The most important lesson I’ve learned over the years is that running is a metaphor for success. Take things one step at a time, keep moving forward (even when you have to walk or crawl), and eventually you’ll reach your goal. Let go of unrealistic expectations while simultaneously pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. That’s the magic formula. Jill Angie, Running With Curves: Why You’re Not Too Fat Too Run, and the Skinny on How to Start Today (Difference Press, 2013)
This book is as much about the inner struggle of making a positive change in our life as it is about dealing with weight, muscles and sinews. While I found Jill’s expert advice on how to get started, taking it to the next level, appropriate dress (including the all-important sports bra) and equipment, and dealing with injuries to be very valuable, the most important section in the book for me was the one on how to take charge of our attitude. Success in any venture depends as much, if not more, on mastering your inner “mental game” as it does on mastering new technical skills. And, every time we try to make a significant change externally, internally a whole new battle begins.
Enter the Inner Mean Girl
As hard as it may be to deal with muscle soreness, fatigue and blisters, dealing with your Inner Mean Girl can be much more difficult. You know the Inner Mean Girl – we all have one (mine’s called Vampirella, by the way, but I digress). She delights in tormenting us with such questions as: “Who are you to think you can run (write a book, score a promotion, or insert any longed-for goal that takes you out of your comfort zone)? You’re too fat (old, out of shape, untalented … whatever) to do this. You’ll never be any good at it - so why bother?” Jill does a masterful and witty job of helping us beat our Inner Mean Girl at her own game.
This book is for you if you want to feel better about yourself now, not some far-off day when you are thinner or fitter. Many of Jill's tips can be applied to other challenging areas, too. As Jill writes, “It’s time to run your way back to self-esteem, confidence, and fabulosity.” Fabulosity – such a great word!
After I finished the book, I had the opportunity to sit down and ask Jill a few questions:
JA: I struggled so much when I first started running - both physically and mentally - and didn’t have anyone my size to turn to with questions. Every runner I knew was very thin and fit, and as far as I knew, didn’t have any of the same issues as I did. The books that were around at the time didn’t address the concerns of the overweight runner at all. In fact, most of them said to avoid running unless you were below a certain weight! And I thought "Hell no, I’m not waiting. I’m going to figure this out on my own terms.” So I did. And then I wrote the book that needed to be written.
KM: I love the message that a sense of personal value is not to be found outside of ourselves but within, and that taking up running is one way to give us that internal validation. Could you say a bit more about this please?
JA: Oh, this is a delicious topic! I think it’s human nature to look to others for acceptance. In the past, the protection and support of a tribe was critical to survival. Now, however, this instinct seems to have morphed into a need to seek approval from others to determine our own self-worth. But it’s really hard to control others’ thoughts and opinions. You can try - by dressing a certain way, getting as skinny as possible, only posting good selfies on Facebook - but that’s a lot of work! Worse still, if you put in all that effort and someone else still disapproves of you (and I guarantee someone will), you’re pretty much screwed.
In my humble opinion, it’s important to find a way to feel great about yourself that doesn’t depend on anyone else. Running has really helped me with that. It has taught me that I can do hard things, and that I am capable of much more than I ever imagined. When I first started running I didn’t tell anyone, because I worried that other people would laugh. Once I learned that I had no control over the thoughts of other people, I had the freedom to be insanely proud of myself - even if my accomplishments didn’t look like much to other people.
Now when I am scared of doing something I ask myself whether it’s fear of the actual activity, or just fear of what someone else might think. If it’s the latter, I know I need to do it anyway.
KM: I love the idea of being proud of your accomplishments no matter how small and not letting other people’s opinions sway you. And, speaking of other opinions, you have given an excellent description of our Inner Mean Girl and the havoc she can wreak when we try to make changes in our lives. How do we tell the difference between Inner Mean Girl trash talk urging us to abandon a dream and the acknowledgement that nobody is good at everything which allows us to move on and focus on our other goals instead.
JA: This is such a great question! Not being good at something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it (if that was the case, I wouldn’t keep planting a garden every year). I believe the main difference between Inner Mean Girl (IMG) trash talk and healthy realism is whether or not you feel crappy about it. You can acknowledge your abilities (or lack thereof) and feel great about what you’ve accomplished. Your IMG wants to take that great feeling away from you, and tell you that you are less than everyone else. She will want to focus on what you didn’t achieve, rather than all of the amazing things you did.
For example, if you sign up for a 5K run, train for it, get to the start line, have fun the entire time, but cross the finish line dead last, your IMG will focus on one thing: coming in last. She will ignore all of the other great things about the experience: all the training you did, the courage it took to get to the start line, the fun you had - and the fact that you did cross the finish line. When you finished is completely irrelevant. It doesn’t define you (just like the size of your jeans), and it is just one minuscule fact about your life. Your IMG will tell you that if you can’t be a rock star, you should quit.
Here’s a great litmus test - if you find yourself telling people about something you’ve done and then use the word BUT (e.g., I ran a 5K, BUT I came in last) know that your IMG is sitting on your shoulder. A healthy acknowledgment of your abilities will look at all aspects of the experience before deciding whether it was worthwhile (e.g., I ran a 5K and I had so much fun! Next year I want to do it again and see if I can improve my time).
KM: That’s an excellent distinction, thank you! You've given a wonderful example of self-dialogue to shut down our Inner Mean Girl when she raises her scaly head. Could you give us an example of how to respectfully shut down the Inner Mean Girl in other people when they see changes in us that make them uncomfortable?
JA: That’s a tough one. Other people only feel uncomfortable about positive changes in those around them when their own opinion of themselves is externally determined. So when someone makes a negative comment about you, it pretty much just tells you how she feels about herself. It has nothing to do with you at all and you shouldn’t take it personally.
I generally respond to this type of situation either by laughing and deliberately misunderstanding their comment as a joke, or by saying something like, “I’m so sorry you feel that way,” and then asking them why. Worst case, the other person will think you’re a little silly. Best case, you open up a compassionate dialogue and perhaps she will begin to feel comfortable opening up to you about her fears. Getting defensive is never helpful, and often just makes everyone feel worse.
KM: True fact. What's next for you, Jill?
JA: It’s going to be an exciting summer! Later this month I’ll be speaking at FitBloggin. At the end of July, I’m launching a brand-new online course for beginning runners, called Running With Curves: Learn to Run in the Body You Have Right Now. It will include weekly lessons, training plans, a private forum, and regular group coaching calls - everything you need to know to start running right now and be successful. If you would like to join the mailing list to be notified when enrollment opens, please visit www.RunningWithCurves.net.
I’m also working on expanding Running With Curves from the current ebook into a print book, with an anticipated release date of January 2015. Stay tuned!
KM: I look forward to the expanded print version! What would you like to leave us with?
JA: If you’ve ever thought about trying to run, just put your shoes on and go! In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “Believe you can, and you’re halfway there.”
KM: Thank you, Jill for a wonderful read and a great interview.
Afternote: Jill kindly shared the recipe for her awesome oatmeal granola bars. You can find the recipe and photos here
Running With Curves: Why You’re Not Too Fat Too Run, and the Skinny on How to Start Today is available as an ebook on Amazon.com
Jill Angie is a personal trainer and weight loss coach. She can be reached at Jill@FabFitTraining.com Want more? Find Jill on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and her blog, FabFitTraining.