Rachele Schulist on Body Image for Female Runners

By Ryan Nelson- Runner's Tribe

“The truth is, the idea that you have to look a certain way and be thin to be a fast runner is bullshit. It’s a lie that a lot of people in the running community buy into.” – Rachele Schulist

An up and coming star in collegiate athletics, Michigan state track and field athlete Rachele Schulist has decided to speak out on body issues for women. In an Instagram post released on December 6th, the NCAA All-American compared two images of her side by side from running in 2014 and 2016. The picture comparison was accompanied by a text of Schulist describing her struggles with maintaining a healthy weight and striving to be as thin as possible. Just like many other females today, she wanted to have perfect figure regardless of the physical and mental costs.

Body image has always been an issue for people of all ages, but this current generation is now more exposed to the pressure more than ever. Social media has a lot to do with this issue. Young teens and adults are constantly on social media platforms such as Instagram and are constantly exposed to “Instagram models” who literally flaunt their bodies for a living. Young people are very impressionable and see these posts and believe they must look like that unless they will be considered out of shape. Schullist’s post had a slightly different take on the issue of body image, but it all falls under the same umbrella.

Left:NCAA 2014. Right: NCAA 2016. Look at the picture on the left. If in your mind this is what a “good” or competitive distance runner looks like, please, keep reading. The truth is I was very unhealthy. My teammates and coaches will tell you that I was not happy; I was disengaged with my teammates and missing out on life. My coaches warned me about the consequences of running in this unhealthy state, but seeing as my running was going well I ignored them and figured they were wrong. And in the fall of 2015 I paid for it when I found I had a stress fracture. Last year consisted for the most part of training in a pool and sitting on the sidelines while the rest of my teammates got to train and compete. Slowly my body healed and I could start to run again. But mentally, another battle had begun. Even though I knew being too small is not sustainable, it was hard for me to believe that I could achieve success and be the runner I used to be without it, and I allowed myself to believe this for the better part of this season. My coaches told me time and time again that I am still the same runner as 2014, just stronger now and have the talent to be successful, but whenever I looked back at what I used to be I was discouraged all over again. The better part of this season I allowed this lie to dictate my running, and my running suffered as a consequence. The day before our conference meet I was so discouraged and worn down from beating myself up I could only lay in bed, and decided that after this meet I was going to give up and quit running because I doubted I could ever be good again without being unhealthy. My coach could tell from my race plan that I was not mentally engaged and the night before Big Tens called me in to talk. He asked me at what point I was going to draw a line in the sand and put an end to whatever was holding me back from running the way I know I can. So I did. Because the truth is, the idea that you have to look a certain way and be thin to be a fast runner is bullshit. It’s a lie that a lot of people in the running community buy into. (Continued in comments)

A photo posted by Rachele Schulist (@racheleschulist) on

Angry and disengaged with her physical status, Schulist begrudgingly continued to run in her third year at MSU. She was very successful in her first year, being named a First Team All-Big Ten, First Team All-Region NCAA All-American and leading Michigan State to its first national championship in women program history. Schulist, despite her coaches and friends immediate concerns, believed that she could continue to have a subtle figure and run. However, she soon realized that she could not continue her success with her figure.

The next season was tough for Schulist. She kept her past habits of dieting and as such ended up facing the consequences. Her season debut was going just as expected, an excellent time of 21:01 for a 6k. Still, it was not going to remain this way. The very next race, a 10,000 meter at Raleigh Relays saw it all turnaround. After leading for most of the contest, Schulist faced severe adversity with a season-ending knee stress fracture. She was never going to be the same runner anymore.

Every practice was different now. Instead of being with the rest of her track team that Schulist previously won the championship with, Schulist trained alone in the pool. She was depressed and did not see any avenue for hope. On the verge of quitting the sport for good the following season, Schulist’s coaches and friends convinced her to give it another shot. Schulist knew she had to change her attitude around thinness and did exactly that. She had learned a valuable lesson.

The following season was much better for Schulist and her team. In the process of healing, she realized that striving to attain the perfect is fruitless in nature. Returning to her NCAA All-Region and NCAA All-American Academic All-Big Ten placement her running returned to her previous form. Not only was she running again but she was happy. Her success did not depend on how “small” she was or her weight; her success was inside. This inner realization prompted her post on Instagram to bring more attention to the issues she was going through.

Rachele Schulist was not alone in the body image fight she was going through. Approximately 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting or other means to achieve their ideal shape and over 58% of college-aged girls feels pressured to be a certain weight.Not only is this issue is present in runners but all women in general. Struggling with body image is a paramount issue in our society, and just like what Rachele Schulist did it is crucial to spread awareness and end the problem once and for all.