Fat girls can run, or how I learned to conquer 13.1 miles

If someone had told the 19-year old me that I’d ever be able to run 13.1 miles, I wouldn’t have believed them.

Ten years ago, I entered my sophomore year of college having lost nearly 40 pounds. I was a svelte size 14, weighing in at  196, but I was deep in battle with food addiction, using starvation methods to keep myself slim. Coming off of a summer at home, where I wasn’t tempted by partying and late-night pizza, I landed back in school with very little time for exercise and my only perceived defense I had in my arsenal to combat yo-yo gain was to avoid food completely. For those who have ever tried starvation diets, the weight creeps back on with a vengeance. Within 5 months, the weight was back in surplus and I was pushing the scale to a weight very close to the weight I am now. I was hitting a size 20 and had a hard time walking the flat half mile to campus without being winded. I was beat physically and emotionally by this gain. Having come off the high of being “in shape” for the first time in my life, I did not realize that there were other options beside starvation and self pity.

In truth, I wouldn’t begin to see any real options for myself until I hit 27. The living I had done in those 8 years was phenomenal and it was in that time that I realized, after over two decades of being a large woman, that I could be both fit and fat.

In 2009, a close friend of mine, Christina, asked me if I wanted to sign up for the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco. A Half Marathon? Isn’t a marathon 26.2 miles? I’d be running 13.1 miles?

Surely 13.1 miles couldn’t be done, I thought to myself. I mean, fit girls can do it, but at my size? It seemed impossible.

Impossible happened.

Christina was (and still is) by far the most supportive cheerleader and coach I could have ever asked for. I had begun to run with another close friend of mine the summer before and having hit 3-miles on my own, she convinced me that with training, we could tackle 13.1 miles together. All we needed was 8 months of focused running. And that’s what we did.

We planned runs all over the Bay Area, changing our scenery with every opportunity we had. We took 5-mile runs from the cold of Twin Peaks to the Castro, tackled Bay-2-Breakers amidst the party-joggers and floats and went into our first 11-mile run from the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park around Lake Merced and to the San Francisco Zoo with enthusiasm. With each weekend, we would increase the mileage, and with it, Christina would increase her encouragement. We would run as slow as I needed to finish the route, even if it meant 15 minute miles. As the October 2009 race date approached, we would add a mile to each weekend run and I would feel more motivated to train during the week because I knew I had my coach to make proud.

I remember the morning of our race with absolute clarity. I met up with Christina that morning at 6:45am in Union Square. We were amped up and I felt like Wonder Woman – and as the race began, Christina and I acknowledged we’d be together through the whole thing (even though we knew she could outrun me easily). The packs began to take off and we followed suit, keeping pace with the mid-level runners, winding our way through the piers to the Golden Gate Bridge. Hitting the steep incline that made its way up the hill towards mile 8, I felt the first real moments of deep fatigue – and as that moment hit me, Christina turned to me with a “you can do this” look and we plowed out way up the hill, knowing what was on the other side.

A downhill.

We’d hit the peak with fervor, my endorphins already taking hold. As we began our downhill, I felt my arms open wide and a proud super-hero battle cry leave my lips. I could feel my imaginary cape fly behind me as the wind hit my face and my legs carried me towards Ocean Beach and the final 4 mile stretch.

In those last miles, I was greeted by cheerleaders from all points in my life. Each person would join me,hopping onto the race route to continue cheering me on as we jogged side-by-side. It wasn’t until we saw the finish line and the race organizers escorted them off the course that I was left to conquer the final strides. As I crossed the finish line, I knew: I was a super hero and these were my mentors and my sidekicks.

I was Wonder Woman.

I left myself awestruck as I pushed my body beyond what I had imagined it capable of and, as I staggered through the crowd of finishers, I saw my friends. There they were – waiting for me – with a Wonder Woman cape. Not only had my journey left me a super hero in my mind, my friends were reflecting back what they saw: a strong, determined and healthy woman dedicated to pushing to her limit.

So began my love of pushing myself.

To this day, nearly 3 years later, Christina and I continue to run together, though I’ve cut back to 10K races (6.2 miles) while she continues to power through half and full marathons. We tackle the Bay Area one race at a time, seeing all corners of our magnificent Northern California home. We moved beyond street races to trail races, climbing hills side-by-side, and each time I feel like I’ve conquered 13.1 miles all over again.

I’ve conquered my defeat, my self-pity, and my destructive behavior. Above all, I conquered my belief that I had to be a smaller woman in order to be in shape.  Running provided a place for me to grow as an athlete and endurance running provided an outlet to dedicate my attention. Peaking at 13 minutes miles, I am not fast, but I am steady – and this steadiness has led me down many other paths to dodgeball, to roller derby, to skating and to hiking. My love for being outdoors and running with others has grown and I continue to tread the trails of the Bay Area.

So when you see me in Wild Cat Canyon or along Stinson Beach, know that I may only be a woman jogging to you; but to me, I am a super hero.

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4 thoughts on “Fat girls can run, or how I learned to conquer 13.1 miles

  1. Hooray for you and for Christina! Your post reminds me how lucky I am to have motivated, caring friends who live boldly. Thanks for that reminder, V.

  2. Wow, Big!!!! I’m so proud of you!!! (and currently in tears). Some days I see how really alike we can be at times….I’ve wanted to run so bad, for so long, and never thought it was possible without being one of those tiny girls. You are an inspiration to me…… <3 u!!!!

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