Attention: This article was written a bit ago, but graduate students have research papers to hand in, so I am posting late. Also, this is a rant. It’s not my most articulate piece, but I am angry and PMS-ing. You’ve been warned.
It’s Marathon Tuesday, one day after the big dance, and I am reflecting on some of the things that I have been reading lately on the topic of female runners. So...how do I put this delicately? The answer is: I don’t.
I am writing this essay on my own damned blog and I am going to let it rip because I can. I am writing about this topic because I get so angry when I read some articles that I feel like I am going to explode. I see line after line of lies, misrepresentations, and straight-up BS. Because I tell myself that I am a tiny voice and no one cares what I think, I fume alone.
Fam, listen. I am sharing my thoughts today because as much as I try not to offend anyone, sometimes I really can’t keep my mouth shut...especially when I think that some of you are reading this stuff and thinking it might be real. In many cases, I blame the journalist’s interpretations and the outlets that publish their work. In others, heaven help me, I blame the runners themselves.
LIE #1: DISCIPLINE IS THE PATH TO GREATNESS
Our culture is obsessed with discipline. It glorifies it. Don’t believe me? Why do you think everyone is talking about the nurse anesthetist who works a full time job, plus is trying to make the Olympic team running 120 miles per week? Did you read the comments section on her article in the New York Times? It was a bunch of people fawning and tripping over what dedication this woman has to gut it out, not sleep, and my gosh all of this while having beat an eating disorder too. They all wished to be so disciplined, so accomplished, so strong. “That’s how you get things done!”, they said. Did I mention that on the weeks she pulled the 120, she also went hiking and skiing?? Oh and last year she went on a trip to go biking with her husband before the actual marathon, but she is ever so fully recovered.
Yes, explained the author of the piece, in a world where Type A personalities are synonymous with success, this runner is a “worthy competitor”. What an asshole.
LIE #2: RUNNERS GET MYSTERIOUS/SPONTANEOUS STRESS FRACTURES
There is another American runner who, according to a Runner’s World (yes, you can always count on them to miss the actual point of virtually every topic), is utterly befuddled as to why she keeps getting the same calcaneal stress fracture. She was in a boot as she gave the interview and lamented her “health struggles”. She casually dropped the fact that she was going to see an endocrinologist to figure out what is going on.
I am sorry, sorry, sorry. I know it’s not correct for me to judge anyone by their appearance, but GIRL, LOOK IN THE MIRROR. Now, tell me what the freaking “mystery” is. How about this: Take a year off running, gain a few pounds, get a period (because I know you don’t get one...hence the “endocrinology” inquiry), and then see how those bones are doing.
LIE #3: HIGH ACCOMPLISHING PEOPLE HAVE THEIR SHIT TOGETHER
I am physically sick of seeing laundry lists of accomplishments under a person’s name get passed off as evidence of how “special”, “talented”, and “driven” they are. She’s a sub-whatever marathoner, a PhD student, volunteers at a children’s hospital, knits socks for the homeless, and last year alone won a Pulitzer, Top Chef, and Marie Kondo’ed her entire neighborhood. Hey, news flash: most people who are high achievers are absolutely terrified of being anything but high achievers. They are in constant motion to appease the drumbeat in their head that tells them, “You are not good enough unless you do this. You have no value unless you also do that.”
I know because I am one of these people.
Instead of exalting the stressed out, over-scheduled, over-achieving athlete, why don’t we teach people that they have value just as they are? Why don’t we normalize anxiety and give people tools to manage it without abusing their bodies and minds? Why don’t we stop projecting our own perceived inadequacies onto other people by glorifying their potentially unhealthy habits/obsessions? Why don’t we see that busy-ness is not success, that discipline is not glory, and that really...REALLY...what some of us runners need is a FREAKING HUG and not another finish line to cross???
IF WE ARE GOING TO GET BETTER, WE HAVE TO GET REAL.
Sometimes, the media we rely on to give us information is pretty crappy at doing its job. I mean, just look at our political situation and you’ll know this is true. But much more importantly, we have stigmatized certain attitudes and behaviors so much that we have made it impossible for people to share their truth without fearing judgement. I, for one, don’t judge the athlete who might shove his anxiety into ultramarathon training to the point of burnout and Overtraining Syndrome. I do not judge the athlete who can’t seem to scratch some itch in her head that tells her that it will all get better if she just cuts her calories down and doubles her training sessions to the point of amenorrhea. I do not judge the athlete who was bullied, abused, or otherwise abandoned as a child and eventually cracked a hip because it felt too good to get out on the road and pound the pain away.
The only way to healing is to share the truth about our stories so that we can see that we are not alone. Truth helps us move past being typecast as the “Perfect Type A” and finally, finally be seen as the person in need of compassion.
Hey wouldn’t it be amazing for someone to actually say, “I’ve won this marathon, but I am not sure if my mental health is stable” and they still get an article written about them in a major news publication???
Know this: whether you see it in black and white or not at all, you are not alone. You are never alone.