“Take a look around,” said the man to his 9 or 10-year-old son. “I can already tell which of these people are going to do well at this thing.” As we stood there waiting for this year’s Ford Island Bridge Run 10K to start, the well-intentioned Dad continued, “The people who are going to win this thing have a runner’s body. You have to have a certain build to be a real runner. Real lean legs and really lightweight.”
I looked behind me to get a glimpse of the pair – a sweet but anxious little boy doing what I believe was his first big running event and a Dad that didn’t exactly have, by HIS definition, a “runner’s body”. There wasn’t anything terribly inaccurate about what he said and I know he meant well. The world’s most elite, competitive runners typically have very lean and fairly standard physiques. But inside myself, the only thing I could think of when he said this to his son was, “Hey kid! EVERYBODY who decides to run has a runner’s body. Don’t you think?”
When I was a kid, I didn’t play sports, and I could have done without PE (sweaty – ew). We weren’t a terribly athletic, active family (minus my mother’s obsession with Jazzercise in the 80s). For my mom, working out was an escape. I was more interested in escaping into books and playing in my grandparents’ yard. It wasn’t until I became a mom for the second time at age 35 that I even thought of running as a possibility, and honestly, it was only because I wanted to be able to keep up with my fitter, younger husband (hashtag just keeping it real).
Too often, people think speed defines you as “a runner” and yes, if you’re competing for a prize that definitely makes you a winning runner, but in the 5 years of my life that I’ve been running, I’ve seen runners of all shapes, sizes, ages, races, and abilities on all kinds of courses, and every one of them had a body that allowed them to run across the finish line.
I look back at the miles I’ve covered in these last few years, the friends I’ve met along the way, and I see pictures like the one I share here of my fellow Stroller Warriors and I finishing the Honolulu Rainbow Ekiden Relay together, and I see so much more than “bodies”. As I look at these women warriors, and every person who runs ahead, behind, or beside me in each race, it occurs to me that what is MOST important to this sport isn’t having “a runner’s body”, but a runner’s mind and heart.
The mind is what motivates you to go from couch to 5K – not the body. The mind is what decides to push your body to endure greater distances and take on new challenges – the body, with repetition and perseverance, simply learns to accommodate. The heart is what allows you to feel appreciation for what it means to have the ability to run. The heart keeps you going through good runs and bad, on your best days and on days you feel like quitting. Being a runner is about so much more than having a “runner’s body”. It’s understanding that your mind and heart can take your body where you never imagined it could go.
So when you talk to kids, yours or someone else’s, about what runners look like, don’t just talk about what’s on the outside. We want our ENTIRE self to be healthy, and to do that we’ve got to teach them what to strive for on the INSIDE as well. The mind and the heart are what make us “real runners”, whether we cross the finish line first or last. In running and in life, we are so much more than our bodies, and we owe it to future generations to be an example of that, whether we are runners or not.