Week 10: What do you run for?

In the wake of the 49th New York City Marathon last Sunday, I am highlighting three stories of serious runners who don’t necessarily fit the stereotype of a typical athlete. Not everyone runs to lose weight or win races. For me, running is a daily practice in my fight against anxiety, but running looks completely different for each person below.

This Ultramarathon Runner is Redefining What an Athlete Looks Like

Photo courtesy of Lina Illustration

Run Through:

Mirna Valerio says running saved her life. According to Gulnaz Khan for National Geographic, she runs for the freedom and the feeling, not because she is fat. Valerio has dealt with microaggressions and flat out hate speech because she is both Black and fat, an unfortunately uncommon intersection in the running community. “I want to continue sticking my big ass into places where people think I don’t belong. That has been the nature of my life—I’m going to do it and I’m going to do it proudly,” said Valerio. She has now run multiple marathons, one 120 mile race, and many other ultramarathons. When she isn’t running, she is spending time with her son, writing articles for her website, or promoting her book, A Beautiful Work in Progress. Ultimately, Valerio is most passionate about creating opportunities for more people to access the outdoors, especially children from urban areas.

On Review: 

★ For more on Valerio, watch REI’s short movie about her, called The Mirnavator.

Latoya Shauntay Snell wrote an article for Runner’s World about her similar experience being harassed at the NYC Marathon as a fat, Black woman.

I’m a Competitive Runner, But I Couldn’t Outrun My Anxiety-Or My Sexuality

Photo courtesy of Lina Illustration

Run Through:

Conley Lyons writes for Them about her complicated relationship with running. She says that as a competitive runner in her youth, she used running to push away and ignore her confusing feelings of sexuality and anxiety. She used running as a surface level anecdote instead of finding a deeper, more stable solution. “My experiences with anxiety mirrored those taxing physical demands. When I was stressed, I didn’t talk about it.” She was also grappling with and largely ignoring her feelings for women during this time. Lyons explains that her current approach to running is much healthier because she does not push beyond her limits. When she is struggling, she finds other, non-evasive solutions, and only runs for exercise or competition.

On Review: 

★ This is a crucial, and often overlooked, perspective because while I do find solace from anxiety in running, it can often drift closer to a negative habit than a healthy solution. It is important to find a balance and truly examine why you are running.

★ Conley Lyons runs a website and a newsletter where she is devoted to elevating queer stories. She describes herself as a “mountain girl turned urban lady” in the About section.

Meet Nepal’s Breakout Trail Running Phenom

Photo courtesy of Sebastian Curi

Run Through:

Until Mira Rai found out she could compete and make money from running, she only ran because she had to. Sarah Barker covered the story of this Nepalese trail running star for Outside. Rai had to leave school at a young age to help her family sell rice. “Rai thought of running on a trail as a necessity—a means of transportation—but not a sport,” said Barker. Now, Rai realizes that carrying heavy bags of rice for many hours at a time on mountain trails was the perfect practice for running. In Nepal, women are often expected to manage the house and the only opportunity they have to participate in running is in the military. Rai thinks having a more relaxed attitude about running is crucial to success. Her first race was about 30 miles, a distance she’d never even run before. Rai packs her days with hours of training and English lessons, yet she never seems to tire. When asked what is hardest about trail running, she just laughed.

On Review: 

★ Not stated in this article is how to help make running accessible to more Nepalese women. One way is to donate to Trail Running Nepal’s Girls Running Fund.

★ In case you aren’t aware, trail running differs from road running because it entails running on varied, rough terrain, navigating unpredictable nature, and often more careful planning. This REI video details everything to know before you start trail running.

More resources:


Thanks for checking in this week! Until next Sunday, remember never to assume why someone is running.