A Chat with Run Like a Mother’s Dimity & Sarah

Dimity McDowell, Deena Kastor and Sarah Bowen Shea
Dimity (left) and Sarah (right) pose with mother runner, Olympic bronze medalist and marathon legend Deena Kastor. Photo courtesy of Sarah Bowen Shea.

Here at Salty Running, Ginger recently posted about the male-dominated Letsrun.com. You may have asked yourself, what kind of online community exists for women runners? (Besides the site you’re on right now, obviously!)

Friends, running buddies and authors Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea were asking themselves a similar question back in 2007 when they were training for a marathon, noticed a lack of resources geared towards running moms and took matters into their own hands. Two books (Run Like a Mother and Train Like a Mother), a blog, a podcast and a growing online community, it’s fair to say that McDowell and Shea are the women behind a movement. Or to put it in their lingo, a Tribe.

Since I’m using one of the marathon training plans from Train Like a Mother (and find the duo to be hilarious), I was thrilled to have the opportunity to catch up with them on behalf of Salty Running.

We here at Salty Running love you two and all of your contributions to women’s running. Your first book came to life when you were training for the Nike Women’s Marathon together, since you weren’t finding resources for running moms. Do you feel that the landscape of female-specific running resources has changed in the past five years?

SBS: Most definitely. Women are fueling the second running boom, and it’s in women’s nature to want to talk about their passions. Just as more and more women’s races have sprung up since 2007, so have a bunch of women’s websites and blogs. Take, for instance… Salty Running! It’s empowering to read about what other women runners are doing, to learn and be inspired by them.

DMD: I agree. According to USA Running, there are more women, percentage-wise, than men at every race distance except for the marathon, where it’s something like 45% women and 55% men. If you consider that women weren’t even allowed to run an Olympic marathon until 1984, you realize how strong and passionate the women’s running movement is.

Let’s talk a little more about Nike Women’s Marathon and what that experience was like. Your web site, anothermotherrunner.com, also lists women’s races around the country. How are women’s only races different than their co-ed counterparts?

SBS: There’s an indescribable, unmistakable vibe at women’s races. For novice runners, XX-races offer a supportive, “safe” environment to experience racing for the first time without any testosterone jamming things up. For more experienced racers, it’s a rush to get to start at the front of the pack—and be one of the top finishers. Certainly there are women who thrive in any competitive environment, but for many women, it’s a rush to be surrounded only by other women. Plus, race organizers pay more careful attention to what women want in a race experience, like sassy, women’s tees, a necklace in lieu of a clunky medal, and maybe some pampering at the expo or post-race party. We’ve gone to every ZOOMA half-marathon since debuting our first book, Run Like a Mother, at the Austin race in 2010. Each of those races have such an empowering, ebullient mood—you can’t help but smile at them.

Run Like a Mother and Train Like a Mother have all kinds of cool lingo, but instead of the more jargon-y running lingo, it’s things like BRF (Best Running Friend), a favorite of mine. What’s your favorite word in your special language?

SBS: BAMR (pron. “BAM-er”), which stands for our signature phrase, “Badass Mother Runner.” Using BAMR is like short-hand amongst our mother runner tribe for accomplishing a kickass goal or tackling a challenging workout.

DMD: I think I gotta go with BAMR too. I love how it sounds, what it conveys and the fact that, unless you know what it is, it’s a tough acronym to just figure out. Like a secret code of sorts, I guess. (Yep, I could be 12 years old again easily.)

Dimity and Sarah reading from Train Like a Mother at a house party in North Carolina.
Dimity and Sarah reading from Train Like a Mother at a house party in North Carolina. Photo courtesy of Sarah Bowen Shea.

One of my favorite parts of everything that you two do – the books, the podcast, the blog and your social media – is how you aren’t the voices of authority, it’s really your tribe of mother runners who help each other out. Was that by design? Did you expect the community to grow as much as it has?

SBS: We have been thrilled and amazed by the growth, strength, and solidarity of the Tribe of mother runners who have coalesced around our various social media outlets. There are few things we love better than when, on our Facebook page one runner will ask a question, and before we can respond, several other mother runners will chime in with the exact same advice—or often better—we would give. And usually with the same sort of wit and tone we’d use.

