I’m Forever Blowing Snot Bubbles…
A friend asks, “Write about how you triumphed over your self-consciousness regarding the unflattering parts of running such as extraneous snot, weeping eyes and flatulence while moving rapidly. I need inspiration and you’re just the person to do it.”
Thanks for your question, Beth! You know, I always cringe a little bit when I see those perfectly put-together Buckhead Betties glide past me on Saturday mornings. They weigh about 90 pounds, never breathe hard or even seem to touch the ground. Their outfits are always impeccably matched, layered and usually pink. You just KNOW ladies like that never sweat or fart.
The real truth about running is that no matter how fit or cute you are, or how nice your running clothes look, your body is still going to sweat, waggle, snot and ooze when you run. Thankfully, some of my more hardcore life experiences have helped me have very little shame or reservation about the ick of it all.
When I was married, all my husband and I did was go to work and play softball. I played over 300 games one year on men’s, women’s and coed teams. We played year-round. There were no “cold outs.” When the temperatures plunged into the 20s and the wind was howling, there was no point in even trying to get your fingers in the right holes of your glove, because you couldn’t even FEEL your fingers. I figured if a ball came to me at third, I’d either throw my glove at it or go for the skate save.
There is a point in stupid-cold weather where self-preservation comes before pride. It was then that I made my personal rule that you can’t be judged for what you wear, or for your personal hygene when you’re playing a sport. You’re a JOCK! You do what you have to in order to function. I’ve literally worn eight-layers of clothes on the softball field.
I also decided at that point it is fine to wipe your nose on athletic clothes if necessary. (And playing in the cold, it’s TOTALLY necessary!) That’s also true for running. It’s also acceptable to let your eyes weep like you’re grieving, rub your crotch if it itches and spit out all that stuff that’s draining out of your sinuses. (Just look behind you first so someone doesn’t get blow back.) I’ve even done that disgusting snot rocket thing once or twice on a run. (I’m sorry, but you can’t run 13 miles with a booger whistling in your nostril.)
Surprisingly, the other thing that’s helped me deal with anything skeevy running might present, is some of the church work I’ve done through the years. The summers of 1987-91, I worked at Camp Sparrowwood in Dahlonega, GA, a United Methodist summer camp for children and adults with developmental disabilities. Once you’ve wiped butts for Jesus and let a spiritually-ecstatic camper blow his nose on your shirt tail during the closing Communion ceremony, you’ve had an essential part of yourself broken – perhaps pride – or maybe the gag reflex. I’ve also found this to be true while massaging Vicks Vapor Rub between homeless men’s toes as part of St. Mark UMCs “Blessed Are The Feet” ministry. Once you’ve learned to shake off touching someone else’s bodily excretions, dealing with your own is a cake walk!
I will admit that despite all that brave butch bravado, I do still fight some self-consciousness. I am not a proud, public gas-passer. It may be the one tiny bit of delicate Southern womanhood that stuck. (That and a craving for Rich’s Coconut Cake.) Although it’s acceptable and understood in the running community that passing gas is part of running, I try to be discreet and take no pride, as some others do, in crop dusting runners behind me in a race. I’ve just never understood what’s funny about a fart.
My other struggle is body image. As a former fat girl, I will always see myself as a fat girl, even 70 pounds lighter; so I try really hard not to get a glimpse of myself while I’m running. No matter how skinny you are, something is going to flap and waddle when you’re in motion.
For instance, I have always had gigantic thighs. They run in the family. (Slowly. HAH!) Daddy called them “Earl Campbell thighs.”
When I finally lost enough weight that I could run without so much thigh chafing that I could make smores in the flames (Mmmmmm! Thigh smores!), I started braving runs in shorts. (Thanks, BodyGlide!) But then I accidentally looked at my reflection in a store window one July morning as I ran past. Cellulite, thighs, and pasty white flesh were all I could see and I plunged into a week-long depression. (This REALLY happened. I am obviously a self-assured and well-balanced individual….) But I’ve learned as long as I don’t see it, it’s not really there. Denial is power! Really, just don’t look!
So maybe you’re not as confident, or in as much denial, as I. Maybe you’re still worried what other people will say when they see you slowly trudging along the sidewalk in your Target sweatpants and your Captain Kirk t-shirt. Maybe you’re embarrassed. Maybe you think you’re the grossest thing to ever strap on running shoes. Fear not! Chin up! Have faith!
I will make you this promise. Your self-consciousness will start to shrivel up and die when you glance in the mirror one day and, amazed, notice your body changing.
Your waist starts to narrow. A muscle pops up from nowhere above your knee. You suddenly notice definition along the side of your thigh. Your calves and ankles are now separate, definable regions. Look! A cheekbone!
You are powerful and brave and strong! Cynics be damned. You have done the work! The way that looks and the way that FEELS makes you give not one good god damn about how you look when you run or what anyone else might think. You have become a runner and you are beautiful!