• from moment to moment

solo: running ideals

When I look in the mirror, I don't see a Kenyan gazelle. I've been running since I was a kid. I've always enjoyed the sport, I've been pretty good at it, and I've always doubted myself. It wasn't about pace, ability or results. The blame was on my body.


Sport is beautiful. Raw, but beautiful. It makes strong and aesthetic bodies. Sometimes. When a Kenyan runs, bones and muscles move like a harmonious machine. Always. When I look around me here in the start corridor, I see leaner legs, definitely less fat, and somehow overall nicer silhouettes. All of them. Do I even belong here? Sport is pressure. Raw and not pretty pressure to be faster than the guy in front of you, in better shape than yesterday, stronger than the others. The competition, the training, the desire to prove something. That's sport. And also the pressure to look like the ideal runner.


You're gonna get hit on that hill. Your legs hurt, but you know the problem lies somewhere else. You walk, the others run, you're weak, your head tells you. Instead of focusing on your breath and each step, you're only aware of voices all around you, even though no one is talking. It's you, loser. You're in the audio trap of your inner critic. He's the only one here who breaks your running concentration and doesn't have an off switch. Instead of ten kilometres, you're running an ultramarathon of negative thoughts that slow you down far more than poor fitness. You're not running well at all, you don't feel happy, you don't know which way to go, but you want to get out of here. But you can't run. The mind has exploded again, taking your whole self with it. A body without a head doesn't work. Of course, you're too late at the finish line. The watch mocks you with high numbers and your critic translates it clearly – you lost because of the way you look. You don't belong here.


A perfect running body definitely exists. And it's definitely not mine.


You're down, you're not enough. You're outwardly joking, inwardly bullying yourself and forcing yourself to train harder. You don't eat enough and you don't rest enough. If I skip training, I'll never get strong. So you get weaker. Mentally and physically. And everyone around you is talking about how much you should love yourself. Be who you are. Long live the #selflove and #bodypositivity community. Look at all the inspiring women who have made it. They've found new self-worth, inner peace, a sense of life, natural beauty and their beloved bodies. And you still can't get enough of that self-love. You failed at that, too.


Society tells you what you should ideally look like. Perfect, of course! The standard of social media, fashion magazines, fashion brands and perfectly retouched photos. It's hard not to get caught and even harder to be cool. You feel shame and punish yourself if it overflows somewhere. The screaming in your head grows louder and chooses increasingly hostile words. You are constantly observing and comparing yourself and very firmly categorizing yourself and the world around you accordingly. The columns "when I lose weight", "no point", "I'm giving up", "everything's wrong" fill up pretty quickly, so you try to hide things, deny them, or banish them from your mind in the hope that they will go away. They don't.



You're getting fat.

You feel bad about getting fat.

You're trying not to get fat.

Failing, take comfort in comfort and junk food.

You hate your body.

You're getting fat.

You feel worse about getting fat.

You're trying not to get fat again.

Failing, take comfort in comfort and junk food.

You hate yourself.

Repetition.


Every period in the existence of mankind has found its ideal model of beauty. The Venus of Dolní Věstonice, Cleopatra, Marilyn or Twiggy... did any of them run? Each era, country, maybe even local community worshipped different figures. Their shapes, their kilos, their clothes, their hairstyles, their make-up. In modern history, we mostly lose weight, sometimes to the extreme. We are losing our naturalness, we are surgically altering everything, we are losing ourselves, our values, our judgement. What is the ideal of femininity, masculinity, perfection? Who measures us? What size leggings should I ideally fit into now?


You're not fat, but you could lose some weight. You’ve chunked up a bit. You really want another piece? You look healthy. You won't fit in these. Try a size or two larger. You're still gonna eat that? Or wannabe praise: have you lost weight? They ask questions, they give advice, they (un)consciously hurt, they start a rough cycle of thoughts, doubts up and down. It leads nowhere but to the finish line of total destruction. Every such remark is a sore spot festering beneath the surface. You put a band-aid on the wound, but you know it won't heal anyway. It bleeds whenever it reopens. It always hurts. It hurts a lot.


