There’s a photo of me from this past weekend, running my first ever half marathon. The sight of it should elate me, draw up a sense of intense accomplishment. Instead, my first thought was: “All I see are thighs and belly, moving in a wavelike motion, like fat does on top of muscle mid-stride.” No, I don’t plan on buying it from the nice photographers that took it. And I don’t plan on posting it here (it is $15 for crying out loud!). But that reaction alone gives me pause. Why do I care? Me, the one who claims to be so secure…so comfortable in her own skin.
Most of you know my journey. I had a 10-pound, 2-ounce baby almost 20 months ago. I include the 2 ounces, because I figure anything over 10 pounds gets me extra super sympathy points. My petite frame went from a comfortable Size 6 to a “Holy Cow, We Don’t Even Carry That Size” pregnant state. I gained 53 pounds. It wasn’t pretty. I didn’t glow. “Shamu like” is the only way to describe it.
When Ella got here, I was elated. Elated, and fat. No longer did I have pregnancy to blame on the fact that I weighed 20 pounds more than my husband. I shed 30 pounds in water weight in the first two weeks. The other 23 were mine to own. I knew the road ahead would be long, and quite frankly, I was scared. I didn’t want to crash diet or resort to disordered eating like I had in the past. I had Ella now and she will someday look to me to pattern her eating after me. So, the cycle has to stop with me.
I started with slow exercise. Long walks. Then boot camp. Kettle bells. But not running…NOT running. I loudly told those around me that I was NOT a runner, “Never have been, never will be. It’s just not my thing.” Like math. Or casual conversation. Or disorganized closets. Not my thing.
So how, you ask, DID it become my thing, so much so to the point that I–the girl who almost threw up after a one-mile run three years ago–was able to complete 13.1 miles at a 9:38 pace, despite significant knee pain on race day? The honest answer is: I’m still not quite sure. It was a day at a time and a mile at a time, coupled with a great friend and running partner. One less hit of the snooze button and one more tying up of the laces. Over time, it just happened. A 5k. Then another 5k. Then a 10k. Then a half marathon. And a lot of miles in between. But that’s not the point of the story.
The point is that somewhere in between Mile 1 and Mile 1,000 (which is probably close to accurate of what I’ve run over the past 19 months), I stopped worrying about a number on the scale and starting caring about what my body could accomplish, if only I took one more step…one more step…one more step. I ate for fuel instead of cravings or emotions or calories. Sure, sometimes, I slipped up and ate one too many cookies. But more days than not, I enjoyed food for nutrition, not pant size value. I enjoyed my body for the first time in a long time…possibly ever. And I was constantly amazed at how it had a capacity to improve, get stronger, go longer, and run faster. It’s like my head had been cut off at the pass at my shoulders all these years and I had no idea what anything below it was capable of. But when I crossed the finish line of that half marathon, there was no doubt in my mind–I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
This may not seem like a big deal to some of you–you who have long been athletes or who are naturally comfortable in their skin. “Naturally comfortable in their own skin” has been an oxymoron to me for almost 31 years. But somehow, against all odds, running–and a lot of praying while I did so–has released me of a lot of that discomfort when I look in the mirror.
Flash forward to seeing my race picture. My old insecurities crept up. I had a moment of disgust. “Why am I still 5 pounds short of my ‘ideal’ weight? Why do my legs look so…manly?” I thought. Despite the fact that I’ve now lost 64 pounds since the day I had Ella, I still had this flash of insecurity. But then I remembered a lesson I learned somewhere in the middle of all this manic running: I am perfectly designed. We all are. And as long as we are doing our darndest to live up to that divine blueprint, all the rest–the voices in our heads that tell us otherwise–is nothing but a lie.
Today, I am a woman who crosses finish lines. I am a mother to a beautiful, hilarious toddler, and wife to the best guy I’ve ever met. And who the heck cares if I’m not “ideal” according to the scale in my head? I’m fit, strong, happy, and blessed. So let me be the first to stand up and say, “Hi, my name is Johanna and I’m not ideal. But I could care less.”