Rini Jones on why it's so hard to escape the preconceived notion of the 'runner’s body'

·3-min read

Before she became a runner, 28-year-old Rini Jones’ issues with her body impacted her mental heath. ‘My relationship with my body before running was a fraught one,’ she says. ‘I had been battling bulimia for over six years. Exercise, to me, was a more socially acceptable alternative to the typical presentation of these eating disorders and I developed a disordered relationship with it, too, training for over three hours a day, trying to shrink myself further. No matter how objectively thin I was, I never thought it was enough. With recovery from my eating disorder came fluctuating body changes that took a long time to accept.’

Running was ultimately to help her on that path to acceptance, but she initially felt it simply wasn’t an option. ‘I thought running was just for tall, lean, white people – all the runners I’d see fit this mould and I thought I wouldn’t be physically able to do it,’ she says. ‘I’m short and curvy with big boobs and I was petrified of being mocked, objectified and harassed running in public. Asian women are least likely to be physically active in the UK, and even within my own family, I’m the only one who trains regularly. I was hyper-aware of navigating this overwhelmingly white space, on top of everything else.’

A move to Paris where, thanks to a work colleague, she took a leap of faith and signed up for the marathon changed things. ‘The anonymity I felt in a new city really helped,’ she says, ‘and with the daunting prospect of running a marathon, training took on a whole new meaning other than as a weight-loss tool. Suddenly it was about trying to develop a skill; it was about what my body could do, not what it looked like. I began training in the early hours so I could feel comfortable and then as my endurance improved, I felt able to claim a space and run whenever it suited me. The disbelief that my body could actually run, and run well, propelled me forward.’

Jones has been running for seven years now and says it has firmly shifted her focus on to what her body can do, but it’s hard to entirely escape the preconceived notion of the runner’s body. ‘I often think that I’m not a “real” runner, that I don’t look like a runner,’ she says. ‘And I’ve received some wild, gatekeeping comments both in person and online – that I’m too slow, that I should lose weight if I want to be taken seriously and questioning whether I’ve actually run a marathon (I’ve run five). I’ve also received plenty of raised eyebrows from running store and gym employees when I’ve told them I run. The conspicuous lack of meaningful diversity – especially of South Asian women – in running campaigns doesn’t help; it’s like confirmation that we don’t belong in this space.’

Jones has a passionate rallying call for others who have been made to feel as though they don’t belong in the running space. ‘Gatekeeping comments speak volumes about the fragile people spreading them and absolutely nothing about you,’ she says. ‘You deserve to claim space and do so safely; communities of colour have been running for centuries and this sport is not just for thin white people. What your body looks like has zero bearing on your validity as a runner and your presence on the roads/ trails/tracks will inspire more people than you know.’

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