7 People on When They Realized They Had a “Runner’s Body”

Julia Malacoff
by Julia Malacoff
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7 People on When They Realized They Had a “Runner’s Body”

The truth is, any person who runs has a runner’s body, no matter their weight, build, age, ability or health status.

There’s this stereotypical idea of what a runner’s body looks like: long, lean and seemingly made for logging miles upon miles.That misconception around what a runner “looks like” can be discouraging for those who don’t feel like they fit into that lanky, muscle-bound ideal. The truth is, any person who runs has a runner’s body, no matter their weight, build, age, ability or health status. Even more, running can be a vehicle for helping people accept their body for what it is — and what it can do. Here, seven real runners share their stories.

TRANSFORMING INSECURITY INTO AN ASSET

“I 100% do not have a ‘runner’s body,’ or what you’d typically consider one,” says Paul Ronto, a 36-year-old from Fort Collins, Colorado. “I am short and stout, not tall and lean. But I can run a 5:30 mile, have finished half-marathons under 1:30:00, and my best marathon was right around 3:30:00.”

Ronto says he never thought he could be a runner. “I despised running, actually, but I have strong legs and core, so I figured I’d do something crazy and signed up for a marathon. I honestly didn’t expect to finish when I signed up.” But when his marathon training started to feel less painful and more manageable, he realized he had suddenly become a “runner.”

“Running is still hard today, but it does make me appreciate my body. I know I can push myself and my body can support it. I was always annoyed by my huge legs. They didn’t fit well in jeans, and in the summer, I’d chafe between my thighs. But as a runner, they are my biggest asset. They allow me to run hard and long, and now I appreciate my thunder thighs.”

FEELING THAT RUNNER’S HIGH

“I have short legs that don’t move very fast, but they keep moving,” says Kelly Kasper, a 32-year-old from Piscataway, New Jersey. But it wasn’t always that way. “I was literally the girl who would cheat on the mile in gym class, so I’m probably the last person that anyone would have predicted to be a runner, partially because I didn’t think I could do it.”

But once she started running for herself (instead of being forced), Kasper loved the freedom it gave her. “I felt myself becoming stronger physically, mentally and emotionally. The runner’s high was real for me. Once I reached a point where I was strong enough to run without feeling like my legs were going to burn off and my heart was going to jump out of my chest, that’s when I knew I had hit that point where I could not only be a runner, but do whatever I put my mind to, really.”

RUNNING WITH TERMINAL ILLNESS

“I grew up with cystic fibrosis (CF), a genetic disease that has a major impact on the lungs,” says Andy Lipman, 45, who lives in Atlanta, Georgia. “CF was supposed to take my life in my 20s. Running was not something I was supposed to be able to do. I was lapped by kids in my class growing up.” But Lipman’s uncle was a runner and encouraged him to give it a try. “I didn’t know I was a runner until I completed my first 10K race. It’s not that running the race made me a runner. It was the drive I developed after the race that I would run that same race the next 22 years in a row.

“I now run 15–20 miles a week and along with working out, I have become a pretty good athlete. I have done things I was never supposed to do: I’m married, have two kids, have raised over $4 million for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, have written four books and have unquestionably become an avid runner. For many years, I hated looking at myself in the mirror because how skinny I was because of my disease. Running has helped me no longer feel that way.”

ESCAPING SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS

“During a 15-mile run in a torrential downpour, I felt absolutely no fatigue, just sheer bliss,” remembers Donna Brown, 68, of Pearce, Arizona. “I was drenched to the bone and feeling ecstatic to be alive! That was the moment I realized I would be running for the rest of my life. I’ve always been self-conscious about body image, yet when I run, that’s the last thing I’m concerned about. There are more interesting things to consider, like the rewards you get from running: strength, stamina and positive-self image.”

FROM PICKED LAST IN GYM CLASS TO ULTRAMARATHON RUNNER

“Prior to discovering running, I had always felt skinny and ill-suited for sports,” says Thomas Watson, a 32-year-old who lives in Madrid, Spain. “Throughout high school, I was the last one picked for sports teams and didn’t have any athletic hobbies.”

Watson got into running in college, and then continued as a way of relaxing once he started working. “Soon I was competing in marathons and eventually became an ultrarunner. While preparing to run ultramarathons, I began supplementing my running with resistance training designed to strengthen my body and improve my running performance.

“So, through my love of running, I’ve gradually developed more lean muscle and a much more athletic look — something that I would’ve thought impossible when I was back at school.”

MEETING OTHER RUNNERS

“Joining a running club gave me that ‘aha! moment,’” says Lindsay McClelland, a 32-year-old from Sarasota, Florida. “Seeing the full range of abilities and body types was a huge eye-opener for me. It’s not a sport where you can judge someone’s strength or speed purely by what they look like. That said, it still took me several years to gain the confidence to race in a crop top. Now, I’m four and a half months pregnant, and I still feel like I have a runner’s body, because I run!”

RUNNING TOWARD BODY ACCEPTANCE

“I’m barely over 5-feet tall, with short legs, sturdy thighs and hips that are two sizes larger than my waist,” says Julia Goldstein, a 53-year-old in Seattle, Washington. “Still, running makes me strong. I take pride in what my body can do. I will never have a flat stomach, but I can accept that I’m not built that way. Running is crucial for my physical and mental health.

“I completed my first Ragnar race this year and it makes me smile to realize that I was able to run 18.5 miles in less than 24 hours and still walk the next day. I will never be fast, but I have learned to accept that. I’m a solid mid-pack runner, and I’m comfortable with that.”

About the Author

Julia Malacoff
Julia Malacoff

Julia (@jmalacoff) is a former fashion editor turned health and fitness buff who writes about all things lifestyle—especially workouts and food. Based in Amsterdam, she bikes every day and travels around the world in search of tough sweat sessions and the best vegetarian fare.

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