You have great power to influence your thoughts. Your thoughts have the ability to change the way you perceive your body. But you live in a world that attacks you and challenges your power every day. To love your body unconditionally, you have to love it whole. All of it. Without judgement, without insult, without resentment, with warmth. To acknowledge that it's yours. To appreciate your strengths and honour even the parts you currently hate. Yeah! To celebrate your body no matter what it looks like or how it (doesn't) fit into the (running) definition of beauty. Tough? Impossible? Theoretically a wonderful idea. Except that it dissolves at the exact moment you pull shorts over your leggings so they don’t creep up your butt, you sweat in long pants in the summer because you're not going to show off the hilly terrain of your thighs, or run after dark so no one can see you, just in case. A study once said that a third of women in a race have eating disorders, weird thoughts about food and their bodies. One-third. Where did the idea come from that thinner equals faster? We're all the same, but we're still different. Genetics vary from person to person. To slip into accepted standards for many of us is to cross an unhealthy line. Injuries, fatigue, mental problems, bad bones, poor immunity, stress, hormone chaos... six months without a period. Ugh. The body rebels and it's screwed. Then it doesn't matter if you run ten kilometres in under an hour if you can't even crawl to the start. A head without a body doesn't work.


A body that wants you. And do you want it? It's perfect, even if you don’t.


Where did the idea come from that we have to love our bodies? Finding body love can be as unattainable for you as running the UTMB race. You really don't have a switch in your heart that you can just flip. Nothing will change even if someone likes you on Instagram. You don't fall in love with the quantum of inspirational quotes you read. The desire to change has almost become a mantra in today's world. You just have to try harder, they say, when you're not good at self-love. They put the onus on you for (not) having the will to face all the demands of the times. They tempt you with an acquired freedom that, in the end, still binds you. Because, despite your best efforts, you are closer and closer to self-sabotage.


At the 8th kilometre, you help a girl to her feet. To stand on those skinny legs you were comparing yourself to at the start. By the time you limp to the finish line, you've become teammates. After a few kilometres and a few more glasses of wine together, you realise she has a bigger self-love mess than you. The number of kilos and positive body image are not necessarily related. Your bubble will burst. The team you've been running for for years falls apart, so which way now? Maybe not everyone can love their body. Maybe this relationship isn't for everyone. And maybe that's a good thing. You might focus on learning to love so much that you cultivate a new addiction. Similarly extreme. You trade one emotion for another. You replace obsessive hate with equally obsessive love. But an obsession with the body is still an obsession with the body.


Love is. And unlove probably is, too. The main thing is to accept it. Acceptance does not equal love. Acceptance is equal to embracing oneself with all the variations. Not to judge what you don't like. Slowly to learn and slowly to go for the you that you like. All bodies allowed. All bodies are normal. Long live #bodyliberation! Yeah! You don't have to give up the better version of yourself, feel free to have purposeful plans in self-development, feel free to change how and when you want. Just don't beat yourself up if you're far from the finish line of who you want to be. But feel free to not change if you don't want to. If you don't win the race, it really doesn't say anything about your self-worth. You're not a lesser person. You don't deserve any less respect if you're carrying five extra kilos. Or twenty. You're free from all expectations, especially your own. From all scales, calculators, benchmarks and trends. You have permission to live freely. You don't just magically get self-acceptance either. It definitely takes courage, patience, compassion and a lot of self-examination, but at least you can definitely cross off learning to love your body from your to-do list. Because you don't have to.


And you know what? The less you force yourself to love your body, maybe gradually you'll stop hating it so much.


So I stopped going to races. Instead of distances, I run to the beat of songs. I don't count calories, I count feelings of happiness. My body and my head are starting to work. I own my mistakes, just like you. I do weird things and have even weirder habits. Just like you. These weird things make us who we are. And we all deserve the recognition, the endorphins, the life. You don't have to buy those leggings when you lose weight. Sign up for the class with a muffin top on your belly. Less weight does not equal more right to experience. Screw self-love if you're not good at it. Accept it for what it is. Imperfections are natural. Fat doesn't have just one perspective and health encompasses a wide variety of bodies. You can't tell what the inside looks like from a photo. Thousands of likes and hundreds of flattering comments won't make you healthier. Let's appreciate ourselves for what our bodies can do, not what they look like. Every kilometre covered as a celebration of pride and respect.


Don’t you belong here, because your body managed to run a half marathon today? Don’t you belong here, because your body is training regularly? Don’t you belong here, because your body is just a hobby runner? Don’t you belong here, because your body eats food with good energy? Don’t you belong here, because your body is perfectly healthy and strong? Don’t you belong here, because your body is perfectly healthy and strong, and therefore functional for the long term? Don’t you belong here, because your body is original? Don’t you belong here, because your body simply enjoys movement?


Every body that possesses healthy legs and heart is the body of a runner.

Every body that runs is perfect.


I have to keep reminding myself of that.