The Non-Skinny Runner

When most people think “runner” they imagine some one who looks like this:

And justifiably so, many runners are thin.  Running does burn a lot of calories.  And it is hard to run if you’re overweight because (1) the extra weight makes some people (me!) more susceptible to injury and (2) go for a run with several 10 or 20 pound weight strapped to you and you quickly realize how much harder it is for an overweight person to run.

But I think the main reason that most runners are thin is that people who are “non-skinny” are afraid to run.  They are afraid they will hurt themselves, that they aren’t capable, that people will make fun of them.

As a non-skinny runner, I have faced all those fears.  Some have been true (I am much more susceptible to injury) and some have been false (I am capable).  I’ve faced the challenges of finding running clothes that fit and are flattering and prevent “chub-rub” thigh chafing (ouch!)and shorts hiking up.

But the biggest challenge for me in being a runner (which I am) is the fear of being judged.  Of having well meaning (usually) people make condescending comments or criticisms.  It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.  Recently, an older man at the park saw me getting water at the water fountain (halfway through my 6.2 mile run) and felt the need to tell me I should drink more at night and should drink Gatorade (for the electrons he said).  Then he added that it’s not just about running and drinking water, I needed to eat better to get rid of “some of that fat on my belly” (complete with belly rubbing motions to really emphasize where my extra fat was located in case I’d missed it). 

So, that’s hard, right? The assumption that if I’m running and I’m not thin then I must not be a serious runner.  Clearly I must be new at this and probably don’t know what I’m doing.  Obviously, I’m subsisting on a diet of cheesecake and hostess cupcakes if I’m not svelte.  I’ve got to say that it did hurt my feelings.  And I did run a little harder the rest of the run.  And I’m writing about it now to get it out there so it doesn’t sit inside bringing me down.  I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.

A general word of (admittedly unsolicited and probably biased) advice: no matter your intentions (which I am sure are good), before you make a comment to a “non-skinny” runner, take a second to ask yourself if you’d say the same thing if they were thin.  Would you tell a thin stranger who is running down the street on an average Saturday morning (not in a race) “good job for just getting out there”?  Or “wow, you’re doing a great job!”?  Even positive comments can feel condescending.  A smile, nod and “good morning” is awesome and a welcome (at least here in the South) alternative that most people, regardless of their size, would appreciate.  

And for the non-skinny sisterhood and brotherhood, I want to say that you do not have to be thin to be a runner.  You just have to run.  And to be strong enough to get out there and do it regardless of your fears.  And to stick with it even if someone feels the need to point out that you don’t look like a runner.  If it was easy, everybody would do it.


The Non-Skinny Runner — 26 Comments

  1. Beautifully said! I, too, am a non-skinny runner. And sometimes it feels like I’m in a world where I don’t belong. But the truth is I am only competing against myself. I’ve gotten better and better, and am continuing to improve. So who cares what others think, I’m a runner because I run!

  2. Thank you, Thank you , Thank you for posting this! I am FAR from thin or anywhere even close to it and I can relate to this 100%. I had a family member point out to me that I didn’t” Look like a runner” “Aren’t runners thin?”. Well, I have 4 1/2 marathons under my belt so far this year. Guess I showed him!!! Keep at it girl!!

    • You have to wonder what is going through some people’s heads sometimes! Awesome job proving yourself with your half marathon accomplishments! Thanks for sharing!

  3. You should have run the old geezer down and said, “Oh my! I’m so sorry I did not see you because of my GIANT BELLEH!!!!! Ass.

  4. Well said. We all see plenty if shapes at a race and some of those not so skinny shapes kick a$$. Shoot I have gained 15 pounds since I started running almost 2 years ago. And those that tell me it’s muscle I cry bull$###. I am not fast I am not skinny but I am getting stronger and taking care of me along this journey.

  5. I loved this post April!
    I would consider myself to be kind of in between of being a skinny-nonskinny runner. But I still feel like I have faced those same feelings/fears that you have. But having run princess as my 1st half ever, and being surrounded by all shapes and sizes…all with such positive outlooks and motivation, I know that no matter what I have to tell those fears to go away and just run because I enjoy it and am doing more than those other people just sitting on the bench in park judging on others who are doing something!

