is also a conception that once we get past a certain age, we can no longer be athletes. I probably hear this more than anything else.

Hogwash.

John and I coach athletes in their late 50’s and 60’s – one of whom began running FOR THE FIRST TIME in January, and has gone on to complete her first series of road races this year, including several 5ks, a 7k and a 10k. She’s an athlete.

Another woman – 64 years young – is working on completing her first triathlon in just a few weeks. I recently spent an hour with her in the pool and her “don’t quit” attitude makes her an athlete. I can’t wait to watch her pass the 20-somethings :).

We saw this man doing the Lake Lenape Triathlon this past Sunday. He’s in his 70s. He’s not using age as an excuse. He’s getting out there and doing what he wants to do. I love him, and I hope I am that Captain Tri America cool when I become a tri-elder.

The point? Age is irrelevant.

And, when body or age disparagement isn’t enough, some like to convince themselves they lack the ability. Here’s the thing: swimming, biking and running are skills. We all need to work on our skills in order to do them well.

If someone doesn’t want to swim, bike or run, then no problem. I will leave him or her alone. But, if a person wants to try a sport, but doesn’t because of a perception about a lack of ability, now there’s a problem.

This perception may come out of a fear of not being able to perform at a certain level, which is quite different from not being able to do it at all. Just because we might not be the fastest person out there, doesn’t mean we can’t be successful athletes. We need to cultivate the skills, as we cultivated other learned skills throughout our lifetimes.

When I started triathlon, I had never swum with my face in the water. I swam my first triathlon swim with my face out of the water because I was so panicked. Was I scared as I learned to swim? Heck yes! I was CONVINCED that John was trying to kill me by pushing me into these events. But, I foiled him – I learned how to swim (and bike).

Right now, I’m coaching one of my dearest friends in her quest to complete her first triathlon in just a few weeks. The issue? She was afraid to learn how to swim.

The day of her first swim lesson with me, she walked through the doors of the pool, and said, “I’m scared.”

But, she pushed her fears aside, got in that water, and did everything I asked her to do. Within 30 minutes, she was swimming laps. She learned how to swim, with her face in the water. Is it hard? Sure. But, she’s not letting fear or the challenge keep her from pushing on in the pursuit of her goals.

And that’s the point.

We can’t let fear of failure, or fear of the unknown, or fear of whatever-our-fear-might-be keep us from doing what we want to do, of pushing ourselves past our perceived limits, of finding out how amazing we are.

No matter how big or small.

No matter how young or old.

No matter what skills we need to learn.

Get out there and do your thing because your body is pretty amazing.

14 Comments

  1. Pingback: International Women's Day: Nevertheless, She Persisted

  2. Totally agree!

    BTW, did you ready Chrissie Wellington’s book? She also had some eating disorders. Great read and shows we’re all human and suffer from the same issues.

    Thanks for the comment on my blog today. Makes sense to not re-injur this leg of mine. 🙂

  3. Kim

    I LUV you girl! You so “get” the challenge of getting out of one’s head to reach a goal! You inspire me and it’s awesome! Keep bringing it sista!
    I just might get to my new goal with your voice in my ear!
    🙂

  4. I’m new here! Great blog. Love this post. Triathlon really transforms how you view your body. I’ve always had issues with my body regardless of weight and finally, FINALLY, now that i’m in IM training, I value my body completely for what it can do!

  5. Regina Jenkins

    I remember only too well while attending the first Lake Placid Ironman with John and Maria and seeing alot of participants whom I was really surprised to see. All kinds of body types. Big, small, hefty, slim, frail, tough, lean and not so lean. Some of them gave me a WOW are you kidding me?? Maria told me just watch and see what those bodies do, and boy was she right. It was so amazing. They entered, they worked and they finished and they received my respect in their determination and diligence. How true it is .as this blog states..doesn’t matter young, old etc the human body is an amazing thing, and so are the bodies participants!

  6. What an amazing post, thank you! I do tris and run many events and i love seeing all body types. I am also a “heavier” runner, when people see me, they probably don’t really think runner or triathlete due to the lack of the long lean body but when I pass them or place at running events, they think otherwise. 🙂 I am strong and our bodies are amazing machines. Excellent post.

  7. Nice post. As an athlete who has body composition challenges I had to make the choice: Wait until I get in shape to race or start earlier. I chose earlier as I may never get to “in shape.”

    Also, beware of the old, fat folks who race. They often have learned how to compensate for their shortcomings. It seems like I never catch them.

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