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It has been a while since we have featured a runner of the month from across the pond so for August we are heading stateside to meet Valerie Silensky an incredible lady who keeps telling me how ‘unspecial’ she is, but I beg to differ. I really love this interview because I can relate to so much of it.

So tell us Valerie how old are you and where are you from? Where do you live? I live on the border of Maryland/Washington DC, in the USA and I am 43 years old.

What is your BMI and/or Dress Size It very much depends on the maker… anywhere from a 14 to a 20, or an XL/1X.

When did you start running and why? I remember it well… It was November 2, 2012 and I started for health reasons. I exercised before, I have been a swimmer my whole life, and was doing spinning, but nothing was getting my weight down – and it wasn’t about just being bigger, I was told if I didn’t do something I would end up in a hospital. Running was and is the one thing that challenged me and was so hard! So I did it and have been seeing results.

Did you run a lot when you were younger? Not at all. When I was about 9 or 10 my dad decided he wanted to do a local 10k so I trained and did it with him and hated it. We did it, and then I never ran again. I was such a non-runner that in high school when we had to run “perimeters” around the school to warm up at field hockey practice, I would cheat and find an unlocked door and go through the school so as to cut off half the route!

What do you love and hate about the sport of running? photo 2Love – after I run, how it makes me feel. The “long run” (pun intended) benefits. What it has done for my body and my psyche. The sense of community I have found. (Like I said, I’m an extrovert. Who else would run and make a point of meeting other people?!) The clothes. The respect I get from people. But I hate – being winded and sweaty. Hills and humidity. Bathroom issues and there’s never a portapotty around when you really need one. Mean runners (there have been some, just as there are mean people anywhere). Lack of progress and plateauing. My awful, awful pace. Coming in dead last in a race. Worrying about a DNF because I am too slow. The hardest part for me STILL is lacing up and getting out the door, and the first mile or two. I constantly have to tell myself that if it doesn’t get better I can turn around and go home at mile 2, or I can walk. By mile 3, I’m happy with being out and it turns into, sure, why not go the long way around, or do the loop again, I’m already out, why not make it a bigger run. Also hate – well, not hate but – I am really bad at things like interval training and fartleks and speed training, I hate to do them but I also hate that I can’t figure them out!

How often do you run? Generally 4-5 days a week. It depends, maybe occasionally I have run 6 days. Depends how I feel! I have a really insane travel schedule for work that it really hard to work around so it also depends how much time I’m on an airplane over any weekend because that can be 2-3 days in a row. It’s pretty common that I get off a plane on a Saturday evening from somewhere like Nigeria or Hong Kong, and run a half marathon or a 12k or something on Sunday morning.

What kind of distances do you run in training? Usually 4-5 (is this miles or kilometers I wonder?) during the week before work, sometimes if I’m really not feeling it I’ll do 3.5 or something and other times if I’m feeling great or have a lot of time then I’ll do 6. Then on the weekend I’ll do a long run, which is usually 10-12 but for marathon training I’ve been building up so I’ve also done longer – 16, 18, 20. Those are run-walks.

Have you taken part in any races? Yes! I love races and they keep me motivated and inspired. Usually I have very positive experiences in them, even though I’m slow, most other runners are so positive and encouraging and accepting. I’ve done I have NO idea how many 5k’s, a few 5-milers, a few 10k’s, six half marathons (I’m a member of Half Fanatics, and I am planning another 7-8 in the next year), and one full marathon. Because the marathon was paired with an ultra, after I got my marathon medal I went back out and did another mile and a half or so, until the time was called. I’ve also done a couple of aquathlons and the swim-run legs of tri relays (I’m afraid of the bike!), and a few mud run obstacle courses.

