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Plus-Size Model Candice Huffine Is Redefining What It Means to Have a 'Runner's Body'

Instagram @candicehuffine

Last year, model Candice Huffine ran her first half marathon. (As she says, she had only ever 'speed walked or trotted through 5Ks' until then.) Fast forward a year later, and running is a non-negotiable part of her physical and mental health, and a central part of her identity. She's about to run the NYC Half for the second time (her fourth half marathon in total) and is training for her first full marathon. "A year ago, I couldn’t do a 5K, but now four miles is an easy run," she says.

We talked to the model—who recently made headlines for walking in Prabal Gurung’s historic feminist and political New York Fashion Week show—about her newfound obsession with running, how she's fitting in freezing cold training runs into her packed schedule, and why it's so important to represent runners who aren't 'a petite, size two athlete.'

Shape: What made you sign up for that first race?
Candice Huffine (CH): I was always very curious about the sport in general. My husband is an avid runner, and all of my friends are into running, so I was always a part of the community as a regular cheerleader on the sidelines but never actually did the running part because it terrified me too much. I just wasn’t sure that I could. I kind of always doubted myself. So when my husband dared me to do a half marathon last year, it was at just the perfect time that I actually took him up on it because I’d always been interested in it, so I thought ‘You know what? Let me just try. Why am I still saying no? Why am I still telling myself I can’t?’ So I went for it and signed up for the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon.

Shape: And you weren’t a runner at all before you started that training?
CH: Absolutely not. Not at all. I had done two races. One of them was a Color Me Red 5K, which I did, to be honest, for the Instagram cause I wanted that really awesome photo at the end where you’re covered in all these different colors. And I walked through that one. And I also did the Susan G Komen 5K because I love to support breast cancer research, and I walked through that one as well. 

Shape: Do you identify with being a ‘runner’ now?
CH: Well, I had absolutely no problem taking on that title immediately. As soon as I started to lace up my shoes and even mimic what I thought was a run, boom! I called myself a runner. I was out there making it happen, covering distance, and really trying to learn the best and most comfortable way to implement running into my lifestyle. So, I was very proud to call myself a runner almost instantly. I want others to know that “you’re a runner if you run.” It's not about running a certain number of miles in a certain amount of time. If you get out there and run any distance, you should be proud of that and call yourself a runner with joy.

ShapeIs that what made you want to launch your virtual running community, Project Start?

CH: I started it last year after my second half marathon. It was really an 'aha' moment for me of 'wow, I love doing this, and I know that other women would benefit from doing this. Not necessarily running a half marathon, but in any capacity, because it’s such a fun community to be a part of. It’s a necessary one for my soul. It’s very uplifting and confidence-boosting and I find that I'm pushing myself in ways that I normally wouldn’t. So, I wanted to share that message and say, ‘I’ve just got let in on a secret and now I want to let you in, too. Let’s start running together and be our best selves.’ I also wanted a platform for women to be able to reach out to each other and hear stories of women who are runners from all different walks of life, all different skill levels, and all different ages. I needed women to know we all started somewhere. No one wakes up one day and suddenly goes out and runs a marathon and is good at it, but we’re so predisposed to seeing perfection when it comes running and runners. We’ve all had our first run, so let's share what to expect, how it feels, and what it can do for you because you shouldn't have any doubt or fears. We’re there for questions and all the crazy stuff that comes up—like what's the best anti-chafing cream to use?! We don’t have it all figured out, but we need to have each other and make this a fun thing and not a scary thing that you do in the dark by yourself and you don’t speak about. 

Shape: Do you think stereotypes about the ‘runner’s body’ limit women from just getting started?

CH: We need to overcome this stereotype. There are a lot of incredible athletes in the sport and running community right now that are making efforts to shift our perception of what strength looks like, what athletes look like, what runners look like, because there’s a certain kind of body type or person that gets idolized and that we hold up to such a standard and we feel like if we don’t look like them, we can’t be runners. We can’t complete. We think, ‘I might as well not even start because I’m not them, so what’s the point?’ There’s so much that goes into the vicious cycle of it all. It’s hard enough to start something like this already, and then self-doubt about the way you look comes into play. The way you look should never dictate what you’re capable of doing with your body. You can do anything you set your mind to do. Not to mention, you might have the best of intentions to go out and run, but darn, they don’t make athletic clothes in your size. There are all these battles that we’re up against to just do something that we love to do. I want to dispel that. I think that anytime I get a chance to have that conversation about how all bodies are capable of all things it's really moving us in the right direction because strength and power and determination and goal crushing are for everybody

Shape: Why do you think it's taken so long for brands (like Nike) to step up and start making workout clothes for plus-size women?
CH: There’s a misconception that larger women don’t really want to be that size, so certainly they’re going to want to work out to be a different size, right? But then you never made the clothes in the first place. First off, that's not why we work out. We work out to feel good. We work out because it makes us happy. We work out because we feel badass and empowered. But still, you need to make the stuff for us. And when we don’t actually have the tools to do what we want to do for ourselves to feel good and get to where we want to be, it’s a vicious cycle. And it’s the same in the fashion industry—you know the clothes need to be made for the woman to be able to represent who she is fully, to feel good about herself, and to love herself. 

