The marathoner says she finally learned that "you don't have to have a particular body type to be considered a runner."

By By Dorothy Beal as told to Faith Brar

My parents placed a huge emphasis on education when I was growing up, so it's safe to say that sports and healthy eating just weren't a priority for me. As a result, by the time I got to college, I realized that I wasn't equipped with some of the tools I needed to build a daily routine that involved working out and eating well. So while most people gained the "freshman 15" throughout the first year of college, I gained it in just a few months.

This struggle to prioritize my health stuck around during my first two years in college, which ultimately caused some self-esteem issues. I just didn't feel like myself anymore, and on top of that, I was diagnosed with social anxiety. So in an effort to fit in and feel confident, I ended up drinking a lot, which further contributed to my weight gain as well as my poor relationship with my body. (Related: Why Shaun T Decided to Give Up Tequila)

It wasn't until my junior year that I realized something needed to change. I was home during a school vacation when I stepped on the scale and had a breakdown. I couldn't believe the number staring at me-and while it represented what was going on with me physically, it also served as a wake-up call for what was going on for me emotionally. It became clear that I wasn't in a good, healthy place.

After sitting down with my parents, we came up with a plan to gain back my health and as a result, help me feel more confident. My mom, who had always been interested in running, suggested that I give it a go, and to help me get started, agreed to foot the bill on some necessities like buying a nice pair of shoes and paying to sign up for a race. (Side note: Running Helped This Woman Overcome Anxiety and Depression.)

The first couple of times I ran, I remember feeling extremely uncomfortable in my body. I was very aware that I was larger than most people around me at the gym or on the trail. Also, keep in mind that this was 2001, when no one thought running was cool and it was stereotypically thought to be a sport for "skinny" people. All my friends thought it was weird that I ran, and it took a while to get used to the funny looks I got from people as I was out and about on my runs.

Eventually, I just got sick of it and felt like if I was really going to be considered a runner, I had to look the part. I'd already lost a lot of weight since I started running. And by 2003, I started focusing on my speed to get even leaner while I prepped for my first marathon. (Related: How Dorothy Beal Reacted to Her Daughter Saying She Hated Her Big Thighs)

Once I crossed the finish line of that race, I knew I was hooked. I wanted nothing more than to be a runner-and a good one. But I still felt like I wasn't being taken seriously, and more than anything, I was convinced it was because I didn't look like I was any good.

So over the next few years, I became faster and faster and my weight went lower and lower. I eventually dropped down to 110 pounds-which just isn't normal for my body type. I was running 92 miles per week and was always exhausted. I didn't feel good, but everyone around me was praising me for looking like I was in incredible shape. I would get to the starting line of a race and finally felt like I belonged because I looked like the people around me. But even then I knew I couldn't keep up with that persona for too long.

It wasn't like I had some aha moment that inspired me to reevaluate what I was doing and how I was treating my body, but one day something just clicked. I realized that regardless of what my body looks like, I should be considered a runner because I run and that I shouldn't have to be working this hard, killing myself just to fit into the community standards. (Related: #GainingWeightIsCool Is Proof That Being Healthy Is Different for Everyone)

I started eating normally, logging less mileage, and running a little slower, and I gained enough weight back to be and feel healthier. Within no time I was feeling so much more energetic. My mood was better and I could tell I was in a better place. But while I felt amazing, people stopped approaching me, complimenting me, or congratulating me at the finish line of marathons. It wasn't like they were saying anything bad, but their silence spoke volumes-and to be honest, that can really mess with your head. It made me question my fitness even though, deep down, I knew I was perfectly healthy. (Related: Marathoner Dorothy Beal Shares Why She No Longer Ties Numbers to Her Self-Worth)

It was those feelings that inspired me to create @ihavearunnersbody and @irunthisbody in 2016. I wanted more runners and aspiring runners to know that you don't have to have a particular body type to be considered a runner. If you lose 10 pounds, you have a runner's body. If you gain 20 pounds, you still. have. a runner's body.

So, I began reposting pictures of runners on Instagram, regardless of their shape, size, height, and age-and the campaign just took off. Men and women from around the world started sharing their running pictures with me, as well as how they got into running and what it means to them. Together, we've created a body-confident running community that's on a mission to prove that every body is a runner's body.

My goal with these movements is to create awareness about the fact that the moment you decide to run, you're a runner. So many people don't even give running a shot because they don't feel like they have the body to do it, but women like Candice Huffine and Mirna Valerio are proof that you don't have to look any type of way to get out there. (Related: Amazing Women Who Prove Every Body Is a Runner's Body)

Your love handles might jiggle, your cellulite-y thighs might rub together, but I guarantee you, there are women who are skinnier and faster than you whose lungs burn the same way as yours at the top of a particularly tough hill. At the end of the day, I hope that we can come to a general consensus that running is hard for everyone, no matter what you look like, but that shouldn't be the reason to not give it a try.

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