Confessions of a REALLY fat runner

In the December 2, 2008 issue of Newsweek, on page 20, we’re treated to an essay titled “Confessions of a Fat Runner.”

I’m not sure what to make of it.

My first reaction was of great interest. Hey, I thought, I’m a fat runner! (Whee! I’m a runner! I’m not over that yet.) My interest quickly turned to confusion; the woman who is pictured is not at all fat. No, really. Not just not-fat in comparison to really-fat me – she’s Not Fat.  She’s posing a little weirdly, one leg crossed in front of the other as if she’s trying to hide her thighs or something – but she’s in running pants. You know, tight. She’s very obviously not fat.

She’s a size 14, apparently. This is how she describes herself:

“Most runners are ectomorphs: emaciated and square-jawed. Me, I’m an endomorph, posessed of a soft and thick body that looks as if it was stuffed to order at Build-A-Bear, not sculpted at an L.A. sports club. I look so unlike a runner that, when I first started jogging, passing motorists would pull over and ask if I needed a ride.”

Having read it a few times now, I don’t think there’s a clear point to the essay. Here are some possible conclusions you could draw from what she writes:

  1. Not all runners are thin.
  2. Running doesn’t make you thin.
  3. Running is a fat-friendly sport.
  4. Running is fun.

Ok. I mean, those are generally positive conclusions, and ones I pretty much agree with. (Not so sure about running being fat-friendly. I run by myself; my running is wildly fat-friendly. I’m all “Whoo! You look awesome, fatgirlonadate! Nice job! You are WORKIN’ those skintight bootcut running pants that were obviously intended for pre-teens.” But elsewhere?) She makes a nice point about how she’s run 10 miles a week for the past 20 years and hasn’t lost any weight, but she counters that with a wisecrack about how losing weight would require eating less ice cream, and gee whiz she’s just not willing to do that.

So there’s not much to the essay. But I’d love to hear from an actual fat runner – someone like me, a size 24, except maybe someone who’s been running for more than, oh, a month – in a magazine with an audience as large as Newsweek’s.  I’d love to see someone write about the struggle to find high-quality gear in plus sizes, or the conversations they have with folks whose minds are blown when they realize that the chick who’s eight sizes larger than them runs three miles a day, or what it’s like to run races when you’re twice the size of the other runners.

My experience has been superlative, so far. I found running gear that is working brilliantly (thanks Brooks! thanks Enell! thanks Moving Comfort!). I run through my quiet neighborhood and have received from folks I pass or who pass me only waves, smiles, and wry comments about their own failings (“Hey, I do what I can!” said an old, old man with a crooked smile that I jogged past on Thanksgiving). Every single person I’ve told about my running – and I tell everyone, working under the belief that if I tell people then I’ll be too embarrassed to quit – has been interested and supportive and not at all flabbergasted; three people have started running, or started running again, since I told them what I was doing.

I’m running my first race on March 22*. That’s a week after my thirtieth birthday, and my father might run it with me. Then, a few weeks later, I’m running the Cherry Blossom 5K in D.C., with my sister, who will just off a six-month layoff following a stress fracture she got in training for the Marine Corps marathon.

Wish me luck!

* Yeah, the website’s funky. It’s still showing the 2008 info.


17 responses to “Confessions of a REALLY fat runner

  1. Good luck to you! I’m fat and ran two half marathons (sub 2 hour) and I’m training for a full.

  2. One of the reasons I came around to fat acceptance is running. In my very first race, 10 years ago, I was struggling up a steep hill when a completely round man blew past my scrawny ass. And that’s how I learned that body size doesn’t mean shit. I’ve since seen people of all shapes and sizes blow past me at distances from 5K to marathon. Good luck in your races, and may you run many more! :)

  3. I’m torn, because I think it’s very useful for size 14 athletes to represent, especially in the size-6-and-under-is-‘normal’ New York Times, and yet I take your point that size 14 is average in the US, and thus perhaps a 14 isn’t the best spokesmodel for fat athletes.

    Have you read the book “Slow Fat Triathlete” by Jayne Williams? She is about a million different kinds of awesome!

  4. Oh best of luck! Running’s not my thing, I’m more into gardening and child-chasing for my exercise; but it’s good to see people having fun exercising. Maybe you’ll be in Newsweek next year, and be able to say all that to a wider audience, wouldn’t that be cool!

  5. Hey, I’m a fat runner (mb a size 22/24) and I’ve been running for 20 years. I ran one marathon and countless other race, but have very much toned it down in order to stave off injuries. I miss Fat-Girl-On-A-Bike, and would love a community/forum to talk about RWF (running-while-fat) issues, and running issues in general.

