Weekly Roundup: a Transgender Ballerina, the Heaviest Woman to Complete a Marathon Record & Megan Rapinoe's Dance Moves

Great Big Story profiles Jayna Ledford, transgender ballerina

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Great Big Story profiled Jayna Ledford, an aspiring ballerina and transgender woman. Jayna discusses growing up knowing she was trans, her young dance career, losing her scholarship when she decided to come out at 17—and her journey back towards dancing with a new studio.

Check out Great Big Story’s video about Jayna here.

Jennifer Smith becomes heaviest woman to complete a marathon

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Uh, GO JENNIFER. I only have one issue with this and it’s that the article says she covered 26 miles. Hey news people, that .2 is a LOT when it’s right at the finish! Jennifer weighs 346 pounds and completed the distance in 11 hours and 50 minutes. Freakin’ amazing. Read more about this badass record-breaker here.

Megan Rapinoe—that’s it. That’s the headline

Megan Rapinoe, World Cup Champion recently took to the streets in a victory parade through New York City. Then she made a speech about equal pay, doing better as citizens and oh yes, stole the show with her entrance. LEGEND.

How to tell if you’re in a bad group fitness class

Stack has highlighted 7 of the telltale signs you’re in a poorly managed group fitness class—if your local step class is doing any/all of these, it’s time to start shopping around for a new one or advocating for change! Classes could also offer chairs in the back for those who need to workout sitting down, and could even include systems to loop in those with hearing aids. Read the list here.

Weekly Roundup: Nike's Other Major Mannequin Drop, Australia's New Transgender Guidelines & More

Happy Trails Racing Pushes For Inclusion and Accessibility

 
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Have you read this week’s article about how Happy Trails Racing is opening up trail racing to be more inclusive?

Nike Also Released Parasport Mannequins—We Missed It

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Caught up in the controversy over the new plus-sized mannequin in Nike’s London shop, many of us missed an equally significant move—the introduction of parasport mannequins. It’s nice to know that they’re considering representing more diverse kinds of athletes. (Now the question is, when are they going to get a plus-sized male mannequin in there?)

Australia’s New Transgender Inclusion Guidelines

Australia has introduced a set of guidelines to make their sports clubs more inclusive to transgender and gender diverse athletes. It was developed by the Australian Human Rights Commission, Sport Australia and the Coalition of Major Professional and Participation Sports (COMPPS).

The guideline includes key ideas to foster safe and inclusive environments, including providing gender neutral spaces, using a person’s chosen pronouns throughout all operations and record keeping, as well as ensuring athletes have access to a uniform in their size. Some really great takeaways in here for anyone running a sports organization.

Click here to read the freshly minted guidelines!

300 Pounds and Running Opens Slow AF Community Waitlist

Runner, podcast host, writer, and powerhouse Martinus Evans has opened up a waitlist for the Slow AF community—a running hub focused on connecting back of the pack runners.

Sign up for the waiting list here!

Goat Yoga Is Still A Thing

Whether you’re frantically searching to find the nearest class, or the headlines have got your goat, this alternative yoga class continues to pop up across the globe—and the photos of it are pretty hilarious and adorable. I guess when we say “movement is for every body,” we really mean it.

Come As You Are: How To Host Inclusive Trail Races With Happy Trails Racing

Trail running might not seem like the most accessible sport. According to a March 2019 article in Canadian Trail Running Magazine titled “Do trail and ultrarunning have an inclusivity problem?” it is “dominated in participation by highly educated and high socio-economic status individuals.”

Participants need transportation to get out to remote areas where events are held. Race fees can be expensive—and the time allowance participation requires can be too. The varied and often difficult terrain the trails may not be for ideal for any athletes with mobility issues.

Heather Borsellino knows this first-hand. She’s the Race Co-ordinator for Happy Trails Racing, an organization that hosts a growing number of trail races in Ontario every year. She runs HTR with her husband, Race Director Jeff Rowthorn. They’re both ultramarathoners who have been on the scene for a long time—long enough to watch it transform.

