Running marathons helped me get over the stigma of being a fat kid
I've always been fat. I've always struggled with my weight. I wasn't lucky enough to be born skinny. My family's fat genes are prevalent, and I've slowly learned to be OK with that. It's a part of who I am, but it does not define me.
As a child, I didn't start to get chunky until the first grade. My guess is that sitting at a desk at school all day coupled with being greeted at home by a lonely mom – I am an only child after all – with a bowl full of ice cream as an after school snack contributed to my childhood obesity.
My poor nutrition wasn't the only reason I was overweight. One of my favorite activities as a kid was watching TV. When we weren't watching one of my many kids shows, we were watching one of my mom's favorites. Some parents tossed around a ball with their kids, my mom watched television with me.
As I got older I used to pretend I was sick so we could stay home to watch The Price is Right. I did this a lot since I struggled at school and had a hard time fitting in and making friends. It didn't help that I was very self-conscious of how much fatter I was than the other kids.
One of the worst things that I had to do at school was run a mile. Nobody enjoyed doing it especially as the summer months approached and it was hazy, hot and humid every day, but for a roly-poly elementary school student whose pants were always tight, it was even worse.
It should come as no surprise that I barely survived these yearly torture rituals. I have vivid memories of our gym teacher giving us eight pennies and instructing us to run around a set of cones eight times. Each time we reached the start we were to give her a penny until we had none.
I always started out OK, but it didn't take long for me to be huffing, puffing and sweating like a pig in the boiling sun. I was miserable. I hated those damn pennies, but they weren't the problem. I'm pretty sure there were several years that I technically didn't finish the mile because I gave up quickly and resorted to walking. Class often ended before I could walk my way to the finish. Needless to say, it was upsetting to me to always be last and to be known as the fat one when all of my classmates could finish the mile run before class was up.
I wish I could say that I was so upset by this that I confided to my parents and they started instilling some healthy changes, but that's not how the story goes. Both of them have battled with obesity for most of their lives, so they were pretty unclear on how to go about it with their child.
I know it upset my Dad who was athletic as a kid. He tried to make me be more active, but it just made me feel worse about myself. It was like admitting something was wrong with me. My mom, whose health suffers to this day thanks to her unhealthy and sedentary lifestyle, saw no problem with it.
I was fat, unhealthy and lazy from an early age, and that's just the way it was.
Years later, when we had to repeat this mile challenge in high school, I got it done in 18 minutes. I was dead last. Again. That number has stuck with me for some reason nearly 20 years after I graduated. Was I embarrassed? Absolutely. Did I change anything about it. Nah, not really.
Flash forward nearly 20 years and my fastest mile to date after seven months of training, as a 38-year-old I might add, is nine minutes – half of the time it took me when I was much younger and my body could recover a lot faster.
You have no idea what this means to the fat kid that is still inside of me.
Just the other day I went out on my first group run with my running group. It was an easy three mile out and back course. Everyone there was running at different paces. Some runners ran/walked. I was quietly reminded of those awful mile runs in school and the shame and guilt I felt about my weight, and lack of physical fitness at such a young age.
I was always in the back of the pack, struggling, sweating, wishing someone would throw me a SunnyD and a Devil Dog. (You know, for recovery purposes.)
This run was different. I didn't know anyone and they didn't care what my abilities were. We were all there to support each other. The plan was to run and then celebrate with drinks after.
It started easy enough. I popped in my headphones and started up my Half Marathon playlist. I had barely run all week so my legs were well rested and they just wanted to run. I managed to get ahead of the pack early on, and I just took off. I hadn't wanted to run all week. I was hoping this run would give me my mojo back.
Not only were my legs strong, but my lungs were powerful. With every step I became faster. Every once in awhile I would look back to see where everybody was and they were far behind. In fact, only three women were in front of me out of the 30 that had attended. They ended up being too fast to catch but that wasn't the point. I was running as fast as my legs could take me.
I was running fast.
At the 1.5 mile mark we were to turn around and run back to where we started. When I did, I ran by the other women in the group.
And guess what? They smiled at me. They laughed. They cheered me on. I think even one of them called me "speedy." Me, the fat, slow and lazy kid being called speedy? Wow. What an incredible feeling to be thought of like that by strangers. But that wasn't even the best part. I was happy just to run. I was happy to run and not completely miserable wishing that the torture would end so I could go back inside and sit down. I enjoyed myself and what my body could do. There was no shame or embarrassment about what my body couldn't do.
I was proud and in awe of all I had accomplished and all that I was capable of doing. I wasn't holding myself back anymore because I was the fat kid. I was running as fast as my body would take me that day. It was glorious.
Even though I was never able to catch up to the three women in front of the pack, I was the first person to arrive back to our meeting point after them. I enjoyed giving kudos to them and to the women who followed me.
I've put in a lot of hard work during the last two months of my half marathon training and even though this wasn't a race, I was incredibly satisfied to be ahead for once.
Guess what? That fat kid inside of me is a runner now.