There’s more to running than burning calories

How training for a race changed my attitude toward body weight and self-worth

Strength, recovery, and finding community is more important than weight.
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This article discusses eating disorders and may be triggering for some readers. The Canadian Mental Health Association Crisis Line can be reached at 1-800-875-6213.
 
Part of my self-worth has always been tied to my appearance. 
 
I’ve heard the saying “it’s not what your body looks like, it’s what your body can do” a thousand times, but it’s taken me 18 weeks of training and a 21-kilometre race to truly understand its meaning.
 
Grade 11 was the first time I felt really dissatisfied with my body. It didn’t take me long to figure out that running was a great way to burn a lot of calories.
 
I joined the cross-country team at my high school, hoping it would help me to lose weight.
 
The practices were grueling. I pushed myself to run farther distances than I should have just to burn extra calories. I completed the distances on sheer willpower, but by the end of the run, I was running slowly, and my legs hurt like crazy. 
 
After each practice, I would lock myself in the bathroom, pull up my shirt, and poke and pinch at the fat on my stomach while looking in the mirror, hoping that one run would’ve made my body look different.
 
The only reason I ran was to make myself look a certain way, and when I didn’t see my body changing after the first few weeks, I felt like a failure.
 
I completed the grade 11 cross-country season and joined again in grade 12, but after high school, my legs hurt, my body still looked the same, and I decided I was done with running.
 
Although my primary goal while running in high school was to lose weight, while I was running, I would always dream of marathons and the feeling of accomplishment I could earn if I ever finished one. 
 
I was chronically injured and slow, but I always had a feeling that if I kept running, I could accomplish any distance I wanted to. Something about the challenge of long-distance running was always alluring to me—but after seeing my body stay the same after so much pain and effort, I decided to stop. 
 
Once I quit running after high school, there was always a voice in the back of my mind nagging me to try again. If I was ever going to achieve my goal of doing a long-distance race, I was going to have to tie up my shoes and get back into the sport.
 
I swore off running for my first two years of university, and I honoured that. Then, one rainy day in July of 2020, I decided to look up a 5-kilometer route and go for a run.
 
Two months later, I broke my personal 5km record. Instead of being filled with pain and disappointment, I was proud of myself—and my body felt great. 
 
In high school, running was a means for me to burn calories. When I started running again after taking a break, I was set on achieving my fitness goals rather than trying to make my body look a certain way. 
 
In addition to my mentality shifting, I was also using a training plan which helped me increase the duration of my runs gradually so my body had time to adapt. Because I didn’t push my body past what it could handle, I felt great and wanted to keep running—and I did.
 
After my 5k, I trained for a 10k. Then I started training for a half-marathon. After hitting a wall in the half-marathon training program, I joined a group at The Running Room.
 
Each week of the program, we had a workshop or seminar related to running. I learned about hill training, strength training, and speed work—and by implementing these workouts in my training program, I finally began to see myself get faster and stronger without hurting myself.
 
At one of the workshops, a guest speaker came to talk with us about different heart rate zones and how running at different paces can help train your body in different ways. After this session, I went to get a fitness assessment done to be able to implement new strategies in my training.
 
Before starting the assessment, the trainer had to take some of my measurements. He was a cute kinesiology graduate student, and I was mortified that he was about to know my weight.
 
I hadn’t weighed myself in months and was reluctant to know the number because I thought it would make me discount all the other progress I’d made throughout my training.
 
I stood rigidly on the scale while he weighed me. When it was finally over, he asked, “Do you want to know your weight?”
 
“No,” I said curtly, refusing to meet his eyes.
 
As the assessment went on, I realized the trainer didn’t think any less of me after knowing my weight. He could tell based on my running form and my heart rate and lactic acid buildup that I was fit and a good runner.
 
When I got my test results back, I was happy with my paces and realized how much I'd improved throughout my training. Though I didn’t want to know how much I weighed, I found out since it was listed at the top of the form.
 
It was a higher number than what I had been aiming for when I was younger, but for the first time in a long time, I didn’t even care. 
 
By this point in my training, I’d completed all the workouts to date in the training plan, including the difficult hill training and track practices.  
 
I’d worked too hard for all my progress to be overlooked because of a slight increase in body weight. I had also been eating well throughout my training and had probably put on some muscle which added to my total weight.
 
Running has helped me set goals for myself that don’t involve my weight. By focusing on and accomplishing my running goals, I’ve realized my personality traits that helped me accomplish my goals are more valuable than what my body looks like.  
 
At the end of my training, I completed my half-marathon with my aunt in Vancouver in the time that I wanted. Over this process, my body changed, but more importantly, I learned a lot about the importance of hard work, consistency, and having a good support network.
 
The lessons I’ve learned in running will take me further than my appearance ever will.

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