DMD: Totally by design. I don’t have the skills to coach 18,000 runners, but I can find the words and set the tone for them to interact with each other on Facebook or our website. I mean, I really admire Kara Goucher and Deena Kastor and other elite mother runners, but their days—and running talents and schedules—are so different than our’s. Of course I’m interested in seeing how she gets it done, but at the end of the day, I’m just a 9:30-miler (on a good day) and I surround myself with that crowd.

What’s the number one lesson you’ve learned from the Tribe?

SBS: Don’t underestimate the life-changing power of running.

DMD: How vital it is to have a running buddy—or virtual running community—to encourage you. It’s a tough road to travel totally alone.

In Train Like a Mother, Dimity compares training without racing to a cake without frosting. Sarah, do you agree? What is the most delicious “frosting” you’ve ever had?

SBS: I agree, but for different reasons. Dimity loves the party atmosphere and camaraderie of a race, whereas I love the competitive element. I love being in a situation that makes me bring my A-game…and perhaps elevate it higher than I thought possible. As for best “frosting,” that’s a tough call. It’s a tie between the Big Sur Marathon — exquisite natural beauty — and the 2012 Boston Marathon. I guess Boston is the most “tasty,” thanks to the amazingly supportive, enthusiastic spectators. Unlike any other I’ve encountered in the seven previous marathons I’d run.

Dimity, I know you have your sights set on an Ironman (or should I call it an Ironwoman?) in 2013. What races do you have planned in the shorter term? Sarah, what’s on your race schedule?

DMD: Good question. I am pretty sure I am going to the Aquabike (swim, then bike) portion of the Harvest Moon half-Ironman in September. I would run the 13.1 miles, but my left leg, my chronic running injury, has flared up lately and I really need it to shut the f up, so to speak, before true Ironman training begins. And I’m not sure what else, triathlon-wise. There aren’t a ton of races before Couer d’Alene in June, so we’ll see how next spring shapes up.

We’re both running the Disneyland half-marathon over Labor Day with pace groups (I think Sarah is going with the 2:15 group and I am doing 2:30). We’re also headed to the Twin Cities Marathon in October, where Sarah’s going for the full monty and I’m going to run the 10-miler.

You two frequently speak at expos, so I know that plays a factor in which races you choose to run. If you didn’t have work in the mix, what’s the number one factor you would use in choosing your races?

SBS: It’s a tie between scenery and number of participants. As much as I loved the Boston Marathon, there were too many runners for my liking. I love mid-size races: big enough to get a good buzz, yet not overwhelmingly crowded. And I love natural beauty. That’s why I’m really excited for the Twin Cities Marathon. This spring, when we visited Minneapolis and St. Paul for another race expo, I was blown away by the natural beauty and the gorgeous, historic homes that line much of the marathon course. I vowed then and there that I wanted to return to the city and see it on foot. What better way to do that than run 26.2 miles in the two cities?!

DMD:  I really love trail races. My favorite race ever is the Golden Leaf Half-Marathon in Aspen. Totally different vibe than a road race: to me, it’s more fun and the atmosphere is decidedly relaxed.

The plans in TLAM were developed by Christine Hinton, coach and mother of two. How did you connect with her?

SBS: We’d “met” her over the phone many times when we’d interviewed her for magazine articles we were writing [we’re both contributing writers for Runner’s World magazine]. Christine had even tested arm warmers for a review Sarah wrote for the New York Times. We loved that Christine is a mom, ultrarunner, and running coach, and we felt she has a similar approach and attitude toward running as we do. We finally got to meet her in May, which was fun.

I did the 10K Own It! Plan and am now working my way through the marathon version. One thing that I love is how the plans in TLAM are written with built in “ditch days,” that you can skip if life gets to be too much, along with workouts you can’t miss. Can you tell me about how that came about? Was it your idea or Coach Christine’s?

DMD: I’ll take credit for that one. Most running plans feel so inflexible; I hated that I felt like I’d failed a week even if I’d done 5 of the workouts and only missed one. So I thought about what I’d want in a running plan: some flexibility, some fun, some variety, and the key workouts marked so I knew which ones were non-negotiable.

Dimity, you have a love for Pilates and you’re now taking on the world of triathlons. How do you balance your running with your other athletic pursuits?

