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At last, a narrative running book by a woman. That was my first thought when I heard about Running Like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsley. Hopes were high because not only is this author a woman, but she’s a regular runner. Most of the running books I’ve read are fantastic, but they’re authored by elite or highly accomplished runners. While there’s a lot to gain by reading how Scott Jurek fuels his ultra escapades on a vegan diet, I’ve always enjoyed hearing runners’ stories at every level, particularly beginnings.

The beauty of running is in its simplicity, but many of us have a lot to learn when we first start out and most of these lessons can only be absorbed on our feet. Reading about others’ journeys helps cut the learning curve, but the main reason I love reading running blogs and am part of the built-in audience for books like this is that you never know when a running writer will touch on one of those universal truths that occasionally float through the mind between strides and rarely linger long enough to be remembered let alone shared.

Overall, I was disappointed. I’d hoped it would be a book to recommend to newer runners, the book I wish existed when I started running again. The cover is pretty great though as no running wardrobe is complete without a loud, don’t-run-me-over neon top.

running like a girl

This is the author’s story of how she first got into running and finally stuck with it. She began as many do, overweight and too out of shape to run a mile without stopping. She was living in London at the time, which brought me back to when I first started in Brooklyn. It’s hard to get out the door and just start running on a crowded sidewalk. There’s this barrier of hyper awareness from your facial expressions and not making eye contact, to worrying your top is too tight or shorts too short. Everything feels sloppy and off. You have to bash through it, but it’s hard, especially when you’re panting after a few steps and have no clue about form or what clothes work best or where the clean water fountains are. I was lucky to have Prospect Park close by, but those few blocks between my front door and the park were so full of inertia that for a long time I walked them as my “warm up”.

Shortly after starting out on the bumpy road of trying to figure out how other runners do it without actually asking anyone, the author signs up for the London Marathon. Many new runners sign up for a big race. I guess they like the structure of considering themselves in training and following a clear plan. I know a lot of people who’ve burned out on the sport by doing this. They train for a hard eight months, run their marathon to cross it off their list and then stop running. But plenty of runners fall as in love with racing as they do with running, so there’s no right or wrong time I guess. I do hope new runners don’t read this and get the impression you have to do a marathon in your first year – or ever.

I did enjoy Heminsley’s anecdote about visiting the London Marathon’s store for the first time. Apparently they will only sell you shoes after measuring your feet and analyzing your gait, blah blah blah. And of course you need an appointment. She came for help with money to spend and they turned her away (like in Pretty Woman, kind of). I found the story interesting because I’ve only had good experiences at running shops. The one time I had my feet measured at a Paragon the associate told me I had unusually high arches and introduced me to the lightweight support of Mizunos – my favorite brand to this day. She also steered me up a half size and while my feet looked enormous at first, I’ve not had one blister or sore toe since. Hopefully the London store has changed its ways because a good, knowledgeable sales person can make a world of difference  in a new runner’s training.

One thing I didn’t love about this book was the disproportionate space dedicated to gear and the author’s busom. She talks about a number of accessories beginning runners don’t need and probably don’t want to spend the money on. Had I read this when I first started out in my yoga pants and tees I probably would’ve been discouraged. Yes, compression socks are helpful, but I don’t like them. Some items are more a matter or personal preference than necessity, but the tone tries to be too authoritative to make that clear. I found myself skimming this section because it read more like an article in a glossy women’s magazine.

Running ceased to be about what others might see when they look at me. It became about what I saw when I ran.

There are a few parts that read like a good blog post, like her re-cap of the London Marathon and descriptions of running in her new beach town, Brighton. The last part dispels some absurd running myths and offers a few tips, but it was nothing I haven’t read before.

Most running books I’ve read manage to transcend; they’re about something more than the author. This book doesn’t do that. At least it’s a quick read. Definitely one to check out of the library or bypass.

My mission is to find a few good running lady authors. The running books I love happen to all be written by men and include:

There’s also First Marathons: Personal Encounters with the 26.2-Mile Monster, a collection of personal essays recounting their first time training and running a marathon. It spans the highs and lows with memorable honesty by real runners of all skill levels.

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