Being an Athlete vs. Being a Skinny Girl Who Runs

Honesty

I feel some word vomit coming.

This is gonna be one of those posts where I can’t stop.

Another honesty post, but I have a feeling this one might offend some people.

I hope it doesn’t. I hope people see what I am trying to say here, but in the case that you think I am talking about you, PLEASE believe me when I say this is about me and my insecurities…..yes, I definitely have them.

This blog has been my place to share my doubts, my fears, my worries, and based on all the emails I get, I can only come to the conclusion that it helps some of you too.

If it helps some of you, then to me it is worth it. And if you need a little more help then listen to these episodes with Nancy Clark, Renee McGregor, and Dr. Jennifer Gaudiani.

So what is this aggressive topic I want to talk about today?

Probably no surprise when I say that it comes down to what does a runner’s body look like, in particular the female body, and how running changes your body.

Something occurred to me when I was in Amsterdam at the European Championships.

I noticed that the people in the city of Amsterdam were so much more active.

There were very few cars, so many people cycled everywhere; in their dress suits, to run errands, to travel around. And there was very little obesity….. from what I could see.

It wasn’t like all I saw was young fitness models, but everyone looked…well, normal.

Amsterdam cycling

There wasn’t the other extreme either.

People were not overly “skinny”, most people just looked very healthy

Surely that can’t be a coincidence?

Especially with the amount of patisseries and delicious tempting foods all around.

Could it really be that people just look after themselves better?

It got me thinking that maybe this focus on being more active actually has everyone thinking in the right mindset; balance is key, everything in moderation.

We hear it all the time, but maybe this was it in reality.

People were not on “diets” or restricting (from what I saw). They were not going overboard with exercise, just incorporating it into daily life, which meant that exercise was not a chore, nor was eating healthy.

It meant that there were less eating issues the other way too…..as the fear of obesity was not as strong.

Most importantly, everyone seemed so much happier. There was no road rage, even when you got in someones way. There was no anger in people’s eyes, or sadness and guilt after meals.

Just laughing, smiling, and being kind to everyone.

I honestly think that was because there is not the deep down insecurity that we have in the American (and British) culture.

Now, I just wanna say that this is based off MY observations, I have no idea if there is any truth behind this, or what the rates of obesity or eating disorders are. I am just basing this off what I saw.

One thing I loved, was seeing this giant billboard on the side of one of the buildings near our hotel, featuring one of the darlings of Netherlands Track and Field; Dafne Schippers.

Dafne

I had a few thoughts about this:

Firstly, HOW COOL IS THAT?! A track and field athlete on the side of a building! The sport of running is obviously a priority here, and I love that.

She is so beautiful, and strong….a true athlete.

She does not look gaunt or sunken in. She does not look perfectly chiseled with a 6 pack and runners legs with a thigh gap.

She looks like an athlete.

She has her best version of a runner’s body.

Dafne-Schippers-Celebrate-749x437

Granted, she is a 100m runner, and there is a lot of difference between a marathon runner vs sprinter, but who says that all 100m runners have to be insanely ripped and muscular, or all distance runners have to be wafer thin?

We come in every shape and size, and that should be celebrated.

There is no one type of runner body.

Drew had talked to me about this before in the past. How many distance runners were not athletes. They were just skinny people who could run fast because they ran a lot, but their posture was awful, and they were actually very unhealthy by the way they ate and the way they asked their bodies to do so much with so little.

In their eyes, they had the marathon runner body, but to the rest of the world, their runners face looked sunken and hollow.

We hear this more and more; fit but unhealthy.

I hadn’t really understood what this meant until recently.

Surely if you are skinny and toned, you are healthy?

That means your body is efficient and metabolically sound, right?

Wrong.

I realized just how unhealthy I actually was when Tawnee analyzed my lifestyle, and since making the changes to that, along with adding the strength training with Drew, not only do I look different, but I feel different. I feel stronger.

Not just like I can run faster stronger, but I feel powerful. I feel like I could move to other sports without too much of a problem (other than obviously the skill development aspect).

I feel like an athlete.

When we went to watch the European Championship meet itself. We watched some of the best athletes in the world compete, and my suspicions were affirmed.

These women were beautiful.

Strong and powerful, but curvy and feminine.

It just made me realize that I have plastered this unrealistic image in my mind of what I want to look like. Plastered the image of a very lean, tiny, 6 pack, veins popping female who I want wanted to look like, but now I see that this image is not healthy for me.

Yes, some women are genetically predisposed to be lean and toned. They can eat whatever they want and still look long, lean, and defined.

