Check it Out: 'Running Like a Girl' an enjoyable exercise

By Jan Johnston, Columbian book reviewer

Published:

 
photoJan Johnston is the Collection Development Coordinator for the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District. Email her at readingforfun@fvrl.org.

Review

“Running Like a Girl: Notes on Learning to Run” By Alexandra Heminsley; Scribner, 210 pages

Do you know what’s happening today? The 4th annual Vancouver USA Marathon! Participants are pounding the pavement for 26.2 miles (full marathon), 13.1 miles (half marathon), or 3.1 miles (the Freedom 5K run). A kids’ marathon (1.2 miles), the Sports and Fitness Expo, and the 2nd annual Summer Brewfest are also taking place, so it’s definitely an action-packed event!

I have to admit that whenever I think about running, I flash back to my P.E. classes in junior high and high school. For me, running was a painful experience, more of a punishment than a fun activity. I dreaded the timed mile-run that everyone had to complete in order to pass the class because I was always one of, if not, the last to finish, feeling humiliated and very close to throwing up in front of classmates and teachers. Looking back, I realize that if there had been an attempt to train us to work up to running a mile, instead of endless rounds of softball, volleyball and basketball torture (just more humiliation for someone without any sports ability), I might actually have been able to run without hurting myself.

Perhaps my terrible, albeit very limited, experience with running is why I enjoyed reading “Running Like a Girl” by Alexandra Heminsley so much. The author, who in her thirties decided to give running a try, had previously felt (as I still do, unfortunately) that taking on a punishing physical activity past the age of thirty was next to impossible. Running is for the young, or as Alexandra writes in the first chapter, as kids “we would grab our coats and head outside to play whatever game we could think of, as long as it meant running around. We didn’t call it running at that age, because running was how we did everything. …”

The author’s transformation from a non-runner — “my certainty that I couldn’t run was absolute” — to a participant in multiple marathons is a journey well worth reading. She describes her first run (a disaster) with great humor and complete honesty: “I was halfway down the road when I had to stop. … Within seconds, my face had turned puce with intense heat and my chest was heaving. … I was not just out of breath; I was having to swallow down panic to keep myself moving at all. … Every time my feet struck the tarmac, I was convinced my ankle would twist, and every time I looked down to check, I was confronted with the unwieldy expanse of my thigh.”

Despite a very inauspicious start, she perseveres, eventually finding a sustainable running groove that keeps her going, putting (if you’ll forgive the cliché) one foot in front of the other. Running may not be for everyone, but “Running Like a Girl” should please runners, joggers, and strollers alike. Exercise, even just reading about it, can be fun!