Running from the Stereotype
When you see Mirna Valerio lined up at the start of a 5K or a marathon, you might start wondering why she’s there.
At over 200 pounds, Mirna does not look like your stereotypical runner. You might be shocked to know that she has run multiple marathons and ultramarathons, is a regular trail runner and has completed eight Tough Mudders.
And that’s okay. Mirna is probably also wondering why you’re there, even as she sets out to challenge the perception of what it means to look like an athlete.
Mirna, a teacher, started running seriously in 2008 after a major health scare. She was far heavier than she is now and her doctor told her that she had to start getting healthy if she wanted to be around for her now 12-year-old son.
Mirna fell in love with running in high school. When she was told to get healthy, she started running again. She worked her way up to 5Ks and then 10Ks and half marathons, marathons and ultramarathons. She started blogging her journey at Fat Girl Running, which eventually led to national attention. Now in 2017, Mirna has lost weight, but more importantly she has become an experienced runner, is far healthier than she was and just published a memoir, “A Beautiful Work in Progress.”
Mirna is truly a She’s It woman. She is dedicated to promoting the idea that “Everybody is Different and Every Body is Different.”
“A Beautiful Work in Progress” tells Mirna’s story, from her youth in Brooklyn to her marriage to her adventures in running, starting and ending with the Javelina Jundred, a 100 mile trail run. Be warned, the book is not in chronological order, which can be a bit jarring for the reader. Mirna acknowledged the common complaint.
“That was definitely intentional,” she said. “I was thinking more of it as connected personal essays that have some sort of narrative arc but not a linear arc. I’m a blogger and I think the style is more bloggish than anything,” she shared.
Running saved Mirna from as she calls it: “sudden doom. I was already living this non-healthful lifestyle. I was working all the time. I wasn’t sleeping. I was sick all the time. And it saved me from that.. I always felt happy and I felt fit when I ran regularly and I wanted to feel that again in 2008.”
Mirna glories in being on her own in nature when she runs. She especially loves trail running because it gives her the chance to connect with the outside. Running “allows me to maintain my functional mobility. It allows me to be outside for long periods of time, just with me and my own body in nature and it absolutely helps me to maintain what I consider as being fit. Being able to do 35 miles or 100K, even though it’s hard and difficult and it takes me a really long time, or being able to do a Tough Mudder, all of that stems from the basis of running.”
“The fact that I’m able to be on my own feet and carry my own weight the way that I do is amazing and that’s what I love about running,” she said.
Being healthy is completely personal, Mirna believes. It’s “based on you, your experiences, your environment and your personal medical team. If you feel great and your numbers are great and you feel like you can conquer the world, I would say that you are healthy and in your best shape, unless you feel like you can do more.”
Mirna may not have a low BMI (and points out that BMI isn’t based on any real metrics), but “I can run 35 miles in the mountains and I can keep my heart rate down and everything in my metabolic profile is normal for my age and my height and it’s anomalous for my weight. That’s healthy for me.”
For Mirna, health is dependent on sleep. “I know when I’m not healthy. Right now I’m not the healthiest person because I haven’t had a whole lot of sleep in the last three months. For me [health] looks like getting enough sleep and not dealing with a lot of inflammation. It looks different for different types of people and it also depends on your lifestyle and your environment. I live in the middle of the mountains in Georgia and it’s beautiful. Every day I wake up to the sunrise coming up over the mountains and that feeds me spiritually and emotionally.”
Culture also plays an important role in defining health. Mirna’s husband Cito is from Burkina Faso in West Africa. Mirna laughs over a 10K that she tried to do with her brother-in-law. He raced ahead of her and was spent after a mile, while she took her time to complete the 10K. When she returned home, he told her, “you are losing too much weight. You look good the way you are. You are healthy.” She adds “And I was bigger than I am now.”
“Different cultures have a different perspective on what the human body can look like and what’s okay and what’s not okay.”
“All these amazingly incredible things [are] happening like writing a book.” But along with that comes “a lot of anxiety and loss of sleep. When I have anxiety, I can’t sleep as well as I should. I could be sleeping more and because I don’t, my mealtimes are off and that affects my energy levels. I have room for improvement in terms of health and fitness.”
All of the amazing opportunities that have come Mirna’s way can affect her daily fitness. “There have been times when I’ve had to take a full week off from training to do book signings or to travel. I’m so used to getting up and working out that when I don’t, there’s some anxiety. I have to talk myself through letting it go.”
Mirna also acknowledges the importance of yoga and meditation. She recently started doing Yoga Nidra before bed again. “It helps to calm my entire nervous system down and bring me into sleep peacefully.” She also has to find ways to reduce stress in her life, which makes her healthier. “Not bringing work home really helps me not feel stressed,” she laughs.
Cooking has also become a joy. “My son and I don’t really eat in the school dining room anymore. I come home and cook. We eat Blue Apron and Green Chef meals. It’s been this wonderful thing that my son and I share because he always looks forward to it and sometimes I make him cook the meals and then I go in my bedroom and have a glass of wine. He’s learning how to contribute to the family and to our special routine. It’s just really great for us to share that time together.”
Running is Mirna Valerio’s perfect exercise. “Everyone says it releases endorphins. It does and I love feeling those endorphins after a really good run—or even after a bad run. I never regret a run because I know it’s bringing me closer to whatever my own personal potential is.”
Stay tuned for Part II of She’s It’s Conversation with Mirna Valerio where she discusses her message of body positivity and shares advice on how to become healthier!