Laura Riches has an important message to share. If anyone says you are ‘too big’ to be a distance runner – IGNORE them.

I wasn’t really sure where to go with my second blog as it’s been a rather calm February, despite my recent trip to Prague where I succumbed to food poisoning.

That really hampered my chances of getting any of the Strava segments – which was a real bummer! But I won’t go into detail on that one.

There was one thing however that’s been at the back of my mind for a while, so I guess what better way to share it, than through one of my monthly ‘class of 2018’ blogs.

It is to do with the perceived body image of a distance runner.

Interesting topic I’d say, and something which is rarely mentioned, by well, anyone.

What should a distance runner look like?

Well, I guess you can take a look at a large majority of runners who toe the line at any of the national events around the country, and almost everyone looks similar. Usually tall, thin and even thinner, right? But is this what we should look to mirror?

Since the age of about 15, I can count numerous occasions where I’ve been told I’m too big to be a distance runner, “you don’t look like the other runners”.

If I actually gave a damn about what people thought about me it would have really hampered my life.. sending me down a terrible path that many people go down.

For me, it’s never been a big issue, and by no means have I ever considered myself to be fat or overweight because I’m not.

But recently I was watching an event in Edinburgh, and I overheard a number of people discussing a girl competing for her country as “too big”. This athlete was placed high up the race too.

How can you look at someone running at the highest level and comment on the way she looks rather than how amazingly she is doing in a race of such a high calibre?

Society and culture

It was then I realised that society is in fact at the root cause of so many problems for female distances runners all over the world.

I’m not going to hide the fact that at times it bothered me when I stood alongside girls who looked so different to me. But I’ve also seen these girls go from healthy and strong, to ill and fragile, in such short periods of time.

You have to question if the constant comments in magazines and from coaches are causing these girls to question themselves and the way they look.

We all know that if you are at race weight or slightly lighter than normal you run ‘slightly’ faster. But it’s not sustainable for long and again we have seen this year after year with so many different athletes facing problems.

I have seen so many go through eating problems in my time as an athlete in the UK and the US and you can understand how easy it is to be influenced by the words of people who we trust, value and want to impress.

But as athletes – and well adults – we are able to make our own decisions. We aren’t stupid and we know you have to fuel your car with petrol, a phrase I’ve often heard said to so many.

I have no doubt that people close to me have been affected by what they have heard, been told, or perceive to be the right way to look, whether a distance runner or not. It’s awful to see.

It’s a culture that female distance running has sunk into, and especially one lived and breathed by so many distance programs and groups around the world. One that is VERY HARD to avoid.

I’ve experienced first hand what it feels like to be questioned not just by coaches, but by athletes who I believe become/became brainwashed by a coach who had an ideal image for EVERY female distance runner.

This ideal is not sustainable for every athlete, as every individual is an individual.

I think it’s important to highlight, that people need to take care with the words they use, not just directly to all athletes, but when having any conversation about individual female athletes. People often hear indirectly and react to this!

To anyone who reads this, it is okay to be exactly who you are. If you feel healthy in your body then why does it matter if you stand next to someone on the start line who’s much smaller than you?

Ignore what you hear. If any coach or person says you are too big, IGNORE them. It’s something I learnt to do in the states, and thankfully I made it without any issues, but so many do not! Also, think before you speak.

My goals for this year

Anyway, I am still on track for a sub 3-hour marathon, despite “not being the build for a marathoner” – what a load of rubbish!

I completed my first 90-mile week a fortnight ago and I felt amazing, well until the Monday.

Still a bit of work to do but it all seems to be going well, and 18 miles feels good at just sub seven-minute pace, so it’s not much further right?! I should probably actually enter the marathon now it’s getting a bit closer though, haha oops!

Cheers for now.

Laura Riches is part of the ‘fast runners: class of 2018’ and this year will share her running journey every month. You can find out more about Laura here and further information on the ‘class of 2018’ can be found here.