DMD:  Pilates actually allows me to do all my other things; it realigns my body and strengthens my core and makes me feel light and tall. I try to do it twice a week, but if I skip a week or even a weekly session, I really feel it. I feel kind of crumpled inside, like my spine is deflating. If I have to pick between an endurance session and Pilates, I’ll go for the latter now. That’s how important it is.

And triathlon training is actually easier for me, mentally and physically, than straight running. These days, I swim, bike and run a couple times a week. The biggest adjustment is probably the long bike rides, as those take 3-4 hours, so I have to plan for them (and leave as soon as the sun is up), but other than that, workouts are around 60-90 minutes.

I’m from Kentucky so Sarah Hart’s death really hit home, literally, as the news unfolded, but the tragedy also made national news, in particular in the running community. With two high profile murders of female runners just this year, how do you recommend striking a balance of caution and safety without being relegated to treadmill runs?

SBS: A mother runner asked us this question recently on our Facebook page. There’s no doubt that the murders of mother runners Sarah Hart and Sherry Arnold were devastating and tragic. But we can’t allow ourselves to be paralyzed by the fear of what may happen to us. Life is full of risks, and the best we can do is to be prepared. Many mother runners tell us they run with pepper spray and a few even carry a gun. Each runner needs to weigh the perceived risks in the area she runs, consult with her loved ones, then do what she feels is best for her. One smart thing all runners can do is wear a Road ID or carry some sort of ID with them when they run in case of emergency.

DMD: Take all the precautions you feel like you need to — run with a buddy, a dog, some protective device, in a well-traveled area — and then go.

Fellow Salty blogger Clove recently issued a challenge to our readers to love their bodies for what they do, not how they look. Will you take the challenge? Any advice on how to put that into practice on a daily basis?

DMD: I just wrote a post on this today. So hard to do, but at the end of the day when I climb in bed, I love how tired my muscles—and mind—feel from the miles I ran (or biked or swam) that morning. Doing my best to remember those feelings instead of fixating on the dimples or the jiggling.

Sarah and Dimity, Ogden Half
Sarah (left) and Dimity (right) nearing the finish of the 2012 Ogden Half-Marathon. Photo courtesy of Sarah Bowen Shea.

You both have daughters. How do you think your running has impacted them?

SBS: My daughters are 10.5 years and just-turned-7. I love that they think it’s completely normal and natural for their mother to run or exercise almost every morning before they wake up, then run for up to 20 miles one weekend morning. (I’m training for Marathon #9). My younger daughter now asks to run with me, so occasionally after I run, she and I will head out for a mile or so in our neighborhood. She has told us several times she wants, “to be a runner like Mama” when she grows up.

DMD: I think my 9-year-old thinks it’s normal to have a healthy lifestyle, to sweat (almost) daily and to take time for myself. She may not always like it—I’m not usually there when she wakes up—but I think she respects it. I am adamant that she’ll be on a sports team (any team) through high school. She’s going to be tall like me (I’m 6’4”) and being on teams made me feel like my height was a useful tool, not a curse. I love all the life lessons that come through sports and being active, and—dang it—she (and my son) are going to learn them whether they like it or not. (A joke…kind of.)

Salty Running is all about motivating women runners to go for it, push themselves to run faster and to be all-around better athletes, mentally and physically. We encourage women and aim to give them the resources they need. Given your unique perspective as the “mothers” of a women’s online running community, what would you like to see on Salty Running?

DMD: You guys are doing a great job. I  think it’s really important to stay true to your voice and vision, and encourage all levels of runners.


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Southern transplant who loves 90s boy bands, outdoor adventures and college basketball, although not necessarily in that order. Recovering running perfectionist.

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  1. I love, love, love them!!! I love their website and I love to follow them on Facebook. I have one of their t-shirts and I wear it so proudly! This was so great to read!!! Thanks for this post!

  2. I love so many things about this post! I love the photos! I love the salty language (naturally)! I love their different perspectives! I love their honesty and their openness! Great interview and it made me so happy to hear so many women say how great it was that their two fave running resources collided today. I hope it’s not the last time. Thanks Sassy and Dimity & SBS!!!

  3. Dimity and Sarah are so inspiring to me. I have run for years, but never considered myself a ‘runner’. Reading their book while getting back to the sport after having my two kids, I was inspired to sign up for races and set goals and work hard to get there. I proudly consider myself not only a runner, but a BAMR and part of the tribe. Thanks for this interview!