Blossoming as one of the faces of body positivity, ultrarunner Mirna Valerio proves that she’s more than just a FatGirlRunning. The multidimensional author of A Beautiful Work in Progress has been making her way around the internet—and on the pavement.
Recently, she was featured in a J.C. Penney campaign with yogi Jessamyn Stanley as well as in a now-viral video with REI, where she reads an ugly email from an anonymous troll who accuses her of not being a runner because she’s overweight. As director of equity and inclusion at Rabun Gap Nacoochee School, the Mirnavator—a pseudonym to almost 30,000 Instagram followers—wears many hats: Spanish instructor, cross-country coach and even, utilizing her Juilliard background, a chorus director; that is, when she’s not beating down the trails or doing a Tough Mudder.
For those unfamiliar with her story, Valerio has consistently defied the stereotypes of what an ultrarunner looks like, while being featured by the Wall Street Journal, Runner’s World, NBC Nightly News and CNN.
Many have questioned if she can truly be both “fat and fit” while tackling courses like the Javelina Jundred and the TransRockies Run—a whopping 62.13 and 120 miles, respectively. As she recounts in her book, her passion for fitness dates to her youth; but it was ultimately a health scare that gave her the jump start back into running.
“I was driving through the middle of Pennsylvania when I started getting chest pains, and thought I was having a heart attack,” Valerio told HuffPost in October.
Thankfully, it was a false alarm, but she followed up with a cardiologist who advised her to change her lifestyle or else she would die, leaving behind her son. During this period of her life, she was working around the clock, under high stress, with no relief, and not exercising. Her health scare pushed her to begin documenting her running journey with the public, sharing everything from her experiences of night running to talking about her fitness endeavors as a plus-size woman sometimes coming in DFL—”dead fucking last”—at trail races.
As a fellow runner and friend, I’ve had the pleasure of celebrating an annual New Year’s Day hike at Anthony’s Nose with Valerio. This year, I couldn’t help but ask a multitude of questions, wondering what sparked her to write her memoirs while also trying to balance her private life, teaching, training for the Boston Marathon and touring.
“Actually, there is no balance; it’s sort of a myth,” she joked.
The boarding school where she works has been exceptionally accommodating to her ever-changing schedule, allowing her to maintain employment on a flexible schedule—and allowing her teenage son to stay on campus while she tours several states.
Although flattered by the media attention, she says she wanted to tell her own story of how she started her journey. So, since her October 2017 book launch, Merrell and REI have teamed up to help Valerio conduct a multicity sold-out book tour, allowing her to engage with thousands of people from Seattle to New York City.
Admittedly, amid the the waves of support from fans praising her astonishing accolades, she’s consistently had to remind herself about self-care:
When I was on the Rich Roll podcast, I had to put my phone down, because all day, I was getting a ton of messages and DMs on Instagram, on Twitter and all of my Facebook pages.
Typically, it’s questions like “Wow, how did you get started?” But the Merrell, Skirt Sports and Swiftwick Socks ambassador noted that there are times the questions get tough. Although she strives to answer every message, she hopes that living in her truth will serve as an unspoken example for others to pursue their passions despite shape, size, disability or background:
It’s cool knowing that people reach out and share themselves in that way; it may sound crass or caustic, but I cannot solve everyone’s problems. I hope that through seeing and observing me through my social media accounts that they do receive the inspiration that they need to get out of whatever hold that they’re in.
Her ambitious calendar is currently loaded with events such as a 50K with the North Face Endurance in Washington, D.C.; a 10K the following day; a host of Tough Mudders; and traveling to the Azores Island to do a trail run.
Like many, I wondered if there were any other books in her future. Although there are no confirmations yet, she hinted that she will be involved in several major projects that will touch on running and beyond.
So what advice does a motivational speaker and accomplished runner offer to those who want to get themselves started in fitness?
Write down your goals first. Speak them out to the universe, and then create a plan. If you want to start running or start weightlifting, write it down. Make sure that goal is actually achievable; you should have a SMART goal or plan. Break up your goals into smaller ones. Temper your schedule accordingly, and then work towards each goal without overwhelming yourself with the bigger goals.
In addition, I personally suggest creating and sticking your vision board somewhere visible, like on your refrigerator; actually look at it. Be patient with your body. Stop retraumatizing yourself with negative stories.
Just like when you tell yourself something positive while practicing self-love and care, negative thoughts work the same, in the opposite way. When you continue being overcritical of yourself, it retraumatizes you and may even change your DNA. Let’s take a cue from Mirna Valerio, and change our DNA in a positive way!