Matanzas 5K St Augustine January 30,
I hate 5k’s. I running this one because there’s a better than decent chance that I can win something, because the Matanzas 5000 has the Athena division (in past years known as the Clydesdale division.) I chuckle at both of these monikers. Oh, so polite of the race organizers to celebrate the “big-bodied” runner . In my mind, the prize is for the “fat girl fast” and I want it. I have all the feels for the runners who are content with participating and challenging themselves, and enjoy the camaraderie and beautiful scenic routes which bring them a sense of zen and wholeness. That’s just not me. I declare: I’m “that” runner who wants to win.
At race end, I don’t think I won at all. I’ve come close to the podium in almost all of my distance races for my age in the past year, and while I’m getting better at the half-marathon distance, the dreaded 5k was going to beat me again. Matanzas was an awful race for me. It was too hot. The course turned too many corners. I had no sense of where the finish was, so I couldn’t time my sprint to the end. My time was slower than my previous 5K by more 2 minutes. I sat in the gym, not so patiently waiting for the awards to be announced, thinking that I’d lost once again because…
I hate 5k’s. The 3.1 mile distance has always been linked to a profound sense of shame for me. I’ve failed so many times at this distance, and it all revolves around: gender, race, economic disadvantage, and my big body. I’m 5’6″ and 0630 on race day I weigh 165 pounds. I’m built like Serena Williams. In an alternate universe, where women play in the NFL, I think I could’ve made a pretty good running back. As it is, I’m 40, I have thick thighs, and a butt that you can balance a cup of coffee on. I’m no where close to having the body of prototypical distance runner.
My running journey started in my junior year of high school because of a mandatory requirement to play a team sport. I was dumped on the cross country team because I wasn’t experienced enough at any of the sports requiring specialized equipment to make a team. I was also poor as a child. If you can’t afford regular shoes, running shoes ( and club fees, race fees, uniforms, mom taking off work shuttling me to and fro for practices) were a luxury that I couldn’t afford. Academics was supposed be my ticket out of poverty. This is a limitation that is placed on many bright women of color, and sometimes I mourn the athlete I could’ve been if I had started running, or playing basketball, or tennis when I was a child.
I never finished a race in high school. I spent most of my youth despising running, because the 17-year-old version of me was too big and new to the sport to compete with the lithe, white teenagers who had been running for years. Running was (is) difficult when you’re heavy, and lonely when you’re the only brown girl, and skinny girls can be mean. Runners know that half the battle in distance running is mental, and I let all of the things about me that shouldn’t have mattered, stop me from competing.
I didn’t discover my “fat girl fast” until I enlisted in the Marine Corps at 23. I’d spent the six months prior to bootcamp reteaching myself how to run. I had to lose 30 pounds to ship to Parris Island. I didn’t record my time or distances. I just knew that I had weight to lose, and Marines do a ton of running. I was surprised to be the fastest female runner in my battalion. I won the honor of high PFT’er but was not allowed to celebrate. Recruits don’t celebrate, or get trophies. Recruits get smoked for such offenses.
As a woman Marine, I learned early on in my career that with excellence one must carry one self with a sense of modesty and bearing so as to not bring the wrath of the haters. So with every 5k we ran, I had to hide my joy at being the best. Being the best, as a woman in the Marine Corps, is dangerous. It upsets the status quo, challenges norms, sets standards for other women, destroys stereotypes, and we all know how disquieting that can be in any arena.
I mean Cam Newton does the Dab and everything good and wonderful in the NFL has come to an end. How dare he, in his blackety blackness, celebrate unabashedly his achievements with his teammates by doing a dance?
There was always someone during my Marine Corps career waiting for me to fail; so I made myself small (literally and figuratively), and unassuming, humble, and gracious, because thats how they like the ladies in the Marines. I’ve learned throughout the years, that this is how they like veterans, and particularly black women, and everyone with an “other” label attached to them, to be too. But it’s such a lie. I want to celebrate, and be noticed, and have fun as a person, no matter what I look like. I’ve spend too long hiding, thinking, “I will succeed if I appease!” This sense that I can’t do me and all of me, affects all aspects of my life.
I thought my running career ended with my EAS (End of Active Service.) With my high risk pregnancy, and the complications that came with my daughter’s birth, I ballooned up to 240 pounds. I was sick, and depressed and went through the nastiest divorce. I remember putting on my running shoes after more than a decade of not running, and wondering if I could ever find my “fat girl fast” again. Three years later, I’m proud to say that I have and I’m going to celebrate in the silly way that I can. There is so much to celebrate because I’ve lost so many times.
Today I took 2nd place in the Athena Division, and celebrated like Cam, without a second thought to the gym full of runners who looked at me like I lost my mind when I accepted my trophy for “running while big” by doing the much reviled Dab.