Being a mom is tough enough. Throw in life’s other curveballs — depression, divorce, illness — and getting through your days can feel daunting, to say the least. But what if navigating any of those things could start with something as simple as lacing up your sneakers?
By the time you finish Tales From Another Mother Runner, from founders of AnotherMotherRunner.com Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea, you’ll be convinced of the power of pounding the pavement. In their third book, McDowell and Bowen Shea gathered a series of inspiring personal essays from 22 “badass mother runners” (themselves, included). Longer pieces are interspersed with funny tidbits from the vibrant mother runner community on topics ranging from what it’s like to run a naked 5K to woe-is-me bathroom tales. But, the book delves deeper into the problems that plague mothers (and everyone), too.
In her essay “Defying Gravity,” McDowell writes for the first time about struggling with suicidal thoughts — and how running helped her cope. Bowen Shea pens a relatable tale about dealing with her aging body, both as a runner and a woman. And other contributors address running with multiple sclerosis, getting divorced, and trying to literally outrun a family history of cancer and disease.
We spoke with Dimity McDowell to find out why running means so much to her — and how it’s helped her battle depression over the years.
Tales From Another Mother Runner: The Power of Exercise
What first inspired you to start running (and keep doing it)?
I’m a little bit of an accidental runner, like many others who have that story of, ‘Oh I hated that mile test in gym class in sixth grade!’ Sarah and I both rowed collegiately so running was part of cross training. It wasn’t optional, you just kind of gutted out two to three miles. When I was done rowing, I moved to New York and I couldn’t afford a gym. I lived on the Upper West Side near Central Park, so I was like, ‘OK, that’s my gym!’ I became a runner in my early 20s.
I know the power of exercise and forward motion. I struggled badly with post partum depression; I have two kids, now 8 and 11. But I still have depression issues, so that’s what keeps me going — knowing that running is my balancing elixir. At this point, for me I love a race, love the spirit and energy of a great finishing time or PR, but if I had to choose between racing and running five miles regularly for the rest of my life, I’d pick the latter just because it has the power to keep me balanced.
“It’s such a powerful antidepressant that I don’t know if I can put it into words.”
What made you want to write this third book, and what makes it stand out from the previous two?
Both Sarah and I were sports and fitness freelance writers before [our first book] Run Like a Mother, and after that our career paths hung a 90-degree turn. There was this organic community that emerged on AnotherMotherRunner.com that was so strong, so vibrant, so amazing. It’s hard to give it the right adjective, but the power of it is like walking into a room full of people you know you can be friends with. You share the same goals and values and know how important it is to take care of yourself, even when it’s the last thing you want to do.
We wanted to celebrate that in this book. In Tales from Another Mother Runner we encompass everyone from the first time 5K-er to the seasoned ultra marathoner — there’s a story in there for everybody. We wanted to celebrate our community and there are so many good stories. There’s a story about a woman running with multiple sclerosis, there’s a woman who ran a naked 5k and stories about divorces and best friends.
A lot of the women in this book express self doubt about their running. Why do you think this plagues mother runners?
I think it’s a typical woman thing; it’s hard for us to own things, even when it’s clear we do. I think the definition of “runner” is shifting pretty significantly. The stereotype of a man with cut calves lapping a track on a cold gray morning is the idea of what we think of as a “real runner.” But in fact, women are running more half-marathons, we’re dominating every distance except for the marathon and we’re still making up ground on that. We’re trying to move the needle with Another Mother Runner. If you put yourself out there and move forward as fast as you can, you get to call yourself [a runner] and own that.
I think we also meet so many women who become runners after they become moms, so they can have something for themselves. They’re trying running at 38, 42, even later. That ownership sometimes takes time to try on, make sure it feels good, and [it takes] readjusting your perception of how to define a runner.
You’ve been very open about your battle with depression, especially in this book. How has running helped you in that sense?