Shape: The fashion world clearly has a long way to go. But this season at NYFW there were 27 plus-size women who walked, compared to only 12 last season. Did you feel like there was a shift in the climate and that a new sense of inclusivity is here to stay?

CH: One hundred percent. I’ve always tried to express that this is not a fad. My body is not a fad. It’s not a passing trend, and it’s not just here for headlines for the moment. We are not going anywhere. Women like me are not going anywhere. And it’s exciting to see other people sort of wake up in a way and realize that. And yes, there is a feeling in the air, an indescribable feeling in the air of just general togetherness and appreciation and acceptance, even from other models and almost like a weight had been lifted. It’s like, ‘Wow, we can all just be ourselves for once.’ Who doesn’t want to celebrate that? We’re all different, we’re all beautiful, so everybody just needs to be represented. And the same thing exists in the athletic world. All strong powerful women who are accomplishing incredible things need to be represented and they all don’t look like a petite, size two athlete. They don’t.

Shape: Going into your fourth half marathon—and the one-year anniversary of running your very first race—how are your goals different?
CH: Oh, gosh. I did not know what to expect last year for my first half. So, I was like, ‘Even if I’m crawling to the finish line, I will just finish.’ I didn’t have any expectations. I didn’t know anything about running a race but everybody always talked about the energy of the people who are cheering for you and how electric it is so I was really looking forward to experiencing all of that. I mean, last year, I will be honest with you, because it was such unchartered territory for me, I kind of freaked out. There's such a mental part of the sport—you can actually trick yourself or overthink yourself into having a bad run. So, once I crossed over seven miles, which had been the most I had ever done in my training, I kind of started to freak out and I was like, ‘Ahhh, I can’t do this. I’m in pain, and I don’t think I can make it.’ I started to really doubt myself. And now, for my anniversary run, I’m out for redemption. I know what to expect, and I know that I’ve come such a long way, and I really want to see how it is a second time around with this race. I want to see what I can do and really stretch myself. I never have a time goal. I just want to do the best that I can do. So this time I’m not going to think myself out of it. I’ve done it—that part we’ve proven—so I want to let myself have a good time and push myself.

Shape: How did you actually get in those training runs, especially the long runs for marathon training, with the craziness of NYFW?
CH:  It was so hard. Fashion week makes sticking to a training plan so difficult because things are very unpredictable. You set the best of intentions like, ‘Ok, well I have a show today at noon, but I’ll come back in the afternoon and run in the evening.’ But then boom, a fitting pops up and you’re at a fitting for three hours and suddenly you’re not back until 9 pm, and then you’re just like ugh!  I try not to be hard on myself and that’s what I always tell women. No matter where you are in your running journey, even if you’ve just started or if you’re training for a race, just be kind to yourself because this is for you, so don’t beat yourself about it. I just had to keep remembering that as well. I’ve never been an early morning person in general, so I certainly wasn’t about to be one for training. I enjoy doing it in the evening. That’s when I feel the strongest. But I'm using the NYRR virtual trainer—it sets up a schedule for me, and so I have an idea of what my week should look like, and then I shift things accordingly. I make sure that I have two days off in the week, and then I’ll usually do a long run on the weekend, but sometimes I have to move things around since my schedule is extremely unpredictable. Like, in January, I flew to LA every single week! Even though my schedule is crazy I just have to remember that I’m doing this for me. I chose to do this. And I want to challenge myself and I want to set this impossible goal for myself and see it through. 

Shape: What made you decide to make that leap—mentally and physically—and run your first marathon this April?
CH: It sort of just happened to me! Lasy January, I set the half marathon as my goal but this January, I hadn’t really set any major goals. I knew I was going to do the half again, but I didn’t set any race goals beyond my anniversary run. And then by some divine intervention, the universe made a very big goal for me and an opportunity was presented to be a part of an all-female team to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first female runner of the Boston Marathon. We’re from all different skill levels in the running community—some very seasoned, some very novice like myself—but with all of us coming together, the goal was to share our story and our journey to the finish line. It was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse. That’s what I love to do—share my story so I can inspire other women. Of course, I said yes immediately forgetting the giant elephant in the room is that I will have to run 26.2 miles, but here we go. I enjoy challenging myself and we don’t get that opportunity very often. Our days sort of look the same and things can get very mundane. You need to shake it up. I chose to run very long distances to see what I can do, to see how strong I really am.

It’s just all a very positive, loving environment that pushes you to be your best self. I always encourage everyone, even if you’re not racing or know anyone in the race, just go stand on the sidelines and you will be so inspired. You’ll just be really proud of the camaraderie and the joy everyone faces, and the high-fives and hugs to strangers. It's very uplifting and we need that now more than ever. 

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