“If you have a body, you are an athlete.” ~ Bill Bowerman
I am an unlikely obstacle course racer. I’m slow, I’m fairly heavy, I bruise easily, I can’t swim, I’m afraid of heights, and I have a strong personal aversion to running shorts and spandex. Friends and family are supportive, but when most people learn of my weekend activities, they respond with raised eyebrows.
None of that matters to me…. I LOVE OCR!!!
I dabbled in multiple sports as a kid, but my greatest athletic accomplishment by the time I graduated high school was receiving the Phys Ed department prize (awarded each year to the senior who always participated in class and never forgot to bring gym clothes. Go me!). After college, like so many young people entering the financial industry or other competitive fields, I focused for the next several years on work at the expense of all else, sitting at my desk for up to 100 hours a week; in the meantime, I gained weight. It made me feel helpless, as if the weight gain were some mysterious affliction that slowly crept up on me while I wasn’t looking. In truth, there is no mystery to it at all, but when I became bigger on the outside I also shrank on the inside, feeling vulnerable and that much less capable.
In early 2010, I began working with a personal trainer who soon pressured me into signing up for the Warrior Dash in Windham, NY. I thought she was off her rocker for thinking I could pull this off, and I was even nuttier for going along with it; I hadn’t even run a 5K before, never mind battling barbed wire and fire pits! But when I finally crossed the finish line on race day, completely exhausted and covered head to toe in mud (even my contact lenses were stained a muddy brown), I’d never felt better and I was irrevocably hooked on OCR. I felt a totally new kind of pride, having achieved something seemingly impossible, completely out of the ordinary, and all my own. I wasn’t helpless after all; I felt powerful.
This new commitment to OCR, while watching my diet, training 3 days per week, playing soccer, and incorporating some yoga have helped me get about half-way to my fitness goals. It’s hard to gauge progress precisely, because my size has dropped even when my weight hasn’t (it’s all that new muscle!). So instead of measuring pounds I try to focus on being healthy. Now and then I trip up on work stresses, bad diet days or injury, but I try to forgive myself and move forward. I treat my fitness journey the same as obstacle course racing: I slow down when necessary, speed up when I can, grab a flotation device when I have to, and refuse to quit.
Sometimes I catch myself feeling self-conscious as I get dressed on race day, looking in the mirror at my thicker frame and imagining that I’ll stick out like a sore thumb in the ranks of racers, bigger than everyone at the starting line and the last to finish. Then I remind myself that I’m an athlete because of what I do, not what I look like. I remember that people of all shapes, sizes, ages and ability levels will be running alongside me. I remember that the running community, and particularly the OCR set, is one of the most supportive I’ve ever encountered, always ready with a kind word or helping hand when fellow runners need one. And because I’m not aiming for a podium finish (yet), I remember that my only competition is my personal best.
I remember why I love OCR.