Back in spring 2010, not too long before I started Michigan Runner Girl, I wrote posts about running for a northern Michigan trails organization. I’d been running for a few years, had several races under my belt, and was really starting to ramp up my mileage and health and fitness writing. The sport definitely had become an integral part of my life. And when I wasn’t out on the roads or trails, or writing about the mental and physical benefits of exercise, I was reading about running—magazines, web sites, books, whatever I could find. One of my absolute faves: Run Like a Mother by Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea—two women I “knew” through their bylines in Runner’s World. I made a request for a review copy—a perk of being a freelance journalist—and from the moment I received it in the mail, I couldn’t put it down. Covering all aspects of running and how to find time for it amid family and work, it completely spoke to me and where I was at in my life. I’ve since shared it with friends, and have enjoyed watching the authors’ success build as they’ve created an incredibly active online community with their web site and Facebook page, as well as with a second book—Train Like a Mother—and by traveling across the country to connect with other mother runners at races and other special events.
Earlier this year, as many of you know, I had the opportunity to begin working with Dimity, who lives in Denver, and Sarah, who calls Portland home. They were looking for help creating content for the site, and having had a few email exchanges with Dimity awhile back, we re-connected to talk about a possible job assisting them. I had met Sarah briefly, back in September 2010 when I ran the Eugene Women’s Half-Marathon–I bought a “vintage” Run Like A Mother tee at the table she had at the race expo–but I’ve yet to meet Dimity in real life. I hope to spend some time with both of them in the not-too-distant future, but in the meantime I feel so fortunate to be assisting them in further growing the AMR tribe, as it’s sometimes called. I write several posts for AMR each month, including the popular Follow This Mother feature each Thursday. I’m thankful these kind and smart mother runners were willing to share here their book-writing and community-building journey, runner insight gained along the way, and even something they haven’t yet revealed to their fans…
Since 2010 when this first book came out, and now with your second book out, what are some of the more memorable comments you’ve received from readers about how these books have impacted their lives?
SBS: Interacting with other mother runners is what we love best about Another Mother Runner. I may look stern, but I’m a total softie, and I have shed many tears with fans at expos—or even reading comments on our Facebook page or emails we receive. One interaction that stands out in my mind happened in Atlanta at a ZOOMA race. A woman in her 30s, surrounded by about four women in their 60s and 70s, listened to our pre-race talk. Afterward, the group of women approached us, and 10 steps away, the younger woman just started to cry. Tears immediately sprung to my eyes, and I leaned in to hug her. As I hugged her, one of the older women told us that they were all her aunts and they’d driven about 45 minutes to see us talk. The 30-something gal (I’m sorry to say I don’t remember her first name) was running her first half-marathon the following week to raise money for one of the aunts who had cancer; the woman said our books and podcast were what made her believe she could run 13.1 miles. It really warmed my heart.
Dimity: We have heard so many stories, it’s hard to single out one. But a recent one is a mom of a 9-month old—her first child—who we met at the Twin Cities Marathon Expo. A friend had given her Train Like a Mother after she had given birth, and she decided to take on the marathon. She didn’t say this, but my educated guess is that she was suffering from postpartum depression, as I did–kind of takes one to know one. I was so proud of her for setting a goal and getting there; I know how tough it can be, and to know our book played a small part in pushing her toward the starting line is really fulfilling.
How would you describe the overall growth of your mission “to entertain and encourage mothers of all levels to fit running into their crowded lives”? In other words, what has this ride been like for each of you? To start with writing a book that speaks to so many women and from there building an online community that’s now nearly 20,000 strong (!) ? It’s exciting and impressive!
SBS: Most days it’s unbelievable. While our intent with Run Like a Mother was to foster a community of women runners, we never would have dreamed “the tribe” would grow so big and so vibrant. And it’s not just the sheer numbers: It’s how we all find common ground and a common sense of humor through running. We get to travel around the country meeting mother runners at race expos and house parties, and we all laugh and kvetch about the same things. Whether it’s on Facebook, via our podcast, or at a race expo, it’s like walking into a gathering of good friends—even if we just met.
Dimity: I second everything Sarah said. One of the things that makes another mother runner so appealing is that pretty much everybody we meet, I could picture myself being friends with. We share a common foundation of values that includes sweat, self-worth, and setting goals.
How has your success and being connected to so many mother runners impacted your running? (For example, have your race goals changed? Are you running more? Differently?)