photo 2One story… I did my first 5k, a local one my town did, in April 2013. When I posted this on Facebook, an old Peace Corps friend of mine said to me, “Next year you can run the Pig with me”. I asked what the Pig was – she was referring to the Cincinnati OH race the Flying Pig – and she said it was a half marathon she’s been running every year. My response was – oh HELL no! Or, when pigs fly. No way was I ever gonna do a half. But she put a bug in my ear about it and so I did my first one in August 2013… and yes, I went to Cincinnati and we ran the Pig in May of this year together. It was amazing and next year I’m already registered for the 3-way! (5k, 10k and half). Some people only do certain kinds of races, they don’t like fun runs, or big runs because people might get in their way and mess up their times, whatever. I don’t – I am into good swag (who isn’t, right!), and if the time limits are okay for my own pace, and I look for a good time. Races I can do with my dog, either running or pushing one in a stroller (like the Ugly Sweater Run). Races that will make me feel happy I did them, empowered for finishing, races that are legendary for people cheering you on, things like that!

Have you had any negative experiences whilst out running? Yes, although some I am not sure if they are from my size or my slowness. I’ve had a runner or two say that I don’t belong out there with them (on the same course, or in the same race). I’ve had people on FB running pages try to delegitimize my accomplishments because it took me more time than they felt should “count” to complete, for example, a marathon. I’ve had lots of people basically walk and when I catch up, sprint 100 feet or so until I catch up again, and then sprint again. (It’s not intervals, either, it’s because they don’t want me to pass them.) And I have heard pushy mothers in fun runs tell their daughters to hurry up so that the fat girl won’t beat them, how would they like to be beaten by the fat girl. Coming in last. Dead last. It’s happened to me in a 5k, a 5 mile and a half marathon. Other negative experiences have been the same as runners everywhere – tripping and falling on a tree root or sidewalk during a run, the chafing (oh the chafing! Bane of my existence!!), occasional injuries, runners’ trots. ☺

What are your biggest fears/concerns/hangups about being a plus sized runner? Mostly the above. It’s odd how out of hundreds (maybe thousands) of positive and encouraging runners and spectators it’s three or four mean jerks who shake my confidence and make me feel bad about myself. I have a lot of baggage, I do. Of how I will be perceived, of being hated, etc. I put on headphones and steel myself against the expectation that I’ll be taunted, yelled at, made fun of. Of deep down, the belief I have, inside, that I’m a fraud, that I’m not a real runner, that what I’ve done isn’t enough, or that I’m not good enough. Everyone has good and bad days and on bad days this is where my thinking leads me. On good days… I’ve made good friends who are amazing to me just through and by running. Some of them say I’ve inspired them to get out there and run, because I’ve posted pics of myself looking, well, fat, and doing it anyhow. I’m glad, if that is the case. I feel like, if there are more of us out there who aren’t size 6, then more of us will continue to get out there, because no one will feel like that fat kid in the corner anymore, being ignored or abused – there will be too many of us to disrespect or pretend that we don’t exist. We deserve to be out there too. The people who would make fun of us or shame us – shame on them. We’re out there doing exactly what we should be doing.

What is your ultimate running goal and whats stopping you from getting there? I’m not sure – at this point it’s just to keep running and improving! I have some bucket list things I’d like to do… the 50k, 50 mile race, an Ironman, all of those just require more time, commitment and training than I currently have under my belt. And to be honest, more discipline than I’ve had. And then bucket list races like the Kilimanjaro half in Tanzania, the Medoc, Great Wall and Safari marathons in France, China and South Africa, and the Nike Women’s Half (because who doesn’t want that Tiffany necklace!). Speed or lack thereof in my case, is an issue.

What’s more important to you and why? Frequency, running or distance of running? I don’t know! For a long time it has been distance and frequency. I have a fear that if I don’t do it every day, I will lose the bubble on it, as it doesn’t come natural to me. And I’ve been focusing on building mileage in prep for marathons. Now I am a little stressed on time and pace, but haven’t done anything about that other than acknowledging that I need to.