“It’s definitely becoming more inclusive,” Borsellino said. “We’re seeing a lot more changes that we’re trying to be as sensitive to as we can—to make sure we’re adapting them and that we’re doing it correctly.”

The trail running scene is changing and Heather and Jeff are doing their best to keep pace.

I spoke to Heather about what they have done so far at HTR to make their events space inclusive and accessible for all—and what their next move will be. Below are some of the amazing key takeaways.

Heather Borsellino and Jeff Rowthorn, source:  Instagram

Heather Borsellino and Jeff Rowthorn, source: Instagram

1. Talk to your athletes about their needs

It might seem simple, but the best way to find out what people in your community need is to talk to them—and stay genuinely open for critique.

“I think we are by no means are experts, and we’re open to as much feedback as possible,” Borsellino said. She cited the example of learning from wheelchair athletes—Happy Trails Racing hosts the Foxtail Hundred, a rail trail race they are working on tailoring for accessibility in the future.

“We have them telling us that there’s a certain turning radius they need in their chair. It can’t be a hairpin turn. They need a certain amount to get around. We rely heavily heavily on the feedback of those athletes.” HTR also make accommodations for athletes with vision issues and hosts “Cool Beans” runs at many of their regular race events—1KM non-technical courses for people of all ages and abilities.


2. Keep runners of all abilities in mind

Some races are built with the fast and well-seasoned runner in mind. Many don’t cater to the back-of-the-pack runner or the nervous rookie who is looking to delve into trail running for the first time.

To address this, Happy Trails Racing tries to offer as many distances per race as they can, starting with a 5k and working up to as many as 100 miles. That way each event can accommodate people running their first trail race or their 10th ultramarathon.

They also try to be generous when it comes to cutoff times.

“The longest distance that we have has a fairly generous cut off, and all of the other distances have the same cutoff,” she said. “Really, I think it’s less daunting. The tightest cut offs will be with our longest races. But again there’s usually built-in options, so if people need accommodations for that extra time, we can make time for that.”

3. Use a more personal touch

Borsellino and the Happy Trails Team work hard to accommodate each athlete’s needs on a case-by-case basis. She detailed a time when they made arrangements for a walker to get an early start for a 50K event.

“We do have lots of opportunities for people with any mobility concerns, or anything that might make them a little slower, to start early. We do our best to support them along the way.”

Another time, the team mapped out a special detour for a participant who couldn’t tackle a particularly technical section of the trail due to a stroke.

 “We do have an event in the fall that has a really technical part that’s rooted and heavily rocky. He had an alternative path that he was guided to, to avoid this one area so that he could still participate in the event and still do the distance.”  

3. Take time to build your community

One of the unique features of HTR races is iron-on patches they award after each race—the wolf patch and the bear patch.

“We really try to celebrate anyone who’s on the trail,” Borsellino said. “The wolf patch celebrates somebody who has a pack mentality, who exhibits camaraderie, who’s kind to the volunteers and the people around them. The bear patch celebrates somebody who is just really gritty—who ran a really brave or courageous race.”

Creating a community in which people feel seen and recognized for their efforts can keep people coming back for more—and help them feel like they have a place. If someone nominates you, you’re getting the patch.

“We’ve had some great feedback—some of it’s been quite emotional. Someone overcame a huge amount of addiction and took to trail running as their way out … and they ended up receiving one of these bear patches. It meant so much more to them that we had ever anticipated. It was something that was quite moving. It makes it all worth it.”  

HTR Wolf Badge Certificates

HTR Wolf Badge Certificates

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4. Address other racing barriers

Happy Trails Racing also has systems in place to help those who might face challenges beyond the physical when it comes to racing. If racing is cost prohibitive, participants can volunteer once and receive 50% off of their race fee. If you volunteer twice, you receive 100% off.

