Gear Girl: Bionic Mom

May 4, 2011
Outside Magazine

--Stephanie Pearson writes the Gear Girl column for


Dimity McDowell is an Olympic-caliber athlete, “Runner’s World” contributing editor, ESPN columnist, mother of two, and the co-author of “Run Like A Mother,” a book published last spring that spread like wildfire among athlete moms. With a Facebook community 10,000-strong and growing, Denver-based McDowell, 39, and her writing partner Sarah Bowen Shea have created a niche that needed filling: a real-time support network for moms everywhere. Here’s why you’ll want to follow on Facebook or at

What inspired you to write “Run Like a Mother”?
My co-author Sarah Bowen Shea and I ran the 2007 Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco, and documented our training on a blog on and then wrote a feature about our training and race. Sarah has three kids and I have two, and we talked about the importance of scheduling workouts, taking care of yourself, setting goals. As we wrote about how we were getting it all done, we realized there was this really cool community of other multitasking mothers who realized the benefits of getting up at 5:30 a.m. to run—it makes me a more patient mom, a more loving wife, a more efficient worker, among other things—and that this community hadn’t really been solidified yet.

You're a former Olympic-caliber rower. What do you do now?
My rowing career feels like forever ago. I was part of a boat that won the World Championships for under 23 in 1994. I trained to make the Olympic team in 1996, but quickly realized I don’t have the eagle-eye mental focus and toughness necessary to make an Olympic team. After that, I started running more and got into triathlons because I love to swim. I’ve done two half-Ironman distance triathlons and a handful of Olympic- and sprint-distance tris. Two marathons (and probably no more: the training is too tough on my body) and lots of half-marathons; love that distance because you have to be accountable for your training, but it doesn’t require three-hour long runs on the weekend. I did the Mount Taylor Quadrathlon this winter, and really liked that; as I get older, I find myself drawn towards races that are more unusual and less about the finishing time on the clock.

Your book resonates with a lot of moms. Why?
—Motherhood can be really isolating, and moms who like to run and encounter similar issues—lack of time, energy, the occasional husband/family who isn’t as supportive as you’d like them to be—is invaluable.
—The community is really accessible. We aren’t running experts, and don’t pretend to be. Instead, we are just have set up a forum where other people can answer what they did for shin splints or what they eat for breakfast, pre-race.
—The community is really supportive and inclusive: there are no dumb questions and everybody, whether they just finished running their first straight mile or just qualified for Boston, gets cheered on in a very authentic, heartening way.

What have you learned from your readers?
So much. I’ve been reminded again and again how resilient and strong women are; I’ve been amazed at the determination shown, especially from the beginning runners; I’ve laughed at the photos they’ve posted. One of my favorites is a note from a 1st grader to her mom: “tomaroh we are going to do esxrsis do not forget.” They remind me, when all my systems say no, that it’s best to get out there and get it done.

Is there any essential "gear" as a mother you must own?
My most important gear right now includes the book Chi Running ( It’s my Bible for form and staying injury-free; a SkirtSports Marathon Girl skirt ( (love running in a skirt; just fun and flirty, and reminds me to keep my attitude light); my Nano (, although I’m really bad at updating playlists, so I’ve been listening to the same songs for about a year now. I’ve also recently been turned onto these 110% compression capris (, which have pockets for ice packs (included with purchase), and I LOVE them. Not only do they support my joints during a run, but I can come home and ice and do all the things I need to do: make lunch, check homework, fold laundry, etc. and not have to be parked on the couch.

What are the toughest transitions an athlete goes through when she becomes a mother?
Having a kid requires a big mental shift in all aspects of your life: you are not in charge anymore. You’re on call 24/7, and your priorities, including self-care, usually get pushed to the rear. Plus, right after birth, your body feels like it doesn’t belong to you: your hormones are out of control, nothing fits, your chest is ridiculously large, and you’re totally sleep deprived. It’s hard to find motivation. The biggest tip I have is to get up early, before the rest of the house is awake, and get your run in. Yes, it sucks to head out when it’s pitch black, but getting it done before anything else can interfere with it is the only way to guarantee it’ll be done. The running stroller is also one of the best inventions going, and I recommend that moms go when it’s nap time, if possible. Otherwise, lots of treats and toys help make the ride a little more palatable for the nuggets along for the ride.

What do you hope your kids learn from your athleticism?
I don’t necessarily want them to be runners, but I do want them to play sports for most of their youth: I feel like so many life lessons—winning/losing, having goals, working hard, creating deep, intimate friendships—come through being on a team. I think endurance sports like cycling and running fit more easily into your life in your 20s, when team sports aren’t as accessible.

Do you have a sequel in the works?
Yes, we do. Train Like A Mother, which will incorporate the same casual tone and input from a range of running mothers, and also have innovative training plans for four race distances (5k, 10k, half-marathon, marathon), will be out in March of 2012.

Filed To: Books, Athletes, Running

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