Health comes in all shapes and sizes, but that is not right for my body, and striving to get there was an impossible ask, and one that left me feeling bad about myself and ready to punish my body for not looking how I wanted, rather than celebrating it for what it has achieved.

Not even to mention the fact it would probably require some form of restricting calories or under eating to get there.

Instead of looking at what my body does for me, all that it has done for me, there was that temptation to make it look “better”…..but better wasnt making it feel better, but making it faster.

And as much as I talk about Be Brave. Be Strong. Be You., there was still that nagging voice in my mind telling me that I needed to look thinner to run faster to be taken seriously at the top-level.

Thankfully, I could ignore those voices for the most part, and my sweet tooth was just too strong to allow me to really go for it with the clean eating, but being in Amsterdam and seeing these women made it click into place.

Tawnee had talked to me about it. Told me that she felt more confident in her body now than she ever did in the past, even though she was heavier than in the past.

At the time, I thought that maybe that would be the case for her, but for me, I didn’t want to look like a twig, but at the same time, a little leaner wouldn’t do me any harm.

That being said, throughout this, I was never prepared to sacrifice fueling my body correctly for those extra pounds.

I have always been a believer in overeating rather than under eating, and if you missed my interview with Tawnee on Endurance Planet, you will hear us talk about this. Caloric intake has never been an issue with me.

Tina nashville

BUT

I decided something.

I don’t want to look like that image I had branded in my mind anymore.

I had that perfect runner body in my mind, but I did not see the other parts of it that would be required for me to get there, what I would lose in the process to get there:

No curves. Sucked in stomach. Sunken in face. Hunched over posture. Walking with a limp.

I realized that I just don’t want to sacrifice my health for a few seconds in a race.

I want to live a healthy and happy life.

We hid the scale a few months ago, which was step one, and I immediately felt better knowing that I was just focusing on eating the right foods, rather than letting that number dictate my day.

And now I want to keep my curves. I want to keep my boobs and have a strong, powerful butt.

I want to be a female athlete.

I want to be a role model for younger girls to strive to be.

Not that impossible figure that even I, after 12 years of running could not attain……..without playing a dangerous game with my eating.

No.

I want to be the role model. I want to be curvy and feminine.

I want to be real.

I want to run fast, and show that you do not have to weigh under 100lbs to run fast.

I want to show that weight doesn’t matter. The number on the scale doesn’t matter.

YOU and YOUR BODY are unique and beautiful, and you need to embrace your strengths.

Find your strong, and believe in it.

If that means you eat too much, that you are a little heavier than some stupid calculation of race weight says you should be, then screw it.

As long as you eat well, get those foods in to help you recover and be healthy, that is all you can ask. Cross train, and dont be afraid of other activities.

Become an athlete. Not a skinny person who runs.

The opinions in this post are based off my experience and the image in my head I was striving to be. I am trying to say that there is no one way to look like an athlete. I just want us all to avoid being one trick ponies who all look the same. I hope I do not offend anyone with this post, I am all about embracing every body type.

What was your impossible image? Will you join me in believing in YOU?

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41 Comments. Leave new

  • happyfitmama
    July 20, 2016 5:25 am

    I love this Tina! I learned that skinny does not mean healthy while in high school. We did body fat testing as part of our advanced fitness training class (our teacher was a female bodybuilder). We all guessed that the skinniest girl in class would have the lowest body fat when actually she had the highest even compared to those who were overweight. Never judge a book by it’s cover!

  • Oh Tina I could not agree more with this post!!! Now that I am focused on triathlon I have BIG powerful legs that help me whip through the bike and I love it. I need those legs! When I look at you I see an athlete, a woman, a force! You really are the entire package and I love that you share exactly how you feel with us. Keep the honesty and knowledge coming because we need more posts like this!

  • Great post Tina and I agree. Athletes come in all shapes and sizes and numbers should never dictate your life. I can definetely relate, as it’s sad that numbers do dictate many people’s lives.

  • Great post 🙂 I have to say, I weigh more now than I used to but my body is far stronger and capable than previously. Strength training has certainly played a big role in that. I’ve had a few people say to me “but more muscle means heavier means slower times though!”. They’re literally scared to do any sort of weights in the gym in case it makes them heavier and (in their minds) therefore slower. But I haven’t found that to be the case. If anything I’m stronger running and stronger in my endurance and at the end of races. But even if it DID make me slower, I’m still happy because being a stick thin runner is just not a lifestyle or look I aspire to.

  • As someone who has been thin all her life (except for the college weight gain), I loathe when people call me skinny. I know that many people see it as a compliment. But it isn’t. Call me fit. Call me strong. Powerful legs. Or how about not commenting at all on my body? I’m 53 years old and in the best shape of my life. That is what should be celebrated.

