Saturday, May 14, 2011

What Does A Runner Look Like?

A few days ago, I was telling Dave how I'd like to purchase some new running attire.  During our conversation, I shared that most of my athletic shirts seem to be cut for men or small women; they don't provide much space for a woman like me, who has hips.  The pull and stretch of these shirts across my hips and bottom is uncomfortable and sometimes even embarrassing.  "My hips are just too big.  I don't look like a runner," I lamented.

Thank goodness for a husband who quickly challenges the untruths I speak.  Dave responded by pointing me to a forum post from a woman who was venting about an unpleasant experience at a sporting goods store.  She approached a salesperson, asked for information about a particular sports bra, and was dismissed with the remark, "You don't look like a runner."  Maybe this woman's legs weren't the right shape, or maybe she even carried a little extra weight around her waist.  In any case, an interaction like this is can be devastating to a sensitive runner.

What does a runner look like?

The other day, I spied my kids checking out my latest issue of Runners' World magazine.  Wow, I thought,  I'm encouraging the next generation of runners by leaving my reading material on the floor!  When I asked what they were doing, they told me that they were looking at belly buttons.  I believe it.  There are, indeed, many pictures of belly buttons in Runner's World.  Belly buttons on super-thin, very muscular, tan, young, beautiful people.  Runners of course.

Is this what a runner looks like?

I'll show you what a runner looks like.

Here we are - my sister, me, and my sister's roommate Hilary.  We're running the Pasadena Half Marathon.  We're putting one foot in front of the other, challenging ourselves, taking in the scenery, and enjoying our time together.  We may not belong in Runner's World magazine.  Maybe we don't look like we need the sports bras reserved for serious runners.  But we are runners.

Below are my sister's reflections on this subject.  Please check out more of her writing at

And I'd love to hear your response to this topic too...

If you had to guess a sport I play, you’d probably pick basketball. And you’d be right. Sort of.

At 5’11” and with a wide build, I was trained in high school to use my body to block out and get the rebound. I wasn’t the fast, agile center.

But that’s all guess work, based on common assumptions about athletes and their build. You wouldn’t guess that running is my thing.

A few months ago, I was discussing some knee inflammation with a doctor. This has been a chronic, mysterious symptom, one I suspect is related to an auto-immune disease I was diagnosed with a few years ago. My doctor — a large, athletic middle-eastern man with broad shoulders and a strong handshake — didn’t inspect my knee. Instead he encouraged biking or swimming for a cardio workout. “People built like you and me, we aren’t meant to be runners.”

We both knew what he meant — he didn’t need to explain further. He was referring to tall, broad folks with some meat on their bones. Runners, the assumption goes, are small, thin, all muscle and bone. Narrow hips and natural athleticism don’t hurt.

The thing is, I love running. I don’t pretend to think I’ll ever be competitive. I probably won’t ever run in the Boston marathon (you need to qualify for it). My fastest mile split to date is somewhere around 8.5 minutes, which really isn’t fast by most standards.

But there’s just something about it. It’s the joy of being outside. It’s getting up the hill. It’s racing the sun as it rises in the morning, or chasing it when it goes down. It’s exploring your city from a whole new perspective and discovering streets and alleys and vistas you might never have seen if you hadn’t been running through it.           

So that’s why, when my doctor suggested running wasn’t for me, hot tears threatened my eyes and I had to look down to blink them away. After the hurt had passed (the hurt from his insensitive comment and all that had been implied by messages I’d received before this one), I smiled a little to myself. I remembered how so often people’s comments mirror their own disappointment and have little to say about me. And I renewed my commitment to give my desire to run — and enjoy it —precedence over whatever my build might say about me. Or what sport I should play.


  1. As a point of clarification, I do really love Runner's World magazine. I just need to remind myself that models in any type of media are not representative of the average person; therefore, I should not waste energy aspiring to look like them.

  2. Interestingly, it often happens that we define things not by observing how or what they are, but by our perception of what they should be like. Hence, we are more prone to saying a masculine woman is "not really a woman," rather than saying that "woman" covers a wider spectrum than we first thought. Seems like the same thing is going on here: a runner is someone who is running, and that includes a wide spectrum of types.

  3. Hi Michaela,

    Thanks so much for reading and for commenting! I really appreciate what you wrote - so true. It's a good reminder that we should base our judgements on truth/reality on not on perceptions.

  4. But Lori... when I look at you I think.. now she looks like a runner... smile. Isn't that funny? Me, with my short legs and thick muscles.. I think I should be a sprinter, not a long distance runner... but what I love about running is that all shapes and sizes can do it..
    And, to mean, it is the most fun thing about running in a race... seeing all of the different shapes and sizes that can get out and put one foot in front of the other.
    And I really think you look like a runner... if you run. Granted, there are those types (you know, like my husband... smile), whom you look at and say, now that person MUST be a runner... So, I smiled when I saw this posting.. and yet I also thought... how could Lori be sensitive about being a runner? You are so strong and dedicated and disciplined... because you get out there and do it... that's all that matters... Can't wait to run with you at the Red Rose... although you'll be way ahead of me.. smile...Malinda (you know)

  5. I started running in the grave no one would see me. I remember when it was time to graduate to the streets and I was rather embarrassed because I thought it would be so evident that I wasn't a "runner" and I would jiggle too much ;) Then I just got to the point where I realized it really didn't matter so much what anyone else 11 minute miles aren't going to win any races but they're bringing me a whole lot more health of body and mind than before, so I guess it doesn't really matter if I look like a runner or not. Thanks for your post!

  6. Great post. Good job, ladies!