I am an athlete.

If you have read any of my writing before, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I am fat. I’m not as fat as I was when I started writing for Feministe, but I’m fatter than I was this time last year (yay, pre-menopause! That was a fun birthday present). So, still fat.

I am also an athlete.

It’s taken me quite some time to be able to say that without qualification. Without minimizing my accomplishments. Without making exceptions or excuses for why I’m not an athlete.

Because I’m fat. So I can’t be an athlete, because athletes are thin and cut, right? When the strongest woman in America can’t get sponsorships because she doesn’t look like Lolo Jones, and the second-strongest woman in America makes defensive jokes about her body (and when every article about her mentions her weight more prominently than how much weight she can lift — which may be more than her professional-football-player brother can — and idiots make jokes about her size), is it any wonder a fat, middle-aged woman might have a hard time claiming the name?

I am currently training for the NYC Marathon in November. I’m slow. I don’t expect to finish in much less than five and a half hours. But I can run (or, rather, run/walk) 12 miles. I did that last week. Next week, I’ll do 14. I’d be doing more, but I had to take a couple weeks off for a fractured pinky toe.

I’ve had two conversations in the past year or so where I was brought up short and forced to confront my non-acceptance of the title “athlete.” The first was a little over a year ago, when I was being prepped for surgery. I’d been training for a half marathon at the time, and had gotten dehydrated on my 11-mile run (hello, new dry climate!). That pushed a latent bile-stone condition into being symptomatic, and I had to have emergency surgery. As I was lying on the table, the anesthesiologist was taking my vitals. Suddenly, she asked me, “Are you an athlete? Your heart rate is very low!” I was a bit startled and demurred. But, dammit, the whole reason I was there was that I was able to get myself dehydrated on an 11-mile run. A non-athlete doesn’t do that unless they’re being chased by tigers.

Then, a few weeks ago, I met with a Chi Running* coach who’s an ultramarathoner. It’s hard not to feel lazy next to someone who can and will run 50 to 100 miles at a stretch. I made some comment about not being very fit, and she said sternly, “You’re fit. You just did 9 miles.”

After that, I decided I’m going to think of myself as an athlete. I’m going to claim my athleticism. I’m fat, and I’m over 40, and I’m female, and I’m slow, but god dammit, I am a fucking athlete.

Also, I don’t think I’d be rolling this stuff onto my ass crack if I weren’t an athlete.

This stuff is the bomb.

For all your friction-reduction needs.

_____________
* Seriously the best thing ever.

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55 Responses to I am an athlete.

  1. Lekha says:

    Thank you for this. I am a fat girl and just started running this summer. I can only run/walk about a mile so far, but I am really loving it. Still, I feel like I can’t say I’m a runner, even though I’ve been going out a few times a week for months now, because I am so slow, and can’t go very far. But this makes me hope that I will be able to get over this and be an athlete too, both mentally and physically.

    Also, I thought I was the only one who got butt sore from running! Gonna have to check that stuff out.

  2. Lauren says:

    I would like to hear more about the ass crack rub. Butt rashes?

  3. JC says:

    “Are you an athlete? Your heart rate is very low!”

    I have been asked that before when having my pulse taken. I just took it up that they may have been assessing if I had any other possible health conditions that may attribute to low heart rate or if it was due to routine excercise/endurance training (which I am sure they have seen frequently as well). They have even gone far enough to test it again to be sure they had an accurate reading, either way, does make you feel like an oddity.
    I dig the butt shield, wish I had known about that years ago.

  4. benvolio says:

    I hike anywhere from 7 to 9 miles every Sunday, and have done for several years. Often, I meet other people on the trails who think they need to exhort me –because I’m fat. The other day, a runner came up behind me and said “for a big woman, you move very well.” I glared at him. “I’m trying to pay you a compliment!” he objected. “You’re not very good at it,” I replied. And then I listed some examples of other like compliments: ‘For an Asian, you’re a good driver!’ ‘For a Jew, you’re not at all greedy!’ ‘For an African-American, you’re a hard worker!’ He ran on in a huff. But my point was made. He was just lucky I didn’t shove my trekking poles up his ass.