Additionally, every race Happy Trails hosts raises money for a different cause close to the heart of their organization. If racers can fundraise a certain amount, their sign up fee will be refunded to them. (This June they also sold special Pride-themed shirts, with proceeds going to LGBT Youthline.)

They also have a donation program for new or gently-used gear to help at-risk and homeless youth in a running program at Covenant House.

“We’ve been gathering gear for them and they can also race with us for free … And that’s really giving them an opportunity they might not have to participate in something like that,” Borsellino said.  

They also offer guided community runs in Southern Ontario, free of charge. Anyone can join.

5. Keep future improvements in mind

Even with all of these supports implemented, Borsellino is the first to admit there are always improvements to be made.

“We have a lot to learn! It’s something I’m incredibly passionate about. I want people to feel welcome,” she said. One such improvement will eventually be adjusting their race registration form to include a wider array of gender identities.

 “It’s something I’d like to investigate—find a race that handles it well, where we feel like, ‘Yes!” You’ve hit it on the mark! You’re making sure that everybody feels like they have a place.’” Borsellino said. “That’s where we’re headed.”

Some races, like the Toronto Pride and Remembrance Run offers men’s, women’s, trans and non-binary options and medals for each category. Still, many other races only offer the male/female categories upon registration. (Even Boston has some eyebrow-raising transgender policies, including trans women needing certain testosterone levels.)

 
Happy Trails Racing’s 2019 Pride Month shirt, designed by Heather

Happy Trails Racing’s 2019 Pride Month shirt, designed by Heather

 

The Happy Trails Racing team are an excellent model for fostering inclusion in athletics. Their thought-process and tactics could (and should) be applied to other races and even other sports events.

It works so well because it comes from a genuine place. In speaking to Heather, it’s very clear that the community vibe trail running has become famous for is a driving force in her decision-making and efforts. It’s not a community built on exclusivity and keeping people out—it’s about bringing all kinds of people in.

“The nature of trail running in particular for me is very connected. It’s very collaborative. It just seems to transcend some areas where there are barriers,” she finished.

“You’re welcomed with open arms. It’s ‘come as you are, we’re happy to have you.’”

Find Happy Trails Racing on their website, Facebook, or Instagram.
Don’t forget to follow The Every Body Collective on
Facebook and find me on Instagram too!

Brittany Runs A Marathon Trailer: Fat Suits N' Mixed Messages

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The trailer for Brittany Runs A Marathon took less than 24 hours from release to hit my news feed—performing a targeted tactical strike on my attention because it combines two huge passions of mine: running and the movies.

Here’s the trailer for context.

I love that Jillian Bell—who is beautiful by conventional standards, but often gets cast as the chubby comedic friend—is the lead, Brittany. I love that Utkarsh Ambudkar is the romantic leading man. I love that Brittany starts with one block—just one block—and builds from there, as so many runners do.

I like the ending wide shot of our heroine Brittany and her running buddy being passed by a tethered train of pre-schoolers in Central Park (it really does feel like that sometimes).

HOWEVER (Ain’t There Always A However)?

The first thing I noticed? At the beginning of this trailer, Jillian Bell is wearing a Fat Suit Lite(tm) and what looks like some facial prosthesis—red flag. It was the first indicator that this might not be a movie about a young woman who learns to love herself as-is.

The fat suit says: “this is going to be a story about a woman who becomes empowered because she loses weight.”

Okay, I thought, kinda problematic. But maybe this will be okay! Maybe it’s going to be a critique of the way people in larger bodies are treated by society? Brittany says jobs don’t find her to be a good “fit.” She says people thought she was lazy because of how she looked.

The first thing out of the doctor’s mouth when he says he wants to get her “healthy”? “I want you to lose 55 pounds.” It’s a classic weight loss prescription plus-sized people are served day in and day out while actual health issues go ignored. Maybe this movie is taking aim at that… right? RIGHT?

Except… she drops the weight (suit), and it’s painted as the key to her turning her whole life around—while they also try to tell us that that’s totally not what the story is trying to say.

