The Confab: Run Like a Mother

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dimity McDowell Davis and Sarah Bowen Shea are some serious mother runners. I know. Sounds like a layered insult, but actually it’s the stark opposite. It’s all about high praise for these moms—with five children between them—who not only find time, but also make time to get out there, get active and get running.

DMD and SBS (the initials thing with these two is only part of the charm) wrote Run Like a Mother: How to Get Moving—and Not Lose You Family, Job, or Sanity last year March. It’s a collection of essays so smart and informative, you’ll feel as though you’re trotting a few steps behind these two buds out for a run and listening in on their conversation. The NYT called it a “bible for active parents.” Telling you, these are some sensible dames.

So obviously we’re honored to have RLAM as our first guests in The Confab. They are also bringing in another “first” for MMM. More on that at the end of the post. [Spoiler alert: Giveaway!]


Run Like These Mothers: Dimity (left) and Sarah.



















Q: Welcome to The Confab! Let’s jump right in. Have you both been active women basically all your lives? Was there ever a period in your life that you had to stage a comeback using running and fitness?

Sarah Bowen Shea: I didn’t get moving until college—I was a bookworm growing up. I fell in love with rowing my freshman year and started running as a way to get in shape. After school, I moved to San Francisco, where I wanted to be active and outside all the time. I took up mountain biking, hiking, and trail running when I lived there, and I’ve been active to some degree ever since—except when I was pregnant with twins.

Due to some complications, I had to limit myself to 20 minutes of exercise for the second half of my pregnancy. That was a significant cut-back for me. It was tough on my body when I amped things back up two months post-partum. I’m convinced I did some damage to my heel on my first post-twins run that I’m still dealing with today.

Dimity McDowell Davis: I’ve basically been active since college as well. I was also a rower, and took up running as cross-training. I ran through most of my twenties, but when I was pregnant for the first time (at age 33), I stopped running. No interest, frankly, and my body wasn’t liking how it felt.  Ditto for second pregnancy. So, yes, I’ve had plenty of those runs where I feel like I’m going to die at the 15-minute mark, and wonder how in the heck I ever ran a marathon.

Q: I was recently sidelined by a bad cold for a week. Getting back on the run was challenging. What about women who feel “sidelined” (and possibly blindsided) by motherhood? Maybe they are new moms trying to sort through this new life or “vets” who are so wrapped up in juggling career, parenthood and home, that they’ve counted themselves out completely. What’s your advice for these women about getting up and getting out there?

DMD: I tell myself this all the time: If I don’t take care of myself, nobody else will. And I have to take care of myself to be a good mom, a loving wife, an efficient worker. (Notice I didn’t say “best” mom/wife/worker … I believe in being realistic about expectations, especially as they pile on during early years of parenting.) Also, this may sound harsh to some parents who share different parenting beliefs than I do, but I truly believe that kids need a break from their moms, just as we need a break from them. It’s important to have them learn to respect other adults (like babysitters or aunts or uncles) and to teach them that so many people in this world will love them.

Q: How do you make the time to run? Is it all about the old-school “put yourself first” thing? Or is it an intricate puzzle that gets jumbled from time to time?

SBS: The only way I can ensure I get in a workout is to set my alarm earlier than I’d like. Sure, I’d like to sleep later than 5 a.m., but now I’m used to it. I take Mondays as a rest day, and I almost have to work to sleep “in” until 6 a.m. When I was less busy with work, I ran in the late afternoon, but it was too easy to let real life intrude. Now that my kids aren’t babies, there is no “real life” at my house until 6:30 or 7, so I’m not missing anything but sleep.

Q: What about the love-hate relationship that so many runners have with running? How do you recommend managing it so that the “hate” part of the equation doesn’t win out?

DMD: I will not deny it: running is hard. There’s a reason why the ellipticals are booked at the gym, while only one in five treadmills is being used. It’s freakin’ hard! But I try to see the beauty of that. No other exercise makes me feel as triumphant as running does, post-workout. And to be honest, I kind of live for that triumphant feeling.

If every run leaves you totally wiped and hating it, then it’s time to slow down. Running should be hard, but it shouldn’t leave you thrashed every single time. Most runs should be at pace at which you can easily carry on a conversation; if need be, switch your runs to a run/walk so you have a little time to recover. There is no shame—I repeat, no shame—in walking.

Q: Do you think it’s more challenging to stay fit and eat healthy once you become a parent? Or it is easier, since many of us hope to lead by example?

SBS: While writing the introduction for the book, I got to thinking about this question … and realized I find it easier to exercise and eat right now that I have kids. Maybe it’s the way I’m hardwired, but the more demands I have on me, the more I get done. So now that I have to be driving carpool, working, cooking dinner, and keeping house during the day, exercise naturally takes its place before the sun comes up. Without those demands, days might slip by without any sense of urgency that it’s time to run! As for eating: When my husband and I were DINKS (do people still use that term to mean pre-kids?!), we ate take-out most nights. With kids, that’s not feasible.

Q: If a mom only has 20 minutes, three days a week, how can she use that time optimally? Generally speaking, what’s the best thing (sun salutations, brisk walk, light jog, ab work) she could do with that time to encourage or support some fitness in her life?

DMD: With 20 minutes, 3 days a week, I’d use that time to get outside and move. Walk briskly, run, jog, just propel yourself forward and get your heart rate up and a light sweat going. Then, I’d ask the mom to take a look at her schedule. I bet she could carve out 2 more 20 minute blocks in a week to strength train. A basic routine of 2 sets of 12-15 lunges, squats, push-ups, crunches, tricep dips—all can be done with just your body weight and a chair or low table for the dips—can be done in that time.