  5. Fat Steve says:

    I would like to hear more about the ass crack rub. Butt rashes?

    It’s more like chafing. I get it between my thighs too when I run. I use a powder based ‘cream’ made by Neutrogena, but that roll-on stuff looks good.

  6. tmc says:

    I LOVE this post. I am fat, slow, and most DEFINITELY an athlete! I have my first triathlon in a couple weeks and I am equal parts excited and nervous.

    I’ve met a lot of people since I started running races, and while it’s been awesome making friends, the amount of fat-shaming is awful. The whole “fat = lazy” myth seems to be way more prevalent among athletes than non-athletes. I’ve also definitely gotten shitty looks from other athletes when they hear my time goals (I thought one gentleman’s eyes were going to pop right out of his head when I told him that I was hoping to get a 40 minute 5K).

    Despite all that, I’m proud as fuck to be pushing my body’s limits and doing things that I never thought I’d be able to do.

  7. JGirl says:

    I so understand this.

    I just used the Galloway run/walk/run method to complete my first marathon on 7/8 with a time of 5:58:09. It’s hard to think of myself as an athlete when I’m that slow, but darn it, I was out there for almost 6 hours. How many other people go out & run or run/walk for 6 hours?

    I’m going to keep running marathons & half marathons, too. And next year I want to do a race we have here that goes up & down two mountains in 13 miles.

    So… I guess I’m an athlete. It just sounds weird to say that.

  8. Kristen from MA says:

    Missed you Zuzu!

    Best of luck at the marathon. :)

  9. LG says:

    Yes! You are an athlete.

    Love the picture of “Butt Shield.” When I was training for and walking the Camino de Santiago I used “Body Glide” to minimize chafing between my legs and under my arms. Indispensable when doing long distance walking/running.

  10. miga says:

    Question: Do you have booty-bounce problems? If so, how do you deal with that?

    Sorry if this sounds rude, but I have a big booty and it’s the major thing that prevents me from running. I was hoping that butt-shield thing prevented that pain, but it seems like it doesn’t :(

  11. PennyA says:

    I love the comment of the coach. That’s one good coach right there.

    Dehydration. Bloody hell.

    I’ve been cycling for two years, after years and years of considering myself anything but an athlete, in anything-but-athletic body type, physiology and awful motoric skills – and living up to that, self-flagellating eating disorder included. But I’ve been doing 150 to 200k a week for a year now and I love it and I feel wonderful. I’m awfully slow, and I will never be fast, but I don’t stop. I’m amazed about my own body – it can do stuff! It’s not useless and only there to cause me pain! – and more comfortable in it than I ever did before. I won’t ever fit my own mental image of an athlete, people pass me all the damn time, but I’m a cyclist, dammit. (and interestingly enough, my ED has gotten a lot better)

    By the way, I’m definitely going to look up that butt shield stuff because I’ve got abrasions from HELL right in the unmentionables, that make it effectively impossible to sit on a saddle at the moment. If anyone has tips on how to cure them, I’m all ears.

  12. JC says:

    Miga – happens to me too, bicycle or lycra (breathable!) shorts help me from the bounce (love handles too, that’s the best). I have also paid more attention to my stride in not having too close together and pounding action with my feet as well as swinging my arms parallel to my body rather than crossing (less energy expenditure). The shorts help me, I think of it as a sports bra for my bottom!

  13. Anne says:

    I’m laughing so hard because I just bought the same stuff!
    I know that people would look at me and not believe I’m training for a marathon. Chubbiness stays on me no matter how hard I try.

  14. Anne says:

    And thanks for reminding me that I needed to check my mail. It’s here! I can’t wait to see if it works.

  15. Anyone who can run non-stop for at least an hour is fitter than the overwhelmingly vast majority of people, and sure as fucke is an athlete! Good luck on the marathon!

