When I took up running 18 months ago my first thought was that I wanted to lose some weight.
I’ve lost some, not as much as I’d perhaps like, but exercise has changed my relationship with my body in ways I never even expected.
When I first started running I wore baggy tracksuit bottoms and a t shirt. The thought of wearing a short skirt, especially without tights, or going out in lycra was pretty horrifying. These days I’ll happily clad myself in skin tight lycra to run round busy streets with a red and sweaty face and wear stupidly short shorts in a public forum. In a non sports sense I occasionally raise the hemlines, and my wardrobe contains more than a few skin tight lycra frocks.
The difference between me 18 months ago and me now is that now, most weeks, I run twice a week and skate at Roller Derby training twice a week, plus a free skate session. In terms of my body I’ve lost a (very) few pounds, toned up a little, but only a little. There is no difference in my hip measurement between now and 18 months ago and my waist measurement honestly fluctuates up to 3″ depending on what I’ve eaten or drunk, but in reality there is little change.
So why do I happily wander round in skin tight lycra now when I wouldn’t 18 months ago?
Whilst exercise hasn’t actually changed my shape much (though doing squats on skates twice a week has given me thighs of steel and a perter bottom apparently) what it has done is changed my relationship with my body.
This is a body that can run 13.1 miles. I can put on a pair of skates and have the strength in my legs to make those knee taps instead of knee falls and sprint on my toe stops from a standing start. My body isn’t just for looking good in clothes, it’s for jumping over stationary objects on wheels and keeping my balance when I land and being so immovable in a plough stop position that someone pushing from behind can’t actually make me move. My body has endurance, strength and agility. It also has the ability to learn new skills and do better, and none of that has anything to do with the size of my hips or whether I look like a super model.
All of those “flaws” that my body has; wide hips, large upper arms, short legs; are things that I’ve now I look on a bit differently. My wide hips and short legs are strong and muscular, if I ever pass these pesky minimum skills (and I will one day, I’m just getting frustrated as it’s taking so long!) they could make me a pretty formidable obstacle to get past on the Roller Derby track.
I’d still like to lose a little more weight, but part of the reason for that is that I’ll be able to run faster, skate faster and jump higher and do these things for longer without the pressure on my joints, not just because I want to wear smaller frocks.
When you feel like that about your body, when you’re proud of what it can do, then all of a sudden it doesn’t matter so much whether your stomach sticks out slightly in that slinky frock, or your arms look bigger in cap sleeves. It doesn’t matter whether the size on the label of my shorts is a size 14. Those are the shorts that fit my bum, they can write whatever number they like on the label. My thighs will still be the same size and they’ll still be able to carry me around a 13 mile run and carry me to the pub to celebrate afterwards, if slightly creakily!
I’ve stopped thinking of food as the enemy and started thinking of it as fuel, yummy, yummy fuel, yes, and maybe sometimes I top up my fuel tank a little high, but hey, life is for living.
Although I haven’t changed in size since I took up regular exercise I’ve gained confidence in my body and an awareness of it as an amazing tool rather than a decorative object and I wouldn’t swap that for a size 10 dress any day.