That was a question I was asked last week at the pool, by someone I swim with in the local masters swim club. The conversation started as I was changing out of my swim suit and into my running gear, for a 30 minute run followed by 30 minutes of strength training (after our hour long Masters swim workout). I’ve been doing this for the last several months – I’m finding it easiest to piggy-back my workouts on top of each other than to space them throughout the day. So we’ve changed together a few times a week, each time with her asking what I’m doing next.
This day, the conversation was a little different:
her: how much do you train each week, now?
me: (adding on my fingers)…usually 10-14 hours a week now, and building in volume
her: shouldn’t you be smaller? I mean, with all of that exercise, you would think you’d be very small!
Let me say that the context and the inquiry wasn’t in any way disrespectful or judgmental. She is a marathon runner herself, and is a very similar body type to me. She felt comfortable asking me the question out of genuine curiosity – that someone could work out 10-14 hours a week, and work as hard as I work, and be anything but slim.
The non-offensiveness of this inquiry aside – I had to digest this a little before I commented on it.
me: you’d think, right? I’d have though so too before I got into all of this…actually, I shouldn’t be smaller. I’m working with what I’ve got on this, and my body is pulling of some pretty amazing stuff! while all of this would be easier if I was a little lighter – no, I shouldn’t be smaller.
I believed in what I said. For the first time in this crazy adventure I’ve been on, I believed the words I’ve seen written in so many places and said by so many other women (and men). It was empowering to hear those words leave my mouth – and to be able to stand behind them and say them with respect and pride.
I responded very differently than I would have several years ago. Before I started to train for endurance events, and before I found such an incredible group of supportive and like-minded women through the Swim-Bike-Mom and Athena triathletes communities. Before I learned that fitness doesn’t just look a certain way, and that bodies of all shapes and sizes are capable of some pretty amazing things. Before I realized that you aren’t pretending to be an athlete if you don’t fit the ideal.
And before I pulled my head out of my own ass about the very same issue.
I went to cheer on a friend a few years back at Ironman Canada. I expected to see nothing but fit and slim athletes participating in this event. I am embarrassed now to admit just how surprised I was when watching the athletes head out onto the bike course that I saw many who looked like me. The exact thought that went through my head was “wow, there are a lot of chunky monkeys doing this….” It was such an easy assumption to make.
Yeah…Head. Up. Ass.
What I’ve realized is that my surprise wasn’t a reflection of how I saw others – it was a reflection of how I saw myself. That was the day – and that was the thought – that ignited the belief in myself that maybe, just maybe, it could be possible for me, too. It opened space for me to consider myself as more than as I already saw myself. As more than just “pretending” to be an athlete.
But back to the conversation in the locker room – another swimmer (she’s an adventure racer who does what I consider certifiably insane, not to mention shark fast in the water) chimed in: “hey – many ultra runners and adventure racers look more like us! it’s hard to survive out there for days on end and through all sorts of terrain and temperatures unless you’ve got some stores on you! I lean out a bit when it gets closer to race season, but much smaller than that and I can’t do what I do”. Perspective, right?
I AM smaller than when I started. I’m leaning out further each week as I continue to focus on nutrition and am putting in the hours of training.
But will I be small?
And I’m just fine with that.