  16. zuzu says:

    From the top:

    @ Lekha, if you don’t yet know about Jeff Galloway, Google him. I’m using his run/walk method, which is designed to prevent injury. I’ve also recently picked up Chi Running (Danny Dreyer), which has been revelatory. Seriously, just a small shift in posture has reduced the impact on my joints and made me a faster and more efficient runner, and I may actually do this race with all my toenails intact.

    @ Lauren, Butt Shield keeps you from chafing. It’s astonishing. I asked the people at the running shop which variety (there are several) I should buy, and they recommended this for the kind of race I’m doing. After an hour and a half, the repetitive friction starts to cause a rash and even starts to irritate the hair follicles around my asshole. The Butt Shield has been holding up on 3-hour runs.

    @ tmc, Good luck in your triathlon! I’ve been intrigued by them, but I have trouble getting the swimming bit in.

    @ JGirl, Who cares about your time? YOU RAN A FUCKING MARATHON.

    @ miga, I have jiggly thighs and booty (partly because I’ve lost weight, so have loose skin). The best thing for that is compression capris. Get a pair with a drawstring waist, because otherwise the booty bounce makes them start inching down. I’ve got a pair from Athleta that I love, and they have some plus sizes. Then get fitted for running shoes and find a couch to 5K app or podcast to get started. You are an athlete, too.

    @ PennyA, have you tried diaper-rash cream on the sores? I got some gawdawful heat rashes when I was doing a Habitat project in New Orleans a few years ago, and Desitin cleared that right up. I’d also talk to the cycling-shop people, because I understand that cyclists have their own versions of ass butter designed to work with the gear.

    @ Anne, Welcome to the wonderful world of ass cream.

  17. Drahill says:

    This is part of why I always gravitated towards physical stuff that was “outside” the mainstream – and also why I had to seek out practitioners who were themselves not “athletic-looking.” The Holley Mangold articles depress me because they even mention her weight. And then there must be at least one comment arguing that this woman should not be idolized or treated with any respect because she is so big. The woman could bench most American men – and that makes her threatening.

    I train in Mixed Martial Arts – which is both simultaneously the most welcoming and, increasingly alienating sport I’ve taken part in. I get the impression that most female athletes can’t win. If she is even slightly heavier than normal, she’s fat and she doesn’t deserve attention, praise or even respect because doing so might “glamorize obesity.” (Never mind that for her build and metabolic needs, her weight might be just fine). If she’s muscular, she must be either 1.) secretly male or 2.) unworthy of any male attention. Personally, it makes me believe that while the US likes to pay lip-service to female athletes, it’s not a nation that’s serious about female athletes. Its about aesthetics.

  18. zuzu says:

    Drahill, don’t forget that women who do fit the ideal get sexualized to the point that their looks become more important than their athletic ability.

  19. chava says:

    Well, I swear by duct tape for preventing chafing when long distance trekking. Just be absolutely sure the skin you’re putting it on is in good condition BEFORE heading out. Maybe this seems obvious, but I’ve slapped it over scratches and blisters before–it is NOT PRETTY.

    I’m usually putting it on my feet, though–not sure how it would work for thighs. It works well on the bra line, though.

  20. Tori says:

    (Before reading the other comments, so sorry if I start to comment spam.)

    I love you, and I love this.

    I’m a fat runner and a fat yogi, and one of the most freeing things I’ve ever done is to consider myself — and name myself publicly as — an athlete.

    For me, it’s a way to stop apologizing — for being strong, for enduring (physically and mentally), for being more concerned with what my body does than with how it looks to others, for owning my body completely and taking pride in that.

    Also, where can one find Butt Shield and is it better than Body Glide Skin?

  21. Caperton says:

    I’ve never tried Butt Shield, but Lanacane’s anti-chafing gel has served me well on backpacking trips. Plus, when I get home, it also works as makeup primer in a pinch.

    And as someone who’s starved my way skinny and only exercised my way strong: Thank you for this.

  22. human says:

    Wow. I had no idea there was stuff that would prevent that kind of chafing. What do people use for between-the-thighs chafing? I get that whenever I run or even walk too much.

