Fit For You: Debunking the 'Runner's Body'

May 19, 2016

New Jersey based freelance writer and runner Jen Miller wrote an article for the New York Times last fall that described her journey through weight gain and loss while she was competing in marathons. The article, Crossing the Finish Line 25 Pounds Lighter, was shared across social media and continues to prompt discussions about what a healthy body looks like.

Miller has been running since 2006, and worked her way up to running marathons. While running anywhere from three to twenty miles a day, Miller's eating habits did not remain as strict as her training schedule. Following a foot injury that kept her from running for three months, Miller ate as if she was still training.

Her weight crept up from 140 pounds to 165 and her running times in all distances changed, yet she still trained for and completed two marathons at her heaviest. It wasn't until she finally sat in a doctor's office and saw the numbers that she realized something needed to change.

"I should accept my body at any weight, shape or size...in theory. However, I want to run faster so that's why I did [lose weight]," explains Miller.

She admits that tackling the complicated and emotional issue of weight, especially for women, almost kept her from writing the story.

"I didn't want to shame anybody...I needed to use the number in order to get the story across," Miller explains. "It became a feminist thing because it wasn't really about what anybody else saw me as at 140 pounds versus 165 pounds. It's how I felt as an amateur athlete at either weight, and that was the point."

Following that appointment Miller bought a scale and changed her approach to food.  Over the course of a year she lost 25 pounds - 20 of them over the summer.

Having previously struggled with her relationship towards food before she started running, Miller emphasizes that there is no diet or meal plan that works for everyone despite the constant flow of information.

"Know that there is no magic formula," she says. "You have to try stuff out to see what works for you, and please don't follow the latest hot trend."

Jen Miller running in the 2016 New Jersey Marathon.
Credit Photo courtesy of Jen Miller

Depending on whether Miller trains for a marathon or sprints in a one mile race, she found that switching between high carb versus high fat foods work best for fueling her body. And just as training gets modified as you get closer or recover from a race, so does your eating.

Miller also notes that having a healthy and realistic attitude towards running and eating has helped her stay balanced and keep the weight off.

"I am not going to sacrifice all that much in my life to be as tiny and as in the best shape as I can possibly be," says Miller. And she says she feels free to eat whatever she wants for a week after completing a race.

Miller has completed six marathons so far and continues to remain more conscious of what fuel she is giving her body. But something that hasn't changed no matter her weight is how running makes her feel and the community it fosters. At every race, she sees people of all different ages, shapes and sizes - and that is something that keeps her feet pounding the pavement.

"I didn't realize how much of a difference there was until I saw those pictures put next to each other by the New York Times," says Miller. "So I think it's import to have that record and I also think it's important to know that there was nothing wrong with 165 pounds. Absolutely nothing."