Fat man running

I stepped out of my office building tonight and looked over to the street I would cross and saw the Walk light on. As a walker, its the kind of thing I'm always happy to see for about a second until I realize I'm still half a block away from the cross walk and this may be a very ominous sight.

Since starting a new job last year, I've tried to build a walk into my commute home. I've always had decent sized walks in my commutes but the last few years I've been close to the train on both sides. I've felt frustrating not walking as much. Not to lose weight or as a health chore but because its something I enjoy. I've always loved walking. When I was a kid, I would go on long walks around my neighborhood every night when I got back from school. I like it and its rewarding for my body.

As I look at the walk light, I barely get time to consider my options before it switches off. No time to think now. I'm a half-block away from the street and if I have any chance of getting across before the change, I must decide now and I must run.

I feel in a lot of ways, I have a good sense of what my body is capable of. I think this is an important thing to try to cultivate. Its' valuable to know your body, to respect what it cannot do and to celebrate the possibilities of your body. In that split second, I had to know what my body could do. I knew I could do it.

I have a more mixed relationship with running than I do walking. When I was a thin kid, I knew I liked running, but I also knew it wasn't something I was very capable of. I could build up a quick burst of speed, but running exhausted me very quickly leaving me struggling to breathe. Fine for a sport like baseball, where bursts of speed are needed, but a sport like basketball I struggled with.

But I loved those bursts of speed. When I was in 8th grade, my school had a 1 mile competitive run all of the boys were required to do. I knew I wasn't going to do well. I was aware that I was a gangly, unathletic child. Everyone was. I just wanted to try to make the most of it. So I burst out as the 4-lap race started and after the first lap, me and another kid were way out in front. I knew no one expected this of me. I could only imagine the feeling of the budding jocks looking at this gawky nerd speeding ahead of them. I knew it wouldn't last, but I still loved it. By the end of the race, I had tired out and struggled in the back of the pack. Most would think it a failure, but I still was happy with what I was able to accomplish in my body.

As most 30 year olds, I don't have much cause for running any more. There aren't many good excuses for an adult to just run flat out for a short period. Pretty much just catching trains and making walk lights. I'm also much larger than I was at 14. I know most don't expect fat bodies to be capable of running, and indeed some might not be. That's okay. Every body should be defined by what it can do, not what it can't. This was something I could do. No matter what the sight of a 250lb man darting through the night, I could do this. I wanted to do this. I wanted to push myself instead of being pushed around. I wanted to feel the cold air rush past my face. I wanted to fly.

I took off. I was up to full speed well before I got to the street. This felt good. This felt just like what it felt like to run when I was thin. I owned my body. Maybe I was running slower than others, but all I focused on was how it made me feel. It didn't matter what other people expected of me. It didn't matter what standards others might have. This was my body and it felt right.

I launched off the curb and the traffic light in my direction was still green. I was doing it but I had no room for error. I had to keep going full out straight across the street. It was night so there wasn't much traffic anyone, but that wasn't the point. The point was moving in my body, enjoying what it was capable of. I had to keep moving to make this, but I could make this. The light turned yellow as I was half-way across. It wouldn't change to red until I was 5 feet past the other side. I made it with time to spare. I flew.

I pulled up when I was across the street. It wasn't a long run. Maybe 60 yards. But that doesn't matter. It doesn't matter what someone else's standards are. It invigorated me and that was what was important. It was my body. Not anyone else's. Moving my body was not a chore, not was it an obligation. It does not make me a good person to run or walk. It does not make me a bad person if my subsequent 1 mile walk wasn't enough for some. It was just me being aware of my body and what it could do and what I wanted to do. My fat body flew through the night, and that's good just for itself.


jesussavesispend said...

What a great feeling! I love that you had that experience and that you shared it with us in such a vivid way. I have had vague and fleeting moments of appreciating my body in motion in that way. There aren't many of those times, but I *do* appreciate them when they come around.

The only thing that makes me sad is that I was expecting and waiting for -- all the way to the very last line -- the ending where somebody on the street said something mean to you or made a nasty comment. So very depressing that I have been conditioned to associate our bodies in motion with insults and hating. :(

meerkat said...

I ran or otherwise sped up for a couple crosswalk signals today too. But I just walk because I am usually too cheap to pay to ride the bus or train reasonably walkable distances.

wriggles said...

Yeah, me too meerkat! I loved reading this, reminds me of the way I can feel when I'm dancing, letting my body move itself almost. Love it.

notblueatall said...

OMZ! Yes! I never liked running, honestly, but I love a quick sprint! It feels freeing in a way on its own. I really don't have occasion to run, but I make my own. I walk my dog every day with my husband but about twice a week I grab the leash and my little pug loves to run so we sprint out to the street from our apartment and for those 45 seconds we're both in a state of bliss. I'm sure it's quite a sight (a 17 lbs pug and a 300+ lbs woman), but neither of us take notice of the world as the wind rushes past our ears.
Thank you for this fun post.

Brian said...

@jesussavesispend I haven't had to deal with much street harassment but that's largely an issue of my privileges. Being a man makes it less likely, and being a relatively smaller fat adds to that. I do get concerned when I engage in conspicuous activity, though.

@meerkat I actually walk to a bus which I take to a train. Its oddly more direct than taking the train all the way.

@wriggles I've been around plenty of fat dancers and I feel a lot of envy towards it. I never danced much to begin with, but I enjoyed the few times I did but let expectations keep me from doing more. I'd probably be less likely to do that now, but I don't feel much frame of reference.

@notblueatall The quick sprint is really just it. I do burst runs with my wife's dog, myself.

Unknown said...

This was a really enjoyable post. I ran as a teen and enjoyed it, but thanks to a couple of traumatic injuries as a child, my knees are not really up to sustained running as an adult, though I'm working on it. I am still capable of a fairly impressive sprint for a bus in the right shoes, though. :)

I think sometimes people underestimate the joy of letting their bodies do a thing bodies do. When I'm doing a sudden sprint (for the curb, for a bus, whatever) I often think about the line from Zombieland about never seeing a lion limber up.

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