Ultrarunner Talks Body Image – Player Development

Isaiah interviews athletes and coaches, and was looking for a runner to interview, so he reached out when saw that I might be able to help.


Isaiah, professional counselor, host of Player Development Podcast, and professional athlete

Isaiah

Isaiah is a professional counselor, personal coach, and professional athlete (Triangle Shooters), supporting people in Virginia.

As a coach, his mission is to provide effective, game-specific training to see players succeed at any level of competition. He’s helping athletes better themselves on and off the court.

I’m glad that he reached out. It’s great to connect with another professional counselor and athlete. Someone who has similar interests and “gets” what I do for a living. It’s funny, that before I knew he was a professional counselor, I recognized his strong interviewing skills and pointed them out.


Follow Isaiah and Player Development

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Watch our episode on YouTube!

This Therapist Can Run 100 Miles! Ultra Runner Talks Body Image


Player Development interview with Isaiah (free downloadable body image journal prompt below)

Shannon Mick, NCC, LPC

Watch here!

[Show notes below]

1. Introduce yourself

I’m a National Certified Counselor and Licensed Professional Counselor in Pennsylvania. I specialize in treating anxiety, trauma and eating disorders via telemental health.

I work with all adults who are a good match to work together, but I especially enjoy working with athletes, runners, and people who want to live an active lifestyle. [Learn more about me and counseling services here.]

On the side of being a professional counselor, I’m an endurance athlete mindset coach working with individuals and groups all over the United States.

I created a talk called The Power of Mindfulness, the Power is Within Yourself, which is for trail and ultrarunners. Ultramarathon running is my passion and I like teaching people how they can strengthen their mind.


2. What’s been your story with body image? How have you worked through or continue to work through, challenges related to it?

During my childhood, I didn’t think too much of what my body looked like. I knew that I was short and petite. I was highly active, playing outdoors, trying different sports (I hated soccer and swimming), I was into dance, gymnastics, and twirling baton.

During my late teenage years and into college, I was more aware of what my body looked like and compared it to others. I was influenced by various media and my peers on how I should look and what I should wear, as I think every teen is in some way.

Around 2013, I considered myself a runner, like my husband. He’s the person who got me into the running. Years later, when I got into ultramarathons, I got him into that distance, as well. I began with 5ks, then progressed to a half marathon, then a marathon.

First trail marathon – The North Face Endurance Challenge

As my participation and love for running increased, my athletic identity was formed. I paid attention to what my body looked like and how I performed at events. I wanted to wear the things that made me look like a great runner. I always wanted to become faster and look like my idols, who were professional runners. The ladies who run Boston, though I had zero interest in running with that big of a crowd.

I didn’t have a coach, I wanted one, but never thought that I could afford one or deserve one because I wasn’t a “good enough” runner.

In 2015, I was in graduate school for counseling and discovered ultramarathons on a day that I was feeling low. After classes, alone at home, I watched a Badwater 135 documentary. My interest was peaked and I felt moved by what I was seeing.

Having only ran one road marathon, I switched to trail running. My goal was to complete the World’s Toughest Footrace, Badwater 135, someday. My whole world and lifestyle changed. Trail and ultra became a big part of who I was. It was healthy, well, maybe.

My idols in the sport changed. These were the strongest women I have ever seen. Everyone had a different body shape. My mind still clung to what I felt that I should look like.

It is extremely tough being an ultrarunner, putting in the miles and strength work, eating enough, and getting enough rest. I did the best that I could.

JFK 50 Miler swag

In 2016, I ran my first ultramarathon, the JFK 50 Miler in Maryland. I knew that I had fallen in love with the sport and haven’t stopped since then. Throughout this journey, I met so many awesome ultrarunners who were encouragers and enablers of participating in a crazy sport.

At this time, I lived in Northern Virginia, just outside of Washington D.C.. I was surrounded by miles and miles of trails and bike paths. I was highly active five to six days a week, running and taking F45 HIIT classes. Working a job where I was on my feet all day, as well. It was too much, physically, and probably mentally and emotionally.

I carefully watched friends who were ultrarunners to see what they were doing, so I could teach myself. I did a ton of research on my own.

