Yesterday I ran my fourth half marathon. It was a long and challenging run of 13.1 miles, and although I consider myself an athlete, my body isn’t exactly built like most runners we tend to visualize. I am ok with being the poster child of the “unconventional athlete;” in fact, it’s become my life’s work and something I proudly advocate. I strongly believe that no matter what age or size we are, an athlete lives inside all of us – and it’s never too late to reach inside and find it.
I am 42 years old and a plus size athlete; I am a slow runner but I have tenacity and spirit to get out there and achieve my athletic dreams. My hope is that my actions inspire others to put aside their fears and differences and lace up despite of it all. It’s my passion! Many years ago I made it my profession and now I have the great opportunity to work exclusively with plus size women of all ages to realize their fitness potential. I live it, I love it and I preach it, daily.
Being a slower runner I am often slotted at the back of the races based on my finishing time, and with years of running experience, I’ve become totally okay with my pace and placement. I’m not there to win. I am there to fulfill my dreams of being a long distance runner; I do it for good health and to be an example for others and the high I get from the endorphins isn’t bad either!
Yesterday I was placed in corral number 21 of 22, so I was literally at the back of thousands and thousands of runners. The tail end corrals are by far the most colorful and the ones with the most heart and soul. If you’ve seen the movie Titanic, it’s like being below decks with the fun people.
What I love about the back corrals is that they are full of all ages, shapes and sizes and it feels right at home for me. No one is anxiously pacing back and forth checking their Garmin for accurate timing and pace / heart rate ratios or sprinting up and down the curb doing their crazy high knee warm up. No, those people tend to be lined up in corrals 1 through 10. But back in 21 and 22 you’ll find people smiling; there’s laughter and sportsmanship camaraderie. This group seems to be more chilled out, and just like me, they are there for the accomplishment, fun and finish – not necessarily for the record breaking finishing time.
Along the course you will see people ranging from 18 years old into their 70’s and it’s truly a testament that life doesn’t have to wind down with age or size. Some people walk and some people run and the only competition lies with ourselves.
I always love finishing off the race and then waiting at the finish line to watch and support the others coming through. There seems to be a mutual respect for runners alike because we all know what it takes to be out there running the distance. I find the diversity in people extremely inspiring.
Last year after finishing half marathon I stuck around for the awards ceremony where certain runners are honored for the best finishing times. I wanted to get a glimpse of the Kenyan’s who are undoubtedly the fastest runners in the world. They finish in the lead at most runs and Olympic running events, and defy what most people believe is possible.
After arriving, I realized that I missed the Kenyan winner, but that day I was exposed to a different runner who profoundly inspired me more than any other. He too defies what people believe is possible; he was the winner of the over 80 category at 84 years old. He ran a 13.1-mile distance and I’ll say humbly that he beat my race time that day with a 2:21 finish. I took some time to visit with him and talk with his daughter. She said, “It’s his running that keeps him alive,” and by ‘alive’ she meant it gave him purpose and joy.
That day I was so deeply moved and inspired by him, it’s something I won’t forget. I love this picture I took with him because it represents size and age diversity in athletics, and it’s something we very rarely see in the public view.
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Often media and advertisers overlook these demographics to advertise products and sadly, as a result, we don’t see this imagery in front of us that tells us that these athletes actually exist. My experience shows me that size and age diversity is something that most definitely exists at the races.
My inspiration lives in the diversity of the human “race.”
Seeing what I see at races and meeting this amazing man only continues to fuel my belief that size and age are fairly arbitrary numbers, and the good life is driven by a mindset.
The human body is an amazing machine that will do anything you train it to do. If your mind comes along for the ride virtually anything is possible. So whether you’re an athlete or what society perceives to be an “unconventional” athlete, my mindset tells me that life is limitless when the will and tenacity to get it done are present.