As a black woman, I have always had a particularly weird relationship with working out. Like many African-Americans, I grew up in a household and culture where “fat” was not particularly met with the same scorn and sexual undesirability that other races of people might face in mainstream American culture. Conversely, my inherited, beautiful curves come with setbacks that include, and aren’t limited to, heart disease, cancer, stroke, and premature death.

Given these grave effects brought on by poor nutrition and lack of exercise, most black women, including myself, have started instituting healthier habits. I started with the basics: running and calisthenics.

Running appeared to be the easiest way to get in shape; hell, I’ve been running since childhood. But soon enough, I discovered running for exercise is a different beast. Like most people who “yo-yo” diet or find themselves buying every new home workout DVD, I had a hard time staying consistent. I really didn’t think I could stay on track, and my history suggested I was due for a crash.

I thought about getting a coach or trainer, but I’ve worked with them–male and female–and I found myself just as lost with them than when I began by myself. Granted, I have built-in excuses (time, hair, or energy levels) to help mitigate the guilt that arises from skipping a session. Despite my self-loathing, however, I was determined to stick with a regimen and finally see it through to the end.

Instead of trying to find a new fad, I rededicated myself to running. I quietly lurked on some great resources for black female runners like Black Girls Run and FloTrack; subsequently, I got so motivated from other’s stories on those sites, I figured I needed a challenge.

Using Oprah as my inspiration, I decided to train for a marathon.  And it was one of the worst decisions of my life.

Training for a marathon took 5 months of pounding the pavement and synthetic tracks. Not only did I destroy my knees, but I seriously put my whole body at risk. I pushed through an minor IT band injury, which originates from circling a track in the same direction for long periods. Also my over-reliance on the cushioning in running shoes, which helps soften the burden on the human arches, eventually destroyed my shins and ankles.

Never did I ask myself, “Gayle, is running 26 miles good for my body?” or “Are humans, or any two legged primate for that matter, designed to run long distances?” No, I didn’t, and I paid the price. I should have read the Greek tragedy of the messenger Pheidippides, who ran 150 miles in two days, much like the distances ultra-marathoners run presently, then collapsed and died from exhaustion after he reached Marathon, Greece.

Looking back, I was too caught up in the adulation from my peers and everyone else that advocates running for therapy, health, or charity. I didn’t take time adequately rest my body. Consistent running places the body under so much stress that strict guidelines regarding proper nutrition, rest, and training must be observed or the body will ultimately succumb to the damaging aspects of running.

The least heralded element that accompanies a running regimen is proper nutrition. Since I put my bones and muscles under tremendous amounts of abuse, I failed to make sure that I promoted an internal environment conducive to the energy demands placed on my system. I finally figured out that grains and dairy had to go.

The truth is that humans are the only animals that autonomously run distances for sport. And if one doesn’t understand how to run properly–on balls of her feet, no exceptions–the pain and torture of running will permeate throughout her body. Most orthopedic doctors make a fortune off of runners, who in the long run (pun intended) will need knee and ankle replacements or corrective surgery. Thus, considering my Obamacare won’t kick-in until 2014, running distances isn’t an option anymore.

I found myself bucking the fitness stereotypes that follow black women and began swimming, kickboxing, and sprinting. Sprinting is not the same as running, and it develops the abs, thighs and buttocks, basically the curves that I wanted to maintain in the first place. Tell me you haven’t looked at the top sprinters in the world and haven’t desired to have softer versions of their figures.

In the end, I finally smartened up, leveled with myself, and I was humbled to the fact I was training like a world-class athlete, even though I wasn’t, nor did I ever want to be one. I was just trying to stay in shape and became caught up in listening to testimonials of women who found solace, comfort, and purpose while running long distances.

For me, running a marathon was pointless, awful, and proved nothing. Even if the average runner feels a sense of accomplishment, the long term negative effects on the body always out weigh the short term euphoria of a runner’s high.

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  • M Wisdom

    This article is terrible! I find it disgusting that someone would devote their time and energy into discouraging others in the black community to not run and to embrace their “curves” do you realize that “curves” is a nice way of saying fat? There are countless articles online that speak about how obesity has become part of the african american culture – we have to do better as a community and for future generations. Like many people have reiterated with proper gear, training, nutrition and stretching you can run for long distances without injury. In a month I will be 27 and I fell in love with running when I was 14- I ran all through high school and attended college on a cross country scholarship. I was the only african american xc runner in a sea of white athletes at my college for 3 years. I now run, 10ks and half marathons. I run 6 days a week, 6-7 miles at a time. I’m not encouraging everyone to bust out running crazy miles but you’ve got to start somewhere. The first time I tried out of the xc team, it took me 30 minutes to finish a while, while all the little white girls were speeding past me laughing I didn’t give up. And eventually I beat all their times and set school records that are still up. I’m not boasting at all – I’m trying to encourage. It’s time for change. And that change starts with you.

    • Ravi

      curvy does not necessarily mean fat. You have curvy women of all shapes and sizes. You see tons of curvy women on track teams and even some on cross country teams. there are very fit, very curvy women that are in tip top shape. I see girls with Serena Williams curves (definitely not fat) every day I go outside. I’m with you on everything else about running, but curvy is not always fat.

  • LMT

    I also find this article disturbing and I sincerely hope that it will not discourage any women to take up running.

    I would have drawn completely different lessons from this woman’s experience; namely, listen to your body and go at your own pace instead of trying to emulate others. There is no way that she could have sustained that level of injury she claims without ignoring a significant amount of pain for an extended period of time. Further, long distance running on the balls of your foot is a very bad idea, mid-foot strike is the way to go.

    Bottom-line any physical activity where you overexert yourself and ignore your body’s signals will cause significant damage, from cycling, to moving boxes.

    Taking up running in a sensible way, using correct form and increasing slowly is a rewarding activity that anyone can take up. There are many great programs out there to help you, such as the various iterations of “couch to 5K”.

    I will end with my favorite running quote: “I am a runner because I run, not because I run fast, not because I run far”