Sunday, June 22, 2014

Bonfire of my vanities

Out for my long run on the Silver Strand yesterday, I was sharing the bikeway with the TriClub of San Diego, who was hosting a beginner triathlon. I'm thinking about registering for my first triathlon later this summer (stay tuned: "I'm thinking about" pretty much always means "I'm going to," in my universe), so I was paying close attention. Naturally, I enjoyed watching the athletes challenge themselves physically and mentally, fumbling around with their equipment, and celebrating as they crossed the finish line. But one woman in particular really stood out. She passed me on her bike, outfitted in helmet, cycling shoes, and - unlike most everyone else out there in tri-suits that provide at least a modicum of coverage - a bathing suit.

My first thought: "I wouldn't be caught dead." No, it wasn't a skimpy beach bikini. It was clearly an athletic suit, and I assume she was going to hop off of that bike and run the final leg of the triathlon in it, too. But it was a bathing suit, and her whole body was right out there on view while engaged in strenuous athletic endeavor. My second thought was a pang of jealousy at her comfort level with this. Now I don't know this person or anything about her or the accuracy of my perception of her comfort level. Maybe she's recently dropped a lot of weight, and feels amazing in her blue bathing suit. Maybe she struggles with body issues, and felt self-conscious and uncomfortable, but was challenging herself to overcome. Maybe her tri-suit was just in the laundry pile? Whatever the reason, she was rocking it, and I was impressed.

Like many, I've struggled most of my life with self-image. (I don't refer here to such serious conditions as an eating or body dysmorphic disorder. Just general feelings of shame and inadequacy for being a flawed and imperfect human. You know, the usual stuff.) Now almost forty, I do feel more comfortable in my own skin these days, and for this I give distance running a lot of credit. Not because it's transformed my body in any significant way. I can run marathons and swim in the open ocean, but I can't get rid of my cellulite. At my most fit and fast, parts of me have always jiggled, and I'm now certain that they always will. And then there's the permanent runner's tan. It's the worst. But because being an endurance athlete has, for me, required the letting go of a lot of vanity.

I'm not one of those cute runners in fashionable ensembles that smooth out the lumps and wick away the sweat. With enough discretionary income, I would definitely indulge in them; but for now I prefer to stick with the old grubby stuff and spend my limited "running money" on the related food, travel, and entry fees. So by the end of a run, my cheap cotton tank tops and I usually look something like this:

I have terrible runner hair. I like to keep my hair short, so it can't be pulled back into a neat and clean ponytail. But it's not so short that it just behaves during a run, either. No headband or army of bobby pins can contain it, and I always end up with a bit of a bird's nest up there:

Sometimes I do get that lovely runner's glisten ... but usually it's just my sunblock. And while in still life my arms are reasonably presentable, in real life, there is a lot of uncontrolled wiggle and waggle:

And then there's the issue of my legs and the short shorts. But if you think I'm posting a photo of that, then you've got another thing coming. That situation lies somewhere along the continuum from "athletic-looking woman in a running magazine" to "avert your eyes in horror." That's all you need to know.

As a professional, I'm pretty attentive to my clothes and grooming. But when it comes to running, I'm all about function over form. Although I'd be far more presentable in them, running capris make me hot and uncomfortable. Sometimes I've got salt rings on my t-shirt and frizzed out running hair, but I need to make a stop on my way home. Sorry everyone at Trader Joe's, because this is what's happening. Anyone who's ever seen me cross a finish line knows: it's not a pretty picture. But in that moment, there's no embarrassment. Because I just ran a marathon. Running has helped me to let go of a lot of hang-ups, to throw into the flames the things that don't serve me. Will I be riding a bike or running in a bathing suit any time soon? Probably not. But if I do, I hope that we can all see the beauty of the thunder in those thighs.


  1. I turn into a sweaty tomato when I work out. It's not pretty, but oh well!

    1. Ah, yes, the bright red, dripping wet face! Another beautiful feature that I'm not quite evolved enough to post. :)

  2. Love this! You are amazing. - merryhill elena (I don't know how to do a profile and all that techie stuff! )

    1. Thanks for reading, Merryhill Elena! :) And as far as I'm concerned, reading/commenting while living and adventuring on a boat is techie enough for me!