  23. mh says:

    Just watched “Strong” on PBS Independent Lens this weekend and it made me mad as hell. Esp. since those are some beautiful girls, too (not that it’s pertinent to being an Olympian; but hearing them say they aren’t just kills me.)

    You run, girl.

  24. zuzu says:

    Oh, you can use Butt Shield (or any other anti-chafe formula) between your thighs, in your armpits, on your girly bits (assuming it’s formulated for that, since some aren’t).

    You can get Butt Shield at a running shop or online; I’ve never tried the Body Glide Skin. Butt Shield was specifically recommended to me because I’m running really long distances slowly and need something that will hold up for hours.

  25. Tori says:

    @ Lekha — If you run, you “get” to say you’re a runner. Join the club; I’ll make us T-shirts. :D

  26. Q Grrl says:

    Vaseline will work in a pinch for chafing. Old rugby trick.

  27. Marksman2010 says:

    After an hour and a half, the repetitive friction starts to cause a rash and even starts to irritate the hair follicles around my asshole.

    See, this is why I like Zuzu’s posts. She doesn’t fuck around and waste time trying to dress up the language. Here’s the way it is, period.

  28. Lekha says:

    I will definitely look into ChiRunning! thanks for the tip. I could use some more guidance on form.

    I actually have the Jeff Galloway 5k app, which I’ve only done a couple of days of, but I do like it so far – the fact that you can adjust your run/walk intervals within a big range is great for me (I’m still on the run 30 sec/ walk 60, but it goes all the way down to 10/50 and up to 8 min/1 min).

    And you know, I will work on being able to call myself a runner!

  29. Lekha says:

    I will definitely look into ChiRunning! thanks for the tip. I could use some more guidance on form.

    I actually have the Jeff Galloway 5k app, which I’ve only done a couple of days of, but I do like it so far – the fact that you can adjust your run/walk intervals within a big range is great for me (I’m still on the run 30 sec/ walk 60, but it goes all the way down to 10/50 and up to 8 min/1 min).

    And you know, I will work on being able to call myself a runner!

  30. Lori says:

    Zuzu: You are *most definitely* an athlete. The NYC Marathon has runners of all ages, shapes and sizes. It is a celebration of effort and of New York (I’ll be running my 3d consecutive NYC this fall and it has turned me into an athlete, for sure.) You’ll be amazed at how supportive the crowd is and how much more you will appreciate New Yorkers. When you cross the finish line, you will feel so much pride. Good luck!

  31. zuzu says:

    See, this is why I like Zuzu’s posts. She doesn’t fuck around and waste time trying to dress up the language. Here’s the way it is, period.

    I neglected to mention that the friction comes from your ass cheeks rubbing together, combined with the swamp crotch.

    You’ll be amazed at how supportive the crowd is and how much more you will appreciate New Yorkers.

    Oh, I lived in NYC for many years, which is why I’m so thrilled that I got a spot in this race. Haven’t been back for some time.

  32. Katerina says:

    As someone with chronic atopic dermatitis, I literally cannot get completely sweaty without eventually breaking into an unbearable, scratch-your-skin-off-excruciating itch all over my skin. Conversations about marathon runs make me shudder more often than not. But this was wonderful to read. ^^ Good for you, and yes, goshdangit, you ARE an athlete. ^^

  33. Marksman2010 says:

    I neglected to mention that the friction comes from your ass cheeks rubbing together, combined with the swamp crotch.

    Oooooooh wee! There it is! Tell me mo’–now that I’m all hot & bothered!

  34. Drahill says:

    Zuzu, I know this is contentious, but personally, from my (limited) perspective, I am not sure that women who fall outside the beuty norm and those sexualized within it really have the same level of problem. To me, a sexualized female athlete gets a raw deal in that she isn’t recognized for the effort and work she has put into her sport, but she’s not worrying about where her next meal is coming from because endorsements will take care of her. I can feel bad for Lolo Jones insofar as she really should be getting attention for her athletic prowess rather than her looks (and her virginity, I should add), but do I think she’s got it better than Holley Mangold or Sarah Robbles? Yes, I do. I don’t blame conventionally attractive female athletes for doing what they need to do to secure funding and make their lives easier. However, I do mentally draw a distinction between women like Robbles and Jones.