    Great food for thought!

  • urban vegan
    July 20, 2016 9:13 am

    Fantastic post and points, Tina. I’ve always been naturally little but my naturally muscular legs have always been the bane of my existence. I’m 51 and it took me 50 years to learn to love them and to be grateful for all the miles (and hills!) that they powered me through. This morning while running, I noticed another girl running. She had powerful, muscular legs and I could just SEE how those muscles and that strength propelled her stride with such ease. It was an “aha” moment, for some reason, watching her run. And then I came home after my run and read your post. Life must be trying to tell me something 😉 Thanks, as always, for your honesty!

  • I am coming out of the other side of an eating disorder which grew from wanting to get thinner to run faster. It worked to a point but then it went too far and its been a massive battle to put weight on. I am now incorporating strength training, a good eating regime and am looking forward to seeing how it will assist my running and body image. I too want my curves and muscles back, not to be a little frail thing like I have been. I already feel so much healthier and stronger in mind and body. Thanks for another great post.

  • Runner Katy
    July 20, 2016 9:46 am

    This is empowering, not offensive at all! I think most of us women have had these same thoughts, especially female runners, and especially when we get competitive or are striving to be more competitive. The balance is so hard, but we also want to live and enjoy the good foods that are around us, or at our travel races. Balance and happiness should be our focus, and not some idea of “perfection” that can truly never be reached. Thank you for sharing your honesty and thoughts, it truly makes me feel better and more human!!

  • Thank you, thank you for posting such an incredible reminder! I will be reading and re-reading this often. It is so easy to get sucked into wanting to look a certain way and thinking that how we look reflects on how we perform. It is much much better to have healthy reminders like this that we only need to strive for balance and to do the things we love. It’s time to say no to diet mentalities, body image problems/shaming, and trying to qualify our lives in numbers.

  • This post is amazing. That is all.

  • Adrienna Frazer
    July 20, 2016 11:19 am

    I completely agree! When I was in Belgium, I noticed the same things. Even in busy Brussels with tons of cars, there were tons of bikers and pedestrians, and drivers were so much more accommodating. And then in Ghent and Bruges, EVERYONE was walking or biking. Loved it!

  • Libbie Brinkerhoff
    July 20, 2016 11:19 am

    Hi! First off, great post! Second, I came across your blog from the Hungry Runner Girl blog, and it is nice seeing an elite athlete be so real. I am healthy for my height and weight, and feel more beautiful than I ever have, but have struggled with the idea that i don’t have the ideal body type for running. After struggling with body images all of my teenage years and early twenties, it’s nice to finally be at a place where I can look at in the mirror and be happy with what i see. Athletes and fit bodies come in all different shapes and sizes.

  • Soren Brockdorf
    July 20, 2016 12:05 pm

    What a great topic, and one Chrissie Wellington and Ryan Hall really understand (well, prolly everyone does). For years Hall has wanted to work out and not be a twig, but unfortunately being your most competitive means you are less attractive. To be a world class bike rider you have to have tooth pick arms, and to be a world class marathoner you have to be way too skinny, and be less attractive from a purely physical attribute sense. But, also remember that on the flip side, the vast majority of Americans need to loose weight. Go to Jack Daniels running formula and you will see just how much faster you get by loosing weight–like 2 seconds a minute per pound. In my age group, ten pounds will throw me off the podium.

  • I’m joining you and believing in YOU and believing in ME! LOVE you and you are such a inspiration to so many athletes out there…And PS: I love vomit of the mouth posts…They are usually my favorites, because they are straight from the heart! XOXO

  • I love this Tina. I always figured if I got skinnier I’d be faster, which is true. But I love my strong shoulders and little booty and never want to lose that. Plus marathon training always builds up my quads and legs anyways. Besides c’mon I love dessert and beer so I don’t want to give that up to get down to the lowest body fat possible. You are so inspiring, and I love when you keep it real!

    http://www.breathedeeplyandsmile.com

  • This is SUCH an important message! It’s a lesson I’ve been learning over the last 5 years too. When I was vegetarian I was thinner but also getting injured constantly. As I started taking better care of my body and incorporating more strength training and more fat and protein, the scale went up but like you I feel so different. I feel strong and powerful. I won’t ever be one of those wispy runners- I now know how damaging it would be to my bone health, hormones (learned the hard way) and long term health. Embracing both strength and athleticism is totally doable, completely agree!

  • Carly Pizzani
    July 20, 2016 1:59 pm

    Tina, thank you so much for sharing this! This is obviously so personal to you but I know it will resonate with so many female athletes. It’s so important to focus on what our bodies can do rather than how they look.

