When I woke up yesterday morning before the 5K, my first thought was, “I am a champion!” I didn’t need to tell myself this as a pep talk because I was scared. Over the last month of training on pavement, I’ve come to believe–or rather, Bri-lieve!–it.
When I made the transition from treadmill to pavement, I’ll admit I was concerned–for my groin, my still-fresh relationship with tortilla chips and my childhood fear of being made fun of for RWF, Running While Fat. But after my first couple of runs, my fear became freedom, and I began caring less about what I assumed people thought–or what the assholes of my past would have said–and more about the boundlessness I felt from running.
Of course, I had my limits–still do. A few months ago, getting on the treadmill was a near anxiety attack, and not too long ago, I wanted to pull a Catherine Becker on running. But yesterday, I extended my limits by running a 5K–and not walking and then running but really running. Like the whole way.
I knew the day before that I was going to do it. On Saturday morning when I woke up, I just felt like running, a feeling I’ve never had in my life. Originally, I was going to take the day before the run off, but with a jones for the pavement, I ran two miles–again, the whole way–and unlike other times, I made an effort to pace myself. When I got home, the runner’s high settled in as I was showering, and I began shouting like William Wallace before battle. After the shower, I spent the next 8 hours (Yes, 8 hours.) playing video games while stretching my quads, hams, calves and–you know it’s coming–groin and drinking as much water as I could without causing myself to hallucinate. I avoided heavy foods for the day, ate two huge plates of pasta for dinner and got eight hours of sleep. I was going to run the shit out of this 5K, not the other way around.
So, after telling myself I was a champion, I began yesterday morning with a cup of coffee and more water and then made a smoothie that would make Mike Tyson bite Evander Holyfield’s other ear off. The smoothie is a slight variant on a recipe Steve gave me (It’ll be posted on here soon.)–coconut water (For maximum hydration.); blueberries and strawberries (For maximum flavor. Because coconut water tastes about as good as it looks.); orange juice (For extra flavor, in case maximum isn’t enough.); ice (For maximum coldness.) and three tablespoons of chia seeds (For maximum crazy.). After downing the smoothie, peeing all too many times and listening to DMX (For extra crazy, in case maximum isn’t enough.), I was ready to run.
But first, we had to wait awhile for it to start, which would have been really boring if Steve didn’t look like a terrorist with that 40 lb. weight vest on–which, if you’ve forgotten, he agreed to wear so we’d be the same weight when we ran the 5K. So many people stared at us as we stood there pinning on our racing numbers and taking a final few sips of water. One woman said, “Is someone going to bomb us?” Another asked Steve, “What’s in all your pockets?” (Apparently, 40 lbs. of sand turns a skinny Canadian into the Una-Bomber. Come on, America, the fear-mongering has gone too far!)
This is when I realized I truly had nothing to fear. All these people at the 5K, whether they were running the whole way or not, were just people, each with their own fears, insecurities, weaknesses and eccentricities, like the woman we lined up near who was running through Capitol Hill during Block Party weekend barefoot. (For anyone unfamiliar with this part of Seattle, this woman basically gave herself a foot bath in STDs.) If everyone there thought Steve was the Una-Bomber, it didn’t only mean they were stupid–it meant they feared us, so even if I feared Running While Fat, I wouldn’t be alone.
Once the horn blew, I ran like I had no fear, dodging around all the old people, kids, women walking with strollers, and oh-so-many people who looked just like me, people who wouldn’t be caught RWF. Steve and I cruised together for the first half of the race, either running next to each other or right near each other, our bro-mance reborn. When we reached the halfway point, Aloha St., we turned downhill, and I hit the hill hard while Steve reeled back, unsure of how to take the slope with the extra 40 lbs. At the bottom, we turned again, and I saw all these volunteers handing out water, and all these people, people who didn’t look like me, who probably never had to worry about being caught RWF, stopping for a drink. Part of me wanted to run by and grab a bottle without stopping, like I’ve seen real runners do in races, but then I thought, “Let these skinny people drink their water. I’ve got a race run.”
I picked up my pace and took notice of all the people I was passing, all of them skinnier and fitter-looking than I am. My competitive spirit kicked in, and, looking back now, I wish “Fatter Than You” was written on the back of my shirt, so everyone I passed would know this fat guy was different. I had reached that point where running becomes an existential quest, where your mind is filled with nothing except the thought of survival, but instead of letting the emptiness make me hopeless, I felt empowered by it. Giving up and walking was an unknown concept to a champion. Having the BPM-churning Girl Talk blasting on my iPod didn’t hurt.
A mile later, I was starting to fade, yet with only a mile left, I simply slowed my pace and kept pushing. I had no clue where Steve was. Once I picked up my speed at Aloha, he disappeared in the cloud of people who couldn’t keep up with this champion. Once we hit the final ascent up Union St., the existential empowerment turned into a tired acceptance. I knew the finish line was close, and I just needed to cross it. Then I saw the barefoot woman ahead of me and had a new goal in sight–pass the finish line before the woman who runs without shoes. At the top of the hill, I sped past her and kept going through the finish line, completing the 5K at 31:22, about a minute before Steve finished, who didn’t look like he was going to kill anybody but himself.
The day after the 5K, I think I’m more than just a champion. I am someone who has accomplished something I never imagined I’d be able to do in my entire life–RWF, running without fear. Running the 5K wasn’t really about proving to myself that I could do it; it was about taking on my deepest fear–being fat for the rest of my life. Since I began training five months ago, I’ve lost about 20 lbs., giving me a total of 55 lbs., meaning 20 more to go to reach 200, the weight I was before I hurt myself, when I first lost 140 lbs. I never believed I’d make it back here.
The difference between then and now is I no longer have that fear. I’m no longer obsessing so much about my weight that I’m binging and starving and attempting the unexpected with Preparation-H. I have accepted that I am who I am. When I eat, I’ll always want more than I should have. When I flex these guns–or pythons (Take your pick.)–like I did in the pictures above, I’ll always know about the stretchmarks, a remnant of when my arms were more Oprah than weapon–or reptile. And when I look in the mirror, I’ll always see the person I was, the fat kid who was too scared to ever be caught RWF who became the adult for whom food wasn’t just for survival but for comfort, too.
But this morning when I looked in the mirror, I saw someone new. I saw a man without fear. I saw a man that would run again.