In Community, Health

Photos: Ian Corless and Prozis Trail Running

I only had 5.5km left, all downhill. I told myself to focus for thirty more minutes, extra time never hurt. This course was brutal, a 55km race bragging 4000 meters (13,000ft) of gain. Technical, steep, hot – just what I like. It was a very competitive race and I had pushed into 2nd place. As I rounded the final corner to push up one final hill I finally let myself feel it as chills ran over my skin. There was excitement, relief, accomplishment, a need for more water and to take off my shoes. I had made the podium and I had fought for every single second of it. I was proud, happy to be done, and pleased with my strength and patience throughout the race.

After some rest and recovery the athletes and volunteers gathered for congratulations and dinner. It was great to celebrate. We relived the race, our ups and downs, the views, and the terrain; assuring the organizers they had put on a tough race.

Everyone kept telling me how strong I was, how hard I pushed on the uphills, that I was a machine. Then one of the local runners had a question for me:

 

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L to R: Hillary Allen, Gemma Arenas, Anne Frost – PC: Ian Corless

 

“How much do you weigh?” he asked, comparing me directly to Gemma Arenas, the winner of the race, who was standing next to me at the time. She’s about 5 feet tall, and petite. Not only am I 9 inches taller than Gemma, but we have completely different builds; I, being, the more muscular of the two. Then, another question, “How is it you can run so fast when you weigh so much more?”

Strength, machine, powerful, animal – those were the adjectives used to describe me. Not fast, skilled, talented, or even the word ‘runner’. Was it because of the way I looked? I couldn’t help but be slightly offended, hurt, and extremely self-conscious. I had just finished second amongst world-class competition, and I was asked to explain my performance and myself.

Immediately, the first thoughts in my head were “Why am I here? How did I run that fast? I don’t look like I’m supposed to look?” I let those comments and doubts interfere with the celebration of my achievement. In fact, that night I let myself stagger in confusion and self-deprecation, crying and wishing I could change how I looked to avoid future speculation from others and my own critical eye.

Like many women and men runners (and non-runners), I have dealt with an eating disorder. However, trail running is what motivated my recovery. When I started running, that is when I decided to take care of myself, to listen to my body, and to respect it. Although I am recovered now, it’s a dynamic process and one I can never ignore. That fact made clear by my shear devastation brought on by a comment about my weight.

 

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Hillary Allen is all smiles, even when climbing steep hills. – PC: Prozis Trail Running

 

So I challenged that doubt and fear. I don’t need to look different to be considered a runner.  I am one. I challenge that thought in all of us. Take a breath, and decide to take action. Maybe the action is an out loud declaration, quiet introspection or venting. For me it’s an all out battle inside my head to accept those uncomfortable thoughts that are urging me, convincing me that I ‘don’t look like a runner’ and that I must change my physical state to match a certain standard. They’re bullshit. Complete. Total. Irrational. Bullshit.

I can run. I can move. Uphill. Strong. Fast. Running. I am a runner.

What is a runner supposed to look like anyway? I am a runner and so are you, no matter the size and shape of our bodies, no matter the distance covered or the terrain encountered.

I was made to run. My soul feels it, my body knows it, my heart longs for it. These are the thoughts I listen to. I am a runner. I choose to run toward that truth.

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Showing 16 comments
  • amy

    YES!!! Thank you for sharing this. We are all runners no matter our shapes, size, etc…Beautiful!

  • Jeff

    Your response if asked again… "I am the right size to at the age of 27 beat competitors with many more years in the sport" Own it proudly, you have what it takes to win.

  • Jon Webb

    Brilliant

  • Cory Richardd

    Yeah girl! You know what I think…and I’m so proud of your accomplishments…but more so, your voice. The strength of your physical talent is matched only by the potential energy of your impact on women and men in ALL sports. Thank you.

  • Kristy

    You look like a runner to me.

  • Anna R.

    This makes my heart swell. Well said, Hillary – so honest, so true, so strong. Thank you for sharing your inspired approach to running – helping us to run up any hill life throws our way.

  • Candice Burt

    Wonderful post. I too have had these comments, sometimes from women. I’m 5’8" and more built like a swimmer or mountain biker, but I’m a pretty good runner too 🙂 Stay strong, keep loving your self!

  • Tracy

    I love LOVE love this!! I’ve been the subject of the same treatment – people questioning me being a runner because I don’t look a certain way. It’s time we start removing the toxicity in our society about the way we look. Every body is beautiful!

  • Ken

    You look fantastic, and your running and results are amazing!
    Most people probably have a preconceived notion of a "runner’s body". For many of us, however, it is very inspiring and reassuring to see runners with different builds and body types succeed in the sport.
    You are absolutely a runner!

  • Andrea

    I look like a runner but I’m not very good at it. I’m slow. I’m not strong. I’m not skilled. But I do it any way.
    I run therefore I am.

  • Juli

    People speak to others from one of two places ALWAYS: 1. Love 2. Fear.

  • James Sullivan

    You look like a winner

  • Sarah

    To be honest, I looked at the podium photo and had to go back to see which girl wrote this blog. All three look like runners.

  • Seamus Muldoon

    You be you who, really who cares

  • Chiara

    Thanks a lor For this article. So inspiring. Let’s stay away from toxic People, and let’s surround ourselves with positive and empowering ones!

  • Marco Pombo

    aS A PSYCHO THeRAPIST I FinD it iNtereSting…

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