I was just talking with one of my students about why he finds it so stressful to run in public. After a long discussion, he admitted that his biggest issue was that he felt like all the other runners were watching him, and looking down on him. He was embarrassed about being a beginner, and more importantly about being 100 pounds overweight. He said that he felt like all the fit runners are thinking “look at that fatty running; he should get off the road”. Those are his actual words. It breaks my heart to hear such things from someone brave enough to start running as an adult. This is hard enough without voices in your head getting in your way.
I am writing this post to let him, and the whole world, know that this is not what most fit runners feel about overweight, or new runners. Over the years, I have spoken to dozens of my running friends about this topic, and their responses are almost always the same; we are very impressed with people just getting started. This is even truer if they are carrying extra weight. Almost anyone who now runs was once an out of shape beginner. We all remember just how hard it was to get started. We know what it feels like to be the slowest person on the running trail. We understand the self conscious feelings that can arise. We were not born runners, we made ourselves runners. Anyone who is out there doing the same has our admiration.
Now I understand that saying this will not solve my student’s problems. Your body image is a very complicated thing, and not one that can be fixed by an outside source. I have a clear memory of similar feelings when I was first starting. These feelings will get better, but it does take time. This being said, please try to understand what your fellow runners really think about when they see you on the road. They see someone working hard. They see someone putting in the effort to change. They see a future runner.
These people are not looking down on you. They are impressed by you.