I wasn’t trying to get my body to look a specific way. I wasn’t dieting, calorie counting, restricting or anything, but my mind was thinking distortedly. My mind was thinking that if I kept working out as hard as I was, then I’d look like a professional runner, and then I’d become a professional runner.

Wow! Subconsciously, I think that this was what was going on. As athletes, this is something that we all need to be aware of. Our body image, how media and other athletes influence us, subconscious, distorted thoughts, overworking the body, and the comparison game.

In 2018, as I was on a short run a few days before another 50 miler, the OSS/CIA, a stranger stopped me. He wanted to make small-talk. I needed to get away (he was creepy), so I told him that I had to keep running because I had more things to do to prepare for a 50 mile race on Saturday.

He responded, glancing up and down my body, “you don’t look like you can run 50 miles, your legs look weak.” I replied, “well, they’re not,” and ran off.

On race day, during the first hour or two, I was near last place. My pack felt heavy, my legs felt heavy, I was sweating, and what that unkind man said was burning in my mind. My thoughts turned to, “I’m almost in last place,” “I shouldn’t be out here,” and “my legs are weak.”

Once I settled into the race, I began to have fun. Plus, a thunderstorm was rolling in and it was going to be night in another hour or two (this was a night race). Things were getting exciting.

Something else amazing happened. I was passed by a Badwater 135 veteran, she is a friend. I stuck with her for as long as my short legs could keep up, then she went ahead.

Later in the night, after the thunder rolled by, it was still raining, but I caught back up with her and we ran some more together. People like her are the people that I look up to in my sport now. I feel blessed to be a part of this community. I ended up finishing 2nd female overall, five minutes behind 1st female. What a comeback. [Read my OSS/CIA 50 Miler race report here.]

OSS/CIA 50 Miler – 2nd F OA

In 2020, for my birthday, I decided that it was beyond time to hire a running coach. Kyle Kranz is my coach. Having a coach was a game changer. I hit a wall in my racing and struggled to get faster, but Kyle got me out of it. He slowed down most of my runs and had me lift more. He also helped encourage me to, in general, eat more food throughout the day to see if it gave me more energy when I ran.

I wasn’t not eating enough, but it was one of those things where eating a little bit more gave me the extra energy. My body has become very strong and my recovery time after ultras has improved, as well.

All is going well working with Kyle and it really helps with promoting a healthy body image because I know that I’m doing the right things training and nutrition-wise. I know after a few years of experience that the body can sometimes change and that that’s okay. I’m happy and healthy.

Another body image story, in 2021, I was participating in the Glacier Ridge Trail 50 Miler. I was pushing myself harder than I ever have in the first half of an ultra. I PR’d (personal record) my 50k time.

Unfortunately, around that distance, I was in an aid station and became targeted by an unusual volunteer. I was in a negative headspace because I pushed myself pretty hard and I was beginning to think about my daughter at the finish line. I was missing her.

The lady (who targeted me) volunteering was strutting around the aid station barking orders and not really helping anyone, but I think that she thought she was helping.

She noticed my weakness and approached me. She gaslighted me and said things about my body in a harsh tone. One thing specifically was, “you’re too small to be out here with those other runners. They’re much bigger than you, they can handle it.”

I became both angry and in tears by the things that she said to me for over those 20 minutes. I would have left the aid station, but she told me that she wasn’t going to allow me to leave. In some ultras, volunteers have the right to pull you from races, so I wasn’t sure the rules for this one and stuck around.

She had a retired medic take my vitals. I was normal, but still not allowed to return to the race even though I asked. She then kept egging me on to drop. “Just say that you want to be done. I see it in your eyes.”

I continued to resist, we argued. I cried more, but was getting fed up and my PR was long gone.

I said to her, “I don’t want to quit, I’ve never quit, but if you’re not going to let me go back out there, then you better pull me and get it over with.”

She said, “okay, I’ll radio the race director and tell him that I’m pulling you.” She walked away to where she thought I couldn’t hear. I heard my friend, the race director, on the radio. She told him my bib number, but not my name. “She’s dropping out from the race.” That was that.

She returned to me and told me, “I told him that I pulled you from the race.” I was really angry at the deception.

My friend approached me later apologizing profusely about what happened. We discussed the deception and what happened. The lady volunteer had no authority to pull me from the race, I should have never been pulled from the race. I should have just been given food and water and kicked back onto the course.

