What Runners Look Like: Body Image and Running

“So what do you like to do for fun?”

“I like to run! How about you?”

“Wow that’s amazing! As you can probably tell looking at me, I’m not a runner”

Yep, this is a real conversation I had with someone, and unfortunately, it’s not unique. So many people walk around with the idea that they don’t “look like a runner”. As if there is a specific menu item of physical traits every runner has to have. Running and body image go hand in hand. For many people who haven’t come to love running within itself, running is a way to change their body which society has told them isn’t good enough. I remember this feeling as a new runner. There was something exciting about seeing your clothes fitting looser, and having people tell you, “you look amazing!” or “have you lost weight, you look great?” For some people, comments like these can lead them down negative roads of over-exercising and disordered eating.

Running and Body Image Go Hand and Hand

When people think of disordered eating, it’s easy to think of severe cases of Bulimia or Anorexia Nervosa. However, there are many behaviours engaged in daily by people that fall into the category of disordered eating. This can include overexercising or restricting eating to make up for eating large portions, feeling guilt and shame associating with eating, or having rigid ritual routines around exercise and food.

I would encourage runners and nonrunners alike to look at the full diversity of bodies in the running and fitness community. Although, in advertisements and running imagery often shows thin, able bodied people as runners, that only represents a fraction of all the talent runners within this community.

credit: nationalgeographic

Mirna Valerio- multi time marathoner and ultramarathoner

Frank Pizarro
Frank Pizarro, marathon runner

"most of us don’t even acknowledge ourselves as athletes because we know that physically we don’t fit the mould of what society believes an ‘athlete’ looks like." Photo: Nicole Spears

Nicole Spears: Fitness Trainer, Triathlete, and Endurance athlete

Before you tell yourself that you “don’t look like a runner”, remember this, a runner only has to be one thing; someone who runs.  Whether you run once a week, once a day, or a few times a year, that’s all it takes to earn the title of “runner”. As a runner myself who has had many fellow runners pass by me on the streets, my only thought of them was “another runner, thank goodness”, and I know I’m not the only one.