Happy Monday, all!
On Saturday, July 4th, I woke up at my usual workday time of 5am so I could get ready and out the door to run the Sports Bra Squad Day 5K before it got too hot here in Pittsburgh, where we’re experiencing what I’m told is likely a record-breaking heatwave.
I have been training for this 5K since May, and the journey has been unlike any other. For starters, I’ve never really followed any sort of strict training plan for a 5K before. 3.1 miles is, in this body, a distance I can manage in one way or another without much conditioning.
But, like so many of us, I’ve struggled with the stay-at-home nature of most of 2020. Not because I crave people–no, my introverted socially anxious being is a little too comfortable not seeing many humans face to face. Rather, what I needed was a goal, a sense of forward momentum, something I usually find in working with and helping the students I serve in my dual roles of Student Affairs professional and adjunct faculty member.
And so, when I saw that Kelly Roberts of She Can & She Did, Run Selfie Repeat, and running coach extraordinaire planned to host a summer series of virtual races, I thought–sign me up!
Along with the limited edition Sports Bra Squad 5K buff, signing up for the paid version of the virtual events includes a training plan and access to a private group within the larger Badassladygang network.
Though I’ve followed training plans before, I’ve never done one with a community spearheaded by an actual running coach. What a difference it made in the journey, coming together with these women each week to chat about our goals and frustrations along the path to running our strongest 5K.
As an adult, I am displaced from many of the communities I once called home. Though I have had the honor and privilege of walking alongside many wonderful women in my life, these relationships have often faded or become physically distant as I have moved from place to place over the years. Something I miss deeply is the notion of a close circle of female friends, something I’ve rarely experienced for any length of time. Those weekly Zoom calls helped me understand what that might feel like, at least for a little while.
And on Saturday, Global Sports Bra Squad day, we ran apart but together. I woke up with a muted version of the anxiousness I normally feel before an in-person race. Can I do this?
I sipped coffee and water, ate a protein bar breakfast, and suited up for the run.
I’ve run in my sports bra before, but only ever as a midway-through-the run decision born of the heat. Laying out my clothes on Friday night, it felt so strange to see my running pants, knee brace, and sports bra with the vacuum of space my midsection would fill come morning.
Oddly enough, once I put it on, it didn’t feel all that strange. It helps that a) we’re in the middle of a heatwave and b) I planned to start my race at 6:30am on a Saturday, feeling reasonably safe that not many people would witness my first full-length sports bra run.
I recruited my boyfriend Andy to set up a finish line and meet me halfway with a cup of Nuun so it would feel a little bit like a real race. He added to the fun by also creating a starting line and using a nerf gun to sound off the start of the race.
I felt strong and powerful and only a little bit self conscious as I began my ascent of the hill that is our street, mentally rehearsing the route we’d planned out for my 3.1 there and back again. The people I passed waved cheerfully at me as I pulled my buff up over my mouth and nose and puffed steadily along.
It’s strange and empowering to know that when I am running, so much of what I’d normally feel in, say, a bikini, is relegated to the back corners of my mind. I’m focused on one foot in front of the other, so I forget to worry about the things society has taught me to hate and fight to shrink down–my not entirely flat stomach, my ever widening hips, the stretch marks that trace my body thanks to a slight miscommunication between my skin and the rest of me about the pace of puberty.
Only once during this run did I feel self-consciously shirtless–when a man on a motorcycle stopped at a redlight swiveled around in his seat to leer at me. In this moment, I knew he wasn’t staring at me because my stomach jiggles slightly or because my arms refuse to be narrow. No, he was staring because I was a woman without a shirt, and that made him feel he had the right to my body. I stared back, firm and unapologetic. This body is busy running a 5K right now–it is strong and it will carry me and it is not for you.
Andy met me at my “water station” and walked with me as I chugged down my Nuun. Then, it was 1.6 miles back home, where he sat awkwardly waiting for me by the toilet paper finish line while our neighbor watered his plants.
I asked Andy to film me running through the “tape” because I wanted to capture a good still of the moment to use on social media to celebrate with the other members of the Badassladygang who would run the 5K this weekend. In the back of my mind, I worried there wouldn’t be a single piece of his footage that I’d feel comfortable using, that I’d fall back on a selfie taken from the “right” angle to make me appear as slim and small as I could, to fit into the narrow definition of acceptable.
But instead, when I saw the video, it was not my pale stomach or my thick arms that drew me in–it was the sheer strength and victory as I crossed the finish line with a personal best race time. I grabbed the still, posted my photo, and kept watching and rewatching the video, masochistically searching for the body shame I was certain had to be lurking within me somewhere.
I didn’t find it. Not yesterday, anyway. Or the next day.
The thing is, we paint a false narrative around what “body positivity” or “body acceptance” looks like. There’s this idea that working with, not against, your body is a destination at which we arrive.
I don’t think this is true. I think, like so many things, accepting our bodies as they are and unlearning the toxic beauty standards we’ve imbibed since our births is a lifelong process. It isn’t a straight line, but an ever-fluctuating spectrum. Some days I look in the mirror and I see a brave, fierce, strong woman. Other days, I see the slowly deepening wrinkles on my forehead or the slight convex curve of my stomach.
We work and we strive to unlearn so much harmful conditioning. I’m not just talking about body positivity here, either. So, so much of what we’ve learned is meant to pin us–or those we consider not like us–into a tiny package that’s easier to control.
Those messages aren’t a thing of the past, though they may be subtler now than they were in my “nonfat everything” formative years. The journey to accepting ourselves as we are will never be linear–there will be good days and bad days, and the journey is about learning to reframe those bad days and increase the number of good ones.
My sports bra squad 5K was a good day. I am not lulled into thinking it means there won’t be bad ones. I’m still working on what it means to love this body that rejects the boxes available to it. This body that is neither thin enough to be a model in a magazine or thick and curvy enough to be a plus size candidate. That bears stretch marks before and outside of the process of childbirth. That has one foot curved slightly inwards from birth, making running a fun exploration of the cumulative effects of slight imbalances.
My body is my body, and we do what we can together.
I hope that as we all become brave enough to let our authentic selves be seen, we’ll help remind others that there are more ways to be a valid human being than what’s presented to us.
Running does that for me. Over these past few months of stay-at-home, running has been my sanity amongst the chaos. It’s how I coped with the extra quarantine weight, with the weight of being awakened so late to the many injustices I’ve been privileged not to see. It has given me time to think about the version of myself and the world that I want to return to, when and if we’re able to get back to some semblance of “normal.”
I hope you’re finding ways to connect to yourself and cultivate acceptance of even the parts of you that color outside the lines we’ve been given.
Next up for me is training to run 5 (!!!) miles. Here’s to another week on the run.