”You changing your life was never about your weight,” Brittany’s friend Demetrius, played by Get Out’s scene-stealing Lil Rel Howry, tells her.

Except, at least from the trailer, that’s the story the film is telling—she loses weight and everything changes, and it might never take a critical shot at the bigger reasons “why” shrinking yourself helps you fit in better with society or why that might improve your life.

Yes she presumably makes positive changes that genuinely lead to a healthier life. Less drinking—good! More movement—also good! Still, it’s on the doctor’s orders to get healthy by dropping pounds. One has to wonder if they’ll ever take a breath to examine that equivalency.

Especially because the weight does come off which, to be fair, does happen sometimes—but sometimes in real life it doesn’t. It shouldn’t have to in order to tell a great narrative about self love and growth. Would Brittany be allowed to gain self worth if her body DIDN’T change?

But It’s Based On A True Story!

Yes, this is based on a true story, in fact—it could be based on many true stories. In some ways, this story mirrors the start of my own relationship with running.

Maybe you’re saying, “well if that’s where you started, couldn’t this movie be a good starting point for other people?”

Yes and no. It could be, but it shouldn’t have to be. First: I’m not magically cured of the desire to be thinner or prettier just because I’m not actively trying to lose weight with running—diet culture is more implanted an insidious than that. It’s everywhere, every day—on social media, and in the movies. Stories like this keep that narrative churning—> weight loss = worth.

This is an old narrative—yes, it’s new to the screen, but if you’ve read almost any women’s magazine, we know the transformation arc—we know before and after pictures. We know stories about new quality of life. We need new heroes—ones who just love themselves and move without expectation of change to fit in to “acceptable” body types.

And that’s why this trailer has me on edge. It cuts very close to home and seems to ignore the very lesson it seems it’s trying to teach by adding an asterisk: “you have always been enough, *which you only realized after you got out of the fat suit and people started to treat you better".

I’m not saying this story shouldn’t be told. I’m going to watch this movie when it comes out and probably cry, no matter what.

BUT, if you want to tell a story about a woman who begins running and loses weight and therefore finds new purpose in life, maybe leave it there. Don’t say one thing (worthy) and then show me another by illustrating that shrinking is actually the way to become more.

I’m wary that this may be a commercial for The Biggest Loser wrapped in the oh-so co-opted “body positivity” that smuggles diet culture and weight loss mentality into our everyday lives.

Still, I’m hopeful. I’m holding off judgment until I can actually see the movie for myself and have my questions answered:

  • Will this movie ACTUALLY align weight loss as a key indicator for health and wellness?

  • Will it use Brittany’s weight for any punchlines? (Looking at you, I Feel Pretty.)

  • Will this movie acknowledge the fact that there are people in more diverse bodies in the running world and they also do some truly amazing stuff without changing themselves?

I also have a few other narrative questions I’d like to pose as the devil’s loud n’ proud advocate:

  • What would this movie look like if Brittany was in an even larger, more marginalized body? (And not wearing a fat suit.)

  • What would this movie look like if she gained the weight back but still has strong health indicators, improved quality of life and RUNS THE MARATHON ANYWAY?

  • What would this movie look like if she doesn’t actually drop the weight at all but still finds love, happiness, respect, purpose and reaches her goals?

I can’t answer any of these—because I don’t know how this movie ends. I’m hoping to be surprised, but I’ll have to wait until August to find out. Until then, I’ll be keeping busy with my running schedule—one block at a time.

If you want to share your thoughts on the trailer, jump into the conversation Facebook and Instagram, or leave some thoughts in the comments!

Fast Runners: Back Of The Back Runners Need Your Actions, Not Your Words

Recently on our Facebook page I shared a link to an article from 2014 by a front of the pack runner about the runners at the back of the pack. Here’s a very short summary:  

• This author is a hella fast near-elite runner.

