Name: Stephanie Jack
Hometown: East Norriton, Pennsylvania
Occupation: Project Management Coordinator
Time Running: 6 years
Reason for Running: I run because it helps me be the best version of myself.
I started running in 2014, during my freshman year of college. I really struggled with being away from home. I had gained weight and was feeling very uncomfortable in my skin, and my social anxiety made it very hard for me to make friends.
One of the few friends I made, a sweet girl who lived in the dorm across from mine, asked me to go for a run one day. I had never run for fun, and normally I would have said no to this, but for some reason I didn’t that day.
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I made it about a quarter mile before I needed to stop. It was eye opening and I was so frustrated that I could not do it. That anger and disappointment in myself turned into motivation, and I just kept setting small goals and achievable milestones. It started with running a quarter mile, then a half mile, then a full mile, and so on. My running stayed like this for about a year or so until I moved in with a new roommate, Jordan, my junior year.
I watched her train for a half marathon and was in awe of her strength and ability to run that far. I remember watching her come home from the D&L Half Marathon in Pennsylvania and seeing her glow—I wanted to experience that.
Jordan helped me expand my running. She convinced me to go for a run with her friend Chris one day, and it was the first time I ever ran four miles and experienced the runner’s high. That night we registered for the St. Luke’s Half Marathon, and I was terrified and excited all at once. Jordan stuck with me through the entire training cycle and kept me moving when I wanted to quit.
We followed Hal Higdon’s beginner half marathon plan. I remember printing it out, staring at it, and second guessing everything. I would spend my free time scrolling Runner’s World at night, absorbing every ounce of running knowledge that I could get my hands on. I was terrified of the distance and all the unknowns, but Jordan got me up every weekend and we got our long runs done.
Crossing the finish line for the first time in 2017 of the half marathon was the culmination of a lot of hard work, and the feeling it gave me was something I knew I wanted to experience again and again.
I continue to chase that finish line high to this day. I have now completed the Philadelphia Marathon in 2018, 14 half marathons, and countless race distances in between. In my six years, I have run thousands of miles and I am proud of every single one of them.
For a long time, I felt like I didn’t belong in the running community. My legs are short, my belly peeks over the waistband of my shorts, and my thighs rub together—I didn’t fit the image of what I saw online. I used to plan my runs around my college campus during times when I knew people wouldn’t be out just because I was afraid someone would see me running. For the first few years, I didn’t even really tell people that I ran. Calling myself a “runner” made me feel like an imposter.
I think there’s this image floating around of what a runner should look like. It’s easy to look at the pros and get caught in the trap of comparison. It wasn’t until I started racing that I realized just how diverse the running community truly is, and I started seeing more and more bodies that looked like my own.
These feelings of imposter syndrome can also spread beyond body image issues. Instagram is a highlight reel full of seeing people’s success—PRs, high mileage, clean eating, and big races. This is super intimidating and made me question, “Am I running enough? Am I running fast enough? Am I still a runner if I am not doing races?” I don’t think I’m alone in those insecurities.
My journey to body positivity has been long and hard. And even though I still really struggle with it, I’ve learned that I am not alone and that talking about it helps. When I first started, I was hyper-focused on what everyone else thought of me, and was trying to fit a mold of what I thought a runner should be. I was under fueling, over training, constantly injured, and I hated my body. For a while, I lost the excitement that running brought me in college.
For me, a change came when I started posting my runs online. It was extremely out of my comfort zone, and I didn’t let anyone I knew personally follow my Instagram account—but I felt a sense of empowerment writing and posting about things that made me proud. Through Instagram, I found a community of strong female runners who became role models for me.
It wasn’t until after COVID hit that I really started talking about my struggles with my body and finding my confidence. I saw other women talking about the things I was feeling, and I started messaging people, reaching out, and forming relationships. I thought about how much their posts helped me and it encouraged me to start posting about my struggles. There was something about writing those thoughts down and sending them into the world that helped me heal. I started taking care of my body, fueling properly, taking rest days, and cross training to stay strong. Most importantly: I found confidence in my body that I had never experienced.
I am at a point now where I just try to be the person 20-year-old me needed when she started and didn’t feel worthy. I wasted so much time beating myself up over things that don’t matter. I ran in leggings on hot summer days because I was afraid of what I looked like. I skipped group runs because I didn’t think I was good enough to keep up. And I fell victim to the fad diets that promised me lean abs.
Now, for me, enjoying the sport means running in a sports bra no matter how big my stomach looks, honoring my cravings and eating what I want, and reminding myself why I started this journey. Now, I proudly tell everyone that I am a runner.
I like to try and remember that I started this journey to cope with my anxiety and depression so on the occasions that I find myself anxious about missing runs or mileage, I know it’s time to step back and take a break.
Currently, I am focusing on shorter distances like the 5K, with a goal to run my 15th half marathon this fall. I run four to five times a week, I walk three miles every day on my lunch break, and I strength train three to four times a week. I like to keep my training schedule flexible and listen to what my body is feeling on each day. This has given me so much freedom and has kept the joy in running for me! If I don’t feel like running on a certain day, I don’t force it!
Starting this journey was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, but looking back, what's even scarier is thinking about where I would be if I didn’t start. I want people who follow me to feel safe and accepted in this community. I don’t want anyone to feel like they don’t belong here. My advice would be to not waste another day letting the fear of starting get in your way and to lean into the running community and build relationships.
Running has brought out the best in me and has taught me strength, drive, and determination. It has helped me develop confidence that I never thought possible and has introduced me to some truly incredible people. It has humbled me, knocked me on the ground, and then has taught me to brush off the dirt, stand back up, and keep going.
I wake up every day feeling lucky that I get to do this. It’s a privilege that I may not always have, so I live in the moment and am grateful for every run. I hope everyone can find a passion in life that makes them as happy as running has made me. No matter what you look like, no matter how fast you go, or how many miles you run, there will always be a place for you in the running community.
These three tips have made my running journey a success:
1. Stop the comparisons
I always keep the quote “comparison is the thief of joy” in the back of my head. Your running journey is unique and unlike anyone else’s. Embrace every step of your journey, because you are right where you are supposed to be! Some days it may be hard to see other people succeed, but I am a firm believer in running the mile you are in. Soak all of it in, because one day you will look back at where you started and will be so proud that you kept going!
2. Embrace the “runner” title
Do not waste another second feeling like you do not belong in this community because of how you look. If you lace up your shoes and run, you are a runner!
3. Revisit your “why”
I think it’s important to remember what made you want to start running in the first place. For me, it was to help improve my mental health. On the days where I find myself caught in a slump and just want to curl into a ball, I remind myself of how good it feels to run and how it clears my mind. No matter what your reason for running is, reminding yourself of it can help keep you moving!
Stephanie’s Must-Have Gear
→ JayBird Vista 2: I have had these earbuds for two years now and I cannot run without them. A full charge on the battery lasts me weeks, the quick controls on the buds are convenient so I do not have to fumble with my phone, and they are completely noise canceling.
→ Brooks Chaser Hat: Another go-to item that I’ve been attached to for years—this is my favorite running hat and I don’t leave home without it. It’s lightweight, secure, and has my favorite saying on it: “Run happy!”
→ Runners Empire Short Tights With Pockets: They are buttery soft, don’t ride up, and have the deepest side pockets I have ever found on running shorts! These are great for racing because they are comfortable and can hold my phone, ID, earbuds, and fuel.
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Emily Shiffer is a freelance health and wellness writer living in Pennsylvania.