I can’t tell you how much difference it makes. It’s such a powerful antidepressant that I don’t know if I can put it into words. It’s basically [all about] sweating. Running is definitely my first choice, but with injuries and an aging body even just going to the gym or taking a spinning class, getting my endorphins going and getting my blood moving is good. Something clicks in my brain and it feels like it showers me with positivity and confidence and happiness. I just can’t find that anywhere else. I’ve continued to try meditation. I’m on antidepressants, I go to therapy, I do all that. I’m doing all the right things but when I need a jolt, it’s like, ‘Lace up, let’s go.’
With my story in Tales from Another Mother Runner, I’m putting myself out there. I was pretty suicidal and I don’t know that I would have done it, but I definitely thought about it. It just dominated my head. I went back and forth about writing about it; it’s a pretty vulnerable position to put myself in. But now I’ve shared it with a handful of people, and it will be out in the world soon, and everyone who read it was either super supportive or said, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve been there.’
I’m not the only person to have these thoughts but when you’re in the throes of them, you think you are. To create a safe space for women to get that conversation going, I feel like it’s breaking the last taboo. We’ll talk about leaking urine, hemorrhoids and should you have sex before a race. But anything that’s mental, [we think], ‘That just shows that I’m weak.’
Was writing about your suicidal thoughts therapeutic for you?
Definitely, it was really helpful for me to go through it and to remember it. Especially now, it’s winter [a year later], and I know now this [season] is just a really hard time for me. It doesn’t matter if I have a book coming out; my brain isn’t going to cooperate. But just having that frame of reference has been helpful. Putting it on paper and knowing I got through it. Logically, I know I did but to lay out most of the details and have a satisfactory ending, ‘Wow Dimity, look at what you did, you did that, you can do it again if that situation arises,’ it gave me a nice sense of closure.
What advice do you have for moms who might be considering running, but feel intimidated?
“The thing about running is that it ricochets through every level of your life.”
There’s all the typical advice: Walk-run segments are a really good place to start. You can start with 20 seconds of running and 90 seconds of walking, if that’s what feels good to your body, and slowly build up. But I think the biggest [advice] is that you’ve got to carve the time out. What happens is you have a bad night, your kid was sick, your dog threw up, and you’re like ‘I’m not going to get up [when the alarm goes off].’ You think, ‘I’ll do it at some point today.’ But then it’s 4:30 and you’re thinking, ‘There’s no way I’m going to exercise, I want a glass of wine.’ Instead, say, ‘I’m going to go from 6 to 6:30 every morning, or at lunch.’ Just do it.
We also say again and again that having a best running friend is your most valuable piece of gear. You’ll let yourself down or lie in bed and decide not to get up, but you’re going to get up if your best friend is waiting for you. And don’t have your phone nearby so you can text to get out of it!
How has sticking with running helped you feel like a better mother?
The thing about running is that it ricochets through every level of your life. Back when my kids were smaller and I spent all day with them at home, I would come home after a run and feel like I pushed a reset button. I had so much more patience. I’m a more loving spouse, a more efficient worker. It just kind of lifts you up in every level of your life.
We get a lot of women saying, ‘My husband doesn’t support it,’ or, ‘I feel guilty taking time a way from my kids.’ Your kids are going to be fine for half an hour; they’re going to be there when you get back. And even if they’re crying when you leave, they’re not going to be crying when you get home and you’re going to feel like a brand new woman.
What’s next for Another Mother Runner?
We joke that it’s mother runner world domination! We always say if all the politicians out there were runners, maybe it would be a better world. But we’re really focused on this year right now. We’ve got a tour of 18 cities and we have a couple of challenges coming up. There are a lot of virtual races out there, virtual 5Ks or half-marathons, but we flipped it and said were going to focus on the training because that’s the hard part! We have a half-marathon challenge now, and we’re going to do a marathon challenge, too. We want to keep encouraging people to move forward, at whatever pace.
Ready to get inspired to dig out your sneakers? Check out Tales from Another Mother Runner for yourself.