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Body Politics and Belonging: How Martinus Evans Is Redefining Athletic Inclusion

NICOLE DUNCAN

Freelance Journalist
Together We Stand NC

 

As Together We Stand continues to explore inclusion and what it means to unite, we look at a community that is often dismissed, if not openly derided. In this installment, we discuss diversity in terms of size, weight, and ‘body politics’ with running icon Martinus Evans.

 

 

For Martinus Evans, the fight for inclusion isn’t just about racial equity—it’s also a fight for acceptance and respect for individuals in larger bodies.

 

Evans, also known for his social media handle, @300poundsandrunning, is the founder of the Slow AF Run Club and author of the recently published book of the same name. In the decade since Evans laced up his first pair of running shoes, he’s become a trailblazer in making the sport more inclusive for all body types. And along the way, he’s amassed a following of nearly 100,000 on Instagram and grown his virtual running program to more than 20,000 members across the globe.

 

The mission behind Slow AF Run Club? To invite people who don’t fit the stereotypical “athlete” body into the running community. And to eradicate the stigma and bias against larger individuals.

 

“When you see a person in a larger body, people automatically assume that person is on a weight loss [journey], but that's not necessarily the case,” Evans says. “We're kind of stuck in this catch-22 where people say, ‘It’s your fault. Lose weight. You are fat.’”

 

Evans knows the word, “fat,” can be a divisive one—empowering for some who are reclaiming the word, but hurtful to others. For this reason, he prefers the term, “nontraditional runners,” or even “larger-bodied runners.” After all, semantics can go a long way in altering perceptions and attitudes. In the past few years, Evans has seen a slow shift toward a more positive view of people in larger bodies. Nevertheless, stigmas remain, especially when it comes to physical activity and fitness.

 

Historically, runners have been portrayed as white and skinny. Evans is neither of those and yet he boasts eight marathons and counting, as well as more than 100 other races of varying distances. He’s a bonafide endurance athlete, and yet he’s not necessarily treated as such. Even when he receives positive reactions or encouragement, it’s often qualified.

 

“I think the best way to explain it is how [people] would be like, ‘good for you!’ It's kind of condescending, as in, that's good for you,” he says. “But do you really see me? Do you really see me as an athlete? And most of the time, I can say it is no.”

 

As Evans’s influence grew, he was tapped for media coverage and brand opportunities. In some ways, he says, it felt like those opportunities were companies’ way of checking a size-diversity box. These outlets spotlighted him and a few other nontraditional runners, but the overall focus remained on the “normal” runner body, especially when targeting male readers and consumers.

 

The rise of body positivity and body acceptance (which Evans refers to as body politics) has primarily coalesced around women and people who identify as female. Men, Evans says, still aren’t encouraged to discuss body image so candidly.

 

“Once you start talking about having body issues or having confidence in yourself or just wanting to talk about that, you're almost considered feminine. You’re almost considered—in internet terms—a beta,” Evans says. And this unrealistic physical standard is taught at an early age. While many toy dolls have become somewhat body-inclusive, the same can’t yet be said for toys that traditionally target boys. Or as Evans puts it, the default is still GI Joe with a six-pack.

 

But for people in larger bodies, the barriers go beyond representation and attitudes; they crop up in more practical ways on a daily basis. Often, they are things “normal” sized individuals take for granted.

 

“As a plus-size man who also does shopping in my household, I want to go buy toilet paper and maybe get a nice shirt or two [in the same store]. But I don't have the opportunity to; I have to go to a specialty retail seller [or] online,” Evans says.

 

One of the first hurdles Evans had to clear when he started running was finding the right apparel. Most activewear retailers didn’t—and still do not—carry his size. He acknowledges it’s a chicken-and-egg dilemma: Did retailers stop carrying larger sizes because nobody purchased them or did shoppers stop frequenting those stores because they couldn’t find their size? Either way, he’d like to see stores stock and promote those harder-to-find sizes. Otherwise, he says, what’s the point in visiting a brick-and-mortar shop?

 

In terms of training, Evans says there’s a serious lack of resources for nontraditional runners. He had to figure out training modifications on his own, and that experience was a driving force behind the Slow AF Run Club.

 

Evans recalls one couch-to-5K program he tried to follow in those early days. By week eight, the program said he should be doing a 5K (3.1 miles) in half an hour. Many runners, including experienced marathoners, run at a slower pace, but, as with many programs, this one failed to take different speeds into account.

 

“These are the beginner programs, and it’s like, well, who created this? You're assuming somebody is automatically running a 10-minute mile, and that is not a beginner program,” Evans says. “Every little point in the system, a person of size has to think about. So, it's like, how do you stretch if you have larger breasts? Or how do you stretch when your belly’s in the way? Historically, none of the fitness training programs talk about that stuff.”

 

His book, Slow AF Run Club: The Ultimate Guide for Anyone Who Wants to Run, was a natural extension of the virtual run club. It’s part memoir, part training program, and part motivational guide. The book addresses the much-needed commercial and societal changes needed to welcome people of all sizes into the fold, but more importantly, it challenges readers to change their own minds.

 

“When it comes to running, people don't see themselves as runners if they're not running a particular speed. And I think that's the hard part,” he says. “The thing I try to get people to realize is that if you're not a professional athlete, if your salary doesn’t depend on getting first, second, or third place, then none of this stuff really matters.”

 

Evans shares a recent anecdote that drives this philosophy home. Earlier this year, at a conference for race directors, Evans learned that most races are permitted as parades, not sporting events.

 

“I had no idea. So if you really think about it in the simplest terms: after you get the elite runners out of the way, we're all just participating in a running parade,” he says with a laugh. “We literally just pay for the medal.”

 

And this is where the right perspective is key. Evans doesn’t want runners, regardless of pace, to take the races or their performance too seriously. What he does want is for nontraditional runners and people in large bodies to embrace themselves as athletes. He wants them to understand they belong in the running tribe—or any other active community they wish to join—just as much as everyone else.

 

“Why are we taking ourselves so seriously when we understand that this shit doesn't matter,” he says. “The race doesn't change your life, but the running does.”

 

 

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To learn more about Martinus Evans—and to sign up for the Slow AF Run Club—visit slowafrunclub.com. You can also follow Evans on Instagram at @300poundsandrunning.

 

His debut book, Slow AF Run Club: The Ultimate Guide for Anyone Who Wants to Run, is available for purchase through his website and at bookstores.

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