Cath Wallis discusses why she takes on multi-day trail events around the world.
We are surrounded in the media and in advertising by images of what it is to be a female athlete: slender, toned and (usually) young. I am not that person and for many years I struggled to find my place in the outdoors.
When you are a fat person you face judgment at every turn. There are no technical clothes that fit and, even if non-intentional, it feels like the outdoors community doesn’t want you. When you do turn up, there is an assumption that the main or only reason to be there is that you are trying to lose weight. Instead of bringing joy through participation, there is often nothing but shame.
But then I found the trail running community.
I found them by accident. I signed up to do a 6-day trial stage event in the Simpson Desert, Australia because the lady on the phone told me you could hike it. It looked stunning and I needed a break from work and a physical challenge to keep my fitness motivation high. I turned up by myself, with no real idea of what to expect. Over the next 6 days I completed 170kms across the desert; battling heat, cold, dust storms, blisters and self-doubt. I met people from all backgrounds and ages, each with their own reason for being out in the desert. We shared pain, joy, hugs (lots of hugs), bad jokes and rehydrated food. To this day I count them among my friends.
For me, the trail running community has been about inclusion. Except for perhaps the top runners, it is overwhelmingly made up of people there to challenge themselves. To find their limit and go beyond. It was here that I learned to accept myself and to celebrate my achievements. To rid myself of the negative and self-deprecating language – like “I’m only doing the 22kms/50kms/80kms”. To be proud of this body that gets me to the finish line.
And I have become a convert to type 2 fun: terrible when you do it; fantastic when you remember it 😊. That is after all the essence of the multi-day trail; backing up yesterday’s marathon with today’s marathon, followed by tomorrow’s marathon. Oh, and then there’s the long day. In the most beautiful parts of the world.
So far I have taken part in trail events through the forest, a glow-worm tunnel, desert dunes and across a remote frozen lake. The feeling of being out in remote nature is exhilarating. There is nowhere else that I feel such a sense of freedom, moving on my own two feet.
While I began this journey for myself, I recently discovered that there is whole group of people out there, especially other plus-size people and many middle-aged people, who also crave outdoor adventure, but are not currently participating. So I have begun sharing my journey to encourage others to move outdoors; to find and follow their passion. It is my hope that more people can experience the pure joy that I feel in the outdoors, and the sense of connection in the trail running community.