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Book Review: "How She Did It"

Pretty solid, even if I'm not even close to being the intended audience.

How She Did It

Molly Huddle and Sara Slattery


Maybe the best part of The Lore of Running, by Tim Noakes, is the chapter where he just goes through a series of brief bios of all-time greats and some of the training. Likewise, the running message boards are littered with threads like "Deek Training??" I think we all assume that there must be some kind of magic ingredient we can find that will take our running to the same level as Rob de Castella (there isn't) — or maybe it's that we realize we can identify with these greats, and that they go through the same stuff we all do.

If it's that second idea, then this isn't the book for me. I'm a 34 year old man and this is a book of stories from all-timer female runners. Moreover, the stories are particularly focused on the challenges that they faced and successes they found as women. So...identification except in the most general terms is out. Still, I ordered this book as soon as I heard about it.

We see the threads about Deek's training, but not so much asking about Grete Waitz. I mean, it isn't shocking that the male experience is vastly overrepresented in literature and the literature at basically every level. My hope was that this book would be at least a small push back about that. I also just feel like it's incumbent on me to make sure that I'm educated and knowledgeable on these stories and issues. Not to put too fine a point on it, but as a coach and fitness professional the vast majority of my clients are going to be women. It behooves me to make sure that I will be equipped for the job.

How She Did It itself is pretty straightforward. There's an opening section titled "Four Keys to Being a Healthy Young Female Runner," covering recovery and injury prevention, RED-S, nutrition, and sports psychology. All of this stuff is absolutely key, and foundational for any runner of any age. I particularly like the sports psych and mental health sections — a lot of the advice focuses on being process focused and understanding that you are not your results, which is incredibly important for anyone of any age.

From there we move on to the stories from individual runners. These make up about 80% of the book, it's basically what the book is. Again, the focus was largely not on the nuts and bolts of training or whatever, but on these runners' lives. Each of these women has struggled and faced setbacks as we all do, but they were all able to overcome them and reach the absolute top of their sport. They are all legitimately inspirational.

The sections on older runners were far more interesting to me. They've all had time to reflect on their careers, as well as go on to new things that are just as much a part of their identity as running. For many of them, they were also running at a time when women just...weren't allowed to compete. I mean, Kathrine Switzer was literally assaulted by the Boston Marathon race director. Men and women didn't run the same events at the Olympics until 2008! So yeah, those pioneers are gonna have good bits. Did you know that Cheryl Treworgy, Shalane Flanagan's mom, was the first ever woman to receive a collegiate athletic scholarship? This was before Title IX. That's wild!

The sections on runners that were more recent or current were less interesting to me. That's not to say that these women haven't overcome incredible challenges. I particularly think that the strong emphasis on running healthy was great. The combination of modern beauty standards and the unique demands of endurance sports lead to a saddening epidemic of eating disorders in young women who participate in them. In that sense, for the book's intended audience, the sections about today's professional runners may be much more relevant. These are the women that current grade- and high-schoolers are looking up to.

Bottom line, it's kind of hard for me to reach any kind of conclusion about this book. I like to think I'm sensitive to the challenges young women face, but I certainly don't have any first hand knowledge of them. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this to someone who coaches youth sports, the parents of an athlete, or the athlete herself. For myself, I would say that it left me prepared to learn more.

Further reading:

  • Tigerbelle: The Wyomia Tyus Story - an incredible memoir by the daughter of sharecroppers who went on to be the first person — man or woman — to win the 100 at back to back Olympics

  • The Silence of Great Distance - an all time classic sport history that is moving ever closer toward the top of my to-read pile; How She Did It definitely inspired me to bump it up a few notches

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