Although it was predominately female runners who shared their stories with us, this isn’t an issue that only affects women. Riazul Ikram, 20, says he ‘spiralled into feeling really horrible’ about himself before he started running. With feelings about his body impacting his self-esteem, he says he was in a dark place and initially apprehensive about starting to run.
‘Running felt like an exclusive club for those with god-like builds who hit new 5K PBs every time,’ he says. ‘My body didn’t fit into the mould my mind had painted for a runner and I was embarrassed to start. The idea of presenting a vulnerable version of myself as I run in a park terrified me.’ Therapy helped Ikram acknowledge and understand those feelings of vulnerability and he began running with friends before eventually braving the parks alone. But that didn’t mean he saw a runner in the mirror.
‘For the first couple of months, I felt like I wasn’t a runner and hated myself for thinking it was something I could take on,’ he says. ‘I would see the bodies I saw on social media speed past me as I panted for breath. It made running something I dreaded, but after a while I became more confident. Running became a source of calm. Who decided what a runner’s body should be anyway? I learned it’s much more important to be in the moment and enjoy it.’
Four years of running have taken Ikram to a very different place. ‘It has changed the way I perceive my body,’ he says. ‘I now appreciate the things we take for granted. The way the legs roll with each stride and work in tandem with the power of the arms. The way the breath guides the mind and falls into a rhythm. Running became the light at the end of the ever-developing tunnel that made me fall back in love with my body. No one is born hating their body.’
Ikram says the idea of a runner’s body is a myth that too many people get caught up in. ‘Pick yourself up slowly and fall in love with the journey that you are about to embark on, which is nothing short of incredible.'
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