What would you do if you were out for a Saturday morning run, training hard for your next race, and all of a sudden a car drives by and throws a McDonald’s cup at you? What about if a group of young boys comes up behind you and smacks your butt, giggling as they run away?
Believe it or not, both of these examples of supreme body shaming have happened to competitive runner Julie Creffield, author of The Fat Girls’ Guide to Marathon Running ($ 9; amazon.com)
Creffield, who’s from the United Kingdom, considers herself a plus-size runner. But anyone who thinks her weight holds her back is seriously mistaken. She’s been running for about 15 years and has completed marathons, ultramarathons, and triathlons around the world. Now, she’s taking on what she calls her “bucket list” race: Sunday’s New York City Marathon.
For Creffield, 15 years of running has also meant 15 years of body shaming, exclusion, and misguided stereotypes. “People automatically think you run to lose weight, and then when you don’t lose weight, they’re like ‘Why are you still fat?’” she tells Health. “There’s this assumption that we only exercise for slimness, and for me that’s not the reason.”
Running is like therapy for Creffield. She used to struggle with depression, she says, and she credits exercise with pulling her out of it.
Another misconception Creffield can’t seem to escape: people thinking she’s a beginner. “They give you unsolicited advice about how to improve, and they say things like, ‘Once you’ve been doing it for a while, it’ll be easier.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, I’ve been running for 15 years.’”
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After years of putting up with body-shaming comments and actions, Creffield says she realized she couldn’t be the only runner who had to deal with this kind of abuse. So in 2010, she started her blog, The Fat Girls’ Guide to Running. In 2013, she turned it into a business, Too Fat to Run?
The name was inspired by one of Creffield’s most notable body-shaming experiences, when she went to the doctor with a pulled back muscle. As soon as she started complaining of pain, the doctor suggested she exercise more. “I was like, ‘Well actually, I’m training for a marathon,’ and he said, ‘Oh no, you’re too fat to run a marathon.’” Cue her determination to prove him wrong.
She calls her business a “virtual running club,” or an online resource runners can go to find carefully tailored workouts and training programs. It’s also a platform for connecting with other women in the program.
Creffield says she’s always felt excluded from the running community. She’s found traditional running clubs to be all about competition as opposed to community; they’re typically only worried about being better than other clubs. That meant whenever she tried to join one, the members assumed she would just slow them down.
That experience gave her the idea for her own business: a running club that’s based on inclusion and support.
By founding the Too Fat to Run? community, Creffield has had the opportunity to connect with women who face the same body shaming and cruelty as she did, something she never thought would have been possible when she first started running. She helps her clients on their self-love journeys, and she says they’ve inspired her to overcome self-doubt and other obstacles along the way.
“I know this is really cheesy, but I think marathons and long-distance running are a metaphor for life,” Creffield says. “You don’t have to know how it’s going to end, you just have to take the first step.”
They key to Creffield’s success? Setting “big, fat, stupid goals,” she says. Without something to work toward, it can be hard to motivate yourself. But when there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, it makes it easier to push through during tough times. This applies to both running and life, she adds.
Seeing her hard work pay off and accomplishing her wildest goals is the greatest confidence builder, Creffield says, and she tries to carry that feeling with her at all times. “Sometimes things happen in life and I think ‘This is so tough,’ but then I think, ‘Is it really as tough as running a marathon?’”
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