Weighty Matters
Acknowledging that runners come in all shapes and sizes is a good step in the right direction for our sport. Illustration: Michelle K. Schrantz

Face it, embrace it: Runners come in all shapes and sizes

There’s some kind of unspoken agreement that we don’t talk about weight in the running community.

We insist we do it for the community, the accomplishment, the endorphins or some such feel-good reason. And yet, “running for weight loss” turns up a hell of a lot more Google hits (more than 32 million) than “running for endorphins” (a measly 400,000). We talk about making “race weight,” as well as how to ensure our caloric intake does not exceed output. We want to know how much faster we’ll be if we lose 1 pound, or 5 pounds, or even 10. Long-distance runners are at heightened vulnerability for eating disorders. We say we don’t care about weight, and yet we care very much about weight. Specifically, how to get rid of it.

READ MORE: It’s Never Too Late to Start Running

When Women’s Running magazine featured a plus-size runner on the cover of a recent issue, it was one of the most famous issues of the magazine ever. Pop media lauded the publication for selecting a curvaceous woman for the cover instead of a stick-thin fitness model, and it looked as if this was the first step in showing a variety of body types in the world of fitness. Earlier this year, Nike got major kudos for announcing they would make run clothing in sizes up to 3X.

But there was also a lot of backlash. Runners took to comment sections and message boards to trash these moves, saying it was irresponsible to “promote obesity” in the running community. The common theme was that overweight and obese runners should lose the weight, not celebrate it.

Again with the weight-loss obsession! That’s messed up, y’all.

It’s not a surprise that weight scares so many people. Our government forces BMI testing on elementary school children, the tabloid covers zoom in on celebrity cellulite, and yo’ mama’s waistline is a ever-present punchline. We assume an overweight person must be inactive and eat poorly. We can’t be associated with those posers! There’s an underlying murmur that, surely, those people aren’t runners! They’re unhealthy!

But are they really? The definition of health is a broad, complex one. Depending on who you ask, “healthy” could be used to describe what we eat, how much we sleep, how much we exercise, the relationships we have, and/or the ways we manage stress. Apparently, we can infer all of those things by simply looking at a person’s shape.

READ MORE: The Pros and Cons of Running for Weight Loss

Like a carnival ride with a height-restriction sign post, there’s a disturbing notion that suggests “MUST BE THIS THIN TO BE A RUNNER.” It’s bullshit. Who are we to say anyone should lose weight in order to be celebrated as a runner? The idea that making workout clothing in larger sizes somehow promotes fatness is laughable. Hardly anyone is going to say “Oh, Nike makes size 3X? I can really let myself go now!”

Runners are—and have always been—a variety of shapes and sizes. What’s different these days is that people are finally starting to acknowledge that diversity. That’s a great thing for our sport! We’ve figured out that running isn’t just for weight loss (and let’s be real for a second: running can be horrible for weight loss, as evidenced by the entire pizza I just ate after today’s 20-miler). People are actually taking up running because of the community, the accomplishment, the endorphins and other feel-good reasons.

Let’s celebrate that!

Running may not always lead to thinness, but it does lead to improved health—real health, not the kind we think we can observe on the cover of a magazine. Doesn’t every body—regardless of size—deserve that?

Susan Lacke
Susan Lacke is habitually undertrained and overconfident. Her first book, "Life's Too Short to Go So F*cking Slow," (Velo Press) will hit stores and e-readers on Nov. 1.
Acknowledging that runners come in all shapes and sizes is a good step in the right direction for our sport. Illustration: Michelle K. Schrantz