  • Thank you so much for being so open and honest! This is a beautiful reflection. I love your motto Be Brave. Be Strong. Be You and the ideas you share here.

  • I love this post, Tina! It’s funny that you post it now because I’ve been thinking the same thing over the past few weeks, of building general athleticism on top of running specific fitness and being okay with looking like an athlete, not a very waify distance runner. I’ve never been one of those waify runners – my body has a more athletic build just naturally. It’s such an important message to eat well, maintain a healthy weight for bones and hormones, and to move and train in a variety of ways – thank you for sharing!

  • Tina, I love that you were so brave to write this! I think so many of us feel the EXACT same way but do not have the courage to put it out there. Thank you for being true to you and giving yourself grace to be healthy not thin.

  • Tina, I love this.

    I’m not built “skinny” and currently weigh more than I’d like, but I’m also stronger now than when I was “skinny” and I’m working to embrace my strength and appreciate what my body can do for me.

  • I told you so!…just a few posts back when I commented. Slowly but surely, Tina’s preconceived notions of “the runner” are flying out the door, giving way to the Strong and powerful, but curvy and feminine Tina that will emerge! I’m so glad you came to this conclusion of your own volition after some epiphanous exposures.

    Dafne is the epitome of the perfectly balanced feminine Athlete (Woman), defying the distorted norms of western society (namely US&British as you quote). As a man, I find nothing more sickly and anorectic looking than a thigh gap; truly and absolutely repulsive. Who are these Women trying to impress?

    What you observed in Amsterdam is reality indeed, I used to see that in Paris growing up in the 50s&60s. No longer though, they jumped on the bandwagon with the US long ago. I’m thrilled you want to assume the task of role model and be an inspiration to younger girls; this goes way beyond your running aspirations, what an ambassador:)

    When you get a bigger engine (muscles), you get to go faster, done deal! I told you you were going to break 2:30!

    • ok ok, you don’t have to call women “truly and absolutely repulsive” because you find a different body type more attractive… unfortunately you haven’t realized that women don’t exist to impress men or gain their approval on how they look. so no, they’re not all “trying to impress” you. some women are just shaped that way. chill out.

  • Jennifer Valentine
    July 20, 2016 6:43 pm

    I feel like I’m in a somewhat similar place. I have an ideal body shape and size for myself but I’m not sure it is aligned with my fastest/fittest/healthiest self. It’s hard not to want to look a certain way, especially in the midst of super lean and tiny elite female runners. It’s courageous to put your health and running first.

  • So relevant to everything! Another post hits at a great time Tina <3

  • This is an AMAZING post & speaks so much to what I have been through with eating and running. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. No girl should count themselves out because of what the runner next to them looks like. 🙂

  • Great post, Tina! I think nearly every girl and woman can relate to this — and especially athletes. I know I definitely do and focusing on eating for fuel and also for enjoyment and not worrying about weight or belly bloat or whatever the issue is a struggle sometimes but it’s definitely the best approach!

  • Love, love, love this post! I love the happy and healthy message, it speaks to my soul. 🙂 O have always had muscular thighs (that have always touched) and calves that put body builders to shame. It wasn’t until I fell in love with running two years ago that I realized those features are such a blessing and something to be celebrated.

  • Preach! Seriously, this is great. I think as runners we all struggle with the need to feel like we ‘look like runners’. I’ve shifted my thinking, as you have, to feeling proud of how strong and capable and healthy I feel. I have my insecurities, of course, but ultimately I love feeling well-fueled, powerful and in control of my body when I am running or getting active. Thanks for sharing – great to hear an elite’s perspective on this!

  • I love this! Interestingly, I had just recently made a comment to my roommate that all of the men running the longer track distances in the olympic trials looked guant and sickly – but the women looked so fit and badass. What a strange dichotomy between the genders for the same distance races.

  • Katie Fletcher
    July 22, 2016 4:02 pm

    This really spoke to me, Tina. Thanks for sharing your heart with us!! I definitely struggle with loving my body for all the wonderful, amazing things it does for me, while still not loving how it looks in the mirror or in photos. I’ve come to realize that I’ll never be as skinny as I was as a teenager/early 20s, but I also wasn’t eating well back then. And I definitely wasn’t physically active so there was no strength in my thinner legs. When I’m running, I (usually, haha) feel strong and capable. That’s pretty awesome. Ultimately, I wouldn’t give up that strength (or a delicious meal) in exchange for a much smaller jean size and I need to focus on loving myself and my body as I am today, without any restrictions.

    Thanks again for your honest posts!