SBS: It’s made me see my accomplishments in a brighter light. In a hectic life, it’s easy to move on too quickly or just focus on the numbers on a Garmin. But having other mother runners comment on my race times or efforts makes me see the bigger picture of what I’m doing. For instance, I just ran the Twin Cities Marathon. I barely made the slower end of my time goal, but mother runners commented about how strong—and happy—I looked in photos during the final miles. It made me appreciate that I’d hung on and pushed all the way to the end. Also, I’ll admit: I knew there were fans tracking my progress online, so my ego egged me on because I knew folks were watching, even from far away!
Dimity: I realize I really need to lead by example, especially when it comes to injuries. I’m the oft-injured half of our pair, and our inclination as runners is to push through pain, believe it’s going to go away with the next run. Sad to say, it usually doesn’t. So I am doing my best not to just power through when the pain isn’t the destructive type; instead, I try to talk regularly about including physical therapy, foam rolling, focusing on my form and cross-training—and do those things too.
Balancing motherhood/family life with running is obviously a big part of what mother runners discuss and share with each other—and is covered in your books and on the Facebook page and AMR site—and I’m curious to know how each of you do this in your own lives. What has worked for you, and what, if anything, has changed relating to this as you grow your readership, travel more for races and events, etc.?
SBS: Not going to lie: It’s tough to be away from the family, especially because it usually means being away on weekends. I don’t get to see nearly as many soccer games as I’d like. (All three of my kiddos play on rec teams.) When I am home, I’m trying to be more “present” with my children, even if it means sitting on the front porch to answer emails on my phone while they kick a ball in the front yard. (It’s better than being holed up in my office, right!?) I also now turn off my phone and computer at 7:30 so I can concentrate on my family without electronic distractions.
Dimity: I’ve explained to my kids that this—writing and another mother runner—is my job, and when I travel, it’s part of my responsibilities. Then I put it in concrete terms (“A job lets me buy food, pay for swimming lessons, buy you Legos, etc.”). I’m not sure if it computes, but I’m hoping that I’m also leading by example here, especially for my daughter. Also, eating well has made such a difference in my attitude and energy level. I’ve really cut down on the amount of sugar I consume, and eliminating those artificial highs and lows has made a huge difference in my perspective. Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that my husband has been integral in helping things run smoothly. He’s our laundry-doer and lunch-maker and, most importantly, gets what we’re trying to do with another mother runner. I’m beyond grateful for that.
Best piece of running advice you’ve ever received (and have followed):
SBS: When a plan calls for “easy miles,” don’t try to impress anyone by running too fast. I was fortunate enough to have an Olympian (Lynn Jennings) coach me for the marathon in which I ended up PR’ing. She always told me that if the plan called for long, slow miles, she was not going to be impressed if I came back and told her I ran them at marathon pace. Same with tempo: If I was supposed to run 5 miles at 8:30s, running them at 8:00 was only going to hurt me, not wow her.
Dimity: You with the tough questions! Hmm. I wrote this in Run Like a Mother, and use it in our pre-race talks, but it still resonates with me almost daily. A coach once told me, “Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to a friend.” I translate that to mean: any thoughts or ideas that don’t contribute positively to getting me through the run don’t get to appear. Sure, I can still have a bad run, but instead of chastising myself for slow splits or heavy legs, I (try to) shift my focus to the surroundings or a problem I want to solve at work or something that isn’t negative. It can be hard—I probably have a 65% success rate—but it’s a worthy exercise.
You’ve shared a lot with your readers over the years…but is there one thing that they don’t know about you (that you’d be willing to share)?
SBS: I sometimes have terrible panic attacks while swimming. I’m convinced they are hormone-related, but dang if I don’t feel like my heart is going to bust out of my chest while it’s happening.
Dimity: Good question. I feel like I bare my soul and secrets pretty regularly. This isn’t breaking news, but I’m not the gung-ho exerciser people think I am. I really have to rally myself to run in the morning; I don’t always love running, but I do always love the euphoric way I feel after every run. It’s that feeling—not a time on the clock or the fact that I want my jeans to fit—that gets me up and going.
Finally, because this will be on my blog and I’m all about Michigan…curious to know if either of you have run here? If not, think you’ll ever try? I’ve got a place for you to stay—bring your families, too! I’d love to show you some of the most beautiful areas of northern Michigan for running.
SBS: I’m alllllllll about running in new locales! I fell in love with Minneapolis and St. Paul this spring, which is the reason I ran the Twin Cities Marathon. I have no doubt I’d love running in Michigan, too. I’ve never had the pleasure of running there. Just not in the winter, as I don’t deal well with snow or freezing temps.