I usually like to run alone and for short distances, but if I ever choose to run an ultra marathon, I’d want to be in the back of the herd with Mirna Valerio. I just finished her book, A Beautiful Work in Progress and it made me want to kick my butt in gear and run again.
A Beautiful Work in Progress by Mirna Valerio
If you don’t know Mirna, she’s the voice behind the Fat Girl Running blog and she’s fabulous. She’s #blackgirlmagic. Am I allowed to say that? I don’t know, but she is. This memoir tells the story of her journey to become an ultramarathon runner. However, Mirna’s not a conventional ultra marathoner. She’s not a lean, muscled running machine. She’s a not a white man. You would expect a story of an overweight person who finds running to be a story weight loss, but it’s not. In everything, Mirna defies expectations. Hers is a story of someone who believes in herself, loves herself as she is and doesn’t give up. It starts and ends with the Javelina Jundred, a crazy 100-mile trail run and we go with her on miles of grueling trails through heat and mountains. In between, we learn a little about how she got there with stories from her childhood in Brooklyn and snippets about her life and family. It’s funny and relatable and it’s filled with nuggets of wisdom and inspiration.
Mirna is a self described “fat girl”, but she’s not on a quest to shrink into shorty short running shorts. She embraces her body and what it can do, often in the face of sideways looks from other competitors. This is so refreshing in our world where people, and especially women, are constantly told we need to look a certain way to have value. She says in multiple places throughout the book that when people see her, they assume she must be lazy or slovenly or unintelligent because she doesn’t look like how they think a healthy person should look, but she doesn’t care. She’s an athlete and a competitor. She says, “They don’t know the joy and freedom I experience when I move my body like it was meant to move… I will continue to preach and live body positivity because at some point we will drown out the trolls with the message that fitness is for all bodies, for all people, and for all hearts.” (p.204). Yes! I love this so hard. I’ve run multiple 5ks and 10ks and I’ve heard comments made by the hard core runners about the rest of us bringing up the rear. The act of showing up and running makes you a runner regardless of how far or fast you can go or what size your free T-shirt is. It’s a sport where you primarily compete with yourself and we all deserve to be there.
This is not a “how to run” book. It’s her journey of self discovery through running and it’s so relatable. If you’ve run at all, you know the boredom of long runs, foot discomfort, chafing and freaking out when you think there’s a bear (or a snake) on the trail. Mirna’s been pulled from a race, run through injury, and suffered through challenging parts of a trail only to come home with a DNF (Did not Finish), but she keeps going. Like all of us, she has a million demands on her time – family, husband, a young son, more than one job, etc, but she carves out time in her day to train. She doesn’t feel guilty about it. Her journey is a lesson to all of us as to what can happen if you ditch your excuses and show up for yourself.
There is wisdom tucked away in many corners of this book, but my favorite came about 2/3 of the way in when she’s talking about why she loves running even though she says she will never be any good at it. She compares it to playing piano. “Practicing more piano doesn’t make me a perfect pianist, but it makes me a better human being. … There is still a beauty about simply doing the difficult thing that I will never be good at, for the pure pleasure of having engaged in the process.” (p.233). I can’t think of a better reason to do anything.
Check out this book. There are parts of it that would benefit from editing, but Mirna’s journey is inspirational and her writing is witty and real. Her message of self acceptance and perseverance is one that we all need to hear sometimes. As she says, “Lean into the discomfort.” “A lot of long distance running sucks. But, what sustains runners are those moments of beauty, those instances where you feel weightless and unencumbered.” (p. 285) Kind of makes you want to run, doesn’t it?
Did you read this one? What did you think? Drop me a comment and let me know.