• The author says if he had to run a marathon and it took him 5 or 6 hours, he probably wouldn’t bother running those races.

• Good for the people who train that hard and run that slow, they’re “endurance heroes.”

Favourite quote: “It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to cross that finish line … you train like the rest of us train.”  

(I would argue many back of the packers train harder than some people who sign up for marathons. I know a guy who didn’t train for a marathon at all, but decided to run one for a whim or a bet or something equally stupid. I think he got a better time than me… I also know he couldn’t walk the next day.)

My boyfriend brought the article up while we were on a short trail run last week, and said he thought it had a bit of a condescending tint to it. Why did this guy feel the need to list his PR times? Didn’t it kind of sound like he was pity-praising a three-legged golden retriever? (Note: my words, not his.)

Why am I writing an article about someone’s opinion from five years ago? Because as far as we’ve come, back of the pack runners are still second class citizens in Run City.

A Couple Less “A’s”

It’s refreshing to read someone actually acknowledge that yes, running is hard and some people have to put more into it to make it work for them—more time, more patience, more emotional risk. At the end of the day, they’re still every inch runners as much as those at the front of the pack.

It’s validating… but then, some parts of the article hit this message with at a slightly wrong angle.

The author writes that he probably wouldn’t bother running a marathon if it took him so long: “if you told me that I needed to go on a 20-mile run … and it was going to take me 4-6 hours, I would probably say nope, that’s just waaaaay too long!”

Maybe a couple less “a’s” in there, bud.

The Good, The Bad, and The Running Elitists

The fact is, running calls to a lot of people; we’re not all elites or gazelles but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong to us too. Personally, I feel I was meant to run, even if I’m not built to scrub any distance as fast as other people can.

Saying a speed like mine, or that of someone in an even more marginalized body, would discourage your from running doesn’t come off as a praise of strength and determination. It reads as, “good job buddy, you inspire me, but boy am I glad I’m not you!”

The writer had good intentions, which is more than I can say about some other people and their opinions.

For example, a female runner in a 2009 New York Times article who said it’s “a joke to run a marathon by walking every other mile or by finishing in six, seven, eight hours.”

She was also kind enough to add her opinion that “it used to be that running a marathon was worth something — there used to be a pride saying that you ran a marathon, but not anymore. Now it’s, ‘How low is the bar?’”

Progress is Progress No Matter How Small

Sure, the running world has come a long way since then, with athletes like Mirna Valerio, John Young, Martinus Evans and others trailblazing the way for more people who want to get into running for the love of it and don’t fit the mould.

These cultural shifts are beginning to create actual change too. Some marathons are offering longer cut off times. Many running groups are available for a wide variety of paces. The world is beginning to open up—however—the struggles are far from over.

Even today, when back of the packers push for basics like the course staying clear and for water, gels, or sports drink to be available for the duration of the race within the cut off, they’re often shut down. 

I’ve read stories from many runners who have been told to lose weight and get faster, or just stop running races entirely by front of the pack runners when they tried to advocate for these basic amenities which they paid for in their race fee like everyone else.  

So, yeah. I’ll give some points to a fast runner because he doesn’t question the right of slower runners to be out there on the course and respects our process. I’ll take or leave being “inspiring” to someone who could lap me in pretty much every distance any day of the week.

Using Your Influence To Achieve Running Equality

Faster runners, if you want to really want to advocate for the people in the back of the pack, there are a few ways to do it.

If you run a race and you hear people at the back had issues with course operations, write to the race directors and express concern—even if it doesn’t affect you, your voice can help the issue be taken seriously. 

Make a running buddy with someone slower than you. If you’re a fast runner and your friend is a slow runner occasionally, offer to go running with them. They’ll probably deny the offer because they don’t want to “slow you down.” Tell them it’s cool. Meet them at their pace. It might be a good relaxing run for you and some companionship for them.

