MILES THIS WEEK: 25ish
WHERE TO: Nowhere.
TODAY’S RUNNING SONG: Bluegrass makes running better.
This ultra training thing is all a lot harder than I remember it being last year, and not just because my Achilles tendons have turned against me. Somewhere in the middle of my second long run of every weekend, I find myself questioning whether this is a hobby I truly enjoy…whether a benevolent and loving God truly exists…what my purpose in life is…all of which comes out in the form of water fountain rage, a phenomenon in which a tour bus full of thirsty tourists pulls up JUST AS I shuffle, dehydrated and nearly defeated, up to the Jefferson Memorial water fountain, and I run at the tourists, limbs flailing, threatening to slime them with my body’s generous coating of salt, sunblock, sweat, and dead gnats. “JFICIEU$I#(@UDHVJD!” they say, in their foreign languages, which I take to mean, “This woman truly should get to drink for 10 minutes as we watch, disgusted!” Which usually happens.
Anyway, today we tackle the complicated topic of body image for the runner. A particularly touchy subject for us ladies, because we all grew up thinking that if we were virtuous and hardworking and perma-hungry enough, we, too, would eventually develop ample bosoms, slender and well-defined waists, and asses just bigger than “flat” but just shy of “curved,” which TOTALLY can be achieved, dammit!, we swore to ourselves. KEEP ME AWAY FROM THE BUFFET AND I SWEAR I CAN DO IT!
And then we all discovered the Vagina Monologues and bell hooks and beer and decided that whatever, man. Pshhhh. This is MY body and if I feel FINE in it, then you can’t TOUCH me with your insults about my spare tire and your insinuations that maybe 8 beers in 3 hours isn’t good for me. MY BODY IS A BEAUTIFUL INSTRUMENT, NOT AN ORNAMENT, YOU FASCIST.
But if you’re a runner, the complicated thing is this — if you’re not a sinewed, finely honed machine of running amazingness, and if you do enjoy a few (dozen) beers every so often, losing a couple of pounds very well could make you faster. But choosing to drop said pounds can also make you bazonkers. Just as looking around the starting line and listening to runners psych each other out can make you want to tape Kate Moss herself to your fridge for thinspiration. “I live on nothing but steamed celery,” say the creepy-stringy female runners at the start line. “MAYBE some broccoli when I’m feeling naughty. And 2 tablespoons of vodka on my birthday of course. Because a girl’s gotta LIVE, am I right?”
(I might add that Runner’s World‘s continuing obsession with greased abs on every cover does not help any of this.)
Anyway. It’s a messy, stupid culture we live in, and so as a runner, here is how you can maybe find a shred of sanity.
STEP 1: Stop fixating on your weight.
Instead, let’s focus first on health. And yeah, weaning yourself off of this type of thinking is really hard, so one way of overcoming it is to find another, more reasonable number to fixate on. Why not instead become obsessed with…
BMI: Baaaaaahahahahahaha. I’m just messing with you. BMI is just another way for the military-industrial-weight loss complex to make you obsess over the number on the scale. The difference being that BMI actually has to be calculated using metric figures, so it all seems so scientific. Whereas your doctor might once have said, “Um, you are too heavy for your height,” now he can pull out a slide rule and a whiteboard of equations with differentials and limits and parabolas and asymptotes. And he will look at his calculations and look at you and say, “Um, you are too heavy for your height.” And you will be too confused to counter-argue. Stupid American school system, never teaching me enough about asymptotes. Thanks for nothing.
Like I said before — don’t obsess all that much over how much gravity is pulling on you, sweetie. I mean, look at your legs, hot stuff. They’re, like, “bumpin’,” as the kids say. They’re “JACKED.” They “got it going on.” I want to “wrap my body around one and squeeze real hard.”
Anyway, they’re all muscle, which means that one of your glorious gams probably weighs the same as the leg of some Green Bay Packers linebacker who mostly exercises by reaching for another drum of Cheez Puffs while watching Patch Adams for the 348th time. Why Patch Adams? BECAUSE.
OK, so perhaps instead, focus on…
Blood pressure: This one is actually kind of fun, because you see results in all sorts of fun ways, like
- Lower blood pressure numbers. Duh. But seriously, the results can be pretty dramatic. I mean, everyone says that exercise reduces stress, and I swear, sometimes you can just feel your bloodstream itself chilling out a bit, just humming along, biding its time, rolling through your veins, buying a nickel bag, ain’t no thang, just another dull day in low-BP land. If you were to look at a drop of my blood under a microscope, even on a day in which all hell is breaking loose and I am sure that I am about to singlehandedly bring down journalism and have thus stress-eaten 2 packages of bacon myself in my office while whimpering and rocking, I imagine you’d see a few blood cells and platelets getting together on a ratty old couch, settling in with a pizza and a DVD. “Hey, man, stick around. We’re doing that Dark Side of the Moon Wizard of Oz thing.” Right on, bros.
