As these runners prove, there is no such thing as a "real" runner's body — nor is there a certain speed or distance requirement for joining the tribe
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After college, Toni Carey started running to drop a few pounds and become more active and healthy. But she soon realized that there weren't a lot of other runners out there that looked like her. "Ashley Hicks and I decided to start Black Girls RUN! to help change what a 'runner' looks like," Carey says. "After participating in several races, we saw that there were not many African-American women there. So, we wanted to launch a community that accepted anyone regardless of their pace or background. We want to motivate women to run and be active and adopt a healthy lifestyle." Now the community has thousands of members across the country and 70 running groups.
"When I hear 'runner's body, I think of any person, no matter their background, race, shoe or pants size," Carey says. "One mile or full marathon, you are a runner."
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Anyone who has read Alexandra Heminsley's laugh out loud memoir Running Like a Girl knows this lady doesn't hold back when it comes to telling the truth about training — or pretty much anything else. She says, "Before I started running, I wish someone had told me that most advertisements featuring 'runners' actually featured models, and that all kinds of people, of all ages, genders and beyond run. Every day. And we're all invited."Heminsley dove into the deep end by picking it up with the aim of running a marathon — and she did it. "I would like to let potential runners know that the most important thing they will develop from running is not what they look like but what they see," she says. "Think less about the Instagram photograph that others will see of you, and more about the views you ran past fast, enjoying the wind in your face too much to stop and snap."
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Does this face look familiar? You might remember Erica Schenk from that time she became the first plus-size model to appear on the cover of Women's Running.
Schenk, who started running when she was younger because her volleyball coaches required it, never imagined she'd end up on a magazine cover for her love of the sport, but last year she did just that.
"I loved representing a group of women that hadn't had that much publicity before," Schenk says. "Showing the world that being curvy and healthy can go hand in hand was just an honor." Now the plus-size model hits the trails for a self-esteem boost and the post-workout feeling of accomplishment. "When I was younger, I thought of a very trim, petite person as a runner," she says. "Now I know that I may never be the fastest or the leanest, but that doesn't mean I should stop trying to be my best. After doing the cover I can say confidently if you run, you're a runner!"
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"Trans as heck runner" is the tagline for Amelia Gapin's blog, entirelyamelia.com. But that's not what defines her as a runner, or a person. "My body is a runner's body," Gapin says. "Not because it's slender or athletic — it's not — but because it's mine and I run. Any body can be a runner's body; just add running."
"It really bums me out when I hear people equating runner's bodies with being thin and athletic looking," she continues. "Runners' bodies come in all shapes and sizes and they're all amazing."
Gapin initially laced up her sneakers because a girl she was dating at the time kept pressuring her to run with her. Initially, she thought it would be a good way to get in shape, but then it became something more: a way for her to escape. "As a woman with mental health issues, depression and anxiety, nothing can bring me back to center like a good run," Gapin says. "After a bad day or when I'm in a deep depressive state, a run brings me right back to life again. I can let the bad day go and see the good in the world again. There's just something about being out there in my own world, alone and cut off from the constant dinging of texts, tweets, Tumblr, and Facebook. It's true peace."
Michele King Gonzalez
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"At some point, running became a part of me," says Michele King Gonzalez, the blogger behind NYC Running Mama. Gonzalez started clocking miles when she was a young girl. She continued running as a basketball player growing up, and then when she went to West Point. But "it wasn't until years later, during my deployments to Iraq, when running was something I chose to do for myself," she says. "It was the one thing I could control while deployed — and helped me clear my mind and find happiness during those years."
She's currently training for the Boston Marathon in April and aims to beat her impressive personal record of 3:10. "These days, it's easy to get caught up in wanting everything right now. In so many aspects of life, we are used to getting what we want immediately. But it doesn't work that way in running. Running certain times or a specific mileage all take time and a great amount of patience."
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Sarah Reinertsen, a Paralympian, Ironman athlete, 13X marathon runner and world record holder had her left leg amputated above the knee when she was 7. All it took to get her into running was meeting another kid with a prosthetic like hers.
"Since I was a kid with a prosthetic leg, I wasn't sure that I could be a runner," she explains. "That all changed when, at the age of 11, I met another amputee runner at the Aspire 10K and that's what planted the seed of belief that I could do it, too. The next challenge was how to run on the prosthetic leg; it wasn't something I had learned after my amputation. At this very same 10K race I met a physical therapist who volunteered his time to teach me how to run, so once I learned how to balance and move on this prosthetic, I was hooked!"
As the only kid in her school that wore a prosthetic leg, she struggled to keep up in many other sports, but in running, she realized she could "run my own race," she says. "I would focus on the clock and see if I could improve my time. I didn't worry about keeping up with the two-legged kids; I just focused on improving my own performance." That lesson has lasted her entire life. [For the full story, head over to Refinery 29!]
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