I keep a magic mirror in front of my treadmill. When I run in front of it, I see the reflection of myself in 2007, doing my Ironman, weighing 212 lbs. My reflection look strong and relaxed, happy to knock out the miles without a care in the world. Six mile run for breakfast? No problem for my reflection. Long slow 18 miler to support a friend training for the marathon? No problem for my reflection.
Want to know where I got this magic mirror? Home Depot. That’s right, the good old cheapo. To be honest, it’s just a regular 10 dollar mirror. The magic is in the placement. It turns out that the wife could not see herself in the mirror when I was on the treadmill, so she moved it way off center. It’s so far to the right that I can only see my shoulder and elbow when running, and there’s the magic. I cannot see the parts of my body that make it clear that I have gained lots of weight since 2007. I cannot see bounce that didn’t used to be there. I cannot see performance garments stretched beyond their designed capacity. I cannot see how far I have fallen.
All I can see is my strong shoulder and elbow bobbing up and down to the rhythm of my running. This is the shoulder of a runner. This is the shoulder of a person who can tap out the miles effortlessly. This is the shoulder of an Ironman. This view is exactly the same as it was in 2007.
All I need to do is to keep running, and remember that my 2007 self is inside of me, just waiting to get out. If I do that, the magic will become real once again. It is all a matter of perspective.
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.