    So I don’t disagree with you that we should not forget about women who are sexualized against their wishes. However, I think from an economic perspective, they are a very different class of problem.

  35. Lauren says:

    Well, I swear by duct tape for preventing chafing when long distance trekking. Just be absolutely sure the skin you’re putting it on is in good condition BEFORE heading out. Maybe this seems obvious, but I’ve slapped it over scratches and blisters before–it is NOT PRETTY.

    I’m usually putting it on my feet, though–not sure how it would work for thighs. It works well on the bra line, though.

    WAT.

  36. chava says:

    For reals. Duct tape is SO MUCH BETTER than moleskin or bandaids on hot spots. You can even tape it OVER a small piece of moleskin covering broken skin.

    6ish days into a solo backpacking trip I had duct tape covering cuts (yes, actual cuts) on my hips from the pack, both heels, and a broken fingernail or two. I was literally taped together ;-) But it worked, although I did have to bum some moleskin off another trekker to put under the tape on my feet.

  37. Lauren says:

    Holy mother. So I can avoid blisters on my heels by putting duct tape there first?

    My whole life I have had blister problems.

  38. k says:

    well said, girl! appearances do not always hint at athletic ability. i think i’m going to bookmark this post to read when i get frustrated and need to remind myself of that fact. i’m an ultrarunner. my longest race to date was a 100km mountain race through snow last month which took me 32.5hrs. i’m aiming to do my first 100 miler next year. but you wouldn’t know i’m an ultrarunner by looking at me . . . i’m not a lean and lanky. at 5’7 and 180lbs, i joke that i’m a tank- it takes me some time to get to my destination, but hardly anything can take me down on the way. i know that i’m an athlete and yet, looking at fellow runners who actually LOOK like runners, i catch myself questioning whether i’m a real athlete by comparison. i need to remind myself that i’m ever bit the athlete a 110lb runner is. if anything, it takes a hell of a lot more strength to haul this heavier body up those hills. i need to stop diminishing my athletic accomplishments based on what i see in the mirror!

    oh, and i totally hear on the lube between the butt cheeks. and inner thighs. and bra line. you’re right- there’s no way we’d subject ourselves to that ridiculousness if we weren’t athletes!

  39. chava says:

    @ Lauren–

    Well, it’s always worked for me. NB: I’m not particularly blister-prone, as trekkers go, and my feet also don’t sweat as much as some people’s, so the tape stays on longer. I’ve used it with dress shoes, too.

    Do always be sure to let your feet air out and re-tape at least once a day, preferably more.

  40. Kaija24 says:

    Another heck yeah for being able to name and claim yourself as an athlete :)

    I like the duct tape tip and will definitely pack some on my next hike. For shorter jaunts and even for those first couple of days of flip-flop rub or new sandals/shoes that bite, pre-emptive use of masking tape/painting between your skin and the offending shoe/whatever is quite helpful as well as subtle. It sticks just well enough to stay all day and not sweat off, but doesn’t stick so much that removal is traumatic. :)

  41. FashionablyEvil says:

    I have used both Body Glide and Butt Butt’r (a cycling product) and they’re both great. (I am very grateful that I have a mini stick of Body Glide with me since the shoes I am planning to wear all week on my business trip gave me a blister today.)

  42. Casey says:

    About five years ago I did endurance cycling, triathlons, 5k’s, and a duathlon (that’s run-bike-run). It’s amazing to be an athlete, no matter your size or speed (I was always one of the last people through the gate, but sometimes that means you get the best cheering squad!).

    Body Glide is pretty damn amazing…I used it for thigh rubbing (and sometimes still do, even though I don’t run anymore).

    To the person with booty bouncing, definitely check out compression shorts or capris with drawstrings. It can totally help!

