Dozens of questions coursed through my mind at mile 6.7 of America’s Finest City Half Marathon. Did I need to take my next GU? How was my knee going to hold up? Was it time to take my shirt off? And that’s when my race got interesting. That’s when it became my first race with no shirt on.
It wasn’t something planned or premeditated. In fact I based my decision primarily on comfort more than anything else. Drenched in my own sweat, my race singlet became sticky and heavy. Like wearing leather pants on a piping hot day. Sweat happens when you’re running in 90% humidity and temps well over 80 degrees.
It was one of those “fuck it” moments after running 6.7 miles completely exposed to the sun. The AFC Half does not afford many opportunities for shade. As I peeled off my leathery shirt it was like a thousand angels sang from above and my skin breathed a deep sigh of relief. This changed the tone of my race from heat and humidity suppression to light and fancy free running through the streets of downtown San Diego … shirtless!
This was not an act to draw attention. This was, as I mentioned before, largely for comfort. And then it turned into so much more. For the rest of my race, the remaining 6.4 miles, I thought about how over my endurance career of nearly 6 years I had not completed a single race shirtless. It’s not that I always wore a more breathable shirt. No, I can recall many a time I wished I could take strip down to just my sports bra and shorts.
The reason I never dared to bare was because I felt so ashamed of my body. Completely and utterly ashamed of my imperfect, puffy belly and the way the bulge gathered right above the waistband of my shorts. Not to mention the armpit bulge. I know – I probably sound like a total asshole to some of you, feeling shameful about my body. But listen – this is something we are conditioned to feel regardless of what we may look like to others. And for me, I simply couldn’t stand the thought of what my race pictures might turn out to look like or what onlookers might think as they saw me jiggling by. (And who says “jiggling” is a bad thing, anyway?)
This year for the first time ever I trained several times with just my sports bra and shorts and while it took a great deal of self-talk to get the point of ditching my shirt, it was the most liberating feeling of all time. I not only trained for the mileage but also the courage to bare my body in a way that was meaningful and powerful to me.
It’s important to me that I walk the talk, put my money where my mouth is, and so forth with everything I am trying to encourage others to do. Loving, even simply accepting our bodies as they are is really challenging work. And there are so many layers that we have each developed over time based on experiences and teachings that we are conditioned to believe without ever questioning – what’s wrong with cellulite anyway? Who made up that rule?? Because, can somebody PLEASE tell me who made up the rule that cellulite is the devil?
I am inspired when people are unapologetically themselves. And maybe that’s why this particular experience was so empowering. Running without a shirt on comes with practical purposes like staying cool but it’s something I have only dreamed of doing. In previous years I would stop myself because I wouldn’t want anyone to be offended by my body. It feels like stepping even more into who I am – and it’s a part of myself that I am still starting to uncover. And it’s insanely cool to continue getting to know this unashamedly bold and brave part of myself that I always knew was somewhere down there in the adorable cushions of my belly.
Still I cringe sometimes when I see the race photos from AFC Half Marathon. But I remind myself that part of the work is going through this process with the ability to start to change perspective. So I then go back to the photos and look at them instead with approval rather than criticism. It doesn’t have to be exuberant love, Just looking at ourselves with acceptance.
If running without a shirt helps me unveil the boldest parts of myself and learn to love my body, then by god I’m sticking with it. (The same holds true for yoga without a shirt on!)