You’ve heard it, I’ve heard it. Running is supposed to be the “best cardio” for weight loss. Have you seen the people who win marathons? They’re lean sometimes to the point of being barely there.
If marathoners are that thin, ultra runners must be even more so. Except that, no, it doesn’t work that way. I’ve already talked about how endurance training won’t make you lean any more than basketball will make you tall and lanky. I found this out first hand when I trained for Olympic distance triathlons and then a half marathon and then a 30K and then a marathon. I lost no weight at all. Not one gram. My weight fluctuated by about 2 pounds over the entire 2 year period.
And so what? Here at Fit Is a Feminist Issue, we like to challenge the idea that fit and fat don’t go together, and also that being thin is a sign of fitness. It’s not. There are plenty of thin people who could use a regular fitness routine. Sam has a great post that muddies the waters around the so-called connection between inactivity and obesity.
This week, Runner’s World profiled a 250 pound ultra distance runner named Mirna Valerio. Valerio blogs about her running at Fat Girl Running. Mirna runs about 25 miles a week unless she’s training for an event, in which case she ups it to 35. Right now, she’s training for a 50K trail race.
Here’s what people say to her:
“People always say to me, ‘Anyone who runs as much as you do deserves to be skinny.’ Of course, what they’re really saying: ‘If you do all this running, why are you still so fat?’”
Mirna provides a powerful counterexample to the idea that being “overweight” by the lights of the charts is automatically a negative comment on your fitness and health. Recent science bears this out. The RW article states:
“The scientific evidence has become quite powerful to suggest that a healthful lifestyle dramatically mitigates the risks associated with mild levels of obesity,” says Yoni Freedhoff, M.D., author of The Diet Fix and a professor at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Medicine in Canada. “Scales don’t measure the presence or absence of health. A woman with obesity running marathons makes a superb role model.”
Mirna’s training is a huge source of enjoyment in her life too. Part of her regular ritual is that each time she goes out she takes a selfie.
Every run, every race, every traverse of a mountain trail, every gym workout, Valerio begins by taking a photo. “To prove that I was out here,” she explains. “To document the fact that I achieved something today.”
She makes it fun. And she keeps it light. On her blog, she has a page “how to be a fat runner.” She explains it in ten simple steps, including “embrace the name” and “look in the mirror and smile even if it doesn’t feel genuine” and “look in the mirror again and admire yourself for being a fatrunner.”
So here we have an ultra runner who is not thin and lean. But we’re not going to challenge her fitness, right? Imagine how much joy she would have robbed herself of if, after running for a few weeks or months without losing weight, she decided it wasn’t “worth it”?
This is what happens when we focus on one goal only: the goal of weight loss. When our activities are a means to that sole end, and we don’t achieve that end, we sometimes forgo perfectly good, health-promoting, and enjoyable forms of activity because they don’t “work.” But there are so many other ways that getting more active does “work.”
What an impoverished idea of any kind of training we would have if its only function was to help us drop fat and lose weight. If that’s the only reason I ran, I would have given it up long ago. And so would Mirna Valerio and countless others who found that actually, they didn’t end up looking like elite marathoners when they took up endurance training.
Check out the entire RW article about Mirna Valerio here. And visit her Fat Girl Running blog here.
9 thoughts on “Fit and fat revisited (ultra running doesn’t make everyone thin and lean)”
Four years ago I was 22. I weighed a lot less than I do now. I was super-skinny. I didn’t diet, i ate whatever I wanted to and did NO exercise. Age caught up with me!! Now I weigh more, have more fat around my middle AND I am hugely healthier as a triathlete and marathon runner. Oh and I still eat whatever I want to cos I love food. Weight / amount of body fat does NOT equal healthy 😀
So great that you’re embracing health over thinness (not that they’re incompatible but you know what I mean) in your twenties. If you’ve always been thin before and now you’re an endurance athlete maybe you can be one of the lucky few who pass over the obsessive dieting phase altogether! Thanks for your comment!
The amount of obesity panic in Mirna’s RW article is astounding. They even describe her size as a “disease”. It’s foul.
Good observation. I need to go back and read it again because I was just so glad they featured a ‘non-typical’ runner that I didn’t see that. Thanks for your comment.
Thanks so much for the shout out! It’s comforting to know that there are more of us working towards a similar goal: HEALTH and an ACTIVE LIFESTYLE despite our size. Thanks again–Mirna aka @theMirnavator aka FatGirlRunning
Thanks for your story! Your blog is fantastic. Good luck in your next ultra. 50K is a long, long way!
How did come about that Mirna is still fatty despite her daily and regular running and she should pass over it?constant running makes people loose weight not have it the same it is.
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