I knew I was going to like Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea’s new book, Run Like a Mother: How to Get Moving — and Not Lose Your Family, Job, or Sanity, when I ordered it. I like any publication aimed at women athletes that doesn’t sport the cover line “Walk off the weight!”
I am drawn to anything aimed at women that discusses calories in the context of fuel, not as something to be avoided.
I devour any bit of writing that treats exercise, real exercise, as a safe part of pregnancy. You know what’s more dangerous than running during pregnancy? Gaining 50lbs during pregnancy by sitting on the couch.
And as a somewhat inadvertent time management expert, I definitely like the authors’ demonstration that yes, it is possible to have a job, multiple kids, a husband, a life, and still get in your long runs (brag alert! I ran 20 miles this morning and it was awesome. It means I will have to work Saturday, but so it goes).
Fortunately, if you buy Run Like a Mother’s thesis, more and more women are believing all these things. The ranks of serious women runners are growing. In 168 Hours I recount my journey to being one of them, and if you are interested in optimizing your time, I think running has a lot going for it:
- Running gives you a lot of bang for your buck. If you have 45 minutes to exercise, walking briskly will burn about 300 calories; running will burn more like 450.
- You don’t need to waste time commuting to a pool or gym. You can just put on your shoes and run around your neighborhood.
- You look better and better in minimal amounts of time. It is quite possible to train for a half-marathon in 5 of your 168 hours a week. A mere 5 hours will definitely keep your weight in check, or better. Bowen Shea writes of the benefits to her husband of having “a wife who weighs the same after having three kids as she did when we first started dating. (Actually, come to think of it, a few pounds less.)”
- You care less and less about how you look. This is a more unsung benefit. When you become a runner who can power through the miles, you start seeing your body as a functional object, not something for other people to see and judge. This frees up an incredible amount of mental energy, which you can then devote to other things.
- Moms in particular often lament a lack of solo thinking time. Running will give it to you, and probably give you some great ideas with the endorphins of the runner’s high.
Anyway, it takes a few months to become a runner, and then a few years to truly be in the habit, but I believe it’s worth it. Hopefully others reading Run Like a Mother will agree, though I did have two quibbles with the book.
The first is that Run Like a Mother toys with the same sleep deprivation narrative that characterizes much mommy lit. The back cover notes that “Run Like a Mother will inspire even those who got three hours of sleep last night to lace up their shoes.” But it sounds from the way McDowell and Bowen Shea describe their schedules that even with their pre-dawn runs, they generally get 7 or more hours of sleep per night. We all like to kvetch about bad nights, but the kvetching sends a message to young women that being a working mother will inevitably leave you frazzled. McDowell and Bowen Shea are working, raising kids, running marathons and, as far as I can tell, getting enough sleep. That’s a more empowering message to put on a back cover.
Also, the post-partum chapter was, in my opinion, unnecessarily depressing. At 2-4 weeks, McDowell writes, “the hat… is your new staple accessory: It hides the fact you haven’t showered in a week.” At 6-9 weeks you’ll be “Avoiding telling your husband you got the green light from your doc at your 6-week post-partum checkup to have sex. You’re pretty sure you’d rather run a marathon. Barefoot. Over broken glass.” You will be “suppressing the urge to strangle a woman from church who you… run into at Target and she asks when you’re due.” At 3-6 months, you will finally be “entertaining the idea of doing a 5k fun run with some friends,” though you should “emphasize the fun: run/walk as a group…”
It is always possible that I am a total freak, but this was not my experience with new motherhood at all – that is, months of a sexless, flabby existence – precisely because I was a runner. Thanks to running during pregnancy, I didn’t gain much extra weight, and so I was back in my normal clothes in about 1-2 weeks both times. I started running at 2 weeks post-partum (wearing 3 bras, but hey) and was back up to my normal 5 mile route at 1 month. All this running and weight loss made me feel good about my body. When you feel good about your body, you shower. And have sex.
But other than that, I really enjoyed the book, and especially Bowen Shea’s admission that she’s never understood why people “look at me like I’m a supernatural being” when she says she’s got pre-school aged twins, a job, and she runs. There is more than enough time in 168 hours a week for all these things, and it’s good to have books out there describing how it all works.