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Last weekend, I achieved two firsts: I ran a race naked and I won a national championship.
To explain how these events came to pass, let me rewind to Friday evening. I was sitting at my kitchen table (fully clothed), trying to find a local race to run for fun. As I scrolled through the events, I came across an interesting listing—the Caliente Bare Dare 5k. The event website read, “Barefoot running? Why stop there? The third-annual Caliente Bare Dare 5k will be the site of the inaugural National Championship of Nude Running. Will you take the Bare Dare?”
On a different night, in a different mood, I might have thought, no way. But at that moment, something in me clicked.
When I told my boyfriend about my plan, he looked skeptical. “How’s the shyest girl in the world going to run a naked race?”
The guy had a point. When it comes to my body, I’m bashful to a fault. I always wear athletic shirts (never just a sports bra) while running. I worry preemptively about beach trips for days. Even alone in changing rooms, I find myself turning away from the mirror.
These habits come less from a place of modesty than physical insecurity. Like many women, I struggle with body image issues, and it’s difficult for me to look at myself with confidence. Too often, negative thoughts (my stomach’s too round, my calves are too large) zip into my head before I have a chance to silence them. The more clothes I wear, the easier it is to keep these sentiments at bay.
But what my boyfriend didn’t realize is that my self-consciousness was exactly why I wanted to do this race. I don’t want to go through my entire life afraid of the bathroom mirror. The Bare Dare seemed like the perfect way to shake things up. Trial by fire.
At first, I felt confident I could go through with it. As the morning of the race drew closer, however, I started to panic. After a few hours of restless sleep and a 45-minute drive, I passed through the gates of Caliente Resort, a clothing-optional retreat in Land O’ Lakes, Florida. I saw a few runners and vacationers walking around nude. That’s going to be me in half an hour, I thought. I could feel my heart beat faster.
I went up to the registration desk, still wearing my t-shirt and shorts, and picked up my packet and racing bracelet—there would be no bibs for obvious reasons. At the last possible moment, I went to my car to drop off my clothes. I came this far. I can do this. Stepping back outside, the sun seemed brighter as I walked over to the starting line, naked in the daylight for the first time in my life.
In the crowd of runners waiting for the gun, I started to feel more comfortable. While some of the racers had normal gear and a few women were in sports bras only, the majority wore nothing at all. The naked bodies most of us see on movie theater screens are perfect—too perfect. In a group of people of all ages and sizes, I was reminded that media images are far from the norm. It’s easy to forget that the forms that we naturally compare ourselves to barely exist in the real world. Even in the midst of over 200 fit runners, no one looked like a page out of a magazine. I stood there with my flaws in full view just like everyone else, as the race director yelled, “On your marks. Get set. Go!”
The sensation of running without clothes felt surprisingly good, especially on a hot Florida morning with extremely high humidity. I was nervous that it would be painful to run without a sports bra, but after the first quarter mile, I could barely tell the difference. As we looped around the resort, I felt my anxiety slowly dissipate.
Before I knew it, I was the leading female. A race volunteer yelled, “You go, girl! You’re kicking all these guys’ butts!” I smiled, feeling strong and thankful for a powerful body that could hold a quick pace. By mile 2, I practically forgot I was naked. The heat and humidity, combined with a number of hairpin turns, left my legs tired and my lungs burning. I thought about the beauty of hard running: If you’re pushing yourself to the limit, all your other problems fade into the background.
I sprinted through the line in 19:41, not a word-class time by any standards, but good enough for the announcer to yell, “We have our female champion!” I was tired, happy and satisfied.
Then, as I caught my breath under the shade of a tree, I overheard someone nearby me say, “Who won for the women? I didn’t see her.” A nasty voice in my head squeaked, I bet they think you don’t look fit enough to have been the winner.
Stop, I thought, and went over to introduce myself.
After half an hour of laughing, chatting and cheering for runners as they came through the finish line, I reached my limit. I went back to my car to put on a sports bra and shorts before heading to the after party where the awards ceremony would take place.
Waiting for the ceremony to start, I felt more comfortable in a sports bra than I ever have before. I stopped being so focused on myself and saw that no one was judging anyone else’s body. The runners were simply enjoying the resort’s glamorous pool, the sunny weather and their post-race highs. I became so relaxed, I barely noticed when the ceremony started, and I had to run over to the podium to accept my award. The announcer shook my hand. “Congratulations!” he said. I smiled and held the glass trophy over my head, my round stomach showing for the entire world to see.
I know it’s going to take more than one Sunday morning to cure my self-consciousness, but running the Bare Dare did teach me this: If you don’t challenge yourself, you will never have the chance to be crowned a champion.
Would you ever do a naked race? Let me know here tweet me @JessieSebor!