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.
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.”
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.
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 :).
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.