- Terrified looks from nurses. You go in for a doctor appointment. The nurse checks your BP. He checks the reading. “Oh, this must be broken,” he says, undoing the cuff and glaring at the machine, perhaps punching and kicking it a few times while muttering about HMOs. Rewrapping the cuff extra tight this time, he redoes the test. He looks at the readout. He looks at you. “Huh. If you would excuse me,” says the nurse, leaving the room. This is when you want to lock the door behind Mr. Nurse, because he is coming back with a fire axe, for he believes that you are one of the walking undead and that he must lop off your head to save the human race.
- Head rushes. Given enough running and enough BP-lowering, you’re going to have a nasty case of the head-fuzzes every time you try to stand. I personally can barely get up from my desk chair without everything looking a little gray. This is also why you want to lock that door behind the nurse, because just try jumping off the exam table to fight. “NOT SO FAST! DROP THE…oh shit I’m going down,” and you hit the floor. Then again, this might be good, because any nurse worth her/his salt knows: zombies don’t faint.
STEP 2: Maybe stop obsessing about food as well.
Another case of finding a better number to focus on. For example, there are few traps as insidious as:
Counting calories: It’s like in the late ’90s when you first learned about the internet and downloaded Weatherbug onto your computer and thus had a constant real-time ticker of the weather outside your window. Suddenly Hampsterdance.com and your flying toaster screensaver and Eudora e-mail ran way, way, way slower. Why? Because even though everything was fine on the surface, Weatherbug was using up all sorts of RAM and ROM and cache and God-knows-what-else on your rural-Iowa dial-up modem-that-kicked-you-off-whenever-someone-called-the-house.
Likewise, calorie-counting will very quickly eat up precious brain activity that could be used elsewhere. Trust me. I went through this calorie-obsessive phase when I was 13, and my quality of life suffered greatly because of it.
Cute boy at lunch: Hey, can I sit here?
Me: Uh, sure.
My brain: O God O God O God. Why do they not post the calories in the food at this godforsaken middle school?
Cute boy: Ugh. I hate mashed potatoes. Peanut butter sandwich again for me.
Me: NOT FAIR he gets to eat peanut butter (whichhas95caloriespertablespoon) because boys can eat WHATEVER THEY WANT and OH MY GOD how many calories are in these $#$^$%$#$#*(()! potatoes that’s ALL I WANT TO KNOW and I’ve already eaten FOUR HUNDRED today so oh God I can’t breathe.
Cute boy: I was gonna go get a soda. Do you want one?
My brain: There are 170 calories in a can of Mountain Dew and the machine is constantly out of Diet Coke because Mrs. Williamson that selfish bastard keeps drinking it all and I want to bite her in the face.
I have, of course, taken some liberties here. I.e., boys at my middle school wouldn’t be caught dead talking to us ladies. <Also, insert sad-clown joke here about how cute boys still don’t buy me drinks. Wawawaawaaaaaaaaa.>
But the fact remains: I could have been thinking all sorts of higher-level thoughts, understanding even at that age that gender is a societal construct and that obsession with body image is all a part of a patriarchal ploy to keep the female sex powerless and chasing ill-defined and unreachable standards of beauty.
On the other hand, I got really, really good at doing addition in my head. When I didn’t have one of my like 5 bouts of superflu that year. Yeesh.
Moving on. Instead of calorie-counting, maybe focus just on eating healthfully. Like counting grams of fiber or how much riboflavin you’ve consumed. But that also involves obsessive label-reading. So how about:
How many celery sticks you can fit in your mouth before you hate hate hate it and never want to eat it again: My record is 1. Go ahead and try beating me.
3) Focus on body parts that are less affected by weight.
You may never have a six-pack. So loofah your elbows and rub some sunblock on your hair-part and trim your cuticles (BUTNOTTOOMUCH!) and massage your knuckles and exfoliate your forehead, because girlfriend, you are BEAUTIFUL in all sorts of other ways.
Or you can say f*ck it to trying to improve your self esteem through your looks and instead
3) Go run a race. Really really fast.
Beat the boys while you do it.