Lessons from a decade+ in plus size fitness

I want to start of by saying, in 2010 when I started writing the Fat Girls Guide to Running…the term Plus Size Fitness was not even a thing.

We had just about started to use the phrase plus size when it came to fashion…and when I put “Plus Size Athlete” on my business card a few years later even then it was still a bit tongue in cheek.

I never set out to create a global fitness brand and social movement…I just wanted not to always be the fattest and slowest at my running club, to find running kit that fitted, oh  and not be shouted at in the street.

Mostly though I just didn’t want to feel alone as a runner in a body that looks like mine.

It’s hard to believe how far we have come in 12 years…discounting perhaps the last two that were some kind of timewarp of nothingness (well at least it was for my running)

But think about it, back in 2010, we hadn’t had the London 2012 Olympics…the big project I’d been working on for years prior and would eventually get made redundant from while pregnant with my now 9-year-old daughter Rose.

parkrun was still very much in its infancy, This Girl Can wasn’t a thing yet, and the only place you could get plus size fitness clothes in the UK were via catalogues or high street retailers Evans…which to be fair were quite often more leisure wear.

I started the blog in September 2010 after coming dead last in a 10K race…by the time I had got to the finish line the finish line had been packed up and everyone bar my friend and my boyfriend had gone home.

The blog was anonymous at first, I was happy to write about the trials and tribulations of being a fat runner, but I didn’t want photos of me in lycra doing the rounds in the office…in fact, I didn’t want anyone at work to know I was a runner let alone a blogger at first. 

A lot has happened in the last decade and a bit…I wrote 11 books for a start, the latest one Kickstart your Running is coming out on Amazon in a few days.

I have sold tens of thousands of online programmes, places on my interactive challenges, in-person events and retreats, t-shirts, hoodies, tote bags and medals. 

The blog has been read by millions of women around the world, and featured in the media in more than 50 countries…and that still blows my mind.

But I took a bit of a break…well the world did, didn’t it? I mean we did stuff, I did stuff…but I lost my way with the TFTR movement a bit.

A lot has changed in the last 2 years, a lot has changed in the past 12.

However, a lot has not.

And so today, Tuesday 1st February 2020…the day the new Too Fat to Run Website & Rebrand goes live, I thought it would be useful to reflect on the lessons…the ones that have been learned and the ones that still need looking at.

So here goes.

Lesson 1 – Kit That Fits

OMG this is like night and day. Seriously when I first started running it was near on impossible to get technical running gear in a size 20/22. Now you can get really affordable, good quality kit in most supermarkets, and in many sports brands. Yes, there are brands that could do better, and sizing is more difficult for larger ladies, but I for one am grateful that this shift has happened. There used to be a ridiculous argument (I know because I was interviewed on the radio about it) that by providing larger size fitness clothes you are encouraging people to stay fat…think about that for a moment…yeh, completely ridiculous argument. Whether people are on a weight loss journey or not, fitness should be accessible to all, and wearing fit for purpose kit that fits and looks good helps with that.

Lesson 2 – Representation

I NEVER saw a plus size women in a running or fitness magazine when I was in my twenties or early thirties…do you remember how shocking it was to see my pal Jessaymn Stanley, plus size Yogi on the internet? I mean why was that so shocking to the world? Representation is better, there are influencers championing for and increasing diversity but again some brands and organisations could do better.

Lesson 3 – Attitudes

Women still get judged. Running as a plus-size woman must obviously equal a desired weight loss journey right? NO wrong. Also, there is an assumption that if you are plus size you must be new to running and absolutely clueless about the sport. There is still a large section of the running community who are slightly peeved by the larger runners out there stealing their converted marathon places and slowing down their club times. GET OVER IT. We ain’t going nowhere.

Lesson 4 – Safety

This probably needs a blog post all of its own, but we know women are not safe out there running. The absolutely heartbreaking case earlier this month of Ashling Murphy who was killed while out on a run. 

This doesn’t seem to have changed in the last 10 years, women still feel unsafe, often won’t go out at night, will only run in groups. It’s fucked up.

There is also the issue of emotional safety, being able o run in public without the fear of public ridicule or verbal abuse.

Lesson 5 – Real Inclusion

Just because events or programmes are inclusive for some, it doesn’t mean they are inclusive for all. Sometimes we have to meet people where they are instead of expecting them to come to us. I’ve worked with women who run on treadmills in garden sheds because they have social anxiety and can’t go to a traditional running club, and all kinds of other marginalised groups who just feel safer here than somewhere else. Women take part in my programmes for all kinds of reasons…many of which most people won’t even have considered.

Our rainbow philosophy is about ensuring we notice the difference, that we don’t just become tolerant of it but that we recognise it for what it brings to our lives and to our sport.

New women join my communities every day desperate to feel welcomed into the sport, keen to get back out there, excited to achieve fitness goals again.

And so I am excited to pick back up this baton…and crack on with our mission to inspire. a million women to thrive in the sport of running with nobody left behind

Get involved.

Become a Too Fat to Run Ambassador by purchasing some of our NEW Too Fat to Run Merchandise.

Proudly wear a hoodie or a t-shirt to your next race, or grab a mug to sit on your desk at work (that will give Sharon in accounts something to think about won’t it?) and let’s show that running really doesn’t have any size.

Check out the Too Fat to Run Shop today.


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