workout for plus size

What I’ve Learned as a Plus-Size Endurance Athlete

Inclusion in the world of fitness has come a long way since the days of seeing a singular athletic body type.

plus-size runner
All images courtesy of L. Shauntay Snell

For athletes like myself, it’s refreshing to see diversity on the racecourse, moving on the pavement or trails, and cycling for hundreds of miles. But there are barriers we still have to cross.

I’m no stranger to feeling like an outcast in what can be perceived as an exclusive sport. At last year’s NYC Marathon, a spectator heckled me for being a plus-size runner. I was on mile 21.

The moment was devastating. At such a critical point of my life, the anonymous stranger’s commentary could’ve ended my passion for long-distance running, but I decided to use it as fuel for future events.

running when plus size

This year, I’ll attempt my first 100K at the Javelina Jundred. My 2018 calendar is filled with 30 endurance events, including the NYC and Chicago marathons as well as the Spartan Ultra Beast, a 30-mile obstacle course race in Breckenridge, Colo.

I’m a back-of-the-pack runner. But even from that perspective, I’ve learned my share of valuable lessons as a plus-size runner. Here are a few.

Get a Green Light From the Doctor

plus size runner

Check in with your doctor. It’s a precaution for anyone starting or continuing an endurance activity, but especially smart for plus-size athletes. Address any concerns or issues regardless of how insignificant they may seem. Share your fitness plans with the doctor.

Treat any nagging pains that might concern you. A small pinch could be anything from shin splints to IT band syndrome.

There’s Power in Proper Footwear

plus size runner
Photo by W. Eric Snell

The wrong shoes can end your running affair pretty early. Ill-fitting running shoes can lead to discomfort and injuries. I had a running gait analysis done early in my fitness journey. It helped dramatically.

As a heftier athlete with sciatica flare-ups, I learned through my own experience that I have wide, flat feet. And one foot is a full half-size bigger than the other. While some in my plus-size running community prioritize extra cushioning, I favor neutral-stability shoes.

HOKA ONE ONE has both. I like the Clifton 5 for the road. For the trail, I like the Speedgoat 2 or Torrent. Invest in the proper shoe and retire it between 300 and 500 miles.

Nutrition: A Balanced Approach

Despite running an average of 40 miles per week, peaking in the high 60s, the distance doesn’t automatically spark weight loss for me. And logging training miles can crank up the appetite, so finding a healthy eating balance can be tricky.

I find myself wanting to indulge a bit more after long runs. As a chef, I love creating healthy, flavorful meals and using leftovers in nutritional ways. Often, this means cooking two proteins on a Sunday and transforming my mains into salads, soups, or sandwiches.

plus size athlete jumping

To prevent myself from overeating, I keep most of my portion sizes no larger than a side plate (about 7-9 inches). Instead of eating a hefty breakfast before training runs or cross-training workouts, I keep it light with honey and a banana on toast.

Post-workout meals are often protein-based, hovering around 4-5 ounces of salmon with abundant vegetables and complex carbs. As nervewracking as it can be, logging your meals can help. Runner’s diarrhea is quite common. If it happens to you, it helps to have a journal to trace what foods could be the culprit.

Consistency Is Key in Overcoming Challenges

workout for plus size
Photo by W. Eric Snell

All athletes are unique. You can’t even lump all plus-size runners together. You’ve got to figure out which method works best for you. I’ve tried a multitude of programs, and I was exceptionally overwhelmed when I started training seriously.

Over the years, I learned that consistency is exceptionally important for body and mind. When I’m struggling, I am not ashamed to scale it back to a walk-run or a complete walk. It doesn’t stop me from being an athlete. Just keep getting out there.

Avoiding Naysayers on Your Athletic Journey

fit and plus size
Photo by W. Eric Snell

When facing negativity from others, whether in person (like my heckling incident) or online, I’ve learned to shut off the noises of the world. Get a good pair of headphones or repeat simple mantras to yourself.

Don’t feel pressured to listen to unsolicited advice, even if the toxicity comes from loved ones. Simply say “no” without explanation. Limit communication about the topic with these people, or remove yourself from the situation.

Doing this won’t make you a bad person. Think of it as an act of self-care to continue doing what makes you feel good about your body and mind.

plus size obstacle race runner

If you feel self-conscious about running in public or going to the gym, remind yourself that this is your journey — not anyone else’s. Most often, others aren’t watching us as much as we might think. And if they are, wear something vibrant to give them something to watch.

After all, you’re a badass adventurer in your own right, and nobody can strip that title away from you.