It’s not that I’ve got a poor body image exactly, it would be more accurate to say I have a realistic understanding of my body’s human frailties, and it’s a poor body indeed. Mine, for all its idiosyncrasies is what defines me whether I like it or not. Whilst it is hardly true to say ‘I wouldn’t have it any other way’, it has served me well, I should take care of it, and not berate my genetic inheritance, after all, it allows me to put one foot in front of another, repeat, and so on – that’s all that was needed to access the complicated and ambivalent joys of running! Bizarrely, through running I’ve become sort of habituated to the horrors of being caught on film. It’s not made me body confident, but it possibly has made me body-resigned. I’ve never been so snapped in my life since I started running. There are photographers everywhere at events, parkrun, sharing on Facebook. The photos are great, yeah, yeah, we all may wince a bit at ones of ourselves, but on balance they are really fun. Individual flattering photos are few and far between, rare treasures indeed. However, I think maybe this is an example of how individual sacrifices have to be made for the greater good. I cannot begin to explain how much joy photos of other people running have brought to my life. Very few people look unconditionally fabulous in such circumstances, but a great many look hilarious. There are websites devoted to unflattering running photos and some voluntarily upload their own corkers – I’ve included a few of my own on this blog.
Some runners look determined, or with a good photographer framing them (and we are blessed with fine photographers in these parts) can look like art works, captured in a moment in time. You can observe people’s technique, relive races as you lament the puddles and bow waves generated by runners passing through liquid mud. Having experienced the run first hand in inclement weather, you can now enjoy it again this time from the comfort of your sofa. Photos allow you to see into other runners’ souls, pain written on their faces. I love the shots of people apparently levitating, captured in the moment when both their feet were off the ground. The fancy dress offerings, family outings with all generations represented. The fast, the furious, the good, the bad and the ugly. Everything in between. Even the worst of shots can be reclaimed with a good caption competition. How about this (you might take as your inspiration the guy on the extreme left of the photo, giving me the evil eye). Worst case scenario, at least they show you were there, taking part in something unexpected and maybe bigger than yourself.
The point is, I’m never going to look like I’m running with the grace of a gazelle, lightly bounding through the grasslands of the Savanna. If I’m to continue to risk being seen in public and head out the door to ‘run’, I guess I just need to develop a thick skin, a sense of humour to deflect the worst of the pictorial atrocities and sort of embrace the concept of the ‘unfortunate snapshot’, as an inevitable part of the running experience. As surely as I have become interested in running socks; developed an unexpected curiosity for both foam rollers and the road less travelled, I will find myself now and again caught on film, captured for all eternity in a less than flattering pose. Same things happens to celebrities, ultimately, nobody cares. OK, maybe celebrities get a few more fringe benefits by way of compensation, but let’s not get picky. Basically, what I’m trying to say is don’t let a poor body image get in the way of running… you probably are doing just fine.
Over time, I have come to realise that actually, when you are running, this is honestly true. Really, nobody cares. They might possibly be amused, but they are unlikely to be judging in harsher terms, and those that are judging are most likely doing so from the sidelines. We should feel sorry for them as they are missing out on all the fun, no wonder they are small-minded, bad-tempered and have to plump their own egos by being derogatory about others. (What do you mean defensive?). As for the really fast runners, or being self-conscious about my body as a middle aged, past fifty female being lapped by lithesome young men I’ve learned a few things since I started running, which I will share here, you might want to write them down, or at least bookmark this page:
- We aren’t so much being lapped we are ‘active spectators’ who can simultaneously watch and admire the front runners, whilst participating in the event ourselves, perfect example of multi-tasking. A cause for celebration, not shame.
- Whilst I absolutely deplore the objectification of either sex, focussing on an Adonis like form ahead can help you in your quest for a PB, where is the shame in that? And incidentally, I’ve had at least one short sighted runner (straight man) admit to me they had their eye on a particularly delightfully contoured bottom for almost an entire parkrun, really pushed themselves to keep it in sight, and it was only at the end they realised it belonged to a gender other than the one they had been pursuing in their imagination!
- Most importantly, I now realise that the ‘serious’ runners, are so focused on their own performance, that I could be running ahead of them naked, bar my shoes, and they wouldn’t even notice me unless my spikes were superior to theirs. Fact.
