Thursday, May 13, 2010

Marathon Running With Girls On The Run

So I'm training for the Chicago Marathon, raising funds for the organization Girls On The Run (GOTR).

I think what excites me most about their organization is the non-competitive nature of it. That all girls, regardless of their ability, can take part in the training and the fun and the accomplishment of finishing a 5K.

It's also important to me that the advantages attributed to exercise for girls - better self-esteem, making healthy choices, improved body image - are made explicit through the GOTR lessons. It's done in a fun, playful way for the elementary school girls, more seriously for the middle schoolers.

I loved being active as a kid. I was always taking some class - ballet, gymnastics, jazz dance, horse-back riding, even rhythm gymnastics. I went hiking and cross-country skiing with my parents, swam by myself and with my dad, and biked everywhere.

And then, you know, as a girl things can just change for you in high school. At least they did for me.

I had always been aware that I was heavier than other girls (no surprise, as I started sneaking food starting at age 8), and was unhappy with my body. With puberty this unhappiness just exploded. All my physical activity became focused on losing weight. I still biked and hiked and skiied, but the fun in it dwindled as I obsessed about the calories I was or was not burning, and made plans to stop eating that I couldn't ever fulfill. I read the teen magazines and did the exercises promising to get you a bikini body by summer - I didn't. And then I got to college and gave up, and my weight and my health paid the price.

It took a while to get back to enjoying physical activity just for the fun of it. I've written recently about how I got started running after college and fell in love with it; I also started studying martial arts at that time and got introduced to the spiritual aspect of sport. And I had always remained a walker, covering long distances, both out of necessity since I didn't drive, and out of satisfaction in being able to get everywhere on my own feet. But I needed to work out some of the crap I'd accumulated in my head about my body and food and fitness and health before I could truly let go of my compulsive eating and thereby truly enjoy moving just for its own sake. I'm grateful to say it's been a good number of years that this has been true.

My hope for the girls taking part in Girls On The Run is that by taking part in the training, in the lessons and by being part of a team, that they may never lose their love of movement for its own sake. It is a blessing, every day, to be able to run, to have a healthy body that is for your own use, not someone else's. Girls On The Run shows these girls that blessing, and so I am grateful to be able to train with them and for them as a member of their SoleMates team.*

*Even if it is a cheesy, cheesy name.

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