My Doctor Told Me I Was Too "Unfit" To Run -- Or Why I Wish He Would Have Just Said "Fat"
I wish he had just said the word "fat." At least we would both known where we stood, but doctors enjoy hiding behind medical terms, working out my worth on a BMI scale that makes no logical sense.
“I am sorry but in my medical opinion you are just too unfit to run this marathon.”
Why couldn’t he just say the word FAT? What was he scared of? That had to be what he meant, since after nothing more than a quick look at me, he'd decided I was able to run 26.2 miles in a few weeks.
I had gone to the doctors for a back strain caused by picking up my daughter, I was stressed and I was tired and the last thing I needed was a lecture about my weight.
I am used to being judged because of my size. I am a big girl, at 5’11. Even when I am small, I am big. In fact, when I gave birth to my daughter last year, the surgeon refused to help move my twenty-something stone body from the trolley to the operating table for fear of putting his back out.
When he came back later to apologise I found myself blurting out “You wouldn’t believe I ran a marathon a year ago would you? The drugs were making me delirious and a little ashamed I guess at the inconvenience of my super sized body. I doubt he believed me, but it made me feel better just saying it out loud in the room full of embarrassed medical staff.
Why was I so determined to make my point about not always having been this FAT? Why did I need to convince him that I was not just this fat lazy bird who had no respect for her body?
I’d just delivered a baby for goodness sake, a beautiful human being that had grown inside this wobbly mess of a body and still I felt it necessary to explain myself.
This experience tainted the first few weeks of motherhood spurring me on to get back to my pre-pregnancy body weight as soon as possible. I was terrified of staying this fat and immobile forever so just 7 weeks after giving birth I donned my trainers, boobs still leaking and guilt running through every vein and went for my first run.
How I managed those first few months of running I will never know, fitting in feeds, doctors appointments and housework. I drove myself mad with training plans and organizing childcare so I could get out for my runs, often running at night or before anyone had woken in the morning –- I was like a woman possessed.
I told friends and family that it was just to get some me time and to help get my body back in order, but it was more than that. I had to prove to myself that I could still do it, still run a marathon after having a baby and most of all still run a marathon in this fat body of mine.
I signed up to the Brighton Marathon as a way of making sure I didn’t back out, but months of training had put a strain on my relationship.
“Where are you?” He would ask in pure despair.
“I’m on my way home” I’d gasp, phone in one hand water bottle in the other.
“You have been gone for 5 hours for Christ sake.”
But that is what it takes when you are a marathon runner in training, carting the equivalent of another marathon runner around with you on your back. By this point I had actually lost close to 4 stone. I still didn’t look like a runner but that was OK, not all runners do.
“Julie, your body is just not fit enough to run and I suggest you rest for 6 weeks and then come back to me.”
I tried to assure him that I exercise regularly, that despite being overweight I am actually quite physically capable, but he stuck to his original diagnosis. Shaking with rage I stormed out of the consultation room, holding back the tears. I have to run that marathon I thought, all those Sundays away from home, all the people that had sponsored me, what would I tell my daughter in years to come?
A few days of rest and 3 osteopath sessions later my back was feeling much better, but for the days leading up to my race I felt physically sick.
Lining up with thousands of other runners in the typical rainy British weather I wondered if I was being courageous or reckless, but getting to the start line is the hardest bit. The rest kind of takes care of itself and it did.
Running those 26 miles was the hardest thing I have ever done. Not on my legs, or my hips. Not because I ran out of breath or out of steam, but because that doctor had knocked my confidence so badly that I had forgotten why I was doing this in the first place. By mile 6 I was getting phantom pains, by mile 13 I was just about ready to give up, at mile 20 I was overtaken by a man wearing a life size tiger, a moment that almost destroyed me, but then at mile 23, something incredible happened. The sun came out and I spotted Brighton pier and something told me to start running again and I did. I knew if I picked up the pace I might even finish in under 6 hours, so I ran, I ran to the point where I felt I might pass out. While everyone around me walked I kept on running, with kids laughing, crowds cheering and me sobbing I ran.
I finished that marathon in 5 hours 54 minutes and 16 seconds and had absolutely nothing else to give.
Long distance running is well and truly behind me as I feel I have nothing left to prove, I now run for enjoyment and to keep myself sane, but I also run to show women of any size that they can run too and that they don’t have to run for weight loss or to look a certain way. If you run, you are a runner. It is as simple as that. There is no such thing as too fat to run, no such thing at all.