My watch, glaring back at me after a romp through the woods on any given summer day over the past several months. 3200 calories is what had been burned. In some cases it is how many ‘are left’ in the day, in other days it is how many my body has consumed.
Part of the reason I came to trail running was because of the allure in terms of calorie consumption.
Perhaps I should put it another way…
I hate my body.
I chose to write this versus any other form of media because it keeps me from having to look anyone in the eyes, it keeps me from having to be upfront, fake a smile, laugh it off, or just lie through my own teeth. Selfishly, this is the easy road, the cop-out.
30 years of age and I still view myself as I did as an adolescent.
A curved nose. Skin that will never tan. A gut that will likely forever be there. Feet that are hideous to view, hair that is quickly vacating the scene, and muscle definition that…wait…there is no actual muscle definition.
I started running years ago because, like many, I shared the same vision. I wanted to run fast, eat well, and lose weight. For a while, in the very beginning at 275 pounds, losing the weight was easy. All I had to do was put down the cheeseburger, walk a few blocks, and the nastiness just melted way.
Until I hit 255 pounds.
I have retained the same weight for over six years now. Last month I was ‘officially weighed’ at a checkup; still 255 pounds. I run and strength train every week, miles on miles, and I am still 255 pounds. The number just sinks inside my head, and I’ve heard all the compliments, “I don’t believe you”, “You don’t show it”, and my person favorite, “You’re just a big guy”.
Yes, I am a big guy. I cut out fast food to the best of my ability, I eat more salads then most rabbits during any given spring, I know how to cook, I force myself to drink water (I hate water), and occasionally I reward myself with a Pepsi, a piece of pizza, or a Snickers candy bar.
…and every time I drink that Pepsi, eat that pizza, or enjoy that Snickers I can see the eyes staring at me. I can see the wife that is embarrassed. I can hear the voices talking about me not completing the next long run. I hear my heartbeat, I shuffle my feet, and I know that they are all right, I can’t make it.
I make excuses for my ailments. I contribute my knees to running on the road, my hips to ‘landing funny’ on a trail, and my high blood pressure to my family history. The reality is my knees hurt because they are weak, they are weak from not strength training enough and also because of the mass amount of mass they have to support. My family may have high blood pressure, but that isn’t an excuse if the weight stays high. My hips? That’s just because I try to do things that ‘big people shouldn’t try’.
It has always been this way.
I suppose at one point I was a wiry boy that was in high school. I barely remember any of that because I remember my classmates being tone, I remember looking at the mirror in disappointment, and I remember thinking, “Is there anything I can do to fix this?” Imagine, not surprisingly, believing that you are broken just because of the way you look. You can’t talk about it with anyone because they believe you are just playing on a pity-party for yourself, or they have nothing but shallow compliments to share with you. You walk along the hallways, thoughts kept to yourself, knowing that you stick out when you don’t want to, and comparative to the masses, you have very little to offer.
The lies you tell yourself stay with you through the years. College is no different, a failed marriage, you tell yourself, is partially because your ex-wife finally realized how unattractive you really were. The problems in life can easily be connected to the inner-thought of the individual (because we will force puzzle pieces together in amazing, dangerous ways).
I thought being a coach for an athletic team would be the answer, but no matter how I kicked the ball, drew up plays, or talked to players; my view of myself never changed.
Trail running was supposed to change that.
Sweat, stiff, sore legs trudging through the summer heat was supposed to be my sweet relief from this body I called home.
The weight never changed.
The visual image never changed.
The race photos, no matter how amazing, showed the same thing time and time again.
My stomach is sticking out there.
My face is pudgy, I think I am gaining weight again.
It would be better to look serious, and not smile. That way my cheeks won’t look as big.
Why does my face have to be a circle?
I wish I had some turnaround answer. I wish I could give some great piece on overcoming personal image, but the truth is, I haven’t figured it out. I have only taken a few dangerous steps towards, hopefully, something better.
I took my shirt off while I was running…with a group.
The summers out here can be nasty. Between the heat and humidity summer runs are not always enjoyed the most. However, the miles still have to get in. The group I run with is comprised of a few males, but overall females. They are kind, crazy, and very determined to do amazing things. If nothing else, they are good role models in that sense. One of the hot days this summer we were together to run. For several of them, heat equals time spent in a sports bra and that’s it. I’ve watched, I’ve listened to many talk about insecurities, but heat is heat and when it is hot, sometimes you just have to let it go.
3.5 miles into a run I was pouring sweat, and I was sick of my shirt. I told myself that I was around adults, that people wouldn’t judge, and frankly, no one would notice. At the last rest point I took my shirt off. I ran a mile, with people, with my shirt off. Even in high school, running out on country roads, I didn’t take my shirt off when everyone else did. Even though there were four of us out there; it was that embarrassing compared to the ‘real runners’. In 2017 I took my shirt off around a bunch of elite runners, and guess what? No one cared. Even while I felt my stomach slap against itself, just knowing that I was in a group that was worried more about comfort than looks, was a win in itself.
I ran 31 miles…and now I am running 50 more…
In February (and later in July) I ran 31 miles in one setting. It took forever, it hurt, and it probably wasn’t very smart, but I did it and was not broken afterwards. While not the fastest turtle out there, I cling to fact that I completed something that long. I can assure you moving around in the woods for 9+ hours with this much weight is not something that I take lightly. While I don’t believe it is an excuse for my current vantage point of myself, the memories of those distances, that tells me that I am not doing everything wrong.
A mountain runner told me something amazing.
In July I had the pleasure of working at a race high in the Colorado mountains. I saw amazing athletes do things that I can only dream of…in the mountains. At one of the many aid stations I was talking to a runner. He was from the area, he was doing alright given the circumstances, and he was huge. Just a large, burly mountain man. We briefly talked about size, and he said something that I will never forget:
Yeah. You’re big, alright. Tall, thick, with some leg muscle. I bet flat races are not your thing, and your pace is not incredible. However, if you keep going the way you’re going, I can tell you this from personal experience. You’re built like a mountain runner, you just don’t know it yet.
I wish I could run in the mountains for many different reasons. His words sat with me though; if speed wasn’t the key to my success, power and strength could be.
I smile for the camera.
Bless the good souls at Mile 90 photography. Them, and myself, have found each other at multiple races in multiple states (4 and counting). Somehow, someway they continue to get photos of me doing things outside of actual running. They encourage humor, action, and just fun. I adore their photos because they are capturing amazing memories. In the beginning, I was sad when I saw my race photos. I picked at every problem of myself; the amount of sweat, the stomach hanging over the shorts, etc…
When I see the humor though, and remember the memory associated with it, it causes my own anxiety of internal issues to disappear; at least for a while.
Make no mistake; I wish I looked better. Some things though, genetics, I don’t get to make a choice on. It is, what it is. My nose will forever be curved, my face circular, and my cheeks a reflection of Santa in the wintertime. These little moments haven’t cured my own serious, childish insecurities, but they have brought some brightness to rather dark days.
I wish I had an absolute answer, a cure all for something that I think does not just affect myself. However, I do not. The best I have is learning to lean on other people. To be honest, to be transparent, and to acknowledge the work that needs to be done, and also the successes that have already been found. I’m not a lost cause, I just struggle with the value of myself.
Just like everyone else.