A Road Runner’s Trail Tales: Chapter 3
But what does a *trail* runner look like?
Not a rhetorical question I promise, I will answer it by the end! (Just need to get out a little rant first).
“You look like a marathoner.”
“You look like you probably run long distances.”
“How much do you even weigh?”
In my 5+ years now being in the running community, these are all things I have heard and questions I have been asked quite frequently. Even just today someone asked me how much I weigh… because that seemed like a valid conversation topic to them? In the track and road running scene there seems to be a lot of emphasis placed on body image and the way runners look as opposed to what they do. The most commonly thought of stereotype for a long distance runner is someone who is lithesome, extra thin, long limbs, 6 pack of abs, floating past everyone on their way to the finish line. In some ways this stereotype has some truths. There are plenty of professional marathoners out there that uphold this idea of what it means to be fit and fast as a long distance runner, but there are also plenty of examples of runners that are just as fast and tear this stereotype down. Even with plenty of examples of fast pro and non-pro runners alike of all different body types rocking it out there, it seems that our society has had a particularly hard time letting go of this stereotype.
One observation I have made is that the women’s running community specifically seems to be having one of the hardest times letting this go. Think about it… have you ever seen a male runner post about being #StrongNotSkinny? Have you ever seen male runners get in a social media war over what body type they support the most? There are several pro runners that are very outspoken on social media about their stance on body image, using hashtags, long posts, etc. to promote their own views on what being body positive means to them. Now don’t get me wrong, I think that these women have the best of intentions in trying to promote body image positivity and awareness about a complicated issue but the mark is being missed. As someone that has been open about their struggles with disordered eating in the past as well as body image, I feel that I can relate on a deeper level to what these posts might mean to those who have a complicated relationship with the issue.
Seeing someone promote their own body type ad nauseam (even with the best of intentions) can cause exactly the same negative thought patterns that they were trying to promote against. I shouldn’t feel like I have to pick a side between being strong or skinny. Why can’t I be both? Or neither? Why is being skinny an innately bad thing? Its just a word after all, and for the record I would consider myself both strong and skinny. Why should I feel like in order to run I need to be in one box or the other? By saying you are one thing and not another creates an idea of things being “good” and “bad”. It forces people into boxes they shouldn’t feel they have to be in and makes the world black and white and that’s just not how reality works.
Occasionally being vocal about body image positivity is a good thing and we need that every once in a while to keep the talk going, BUT (to me at least) that doesn’t look anything like promoting a certain body type specifically or putting one down at the sake of another. Instead, it looks like an acknowledgement of all of the different shaped bodies that are out there. An acknowledgement that they can all do great things. An acknowledgement that while body types do play some role in how fast you can run, it is far less important than how hard you are willing to work and how much passion you have for the sport. So to sum up this rant (which has a point I promise!)… I think that the women’s run
ning community could benefit from a little less talk on how we look (even with the the best of intentions in mind) and a little more talk about what we are achieving.
But do you know what exactly no one has said to me yet? Not one person has EVER said to me “You look like a trail runner”.
That might not mean a lot to some people but to me this was an epiphany if I’ve ever had one! It occurred to me one day in the middle of a run that no one in the trail community (to my knowledge) had ever put me in a box of what kind of body type I had. When I tell people I am a part-time trail runner now, no one says “oh yeah, you look like one”. If you ask yourself what a trail runner looks like what comes to mind for you? For me I start listing the gear they are likely to be wearing; a water pack, taller socks, some luggy colorful shoes, sunglasses, and probably dirt streaks all over their body; real life badasses. Now I don’t know about you, but the idea of being defined not by the kind of body I have but instead by the things that my body does (and wears out of necessity) is positive body image. I like that being in the trail community I never felt pressure to pass on free post-race snacks. I like that in the trail community my weight is unimportant, race weight isn’t a conversation topic, and talking about physical strength is useless. When you have 3500′ of vert to climb up a mountain, in a mere 3 miles, you find out REAL quick who’s strong and who’s not. It’s all about what you do, not what you look like you can or can’t do and to me that’s the important part.
As a disclaimer: Please don’t think that I am ignorant of the infiltration of eating disorders and body image stereotypes into the trail community. I think that body image occupies space in every facet of our society and is unfortunately inescapable. But I also think that the road and track running communities have a few lessons we can learn from our wily dirtbag counterparts over in the trail community.