Ashley Graham claims she’s not a runner. In fact, the model is quick to say she’s never liked running. “But I love working out and I love being active,” she tells SELF. “I’m always at the gym. I probably go to the gym like five days a week.”
So when Adidas called her up and asked her to get involved in their Run For The Oceans initiative, a global running campaign by Adidas and Parley for the Oceans that’s meant to raise awareness for the threat of marine plastic pollution, it was a chance to combine her love of fitness with a great cause, even as a self-proclaimed non-runner. “I really wanted to come out and do my part because I think that if we’re not going to save the ocean, then what’s going to happen to the generations after?” Graham says.
We sat down with Graham before the Adidas x Parley Run for the Oceans 5K in New York City—where she did lace up her sneakers and log a few miles—to find out what she typically does to break a sweat, how she stays motivated to exercise when she’s not feeling it, and her best advice for dealing with negativity on social media.
If you follow Graham on Instagram, you’ll know that she is no stranger to working out—specifically, strength training.
You may have seen her post some pretty bad-ass workout videos on Instagram. She frequents celeb favorite NYC gym Dogpound, where she works with trainer Dara Hart. “She makes me do some crazy shit that I would never think that I could do,” Graham says.
Her most recent accomplishment? “I just recently did a pull-up on my own! I am usually a band girl—I’ll do the two bands and be like, “I’m doing it!’ But then I finally got the one [without a band], and I was like, ‘Victory!’”
She also logs outdoor cardio workouts that are just as intense.
Graham decided to do a little prep before the 5K. “Obviously I had to run before I came here to make sure I could do it,” she says. So she did some running in Prospect Park, near where she lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, to prepare. “I didn’t do it without stopping, but I did it.” She also enjoys a few other types of cardio, rollerblading and biking, which she does regularly around the city and in the park.
Graham partially credits a recent hiking retreat in California for ramping up her endurance, too. “We were doing six- to 12-mile hikes every day and it was so intense. We would even jog down the hill sometimes.” There were some rough patches, she says, but ultimately, it was a huge challenge she was able to conquer. “So that’s why coming and doing this run was, I was like, “OK, I got this. My endurance level is up.’”
Like the rest of us, she sometimes has to give herself a pep talk—and remind herself why she loves exercising—to get motivated.
Although Graham admittedly loves working out, she’s also human and has days where she’s not feeling super motivated. On those days, a little self-talk helps her maintain a positive attitude. “When I’m walking into the gym, I’m like, ‘It’s only going to be an hour Ash, you got this!’”
She also likes to remind herself how good it’ll make her feel after. “For me, it’s really about just [remembering] that when my body has worked out, my mind is feeling really well,” Graham says. “When I work out, I’m not as anxious, I’m not as irritated. It calms me down and I’m not as quick to snap on anyone. And it helps me make healthier choices when it comes to food.”
She knows what it’s like to get hateful comments on social media, and suggests a few ways to deal.
“There are the concern trolls, there are the doctor trolls, there are the ‘experts,’” Graham says. “Honestly at this stage of the game, I just kind of laugh at it and I think it’s funny, because there are some people who just really want to feel important.” Sometimes, she’ll write people back with a snarky reply; other times, she just ignores it.
“It’s just like, how dare you come onto someone’s page and write so much hate or concern? It just kind of bounces off me at this point because I have been doing it for so long,” she adds. But she’s learned a few important lessons from her experience. “You really have to block people and erase comments,” Graham says. “It’s really just about only following people that you want to see, that inspire you on social media, and not people that are going to make you feel bad about yourself.”
Graham obviously is very confident. She says it’s something you have to work at developing every single day.
“It’s really a journey. If you’re looking for confidence and self-love, you have to then say, every day, ‘I’m going to make an impact in my own life. I‘m going to [look] in the mirror and say ‘I love you,’ or I’m going to give myself a compliment or do something that’s bettering my health, my skin, my hair, whatever it is,’” she says. Just learning to talk to yourself differently can make a huge difference in how you feel, she adds. And she’s a big fan of finding good role models who are open about working toward their own confidence.
“If you take this and make a change every single day, then you’re on the journey. It has to be a conscious effort, and you can’t do it for anybody else.”