  • Chelsie Smith
    July 22, 2016 5:19 pm

    Tina, this article is excellent and hits home so strongly on many points. In a nutshell, if we hope to still be fit and running at 80 years old, we need to be strong and set good habits now. I would far rather be chasing finish lines in my elder-years than worrying about my appearance now. I think this shift in mindset has come with age, but I’m excited to sustain it. As athletes, we ask a lot of our bodies. It seems like self-sabotage to ask them to operate at such high performance levels while under duress. I don’t know if this revelation will change anything about your lifestyle, but I know it will change a lot about your mindset. I’m incredibly glad you’ve had this epiphany and elated that you’ve shared it. I hope many women will be inspired and look towards embracing their athletic selves as well.

  • So many women need to read this post! Oh, I have been there. Thinking in college that I was never thin enough for running, comparing myself to other runners. Now I know that I am ME. I am never going to be super duper tiny skinny and that is more than okay. Being strong, healthy and happy is the most important thing. When I look at you I see an incredible athlete!!! xoxo

  • Allison McArthur
    July 23, 2016 11:43 am

    Great post, Tina. Love this attitude!

  • I absolutely agree with your points- it’s so important to embrace your body type/health at every size. You are amazing for working at this!!!!! I totally realize that my comment is NOT based on the intentions in your post. However, I feel the need to point out (as a psychologist specializing in eating disorders of all varieties) that eating disorders are serious illnesses that are primarily developed due to one’s biology/genetics. There are so many misconceptions about eating disorders that it’s hard for me to stay silent when I read comments (below) that put down “skinny” people with “thigh gaps”. Anorexia, in particular, is far from a condition related to vanity or purely a desire to be thin- it’s a debilitating disease. A lot of malnourished/emaciated athletes are very sick. It’s so sad!!!

  • Great word vomit here :)….your realizations are so true and so important for women to realize – there is such a difference between “skinny” and “healthy.” The mentality and idea of being strong brings so much more confidence to us as women, rather than trying to be small and insecure. Truer words have never been spoken!

  • I loved this post and I totally agree with you, being skinny does not equal being healthy, even though it is what ‘society’ seems to believe these days. I’m from Amsterdam and have lived there until I was 21 (I’m now in Perth, Australia 🙂 ) and I loved your observations. It’s definitely not a black and white picture and there are definitely still problems with obesity/eating disorders, but I do think you’re totally spot on, most people are very relaxed about ‘being healthy’ and it is very embedded in the culture to cycle or walk to work or school.
    Your first couple of paragraphs totally reminded me of my mum, she has never ever been on a diet (and I’ve never heard her complain about her weight) and she just eats normal most of the time (no superfoods or diet foods and no treat or cheat meals) and chooses whatever she likes from the menu when going out. She cycles everywhere (hail rain or shine), but not necessarily because she “needs the exercise” just because it’s nice and why would you take the car when you can cycle…. It’s certainly a very relaxed mentality and it’s definitely very Dutch to just be ‘normal’ and not go crazy either with exercising or indulging 😉

  • Tina, I love this so much. Thank you for writing this! You inspire me and I’m sure hundreds of other women just like me. I feel like I’ve felt much the same way you have, and I’m still struggling with body image even though I’ve run a marathon and was two minutes off my BQ time. I’m still learning to come to terms with the fact that my body is strong and can do amazing things!

  • One of the best posts you’ve ever written!! Thank you for being honest. I think every female runner has struggled with this issue. I’m one of those runners with boobs and a butt, ha ha, and I don’t want to lose them. I noticed everytime I lost weight…boom, I was injured. Fueling well and strength work was something I always threw to the side because “I run 80 mile weeks!”. Now I understand how important it is to be an athlete not just skinny fast. Thank you for being a great voice for our running community!

  • This is 100% what I’ve been struggling with this summer. I don’t regularly read blogs, but you are my favourite when I do, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I came across this post today. Granted, my self-image got a little better yesterday when I PR’d in a 5k, but I still look down and think that my stomach looks unbearably fluffy. Why can’t I be stick thin and have chiseled abs (or abs at all), I thought. Perhaps I need to lose weight. And then I see this, and I’m reminded that being stick thin wouldn’t be healthy for me, and if I’m setting PRs, why do I need to change? Why do I insist on changing my body for aesthetics when it is so strong and healthy now? Why am I constantly comparing myself to girls my age around me when sure, they may be skinnier and eat less, but I’m the athlete training for performance? Society today teaches women to change their bodies simply for looks, and it takes a great deal of work to shake that mindset off.

  • Dominique Campbell
    November 4, 2016 2:48 pm

    This is inspirational and all very real 🙂 I’m glad you were able to make this discovery

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