02/17/2015 04:08 pm ET Updated Apr 19, 2015

Don't Let the Headphones (Or the Extra Fat) Fool You

Last week I went to the gym. I haven't been working out consistently and I'm a bit embarrassed by that. As a certified health coach and someone who works with clients to help them achieve their health, fitness, and lifestyle goals, I think it's important to "walk the talk." But I am also aware that I'm human and like most humans, I slip up from time to time.

Instead of being hard on myself, I decided to start taking action and getting back to working out. Even though I've been a dedicated runner in the past, a series of events such as injury, health issues, and bad weather, have kept me from logging the kind of miles I usually do. I decided on this particular trip to the gym to run on the treadmill, even though the treadmill is not my favorite thing.

I wore one of my marathon shirts; it's comfortable, breathable, and honestly, it was the first shirt in the pile of workout clothes. After a particularly challenging three miles I stepped off the treadmill and headed to the water fountain; I was wearing headphones. I passed two women, full faces of makeup, donning their stylish Lululemon yoga wear. I made eye contact with them and smiled. As I walked by, I heard one of them say, "SHE ran a marathon?" The other one giggled.

Is it because I'm older that you think I couldn't possibly have finished a marathon? Is it because I'm carrying quite a few extra pounds on my small frame? Is it because I was out of breath, red in the face, and making a beeline to the water fountain?

Did she think that maybe I was wearing my boyfriend's shirt? Did she think that perhaps I had gotten the shirt at a yard sale?

I wondered to myself, "Would she have said that if I didn't have my headphones on?"

And honestly, what was her problem with it anyway?

I often joke that I'm not built like a runner. I'm short, a bit overweight, and I once had an orthopedic surgeon tell me I looked like a Hobbit (true story), but yet, I still run. I'm slower than a turtle caught in a swamp of peanut butter. I got smoked at my last half marathon by a pregnant woman, an 84-year-old woman, and a guy that juggled the entire route, but still, I finished.

I also finished with severe arthritis in my back, hips, and knees, and a minor heart condition that while not life-threatening, causes pain. I finished my last 10-miler with a kidney stone!

I thought about saying something snarky, but I'm much too much of a wuss for that. I thought about casually mentioning that I could hear them, kind of as a public service announcement for the next time they thought about talking about someone with headphones in. I thought about puffing out my chest and bragging about my two full marathons, 13 half marathons, and the black belt I earned in karate; all after my 40th birthday.

In the end though, I walked away, sipped my water, and kept moving.

This was a good reminder to me about the importance of not judging a book by its cover. It was a good reminder that you can never really know where someone has been, what they're going through, or what they are working towards in their life.

As I passed by the stationary bikes on my way to the locker room, I saw an overweight woman cycling away with her headphones on. I noticed she was wearing the same marathon shirt that I was, but her shirt was from the year after mine. We made eye contact and I smiled at her and gave her a thumbs up. She smiled back and returned the gesture.

I never once wondered if she was thinner when she ran that race; I never once wondered what her finish time was; I didn't even wonder if the shirt belonged to her. Instead, I just thought, "good for her," for getting to the gym and working out.

I pictured my two young, skinny gym mates heading to lunch, counting out their carrot sticks and sipping their iced water, talking about "that woman in the marathon shirt," and then I smiled. I was proud of myself for getting in my miles, and I was already looking forward to my next trip to the gym.

That night, when I cleaned out my gym bag and threw my clothes in the laundry, I looked at my marathon shirt and smiled again. Never judge a book by its cover.