Transitioning to Life as a ‘Normal’ Runner
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Embracing identity loss, bodily changes and pregnancy while transitioning from elite athlete to regular runner

The grass is always greener on the other side. We hear it. We know it, but do we ever stop thinking it?

No.

We can’t quite decide what we want and for that our identities are constantly in question.

On one hand, we want to be an individual, not just a face in the crowd. On the other, we don’t want to stand out too much, drawing unnecessary attention to ourselves.

So we sit somewhere in the middle. We hope we are recognized and celebrated for our accomplishments on social media, but we spend the rest of our lives behind a curtain, afraid to speak out about our struggles, in case we become known for them.

As an elite runner, I was awarded a certain amount of recognition and respect because of my ability to run fast. People saw me as some kind of superhuman being, and I thrived on the achievements and accolades that stacked up next to my name.

Of course, in silence I was always beating myself up, wondering why I wasn’t better, why I couldn’t reach that next level. Then I would be happy, right?

Except we never are.

It is the same with our bodies. We think if we could only look like (insert another runner you compare yourself to), then we would be happy. Just a few more pounds, just a little leaner, just a little more muscle in the right places.

Except we never reach that happy point. We never do enough to be satisfied, and if somehow we do manage it, it feels hollow.

I am a professional runner, who did not run for over 3 months, and now, I run no further than 25 miles a week, very slowly. Not because I am injured. Not because I am unmotivated (although that was definitely a factor initially). But, because I chose to.

As many major publications noted when I took that drastic step, I was intentionally gaining weight, to get my health back.

Here’s how I looked at the peak of my competitive running career. Photo: Courtesy of Tina Muir

My name is Tina Muir, and I had hypothalamic amenorrhea for nine years. I did not have a period for nine years, and haven’t had a natural menstrual cycle in 12.

Yet, the decision to stop running and gain weight was the right one, I fell pregnant in the third month of no running. I fell pregnant on the first egg my body had released in nine years. I am now 17 weeks along, and expecting a little girl in February.

However, today is not to talk about that shocking (but wonderful!) turn of events. Today is to go beyond that. In three months of no running, and intentional weight gain before I even began the pregnancy weight gain, you can imagine, my body went through a lot of changes.

After 14 years of a continuous train/race/rest cycle, my body was lean, my lungs were strong, and my heart was powerful and efficient.

Fast forward to today, the muscle definition in my legs has mostly faded away, my belly no longer has the cuts it once did, and my arms, although strong, are larger than they have been in my entire adult life.

You would think, I would have been miserable. How could you go from having a “perfect” runner body to being a little jiggly, soft and out of shape?

I am not going to lie and say the journey was easy. There were a lot of moments of fear, struggle with figuring out who I really am, and moments of looking in the mirror, wondering what the heck I was doing.

Here’s what I look like now with a few extra pounds and a baby onboard. She’s only the size of an avocado, but she’s growing every day. Photos: Courtesy of Tina Muir

But believe it or not, I actually felt more confident in my 5-foot-5, 130-pound frame than I ever did at my leanest.

Sure, I knew I was fit and ready to run fast, but I still wanted to be more, wanted to be better, and compared others strengths to my weaknesses, reaffirming that I just wasn’t good enough.

This journey has allowed me to let go of that strive for perfection. I have accepted that I am never going to be perfect, nor do I want to be, it is not worth the stress and strain it puts on every cell in your body.

I have learned that I am so much more than just a runner, that my body is just the shell that holds my spirit, and anyone who sees it as more, is not someone I should be concerned with anyway.

I am womanly, I am feminine, I am working on a greater purpose in my life; long-term health, and protecting this little girl I am growing inside.

For now, I am in a little cocoon of sorts. A little moment of safety, where I can fully embrace life without restrictions, without the need to prove myself and show progression towards that impossible perfection.

I am learning to just accept who I am and what I am doing right at this moment. I know I am doing the right thing, I just have to trust it and let the journey unfold as it was always meant to.

It’s not easy, but it brings about a peace, a relief that I have not experienced in years.

Too often we keep fighting against our heart, what it is trying to tell us about what we truly want in life.

We are afraid to give up something that we feel we will be judged on. And of course we are afraid of being judged. Every single day we are surrounded by media telling us that we need to lose weight, eat clean, be better.

We are proud runners. It becomes a part of who we are, a part of everything we do. We sacrifice, we commit, we push ourselves harder than we ever thought we could.

And then we are rewarded with a fantastic result, to show all the time, energy, passion, and heart put in was all worthwhile. It is addicting, and we feel the most alive. All because our bodies were able to move quicker than they ever have before.

Here I was, going against the grain. It was scary, it was intense, but you know, what, it was liberating.

For the first time in over a decade I was able to eat whatever I wanted without feeling guilt about the consequences it would have on my performance, able to sit and watch Netflix on a Sunday afternoon without feeling guilt about being lazy when I should be doing something productive. Without looking at my body in the mirror feeling guilt about the “little things” I wasn’t doing for my running that were sabotaging me.

I know this won’t last forever, and that drive to chase a goal again is very likely to come back, but sometimes it’s OK to just be where you are, to accept that you are doing the best you can, and that you don’t have to prove yourself. Those who love you, will love you no matter what you do or become.

You on the other hand, you have to love yourself. Runner or not. Fast or not. Perfect or not. You are who you are, and as long as you are being true to yourself, you will be on the right path.

Tina Muir
Tina Muir is a 2:36 marathoner from the UK who is also the founder of Running for Real, a community of runners and popular running podcast. Tina recently stepped away from her professional running career to start a family, and is now pregnant with her first child.