This Athleta shot caught my attention while flipping through a magazine the other day. Active, strong, and yes, dressed in stylish and functional clothing...my definition of sexy. (photo credit: www.athleta.com)

I’ll probably always remember being called “flat as a board” and, as only 7th grade girls and boys with no true knowledge of eating disorders could say to a fellow classmate, “anorexic.” Back then, I definitely fit the bill regarding the former, though not the latter. I just was skinny, all knees and elbows, throughout my teen years, something my mom told me I’d appreciate later in life and that I was perfect and beautiful just the way I was — even if I didn’t fill out my Esprit sweatshirt or backside of a pair of jeans all that well. Eyeing the prettier, “popular” girls around me, I tried hard to believe what she said was true.

Moving past those awkward junior high moments, high school proved much better for me and my body image. I had my great group of friends, I was fairly active — though not a runner — and I (mostly) embraced my late-blossoming-still-small figure. Throughout my 20s, even when I put on my share of weight thanks to Michigan State University dorm life and off-campus partying, I don’t remember worrying too much about my body because I blissfully, ignorantly leaned on my youthful metabolism (and maybe simply enjoyed eating crappy, greasy food after helping put to bed the campus daily for most the of the four years I was there). It was, as I believe it should be, a fun and pretty carefree time. It should be said here, too, that athleticism would never, ever be attached to my name during this time.

Fast-forward to my thirties, to my post-three pregnancies/current school-age kiddos life, and I’m decidedly experiencing inner peace about my body like never before. But it’s not because I feel I have arrived at the ideal weight or shape — in fact, I still grapple with trouble spots (we all have them, right?) and I have absolutely wondered if I couldn’t just maybe have a little enhancement or something done…maybe? No, I don’t really want to, not really.

Why I really feel at ease is because of running, because I am in awe of what our bodies are capable of when we treat them right with good fuel and proper training. Which has in turn led me to admire strength more than ever before — in myself and in others. Strength not only in body but in mind and spirit. All of which, interestingly but not surprisingly enough, comes with the discipline of regular, challenging exercise.

No longer do I admire a beautiful person simply for her gorgeous hair, perfect skin or cool clothes as I once did in my youth. Sure, I still notice such things — I am human, I can be quite a girly-girl and  those things can be nice — but as someone who understands the truth of beauty lying within and the sheer determination it takes to be strong inside and out, I now know better. Today I am the runner who, at the start line of a race, stands humbled and proud and happy to be part of a group of people who come in all shapes and sizes with varying levels of ability yet all are committed to taking caring of themselves in the kindest and healthiest of ways. Today I am the person who, waiting for the awards ceremony to get under way following a mid-winter race in my hometown, somewhat surprises herself by thinking, “I want that someday,” while looking at the 70+-year-old woman who just ran 5 miles and is glowing.

Give me strength, in every sense of the word. That’s what I desire, that’s what I feel I’m gaining each time I put on my running shoes and head out for a run. I felt it this past Sunday when I ran 12 windy miles out Old Mission Peninsula. And I felt it again when I ran this morning’s 4 and followed it up with a challenging Pilates reformer session. I am strong.

This outlook on life continues to evolve for me. I love Pilates and how it’s help me feel stronger yet and is an awesome complement to running, and as my world broadens and I meet and learn of other athletes (I’m an athlete now!), I find myself interested in going further yet — maybe it’s not entirely unimaginable that I’ll someday run an ultra, or complete a triathlon. It’s equal parts exciting and overwhelming thinking about all the possibilities, of the physical challenges I am now believing are within reach.

For now, of course, I have plenty on my plate with training for my first 26.2 mile race. But it’s thrilling to think about how this could — will — be a stepping stone on a journey that years ago never really crossed my mind. And I’d like to think that I’m giving my kids a glimpse into what they may want someday — what they should aspire to rather than feeling they don’t quite fit in because of what they may look like to everyone else. I hope they learn earlier than I did how fulfilling it is to realize your own true strength as a person, in part because of their physical efforts and accomplishments — whatever they may be.

On a training note ~ how about this intriguing text I received from Lisa today: I’m out hiking in a place  you should run. Can we meet and drive to it Wednesday? I will ride my trail bike. Maybe start at 9? 

Looking forward to seeing what that’s all about tomorrow. More soon…

Embrace your strength!

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