Long story short, I received a free race entry into the 2022 race and became stronger over the next year working with my coach. I also didn’t get the red DNF (Did Not Finish) mark on my UltraSignup profile, which was greatly appreciated.

The 2022 race was back in May. The nasty volunteer wasn’t there. I was third female overall. I had my comeback.

Glacier Ridge Trail Ultra 50 Miler. 3rd F OA (2022)

We all have our own body image stories. We need to make sure that we’re keeping them healthy. We need to be aware and guard them. Other people will tear us down for one reason or another, so we need to take better care and be kinder to ourselves.

It’s difficult being an athlete, but it’s something that we love so much. This topic is incredibly important and can go deeper for some people listening than my personal stories do.


3. What would be your message to women struggling with how they look?

This message is for both women and men. If you’re really struggling with things like body image, low self-esteem, and negative thoughts, do something about it right away. Don’t let it get worse, don’t wait until something else to happen first.

The first step that you can take is do some reading about body image, maybe look for a highly rated body image workbook written by a mental health professional.

Another thing that you can do is pay more attention to your thoughts. Journal your thoughts and emotions around body image.

What does a healthy body image mean? Do you have a healthy body image? Where and how can you better support a health body image?

Be curious and non-judgment in your journaling. It also helps to write out your story regarding body image, like I shared mine. Having a healthy body image takes work, it’s not really something that we just have, it takes attention and thought.

Purchase some resources to help. I recommend The Body Positive Card Deck by Judith Matz, LCSW, ACSW and Amy Pershing, LMSW, ACSW, CCTP-II. The deck is 53 strategies for body acceptance, appreciation and respect.

Another cheap purchase is the Empower Yourself Cards. This isn’t really a body image resource, but so much of body image is tied to values, beliefs, strengths, weaknesses, visions, and goals. All of these things the resource touches on.

If certain accounts or people that you follow on social media are harmful to your body image, then unfollow them. Follow people who support all sizes of athletes.

Lastly, you can talk with a mental health professional. Find someone who is a good fit for you and who specializes in body image and body positivity.


Journal prompt (download)

Baker Trail UltraChallenge 50 Miler (2022)

Write about your story with body image. Include how you have worked through and continue to work through challenges related to it.

You may write about this however you’d like. I found it easy to do it in a timeline, beginning with when I started running.

This is a challenging prompt, take breaks, it doesn’t need to be finished in one day. Make your self-care a priority. If you find yourself struggling, talk with someone you trust, who can listen to you, this could be a friend, family member, or counselor.

An important part of this exercise is to really think about what you’re doing NOW to continue to work through the challenges.

Taking your time to think about this topic will increase your awareness around what’s going on and may help you figure out new ways to work through it. It may also be helpful to simply do more of what is working for you.

I’ll share something that I learned about myself as I was reading my answer out loud. – I learned that having a running coach really helped me fight any idea of what my body should look like as an athlete.

If I’m training at an appropriate, prescribed amount, then my body is going to do what it’s going to do, it’s going to perform in a way that reflects my training, and along with that, it’s going to look how it’s going to look.

It’s appearance doesn’t matter. Performance matters. That’s how having a running coach has helped me fight issues with body image.

When you’re choosing a coach, be sure to choose someone who is a good fit for you! It makes a huge difference.

When you interview your coach, ask them questions. Make sure that they’re qualified. Ask them what they think about body image. Find out if they are also informed, certified, or hold a degree in diet or nutrition. These are all important things to ask.

Download


If you need help, get it

If you’re struggling with body image or an eating disorder, reach out to a professional who specializes in helping people in those areas.

Information on finding the right professional mental health counselor (from my counseling website).


More information on body image

Body Image info. on Finish Stronger Mindset and Mental Wellness

Chat about Runner’s Body Image and Positivity

The Dear Mark Project Podcast with Maria

Body Image info. on Finish Stronger Counseling

Body Talk Activity for Body Image (downloadable worksheet appropriate for teens and adults)

Body Appreciation and Positivity

Mirror Work Activity How To Get In-Touch With Yourself

Shannon – Oil Creek 100 (2022)

Connoquenessing Valley Heritage Trail, PA

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