'Women's Running' Magazine Cover Features First Plus-Size Runner

by Melissa L. Fenton
Originally Published: 

The biggest thing about the cover model on the August issue of Women’s Running magazine is that, well, she’s not small. Pictured in bright pink, mid stride, and running along her favorite path in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park is Erica Schenk. I’m not going to call her curvy, plus-size or atypical. What I am going to call her is a runner. This cover is no small thing for Women’s Running, and I do mean that literally.

A quick review of cover models from the last several years would reveal plenty of six pack tummies, thigh gaps, long lean legs and biceps that belong at the gun show. Over time, there have of course been a bevy of elite women runners, whose tiny athletic frames are one of the reasons they can knock off six-minute miles. Also scattered among those 100 pounders are some average women runners, if by average you mean weighing 125 pounds, bearing flat midriffs, and having chests that don’t jiggle. So this newest cover, featuring a gorgeous young woman who does not fit the mold of all their previous models, is kind of a major deal. I’ve only got one question for Women’s Running

What the heck took so long?

This is what we look like, we real women runners. The ones at races who hang out in the middle or back of the pack. The ones who wake before the kids get up and head out in darkness, just to get their miles in. Women who one day decided they were going to move their bodies, who perhaps had never run a mile in their lives, and now finish 10Ks and half marathons, treating them like they are pleasurable days out shopping.

Almost 15 years ago, I stood at the start line of my very first marathon. I looked around at the sea of people surrounding me, and I will admit I was a little in shock. These people are about to run 26.2 miles? My eyes darted from thick thighs to muffin tops, from flabby arms to belly tires. I learned a lot that day, among other things that all those people who may not have looked like runners, were in fact real runners. They came in all shapes and sizes, and I do mean all sizes. We in the running community already know running is much more than what your physical size is. And those who don’t look like runners? Well, trust me, they are strong, they are fit, and they can move. What makes it more amazing is they are moving more mass, more weight is straining their knees and pounding their feet, and yet they are passing the smaller runners. You. Go. Ladies.

I have since run a ton more races, and even found myself sobbing with joy at this year’s Disney Princess Half Marathon, as I watched a runner come across the finish line, arms pumping in the air, tears streaking down her face, her lips mouthing, “I can’t believe I did it.” She was an Erica Schenk. If you saw her walking down the street, you may even think to yourself, she needs to hit the gym and lay off carbs. But when you see her running? When you see her smile, her spirit, her dedication and drive, you see someone you want to be, not a size.

I can only hope this cover, and the accompanying short interview with Schenk inside the magazine, will burst the skinny cover model bubble. For women out there who have shied away from running because they think they don’t have the right body for it, or people will judge them, or they will look stupid, I say to them, go watch a race. Stand on the sidelines and watch all the sizes and shapes of people breeze by you. But more important than looking at the width of their hips and thickness of their thighs, look at the joy on their faces as they finish. It is a great reflection of the real biggest thing about their bodies—their HEART. Schenk says it best, “Some women believe that since they have curves they can’t run or shouldn’t run. Running is for every body anytime.”

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