Bonus points if you drag your back of the pack friend out to a local running group that they’ve been dying to try, but have avoided for fear of being left in the dust. Leave your ego at the door and run with them if there’s no one else their speed. Make them feel a part of something.

There’s a reason we like to call it the running community, after all.

Every action you take in solidarity with back of the pack runners doesn’t mean YOU have to slow down on your way to the finish line. It just means more people get the race finish they truly deserve, and that they feel welcome there.

When Learning Self Acceptance Challenges Your Body Confidence

Hard truth: recently I’ve been struggling in a muck of self doubt in the confidence department. Remember Atreyu dragging himself through the Swamp of Sadness in The Neverending Story? (RIP Artax.) Like that, but with body stuff—my athletic ability, my direction, and insecurity’s all-time greatest hit: my appearance.

I still see all the tricks of living in the diet Matrix. All of the confidence and self love I’ve wrested from the claws of bullshit diet culture is mine to keep. But lately, there’s been a new, harrowing motto: but you could be so much more.

You’re a runner BUT you could be faster.
You’re fine as you are BUT it wouldn’t hurt to just be a few sizes smaller…
You’re cute, BUT don’t you wish you looked more like…?

This is hard to admit—not only to myself, but maybe to world at large. After all, confidence is respected, coveted, and has been declared the secret ingredient to being attractive in every Cosmo survey I ever read growing up. That’s the promise, right? If you’re confident, funny, and memorize their top 200 new spicy sex tricks by heart, the world is yours to conquer.

Inviting in the vampires

Declaring you’re having a stint of bad confidence is not something confident people tend to do. In the more progressive or body positive parts of the fitness community, people talk a lot about how they used to feel and brush over anything to the contrary with a zippy “some days are harder than others!”

I get it. Saying you don’t love your everything 24/7 kinda feels like opening the door to vampires—life-sucking doubts that just might make people suddenly see you the way you fear you are. So when you suddenly find yourself in a very real den of monstrous insecurities, the impulse to pretend nothing is wrong is strong.

The Art of Re-Traumatizing Yourself

This has been going on for weeks. Maybe even a month or two—feeling not good enough, like the marathon I ran and the training I do doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it started when I was weighed at the doctor’s office, and then measured during a personal training assessment at my gym in the same two week span not long ago.

Maybe it’s this year’s choral refrain of “bathing suit SZN” beginning to swell over the other social media noise. I’m not sure.

I’ve ignored it because I thought that if I just kept doing what I do, the whispers would go away—but they haven’t.

For awhile I couldn’t figure out why the proverbial blood just kept draining—until I listened to an episode of Food Psych about marketing and diet culture. It brought up the notion that if you’re branding yourself as someone who has overcome your trauma—that also means you may relive it every time you use it to make a point.

You run the risk of resurrecting your demons when you try to make their skeletons work for you.

I don’t think I’ve made a point of discussing solely body image on my Instagram or here on the blog. I intentionally stay sports-focused. BUT I do know that engaging with body positive content, Health At Every Size activism, and other facets of this work mean I’m thinking about it ALL. THE. TIME.

Any choice I can make seems to be plagued with “this is against diet culture” and “this conforms with diet culture.” Eating, sleeping, dressing, moving—these filters can shade everything I do.

Ain’t it strange that sometimes, on a mission to embrace ourselves, shit gets worse before it gets better?

WTF Comes Next?

The point of this post, at the end of the day, is to assure anyone else who might be feeling this way that it’s OKAY to not be a self love unicorn 24/7.

The goal is to aim for WAY more good days than bad ones, and taking care of yourself even on the days when you don’t like yourself. For me, this looks like a mix of movement (hellooo trail running!), nourishment, and vetting what media I take in and when. If I’m having a bad day, I might skip out on that article or podcast until I have another one where I’m angry and ready to engage.

I keep on going—not because I could be better. But because it’s the best way to remind myself that I’m already enough.

Hey—let’s yell about this together. Drop me a message on my Instagram, EBC’s Facebook page, or even in in the comments below.