When Words Hurt

Hello Strong Runner Chicks Family! I recently spoke with a reader who has encountered various hurtful comments from her coach. She wanted to make others aware of this and wrote to SRC about her struggles. Today she shares with us her experience. This community member will be left anonymous. 

I am 16 and run cross country, track and road races at national level alongside studying for my A levels. The majority of my experiences in the sport have been positive and it has helped me make many life long friends; however in this post, I want to talk about some of the less positive experiences in order to raise awareness about many of the unknown causes of disordered eating and negative body image that many young people are unlucky enough to experience throughout their running journey.

I started running as a young girl because it was something I truly loved, however little did I know that the sport that I believed was a celebration of what your body could achieve would become a sport where coaches would try and make you a perfect result producing machine.

The early days of my running journey were very much enjoyable. I made many friends and my coach created a fun and friendly atmosphere. We worked hard but enjoyment and wellbeing was always an important factor.

I was very fortunate to have these experiences. However when I relocated I joined a new training group and this is when things began to change. My running started to steadily improve and along with this came comments such as ‘you’ll easily win the race, it’ll just be you and some carthorses.’ Carthorses? To this point I believed performance in races was determined by the training you had done before hand, not by your physique. A carthorse is a strong animal, did this mean that to be a good runner you had to be weak and feeble?

Over time the power of these comments escalated. I know 3 individuals who have been told they are ‘too big to run’ one of those was also told their physique was more suited to the 800m rather than the 1500m which they enjoyed competing at a high level in, soon after they stopped coming to training sessions. I have since stopped training with this group but have been told that similar comments continue to be said only to much younger children aged 11 and 12.

I believed that leaving this environment would be positive however with my new training group I have experienced body shaming in a new form. Every training session I am told often more than once ‘you’re not strong enough.’ I have always performed regular strength training and eaten a balanced diet so I believed that I was doing what was right in order to be a strong runner. However these comments only led me to have a negative mindset where I look at how much muscle the other girls I compete against have and feel that I am inadequate in comparison. No matter how hard I try, how many squats I do, how many hills I run, I will never be good enough.

The main problem is not the fact that what is said is disrespectful and mean, but how it could change someone’s life. I have seen athletes starve themselves in the hope to knock seconds off their time, many risking their lives in the process and it all starts from the thoughts triggered from comments like these. In this day and age with the awareness of mental health I struggle to understand why coaches would risk their athletes mental wellbeing in order to get good results against their name.

Running has taught me many great things, however perhaps most importantly it has told me that body shaming is a huge issue in our sport. It may come in many different forms but all are equally as bad and detrimental to an athletes well being. We are all individuals and training will develop us in different ways: we all have different bodies so there is no such thing as a perfect runners body. Your performance in not determined by the size of your legs or the amount of muscle you have but your love and determination for the sport.

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