Some things happen on purpose, because I make them happen. Some things are accidents, but they turn out okay in the end. This is the story of how starting the Chubby Mommy Running Club accidentally on purpose forced me to become a real runner, and how it changed my life.
Things that are true: I have been chubby, I have been not-so-chubby, I am a mom, and I am a runner.
First of all, I’ve been chubby off and on since I was a kid, and now that I’m 45, I really don’t mind it so much.
We call it “curvy” these days. I’m healthy. It’s a lifestyle.
More truth: I recently lost 25 pounds accidentally in three months by cutting out all wheat, dairy, soy and sugar in the middle of training for a Half Marathon. That’s about the hardest accident I’ve been able to pull off in a long time, but it worked.
I’ve been running off and on since I was four. Okay, maybe sooner.
I remember I liked the feeling of the wind on my sweaty face and the fire in my (chubby) legs during the 50-yard dash across the field on the last day of school in Kindergarten. I did not finish last. I was hooked. I grew up in Eugene, Oregon, the ancestral home of Nike. I got my first pair in 1976. I guess running is my destiny.
But I never felt like a “real” runner, ever. I’d never been “in love” with running. I didn’t even have a crush on it. Plus, I don’t look like a runner. I’m not shaped like a runner. I don’t breathe like a runner. And the truth is I usually hate to start running, because I’m lazy.
Also, I’m not really lazy; I just use that word as an excuse for procrastinating, which I usually do when I’m scared. Starting a running club forced me to figure out what I was most scared of, and then do it anyway.
I’m good at starting things. I don’t like ending things.
So even though I didn’t love running, I still ran, year after year, because despite the hate part, there was still always a glimmer of affection for running inside me, when my body felt strong and the blood flowed all over, and my mind finally relaxed.
Here’s another thing that is true: it’s hard to start a running club when you like to run alone.
I like to run alone because it soothes me. I’ve run alone on mossy oak and fir lined trails in the rainforest, through dusty paths of volcanic rock and juniper in the high desert, and at the beach, on that line where the wet sand meets the dry sand, and it smells like life, and seashells, and dead crabs.
When I run alone, I feel a tiny wave of happy rise up from that place behind my belly button, usually around mile two, and I think maybe I can run forever if I just stop thinking.
And when I’m alone I can think private little thoughts about the past and the future. I think about the magic of love, the sweetness of life, the people I like, and how to make cool stuff happen.
Sometimes I think about sad things that make me cry all the way – the way I don’t want to cry when I’m with friends, because it’s embarrassing and it scares me. Big hollow stumps in the middle of the trail don’t care if you sit on them and cry. Crying does not embarrass the trees.
The other thing about me is I really do love to run with other people. I need them. I can’t be alone for very long, it agitates me. In real life I am a friend-maker. Even when I want to be alone to soak up joy or sadness, people find me and announce themselves into my life. Hello, they say, can I join you? And without even thinking, I say yes! Please do.
Also, I need to tell stories. It soothes me, too. So of course I need characters for my stories and adventures, both real and imagined. This is why meeting new people is a requirement, for me.
Most of you have no idea how hard it is to be an extrovert.
So, when I first started writing The Chubby Mommy Running Club blog, it wasn’t supposed to be a real club, it was just a place online to write my little stories and meet some friends. I made up the mantra “Try, not cry!” as the tagline, since I’m in marketing, and I thought I needed a tagline. It seemed like it’d be cute on a t-shirt, and everyone needs a mantra, and a good t-shirt.
But then people started reading the blog. They liked it, and said they wanted a real club, not just a pretend one, and I needed to start one so they could run with me. I said no, if I start a real club, I’d have to show up for it and I’m not ready to show up yet. But they insisted.
I have a hard time saying no over and over, but they kept asking, so finally I said yes, but I made up my own rules: I get to try and cry. You can watch, I said, but don’t expect too much, because I’m angsty in real life.
All this funny doesn’t just make itself up, you know. It takes work to make magic happen and I’m tired, and a little lazy, so don’t get mad if I flake out on you. I hate it when people get mad.
Fine, they said, as long as you keep trying, because we like to watch you try. It soothes us.
Fine, I said.
And then all the sudden, we’re a club, and I’m the leader. They all think I love, love, love to exercise because I pretend I do, for the sake of the stories. They think maybe I have a deep desire to run a marathon or a triathlon, and I should try it, so they can watch, because it would inspire them.
But maybe I don’t want to, I said, because maybe I’m lazy. And scared.
Just try it, they said.
Okay, I said. Maybe.
So I started running more, and I met lots of smart, lovely, funny people along the way, and a few months ago I let a couple of them talk me into running a Half Marathon. For someone who usually stops running at three miles, or maybe four, and every once in a blue moon will concede to running five or six if forced even though I.do.not.like.it, saying yes to 13.1 miles is sort of crazy.
But pretty soon, little by little, month after month, in the middle of huge life changes, I kept adding miles and realized, somewhere around mile seven, that I didn’t hate running. I actually sort of liked it. I especially liked pushing myself to try things I was scared to try before. Which it turns out, is exactly what I needed to do.
And I realized, quite clearly, how much I appreciated the positive hit I got three days a week from Rebekah, my new running partner, and how showing up to run with her was really about showing up to enjoy my life.
I also realized how much I needed my club, even if most of them were online. They kept watching me and encouraging me, and telling me how proud they were when I’d reach my goal for the week.
So I ran my first Half Marathon last Sunday, and I liked it, mostly, because I finished it! To be honest, there were times, especially towards the end, when my legs were feeling sore and tired, that I didn’t like. At all.
But at mile eight when I felt strong and happy right in the middle of running up a big hill to get to mile nine, I realized that a few months ago I would have HATED that moment.
Guess what? I told myself, you love running.
I know it, said myself, back to me.
I saw a woman running up that same hill who weighed well over 250 pounds, and I could tell by her form that she was struggling. I weighed about 220 after my first baby was born, and spent years walking and running to get back down to 175 and my size 14 jeans, before I got pregnant again, and started all over. Twice!
I know what it feels like to carry the extra weight, to know your body well, and know what you want it to do, and to push it, even when it hurts. My heart went out to her.
She slowed down, but she kept running, and through sheer determination, she made it to the top of the hill. She’s a real runner, even if she doesn’t know it, and even if she had ended up walking up that hill. Because she’s running. I felt so proud of her I almost cried.
People who have never been fat don’t always understand how hard it is to get to the top of the hill in life without stopping. Year after year, mile after mile, those of us who struggle with our weight push ourselves through physical and emotional pain to get to up that hill so we can appreciate the cool breeze of the downhill, and make it to the next mile. Even if we walk.
As the volunteers congratulated everyone who made it to the top of that hill, I was surprised by joy, and I realized I’ve been a real runner all along, too. Because I just keep doing it.
I’m finally letting those little waves of running happiness travel all the way up to my brain, take over my sore legs and my heavy breathing, and push me forward, one step at a time. I guess I’m finally figuring out how to run forever. Sort of.
And I’ll keep telling my stories. I hope they soothe you.