Tuesday, June 19, 2012

An Old-School Father reviews "Train Like a Mother"

Guys, let's face it.  We look up to men like Steve Prefontaine and Alberto Salazar who talked a lot about guts and enduring pain, but none of them went through child birth.  Whether they know it or not, the mothers of the world are uniquely experienced to deal with the necessary patience, hard work, and pain threshold required for the thrill of reaching the finish line.  While children do not come with manuals, authors Dimitry McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea  provide a running manual for mothers with their second book, Train Like a Mother.

This book does not fall into the trap many "you can do it"  running books fall into, which make running seem like nothing more than moving your arms and legs around, feeling good, and then raising your arms in victory at the finish line.  Thankfully, McDowell and Bowen create no such illusions in their book.  There's plenty of pages devoted to burning sensations in the lungs and legs, race day flame outs, injuries, chaffing, and unplanned discharges of various bodily fluids.  Which makes taking the journey to the finish line even more significant and the inspirational stories more compelling and real.
They divide their book into 13.1 chapters (OK, it's really 13) that start off with the couple of introductions about running, caveats about taking on any training program, before outlining beginning and intermediate training plans for running the 5k, 10k, half-marathon, and marathon distances.  After that are chapters on matters such as strength training, injuries, nutrition, setting goals, before concluding with tips on how to get the most out of all that hard work on race day.

I found much of the training advice to be well thought out and sensible, although it travelled over rather well worn territory.  But there's always a fine line in training when setting goals and making plans that "absolutely need to be done, no excuses" and being flexible, recalibrating and adjusting your training to how you feel and the things that life inevitably throws in your way. I found the training plans to strike that difficult balance.   For example, workouts are denoted as "Bail if necessary" while critical hard workouts are stamped "Bailing is not an option".

Also valuable are the "Motherly Advice" side bars, where all sorts of tricks and clever ideas are shared to get a little extra training while juggling everything else that's going on.  For instance, they show how to use running strollers and treadmills to get a decent workout in while keeping the little one engaged and happy.  But I must say I was slightly amused by the authors' devoting at least two pages about smoothing over feelings when making a break from a running partner who can't keep up.  (The guy version of this book would have only a single sentence:  "He'll get over it.")

I found the chapters on cross-training, recovery, strength training, and flexibility helpful, with lots of insights on core training and simple exercises one can perform in the living room.  Maybe that's because my wife Linda, a running mother herself, has found a lot of the core exercises she's worked on have helped her running.  With my kids here for the summer and less time to run, I'll be spending more time inside working on core strength and overcoming some form imbalances, with this book giving me some direction in this area. 

McDowell and Bowen also share all sorts of interesting discussions and advice from women readers of their first book, Run Like a Mother.  As a guy who's spent most of his time talking about running with male runners, I found these conversations be a fascinating cultural experience.  And if this book is an accurate representation, compared to guys, women runners talk just as much about chaffing, vomiting, and a lot more about sex.
The authors, Sharon Bowen Shea
is the shorter one.
But perhaps the most valuable passages of this book come from the personal advice the authors share about the need for mothers to take good care of themselves and have positive diversions at a time where they face great demands and expectations elsewhere in their life.  Looking back ten years ago during the time my kids first came into the world, I wasn't running much, was 60 pounds overweight, was angry, unhappy and needless to say, not as good as a father as I could have been.  Guys like my don't ask for directions, and since it took nearly hitting rock bottom before I got some help, this book probably couldn't have helped me back then.  But for those running mothers out there struggling to raise their kids without a manual and still find the meaning and purpose running adds to their lives, Train Like a Mother provides a lot of good direction during this crucial time in their lives.

(A copy of this book was provided by Andrews McMeel Publishing for the purposes of this review.)

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