    • It was seeing all the pictures of happy, successful runners in cute costumes after the 2012 Princess Half in all shapes and sizes that convinced me I should give it a try. It is such a positive and accepting environment.

  6. I really, really love this post. As yet another non-skinny runner, it’s great to have encouragement =) One of the reasons I run is to hopefully become skinny (along with eating better, of course) but we all know this is a very slow process!

    I have huge fears of going to the gym, or running in public for fear of being judged. It’s nice to have wonderful posts like this on the path to getting over it.

    I mentioned you in a recent blog post – if you have the time, I’d love if you checked it out! No pressure though, of course 😉

    • Thanks for mentioning me on your blog, sounds like you’re doing a great job. My best friend has been telling me forever (since the 9th grade) to “stop worrying about the perceived disapproval of strangers”. It’s good advice!

      I enjoyed your blog, your costumes are great!

  7. Thank you for this post!
    I’m a chubby runner and I often feel like I am judged by both “skinny” runners and non runners alike.
    Only I know what I put into my body and what I can pull out. I push myself daily and what is a victory to me is considered a “bad” day for many others, but screw that! I don’t run to compete or to become skinny.
    I run because I love to run. I am learning to fuel my body to become a better and more efficient runner.
    I don’t think I would have been very nice to the man who approached you at the water fountain.
    Next time someone like that says something to you, ask them how many miles they have run that day.

    • Thanks for the response. It is hard sometimes to feel like others are judging you, but what I’m trying to take away from this experience is (1) most runners are supportive of “non-traditional” runners of any shape/size/age and (2) not to let anyone else’s issues keep me from running!

  8. I’m also a non-skinny runner, and it’s been a huge mental challenge for me to overcome. I always feel like people are staring at me and won’t take me seriously. 🙁 However, I’m learning that the running community is incredibly supportive and welcoming and that runners are runners no matter their size.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    • Thanks for your response. It is hard to get those thoughts our of our own heads! I agree with you that the running community is awesome and very welcoming. It is one of the most inclusive groups I’ve ever found. I think it is because only runners know how gut wrenchingly brutal running can be sometimes and they have (I suspect) a deep respect for anyone who can get out there and do it no matter their shape, size, age, gender, orientation or anything else!

  9. Great post. I was really self-conscience about running when I started because I was always the nerdy girl and never athletic. Skinny or not we all have insecurities and worries about being judged and this post is a great motivator to just put them aside.

    • I think you got to the root of my point (probably bad grammar but you know what I mean). For me personally, my insecurities are weight and appearance. For someone else it may be their age or height or awkward gait or really anything. Getting past those insecurities and brushing off anyone else’s negative comments is something we all have to do from time to time. The critical lesson is to not let those things keep us from our goals. Thanks!

  10. I am also a non skinny runner. I just started running, 6 weeks in, and i just did 4 miles today. I haven’t told many friends or family that I’m training for a half. The few that know I’m running actually said, you’ve been running for 5 weeks, you don’t look like you’ve lost any weight. I was so hurt. I’m not doing this to lost weight, although it would be nice, I’m doing this to be healthy. To prove to myself I can do it. If I lose weight, great that’s awesome, if not I will still be able to run that 13.1 miles. I wrote about why I run on a recent post.

    • Thanks for the comment and the link to your post. I agree completely about weight loss not being your goal for running. I’d love to lose weight, but it’s not why I run. I run to find my own strength and will and to prove to myself what I am capable for. I run so I can define myself as an athlete. I’d love to be a size six but even it it never happens, I’ll still run.

  11. I can’t believe that man said that to you! How rude. I am average sized, depending on the day and the crowd but definitely understand about how extra weight can make it harder to run. For that reason, I’d like to drop a bit of weight before my next marathon in March. However, I’ve learned that in running you CAN NOT judge a book by it’s cover. I’ve been humbled by women pushing double strollers, men who had at least 150 pounds on me, etc. Great post!

    • The worst part was that I think he really was trying to be helpful, not hurtful. I’ve been smoked on the run by people of all shapes and sizes! Thanks for visiting!