Honestly, nobody cares. Having said that, I’m not so completely liberated that I’m going to now upload all my really dire offerings, there are options enough within this blog already for anyone who wishes to ruin me. I’m quite happy to post funny and unflattering photos of others though, they are already in the public domain, so I reckon it’s a fair cop. Note, all of these people are in great shape, they ought to look absolutely fabulous in photos, but guess what, if you are running, chances are you’ll be snapped in less than poised perfection at some point in your sprinting, trailing and jogging career.
Even so, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that now and again I’ve dreamt about being a bit more in tune with the fantasy image of the streamlined runner. You know, those runners that look strong, confident, streamlined and are eating up the miles with effortless long athletic strides. They never have to worry about bounce, and drag, and pelvic floor. They won’t fall over half way round, end up face first in the mud or be last home at the end of an event. Sigh, imagine what that would be like. To be The Poster Girl* for a running event, then you’d know you’d really arrived.
So I like to think it isn’t entirely hypocritical and inconsistent of me to harbour a dream of one day being that Poster Girl. To find myself chosen as the singular image that will epitomize and encompass all the that the organisers wish for in promoting their running event. Now, wouldn’t that be something? However far fetched. What is it they say ‘you gotta have a dream, cos otherwise how you gonna have a dream come true‘ (sorry, Americans and their cut short English, not exactly RP I’m afraid, but you know what I mean.)
If I’m really honest, I’ve been angling for such an opportunity for some time, albeit going for the ironic rather than serious approach. I had really hoped to be snapped up by the Wingerworth Wobblers for the poster for their 2016 Wingerworth wobble. I’m not ashamed to admit I’d more than hinted at this possibility, perhaps even pro-actively lobbied for it in an earlier blog entry (bringing ballast to the back). After all, if you see me in action, compared with the poster advertising the 2015 event (profound contrast between the rhetoric of the promotion and reality of participation you will agree) I think you can see that replacing the current image with one of me in action instead would have a profound impact on the appeal of the race. Widening participation is terribly important in this day and age, and surely I could be the face of inclusivity for them if not exactly aspiration and excellence? To be fair, I don’t think the committee for this year’s event have yet agreed their publicity strategy for the 2016 Wingerworth Wobble so there is still time for them to consider. What do you think, am I in with a chance? The photo’s already good to go, just a bit of photo-shopping to complete the picture
Reader, I am toying with you. I’m here to tell you that dreams really can come true, I am the living incarnation of this! Earlier this week I was stalking the Round Sheffield Run Facebook page for updates on how entries were going. This is absolutely my favourite event of the year. Friendly, local, beautiful location, leafy trails and glorious views. It has everything, lovely route, pathologically friendly marshals, great stop start/ format so you never have to run more than 3 km maximum. Lots of spectator support – look out for the pirate in the woods (or was that the TenTenTen?). It is clearly a run/race designed by people who love running, and have thought about the ideal components for a perfect event, and then made it so. It is unusual, and possibly unique, in that the way it is structured allows elite runners and novices to run in the same event. They use the terrain in a fun way. So there are prizes for King/Queen of the mountain for those who are super-keen and want to sprint up the killer hills, but places where it is beyond imagining (and/or too dangerous) to run, like up some steep slippery steps going into one of the woods, become untimed zones so you can saunter up, eating your body weight in jelly babies as you do so, and exchanging pleasantries with other runners or marshals en route. What’s not to like?
Fast runners can treat it as interval training, mere mortals like myself can enjoy the unpressurised approach. Jelly babies in abundance (bananas as the vegetarian option), nice bling. Different waves of start times mean, if you go early you get to see the faster runners pass you by, whereas in other events you just trail home behind them never getting to see the elite runners. This was the first time ever I’d actually enjoyed the experience of running at the time, as opposed to feeling smug on completion, and given that the route is 24 km or thereabouts (only 20 km is timed), that’s pretty much a miracle. I also made the rookie error of taking the advice about ‘suitable for all abilities’ quite literally, and from having only really done parkrun and a slow and laboured 10 km before (well over an hour and on a tedious flat course Varsity 10K), entered the RSR without realising quite how far it was. I’m so glad I did, I would have missed out massively otherwise, and once you’ve done that distance once, albeit as a walk /run (it wasn’t so much of a miracle that I could actually run the whole thing – what do you take me for?) – then it follows you can do it again. Hooray! So, another learning outcome for you from today dear reader, don’t be afraid to give the RSR a go. What’s the worst that can happen? (Actually, scratch that bit, that sounds like tempting fate). Maybe think in terms of if you can walk this distance, then why not enter anyway, and just put in the odd gentle jog en route. You’ll be fine, it’ll be fun, think of the bragging rights on completion. And trust me, I went to complete rather than compete, and it was a great way to go. More time on the course, better value for money, that’s how I see it, and the queue for coffee is shorter by the time you get back to Endcliffe Park.