What could the government, local authorities, sports clubs etc do to encourage more people to take up running and sport, especially overweight and inactive women? I think they all could really do a lot to foster an environment of inclusion. Discourage fat prejudice to begin with. Stop talking, in schools and elsewhere, about obesity and fat as something to be targeted, stop talking about it altogether, in lieu of talking about health, fitness, nutrition and movement. For EVERYONE. Promulgate treating us just like everyone else. That said, there are also events that they could have, or focus groups that they could bring together, to get info about our needs and what our expectations are. I think about Black Girls Run (BGR), which I’m also a member of (and which has also many plus sized runners), and how they’ve brought together and encouraged another underrepresented group in the running world (Black women). They have local running groups and leaders (this is a biggie because for example I’m too slow and I feel like I’m not really wanted in the local running shop groups – not when they consider “slow” an 11 min. mile, and also of course because I don’t look like a runner), weekly runs based on neighborhood with volunteers committed to leading them, a yearly conference focusing on both general fitness and issues specific to the demographic. They also keep lists of who’s doing what races and make a point to meet up, take photos, and participate together – strength in numbers, everyone supports one another, plus the social aspect is fun. I really do think we should do more of this.

What are the biggest barriers for plus sized women?                                                                                 025First of all, I think that social media and pages like Fat Girls’ Guide to Running are amazing in what they’ve been able to impart as far as support and knowledge. They help us build a virtual bulwark against the real world barriers. One pretty big barrier is everything I’ve already alluded to… social acceptance among the running community. Where I live, in Washington DC, this is relatively good. It’s a very diverse area and the emphasis is almost always just to get out there regardless of how fast your run, or even if you are a walker or wogger. But I’ve been in other areas where people just won’t get out there unless they can run a 10 minute mile (no kidding) because it’s looked down on. Going into a running store and the staff assuming that you are there to buy a gift for someone else and not that you need another pair of Glycerins and want to try the 12’s or pick up your half marathon packet. The other thing I think is a barrier is clothing that’s comfortable and fits and keeps us, well, supported. There aren’t many companies that make larger sizes in high-impact running attire. And what’s out there is often expensive. I am thinking in particular about bras and bottoms. If you are constantly uncomfortable, always chafing, and your clothes don’t feel good on you, you aren’t going to keep it up.

What would you say to other runners just starting out? Keep at it. Cultivate running friendships who will maintain a positive force in your life. Be the inspiration for someone else. It sucks at first. Often the hardest part is getting the shoes laced and heading out the door. Set realistic expectations. And keep all the clichés close at hand because they have value: Get out of your own way. Just do it, even if you suck. You have already gone farther than anyone on the couch. You can do this.

What have you learned about yourself through running? It has changed my own perspective and expectations of myself. It isn’t any longer about how I look or what the doctor says, it is about how strong I am, what I can do. One thing that isn’t very runnerly of me, I really do care about what others think of me and where I used to be very delf-deprecating and shy about my accomplishments (because they pale in comparison to what I think of what“real runners” achieve) and my body (because it’s clearly not a runner’s body in the traditional sense), I am not at all now.

Has the Fat Girls Guide to Running helped you in any way, if so how? Yes. I am relatively new to the page, but being around a group that runs but understands the unique issues I might have (did I say chafing?)… and even more, understands that despite how I look I’m a runner and the issues I have are NO different than those that any other runner faces, no more or less special or legitimate… that’s huge (no pun intended!). A safe place I can go to ask questions, read what people have to say, without fear I will be shamed or ostracized.

I don’t know about you but I am incredibly pleased that Valerie is part of our community here at The Fat Girls guide to Running….feel free to tell her below in the comments section just how special she is.

  1. August 31, 2014

    You have no idea JUST how special Valerie is. Among her being just an inspiration, her heart is so big and special. She rescues and takes care of animals and is special in every way.

  2. August 29, 2014

    Truly inspirational, great to read! Keep on running 🙂

  3. August 29, 2014

    I love hearing about women that are just doing it! Getting out and running. I feel sad that others are ballsy enough to even criticize! Wow! But I feel her on the local groups and not being fast enough–I do a 12-13 minute mile, That is where I am at–they can just deal with it if they don’t approve. I am still going to run!

    I love her tenacity! Go Lady! GO!

  4. August 29, 2014

    Great work Valerie! Very inspirational 🙂

  5. August 29, 2014

    What an amazing lady! totally awesome!

  6. August 29, 2014

    Wow! What an incredible, inspirational lady.

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