Why She Runs

Mother/Daughter Runners - sharing the road to sucess

Mother/Daughter Runners - sharing the road to success

The Women’s Running Boom – and how it is making moms healthier and happier
Published in baystateparent magazine

When Susan Smith of Westborough, MA decided to try running as an alternative to her gym workouts in the Spring of 2011, she wasn’t sure what to expect. The fitness director at her gym had been taking a group of women out for short runs to introduce them to the sport.

“One day, I said, ‘What the heck, I’m just going to go out and try it,’” Susan recalls. “We did about a mile of walking and running, and I really enjoyed it. That was the beginning.”

Those beginning steps began a journey for Susan that took her from being a non-runner to running her first 5K in July 2011, to the Tufts 10K in October 2011, the Disney Princess half marathon in January 2012, and — most impressively —the 2012 Boston Marathon.
Susan’s journey may be unusual: not many women go from complete non-runners to marathoners in less than a year. But her interest in running and enjoyment of the physical and psychological benefits is shared by women, as more and more women are lacing up their shoes and embracing the sport.

The Second Running Boom: Girls Rule

It’s been called the “Second Running Boom” and it’s still booming – especially with women. According to Running USA, there were over 7 million female road race finishers in 2011 – a record high. In fact, more women than men can be found at most start lines, (55% vs. 25% in 1990). Jog bras are outnumbering jockstraps, from 5K races to marathons. This is in stark contrast to the First Running Boom of the 1970s, when less than 20% of finishers were women.

Clearly, females are reshaping the face of running.

Running Benefits to Women

So why are women taking to the roads in record numbers? The answer is multi-faceted.

“Running is a major calorie burner,” says ACSM Certified Personal Trainer, Registered Dietitian, and long-time runner Chrissy Carroll from Mansfield, MA. “A lot of women use running as a way to get in shape — to lose weight or tone up.”

Moms wanting to shed the baby fat find that running especially suits their busy schedules. “I can put my kids on the bus and go out the door and run. That’s definitely extremely appealing,” says Susan, mom of Shanyna (11) and Aaron (9).

The health benefits of running don’t stop at the scale. Running has been shown to help lower blood pressure, maximize lung capacity, reduce risk of heart disease, stop osteoporosis, strengthen the immune system, improve sleep, and reduce the risk of breast cancer.
“Running —along with other forms of exercise—also helps to decrease the risk of anxiety and depression, and can improve self-confidence,” adds Chrissy.

50% Vanity, 50% Sanity

Deb Hurowitz of Framingham, MA, a mom to two young children, Max (6) and Sophia (4) says that running has helped her regain confidence in her body, which translates into regaining a feeling of control in her busy life. A social worker by profession, Deb counsels moms through her business, “Mommy but Still Me” to rediscover their identity after the baby years.

“Running is something where I can get a little bit of time on my own. It’s just a little bit of a break. Moms need this space, and what better way to get space than through running?”

Susan agrees. “My kids have their activities, and their goals, and I see this as something that is for me, that I enjoy doing and makes me feel good,” she says. “Someone said ‘I run 50% for vanity and 50%for sanity.’ I can relate to that.”

A Greater Goal

While running can be an individual form of exercise, many moms aim to complete a race distance, with 5K races being the most popular. For Deb, that goal began with just a few steps.

Deb never thought that running was for her. “I was the kid on the soccer field who would run some laps, and say, ‘I’m done.’ I had bad knees, I had no stamina, I didn’t know how to breathe. I thought it wasn’t for me,” she recalls.

But now, as part of her broader fitness goal of completing a 10-12 mile “Tough Mudder” obstacle run in May, she has slowly – and surely – built up her stamina through running. She uses a mobile app on her iPhone that takes her through a slow, steady increase in endurance, one step at a time, while she’s out walking/running. She plans to run her first 5K in October.

“I’m not worrying about my time, I’m worrying about finishing. That is my goal,” she quips.

Trainer Chrissy Carroll recommends that women new to running accept where they are, and take small steps to reach their fitness goals.
“Many women struggle with endurance at the beginning of a running routine - they’ll try to go all out and run 2 or 3 miles having never done it before, and then feel frustrated when they get a mile in and their heart is racing and breath is rapid,” she says. Chrissy recommends following Cool Running’s Couch-to-5K ® Running Plan (www.coolrunning.com) and/or connecting with other women via social networks of running groups. Chrissy organizes her own Couch-to-5K” Meetup group (www.meetup.com) in addition to coaching women on a one-on-one basis.

The Rise of Women-only Races

The growth of women-only races is another reflection of the surge in women’s running. Running USA reports that there were more than 200 “women-only” events in the U.S. last year (95% female participation or higher). Some notable women-only races are the Nike Women’s Half-marathon, the Disney Princess Half-marathon, the Divas Half Marathon series, and the Boston-based Tufts Health Plan 10K for Women, one of the largest women-only 10K in the nation.

Susan, who was encouraged to run the Tufts 10K last year by friend and new runner Resa Sherr, will be joining her friend at the Tufts 10K Start Line again October. Both women are running for the Leukemia and Lymphoma’s Team in Training charity group.

“There’s definitely a unique camaraderie about women-only races,” Susan says. “Even though we may not all know each other personally, at some level we do know each other. We all have busy lives and we’ve all put a lot of effort to get to the start line. The energy is amazing.”

Change Your Perception – Then Take the First Step

If the benefits of running are so far-reaching, what keeps more women from trying out the sport?
According to Chrissy, it can be a perception problem.

“You’ve probably told yourself reasons why you shouldn’t run – ‘I’ve never been a runner. It’s too hard. I’m not fast. I’d come in last in a race. I’m embarrassed about the way I look.’ Why don’t you shift that mental outlook and start telling yourself the reason you CAN run?” she says.
“Making time” is another factor for busy moms. Chrissy counters that moms are masters at time management.

“You can figure out a way to include a few 30-minute sessions each week. Focus on why you can do this, and you’ll be a runner in no time,” she tells women.
For Susan and Deb, it’s about just taking that first step.

“You can do anything. But you have to take it one step at a time,” says Deb. “Eight months ago, if you have said that I would be running a 5K, I would not have believed it.”
“People are much stronger than they realize that they are. They just have to start.”

Not expect it to be perfect. Just start.

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Trish

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