    As for my own journey, I can’t run or bike anymore due to a spine injury-now-disability…but I’m trying to save up for a racing wheelchair so I can get back to endurance racing and eventually a marathon. It’ll be interesting to get my big ass fitted for a racing chair!

  43. Meaghan says:

    Great post! I just wanted to wish you luck– I’ll be doing my 2nd NYCM (and second marathon, period) this November. I found it to be an amazing, unforgettable experience, and hope you find it to be also.

    If you don’t mind a little unsolicited advice– and if you do, I apologize–:
    Everyone warns you about the Queensboro bridge, but I found the most challenging part to be the mile around 22-23, which is almost entirely uphill, right before you get into Central Park. It _looks_ flat, which makes it harder, because you think you’re just slowing down for no reason, but it is uphill. Make it through that section, though, and it gets better– Central Park has some uphill sections (as I’m sure you know) but it also has downhill sections. Plus, you’re close enough to the finish that you can start to focus on how close you are to the finish instead of how far away you are.

    Again, good luck, and enjoy the experience.

  44. PeggyLuWho says:

    @Lauren

    Tell me about it, my blistered twin! I have never had a new pair of shoes that hasn’t caused blisters, due to a slight deformity in my feet, and I have super gnarly calluses. New soccer cleats are always the worst. And yes, duct tape works. Mine has zebra stripes on it.

  45. Marksman2010 says:

    There are now actually 9,458,487,423,217,461 uses for duct tape.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if NASA used it on their Mars rover.

  46. Nikki B says:

    Nice post – I’m an older ‘big gal’ who has done 2 Ironman races (my second, I had a 5:15 marathon) and I still have trouble referring to myself as an athlete…nice to know I’m not alone in that boat! Best on your marathon – Go out and OWN it :)

  47. drthedoctor says:

    I am also training for a marathon even though I’m on the squishier side. I am doing it partly to prove a point to my mother — that though I weigh 1.5 times what she does, I’m actually in better shape.

    For those of you wanting other sources of form guidance: I like Chi running. However, I also like the Pose method. The best form correction for me, however, was running barefoot or nearly so. For those of you with the painful bouncing parts, you can try less cushioned shoes. You will either learn to lighten your step or get stress fractures. Pain is a good deterrent. :) (In the interest of full disclosure, I’m one of those nutters who runs 12 miles in Vibram Fivefingers.)

  48. Wendy says:

    I’m fat. I’m a powerlifter with a US record. I’ve been the victim of “helpful” and disbelieving comments from other gymgoers. Until I deadlift-then their eyes get wide and they leave. But it hurts, so you keep rocking the running and everyone else who’s out there being an athlete rock what you do and maybe people will figure out that just like people, athletes often come in different sizes.

  49. miss_ada says:

    for those with more sensitive skin, I’d suggest surgical tape, if you can get hold of it. also important to remember is to never form a ring/circular with the tape so you won’t hinder your blood circulation.

    and congrats and good luck to all you atheletes out there.

  50. Laura says:

    “the whole reason I was there was that I was able to get myself dehydrated on an 11-mile run. A non-athlete doesn’t do that unless they’re being chased by tigers.”

    This! This this this! If you can (and frequently do) run that much, it means you had to freaking WORK for it, and that makes you an athlete!

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  53. Catherine says:

    Hi all– I love the helpful supportive comments in response to this true and powerful post. I am a fat cyclist, sometime hiker, past triathlete, wicked squash player– yes, I am an athlete, too. Thanks for helping me remind myself that I deserve that term, too.

    re anti-chafing creams: yes, we cyclists have many many solutions to saddle soreness and other chafing. My favorite is Beljum budder– I have tried a bunch of creams and this one works for me. Others people like are assos cream, chamois butt’r, DZ nuts (yes, I’m serious). They’re not cheap– my fav is $20 a tube, but lasts a long time and is worth it.

    I struggle with being a slow cyclist– I used to race some, but was never comfortable with it, and did not like being DFL in a race (which I was not always, but sometimes). There seems to be less acceptance of a wide range of finish times in bike races than there is in running races. So self-acceptance is key. Reading blogs like this help– thanks!

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