athletes · feminism · fitness

How To Run Like A Girl

running legs in wildflowers
Woman’s feet running through a field of wildflowers

A big hello to Fit Is A Feminist Issue readers! I know that some of you may have heard from me before about mountain biking, compare-despair or the fraught issue of women’s wear and tennis, but this is my official “introduce-myself” post. I’ll be posting regularly on the first Saturday of the month for a while. And in between, when stories like Serena’s catsuit and Alizé’s sports bra are too provocative not to comment. I’m thrilled to be a small part of this thoughtful and inspiring community.

So without further ado, who am I? I’m always tempted to say, “Nobody” in honour of Richard Wright’s haiku or Elizabeth Dickinson’s short poem. Maybe that’s because I’m a writer (though I hesitate to say that after mentioning such giants). I write non-fiction, fiction, poetry (for friends only) and plays. I’ve performed a couple of solo shows I’ve written and I’m working on an ensemble play. I’ve also ghostwritten other people’s books and edited a lot more besides. Recently, I’ve been translating 17th century French fables and wrapping them in commentary. Before all that I was a lawyer.

I made the switch from lawyer to writer when I contracted what I call adult-onset athleticism. That’s my way of describing a person, like me, who may participate in none or some sports when young, but does not identify as or take ownership of their athlete-self until they are an adult (something which is true for a lot of women). As an aside, for me, in my 40s I did perhaps contract a related case of mid-life extreme athleticism, but I’ll talk about that in another post. It was at twenty-eight that I discovered the thrill of running (and then swimming and cycling and later cross-country skiing and other things). I started to understand how to train to get faster and how to go longer distances than I imagined possible.

This shift in my self-perception was profound enough to spin my life off in a whole new direction. I quit being a lawyer. After a short detour through human rights work, I restarted my career at the bottom, working in publishing jobs. Eventually I went out on my own as a freelance editor and writer (Devil-Wears-Prada style assistantship was not my cup of tea). All of which was really a return to what I’d always loved as a kid.

Quite a few years later, I wrote a book about the transformative impact of sports on women’s lives (I’m working on a second, related one). I interviewed more than one hundred women for Run Like A Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives—ordinary women who had experienced the way their physical strength became psychological strength.

Our sports are a mirror and microscope. Whenever we test the limit of what we thought we could do (whether that’s a first step or 100 miles, on our feet, our bike, our skis or however), we see more deeply into who we are. We also have the opportunity to experience in our bodies and minds how we respond to the challenges life throws at us: to practice our grit and grace; to practice our resilience; to practice ease and flow.

In other words, I’m a believer. Fit is a feminist issue. And I’m a feminist who wants to keep running like a girl as long as I can. As you can tell, I love that expression. There’s so much juiciness in the idea. A couple years back Always did a whole campaign around it. For me, running like a girl captures that ageless girl-spirit that powers so much of the lightness we are capable of in life. The clean-slate optimism of “let’s go” meets the seasoned wisdom of “I can.” Up for the challenge and wise enough to find balance in the effort. Oh, and in case it’s not obvious, when I say running, I mean it as a proxy for any active physical engagement you fancy, however you like to move.

If that isn’t feminist, then what is?

Castle Peak with sunburst
Running into a sunburst sky at the summit of Castle Peak in the Sierra Mountains, California

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