If you have young kids, put on some music and let them imitate you. If you’re an American Idol junkie, do it while you watch them sing. That’s 100 minutes out of a whole week … not huge, in the grand scheme of things.

Q: Life is full and busy and sometimes crazed. What keeps you motivated?

SBS: Concern for what I’d look—and feel—like if I didn’t run. I gain such a strong sense of pride from my running—not by my middle-of-the-pack speed, but by the mere fact I’m out there and doing it. It also off-sets my hearty appetite and keeps a smile on my face. Even though I usually run too early to see any blooming flowers or blue sky, it’s rejuvenating to be outside.

Q: I know you are both big fans of running skirts. But if you had to boil it all down, what’s the one thing—training tool, fitness gear, healthy routine—that is an absolute must for you?

SBS: My iPod nano. I used to shun music while running, but I did a 180 on that. Sometimes, when all other motivation has left the building, the thing that gets me to pound the pavement is the thought of listening to a new playlist or podcast. (My choices aren’t very original: This American Life and Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.) And I recently discovered audiobooks. I was entranced by listening to the Bronte novels.

DMD: At the risk of promoting other books, I gotta say Chi Running by Danny Dreyer. It totally changed how I think about how I run. Instead of just clunking along, now I think about landing lightly and trying to take 90 steps a minute. I think about using my core as my power source. I think about what hurts when I run, and how I can change it for the better. I can’t zone out anymore during my runs, but I also feel like I’ve (finally) got the potential to run pain-free for years to come.

Q: What’s the best advice you’ve heard about finding balance and getting closer to living your best life?

SBS: I always remind myself—and my kids—that we only have the here and now. I use it as motivation to run. Don’t tell yourself you can run tomorrow or even later in the day because who knows what’s going to happen a day or even a few hours from now.

And I think about that idea to appreciate my kids more fully, no matter how crazy-making they are being. Sometimes I try to take snapshots with my mind to fully appreciate what life is like at this moment with a 9-year-old and 5-year-old twins. Our life is chaotic, but I don’t want to wish a moment of it away.


Music makes the world go ’round. Yeah … and it can also help you get through that drag-your-bum run. We asked DMD and SBS to give us a taste of the tracks that help them make tracks. (We had to say it!)

SBS Race-Ready Playlist

“Just Fine” by Mary J. Blige

“Hey Sexy Lady” by iSquare

“Girls Just Want to Have Fun” by Starfucker

“4 Minutes” by Madonna

“I Like It (feat. Pitbull)” by Enrique Inglesias

“I Like It, I Love It” by Lyrics Born

“DJ Got Us Fallin’ in Love (feat. Pitbull)” by Usher

“I Gotta Feeling” by Black Eyed Peas

“More” by Usher

“Gimme More” by Britney Spears


DMD Current* Faves Playlist
(*Don’t mistake the word “current” for new. My music tastes are usually at least a few and usually more.)

“Little Lion Man” by Mumford & Sons

“Kick Drum Heart” by The Avett Brothers

“Some Flowers Blood Dead” by The Wallflowers

“Rolling In the Deep” by Adele

“Dog Days Are Over” by Florence + The Machine

“Club Can’t Handle Me” by Flo Rida

“See These Bones” by Nada Surf

“New Shoes” by Paolo Nutini

“Alex Chilton” The Replacements

“End of the Line” by The Traveling Wilburys

Dance your way over to the RLAM site for even more playlists.


Now, about that “surprise” first … introducing the RLAM-MMM Giveaway! That’s right. Here in the Confab the emphasis is definitely on fab.

Here’s how it works:

Step 1. Read our interview with the RLAM ladies.

Step 2. Head over to MMM’s Facebook Page.

Step 3. Leave a comment about anything running- or fitness-related: Best pump-up jam.  An ode to your sports bra. Anything.

Step 4. One lucky commenter will win BOTH the RLAM book and a too-cool-for-fools Tee.

There’s more … you get a choice of shirt. Either this fly, aqua, short-sleeved number or this feisty, grey tee.

That’s it. Don’t walk, run over to the MMM Facebook Page for your chance to win.

  • 1
    kim hebert says:

    Love the RLAM FB page and website. I just discovered it a couple of months ago. I have gotten the best advice from these two sites than from any other info source. I appreciate that is not “elitist” but for the average Mom (or in my case, also Grandmom!)to help and encourage us to do our best as women and as examples to others!! It is very meaningful and relevant to be able to use the information when you run out the door. Very inspiring to me!! Thanks, RLAM ladies!!

    • 1.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      Yes, those RLAM ladies and the strong community that they’ve built are simply fantastic. Thanks for the comment, Kim.

  • 2
    Anne says:

    I will run anywhere anytime with U2 on my iPhone. Yesterday I sang Toy Soldiers in my head yesterday at Zooma

  • 3
    Anne says:

    I will run around the world if I could always listen to U2. Yesterday at Zooma I sang Toy Sildiers in my head…”Step by step, heart to heart, left right left, we all fall down, like toy soldiers.”

  • 4
    Andrea T. says:

    I loved the interview . . . I just got done reading RLAM on my Kindle after running in my very first 5k .. . without any training (not a good idea as I was super sore). My girlfriend and I now have a goal to run 1 5k race each month until October. I was a college basketball player who hated the thought of running past a mile .. . now I’m slowly getting hooked! Thanks for the giveaway chance!!

  • 5
    Kristen says:

    Thanks for extra time with our favorite mother runners? RLAM!!