Did I not mention they even have proper coffee at the end? Also sports massages in return for donations. Photos for ‘free’ – donations encouraged,only cheapskates fail to cough up. Honestly, the only thing that would improve this event would be an archway of rainbows lining the entire course, and compulsory fancy dress for competitors. Oh, actually, that reminds me. First year I entered this as a pair with my Cheetah Buddy and we found our numbers were 118 118. No really! We were over-joyed, we hadn’t known in advance unfortunately, so had to resort to post event fancy dress via a bit of cunning tampering with the image. You get the idea though. Shame we couldn’t find a way to make our legs look longer with the image tampering, but we look happy enough all the same, and that was for real!
So, I’m really building up to the climax now. Guess what? No, go on, see if you can guess! No, not that. Oh, no, not that either – what do you take me for? Perhaps I should… yes, I’ll just tell you. LOOK. It’s me. I am The Poster Girl for a running race. Not just any running race by MY FAVOURITE RUN OF THEM ALL. I can now die happy (though hopefull not as an immediate and direct consequence of all this excitement). I could burst I’m so chuffed I don’t mind telling you. In the circumstances they could have picked a picture as unflattering as hell and I wouldn’t have cared, but actually, they’ve done pretty well AND I’m wearing my Smiley Vest. This means a perfect trinity of delight – I get to be The Poster Girl (point one) for my favourite run (point two) and do so sporting my treasured (but rather unflattering) Smiley Paces vest (point three). Weirdly, it’s also a picture I’ve not seen before so double bonus points for that:
Now, pedants amongst you might notice (so I’ll get in there first), that strictly speaking this isn’t an actual poster, and nor is it the only image being used to promote the event on Facebook. It is but one post of many on their Facebook page, bigging up the occasion and trying to get people to sign up. You know what. I don’t care. I have had my five minutes of glory, and the opportunity to get a screen dump of that moment so it is now true for all time. I was the runner they chose for that moment on that day, even if it was just a joke or because of my Smiley vest. It even looks like I’ve over-taken some of the other runners, as long as I don’t draw attention to the fact that their different coloured bibs are indicative of a later starting wave, so actually they’ve well caught me up. It can be our little secret, yes?
The fact that the use of my image was but fleeting, sort of echoes with the nature of both a dream-like state (who knows what is real and what is not in that magical land of limbo and semi-consciousness) and that running requires a fleetness of foot. Or in my case, at least to be game. Yay, get me, I’m a Poster Girl for the running community. It is only a matter of time before if you Google my name it will come up as ‘runner’ for the top hit. If my old PE teacher could see me now!
I’ll try not to let this unexpected moment of celebrity change me, instead I’ll use my influence for the greater good. Ideally, I’d like to travel the world and meet people, be an ambassador for world peace and rescue animals. Fortunately I have friends to help keep me grounded; eminent Smiley Paces athletes who have been proper celebrities before me (by say actually winning championships whilst representing the UK in running and triathlon for example. as opposed to having their picture randomly chosen for a facebook post) who can advise; and also actual ground beneath me. Muddy and undulating, ultimately, it is that uneven terrain which will bring me back to earth. I fully expect to be face planting or arse sliding at some point on the Round Sheffield Run 2016, but you know what, it will be soooooooooo worth it. Can’t wait, can’t wait, can’t wait.
So dear reader, on dark days when life’s challenges may seem to overwhelm you, I’m here to tell you dreams can come true. If it can happen to me it can happen to anyone. I may even come to build a career as a motivational speaker, touring the country with my rousing and uplifting talk on this very theme, coming to a village hall near you any time soon. Look out for the posters!
(* In this instance it is OK to use the term ‘girl’ because the whole point is that a poster girl is an artificial one-dimensional construct that just doesn’t really exist, trust me on this).
OMG – have found I’ve practically gone viral – see runABCnorth Kandoo attitude for Sheffield Trail Run article it just gets better, I get to be associated with a pun as well, who doesn’t love a fun pun for a fun run?