  6. kathleen c. dillon


    do you know about steve blair, MD? he’s the #2 dude at the Cooper Aerobics Institute in Dallas. He’s also about 5’6″ and maybe 250#, and he’s run most of his life. let me know if you need more linkery to him and i’ll find you some good quotes from him. you can email me at if you want to know more.

    keep up that running!

    kcd (kathleen)

  7. I’m fat at size 12. Technically no longer obese, but generally the largest in my gym classes, and many other places I go. Fortunately, I can find clothes in the normal [thrift] shops, though they don’t usually look flattering, and I’m not physically hindered by my weight, except maybe biking up hills, but I’m still fat enough to incur the wrath of fatphobes, and ignored at parties and clubs, etc.

  8. Some of the most athletic girls I know could be classified as “fat.” Sometimes our current “body ideal” has nothing to do with actual fitness. However, I do wonder if extra weight would cause too much damage on the joints when running. Wouldn’t biking be a safer bet?

  9. There appear to be very mixed reviews on whether running is dangerous for fat knees. I am VERY interested in keeping tabs on this, keeping my knees healthy, doing what I can to protect myself, but not running is not an option right now. I’m not to worried about it, because I’m not currently thinking that this is going to be a long-term thing. I’m going to do these races and see how I’m feeling. If I want to keep running, or want to run longer distances, I suppose I’ll go see a sports doctor (after doing some research to find a fat-friendly sports doctor; I’m guessing that won’t be easy) and get advice.

    Most of the books I’ve read are pretty conservative when it comes to fat runners. I just read something today that recommended that anyone with a BMI over 27 (um, here’s a link to someone with a 27 BMI: – you think she’s too fat to run?!) “start with walking, at least for a month.” I’m not sure what the point of that is; do they think you’ll lose enough weight to be thin enough to run? Or is it that you develop your muscles enough to make it “safe” for you to run?

    The books also recommend things like starting slowly, to develop your muscles; running on softer surfaces (I don’t do this; no good trails around me); wearing good-quality running shoes (although there is considerable controversy within the running community over whether expensive technical shoes are a scam or a necessity), etc.

  10. Definitely learn to stretch. That is one thing I do not do enough and my knees do hurt. I am a fat runner – 6’0, maybe 6’1, 270 lbs. I started running in 2007 and finished 41 events. I slacked off this year (saved race entry money for buying a house) – I finished 10 events, but 2 were half marathons. My goal is 2:45, but I haven’t hit that yet. In 2009 I plan on running 1 half marathon per month in addition to other runs. 50 total runs would be nice.

    The important thing is to have fun and keep going. Even when it is tough and you have to walk, it is still better than many people are doing. You know what they say – a slow time is better than did not finish; but did not finish is better than did not start.

  11. I have been running for going on three years now, and when I started I was a size 24. I am now a size 14. I agree with the “fat runner” that most runners are string beans, and that being a 14 or 24 and anything in between most people would not believe I run. But I do. And I like it. I feel better than I have in years!

    Congratulations on the race! You will feel invincible when you finish your first race. It’s an amazing accomplishment.

    At one race (sprint tri) I do every year, there are a group of women who have on the back of their shirts a very inspirational message which I believe fits here: “The miracle is not that I finished, but that I began.” Good on you, and keep it up!

  12. I will say, I stumbled across your blog and I totally dig it. Thanks for being a refreshing, educated, uplifting read. Oh, and not to mention, totally relatable.

    On a more “this blog” related note: I hate running. I used to take weight training classes in high school. The coach would make us run the mile once a week and I would feel like puking or passing out each time afterward. That plus running up and down stairs over and over as part of a training program… I’m afraid … may have put me completely off of running for life. The only time I feel as though I might change my mind is when I watch “Run Fat Boy, Run.” Because that movie is great.

  13. Ok, I don’t like the “running after a cinnamon roll” illustration, but the book focuses on getting into shape slowly, not on food (or obsessions thereof).

  14. I ran my first marathon over a year and a half ago now. While I’m not “fat”, I’m definitely carrying around extra weight, and am not shaped like a typical runner. I love looking at the photos of myself from race day – there I am, amidst the other runners, a good 6 inches shorter and at least 30 pounds heavier than any of them (including the ones 6 inches taller than me. heh.)

    I LOVE running and I’m glad to hear that you’re out there doing it, not letting societal stereotypes hold you back. You go girl! You’re an inspiration for people everywhere…. :)

  15. This is the first time I’ve found other women who run fat! I am a size 14 and can outrun my skinny friends. Most peole don’t think I’m athletic and are so surprised that I can outrun, outski, outbike, out-anything them. I was the only fat cheerleader on my squad and could do better jumps than a few of the stringbeans. Please keep it up because just knowing there are others out there like me inspires me when I am tempted to quit because I don’t want to be judged for my ample butt and thighs. Perhaps they will disappear one day if I keep running and start eating less ice cream and tortilla chips, perhaps not….Thanks for the article and your candor!

  16. Pingback: Recycling some old posts… « Fat Girl on a Run

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