Every one of Erin Azar’s runs from her home in central Pennsylvania starts with an uphill. And it makes her want to die.
Her Sisyphean struggle has, to her great surprise, made her a sensation on TikTok, where she is known as Mrs. Space Cadet.
“One of the first times I posted a run on TikTok it got over a million views, and I was like, ‘That’s weird,’” she said. “Everything I saw on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube were skinny runners with really cute outfits and really cute shoes, running seven- or eight-minute miles.”
That is not how Azar would describe herself.
In one of those first videos, Azar is wearing a sweatshirt, a nursing bra, shoes with holes in them and glasses that fog up as she runs. She invited followers to join her, “a slightly overweight person who drinks too much beer,” as she tried to train for a marathon. “Today we have four miles, help,” she said to the camera, deadpan.
That journey began around two years ago. She has since logged hundreds of miles and garnered a following of more than 617,000 on TikTok.
The 37-year-old mother of three has documented her 15-mile runs with her loyal “cheer squad” (that would be three trees in a row), admitted when she had to pee mid-run, shared how much she struggles on what she calls “barf hill” and explained the awkwardness of passing walkers when their pace is close to her own.
She has not yet had the experience of crossing the finish line of an organized marathon. (In one TikTok, she begins: “It’s seven in the morning and we’re going to run 12 miles because I’m training for a marathon that was canceled. And it’s raining. Let’s just think of it as a little adventure, come on.”)
Apart from that — 23.7 million likes later — the pandemic has done little to slow her down.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
When did you start running, and what do you think set off a nerve on TikTok?
This whole social media thing came out of nowhere to me. I was not aiming to become a content creator.
I just had my third baby and I was mentally and physically in the dumps. I felt like I just had to go outside and run. I didn’t have a gym or anything, and thought: I’m going film this, I just want to remember where I’m at at this point.
The amount of support I felt toward me was amazing, but the amount of support other people felt too — “Hey, I’m like that too” — made me really tear up.
Why did you decide to continue posting?
I have no humility. I’m not sure why — my husband thinks I’m insane — but I 100 percent do not care. I will not clean up my house to film a video. I will not! And that’s what I put out there.
I thought I was too slow to even call myself a runner. Immediately after that video, I saw a huge untouched space that I felt needed to be touched in order to empower more people. Before, I felt really isolated, but I realized that there were a lot of people like me.
I felt like the really curated feeds were keeping people from feeling like they could run or try to run or work out in any way. So that’s why I kept posting.
One of your more beloved moves is your running-outfit-of-the-day pose, where you stand in a position that looks like … Gumby? Explain.
People wanted to follow me on Instagram, but I had never really posed for a picture.
So what was I supposed to do with my hands? Do I sit down? Do I take a snapshot of me running? I was so overwhelmed and fed up so I just stood how I thought would really show my outfit. It was as opposite as I could get from an Instagram model.
And now people tag me in their Instagram photos with that pose. People are so funny and positive.
What does greater representation of different types of athletes mean on and off social media for you?
A huge part of my platform is trying to get companies on board, not only to advertise to different body types and different groups of people with different abilities but also to support them through social media and community building, so these tired moms who haven’t run in 20 years can look at someone and be like, “Oh, that looks comfy” or “Those shorts look like my thighs wouldn’t chafe in those” or “Maybe I do belong in those.”
These companies are looking for people who aren’t Olympians. It’s not just Olympians who need electrolytes.
What advice do you have for new runners?
I would say don’t compare yourself to anybody. Just stay consistent and go as slow as you want to keep going just to build that habit. And build that habit even if it’s a walk a few times a week, have those small victories to celebrate.
And instead of “I only ran a mile” or “I can only run one mile,” reframe that. “I can run a mile.” That’s huge! You know how many people cannot run a mile? Just be really proud of little victories because those will carry you through.