ASK Musings

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July 2023



Running Like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsley

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Women interested in distance running.

In a nutshell:
Author Heminsley shares her journey to becoming a long distance runner, and what she’s learned along the way.

Worth quoting:
“After a while though I began to realise that no one was really watching.”

Why I chose it:
I’ve been running half marathons for about 14 years now, but this year I decided to get a running coach to see if I can improve my time. Then I saw this book and decided why not pile on.

What it left me feeling:
Inspired but also a bit annoyed.

There’s so much in this book that I like and relate to, but also a fair bit that I found frustrating.

Let’s start with what I liked about this. The first chapter is all about Heminsley running the Royal Parks Half marathon in London. I’ve run that one three times and am currently training for it now. So right away I was captured. She then jumps back in time and talks about how she got into running – by choosing to run the London marathon (a thing I will never do – marathons are too much training for me). She talks about the challenges she’s had getting motivated, but also the great moments she’s had in training and races.

There are a lot of great tips in this book for new runners – tips about shoes, and training, and sports bras (I actually bought a bra she recommended – I’m testing it out next week). She talks about the elitism in some aspects of the community, but the welcoming nature of other aspects. She shares her experiences of hitting the wall, of being bored, of not wanting to get out for that next training run.

She also talks about the emotion of finishing a race. I’m a solidly middle runner – usually finishing half marathons with the rush of people doing 1 h 50 – 2 h 10 minute times. But I don’t run to compete against anyone – I run for myself. And in every race there’s usually a moment where I think ‘this is absurd, why am I doing this, I want to go home.’ And then I hit the end of mile 13 and there’s only about a tenth of a mile to go and the emotions just hit. It’s an amazing feeling, whether I’ve gotten my best time ever or whether it’s my worst. Just finishing is fucking cool. As is the work I put in to get there.

She’s also right that there’s a really running community, and it can be wonderful. Last weekend I ran my first park run – free events every Saturday morning in parks all over the UK. They are clearly runs, not races. They do a welcome to first timers, ask if there are any tourists in. There are marshalls volunteering to keep us on the route. At the end, we do find out our place and we get a banana, and some people go off to get coffees together. It’s just so lovely – what for so many of us is indeed a solo activity becomes communal.

But there are aspects I really don’t like about this book. Heminsley seems to have some opinions about gender that I found frustrating – like this line “As my body changed and my sense of what it was capable of started to shift I developed a more masculine side to my personality and, dare I say it, a competitive streak.” Huh? Is this meant to suggest that being competitive or capable is a ‘masculine’ trait all of a sudden? Like, what does that even mean? She also talks about ‘embracing her masculine side’ helping her become better woman. How is running or racing masculine? Literally, I don’t get it. Things like this come up a couple of times, and what knock this book from four stars to three for me.

Also a minor CN for weight loss / body shaming. I understand that weight loss and appearance are obviously a motivator for some people, I wish there’d been a little more thought put into throwing out those ideas (she also has a kind of bizarre offhand observation about a man’s body that gave me pause and bummed me out). I’d love for books like this to not talk about weight or appearance, but I know that asking a lot.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep for the tips.

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