Please meet our Mother Runner of the Month this month: Alli Leatherman, a 34-year-old science teacher, dancer and mother to an eight-year-old daughter in Jackson, Mississippi.
Alli nominated herself for the award ("One of my words for 2019 is brave,"), and once we read more, we knew we had to share her perspective.
"I believe in the power of movement. It goes beyond the physical benefits. We #motherrunners talk about it all the time: the mental boost, the feeling like we are the best version of ourselves when we run," she says, "And the idea that something transcends the physical is the heart of art. The power of good art is so much more than the physical parts that make it up. When we move, we are changed. When we are changed, we inspire others to change!"
Running Roots: While I was pregnant with my daughter, my dad talked my husband into running a Thanksgiving 5k with him. I decided that I would run it with them the next year. On the Fourth of July weekend in 2011, when my daughter was just over 2 months, I did my first run on an indoor track. I wore a maternity polo shirt and yoga pants with terrible cheap shoes and double nursing bras. I ran a quarter-mile twice, with walking in between, but I was determined to get ready for that 5k! Even though I'd been a dancer for many years, this was a whole different realm of athleticism and I found a lot of pride as I conquered each new milestone.
Dancing Roots: I'm not sure I remember not dancing! My family took a vacation to Holland, MI, when I was two. We saw a show with dancers in wooden shoes, and the story is that I kept dancing around the house like the "wooden shoe girls" afterward. I don't remember the trip, but I believe the story!
I started formal dance training in 1st grade after my Girl Scout troop visited a local dance studio to earn a badge. I only took a few months before the studio closed; as it was the only studio in the small town I lived in, I had to quit for a year before the parks and rec department started offering some dance classes. We moved from Wisconsin to Texas when I was 12, and I was able to attend a more serious studio and really delved into dance.
A Typical Dancing/Running Week: I regularly rehearse twice a week for a few hours, though it's often more leading up to a performance. I run 3-4 times a week, between 3-8 miles at a time when I'm not training for something. Being the director of our company, Intersect Dance Theatre, has given me the freedom to cut back on performances during training cycles; I've also had to learn that sometimes, I have to pull back on the running to focus on dance.
Shunning Running: Growing up in dance, we were always told not to run. Teachers warned that it would ruin our knees or make us have bulky quads. As someone who is built short and sturdy (not ideal for ballet class!), I was hesitant to do anything that might "shorten my lines." And I naively thought that dancing was exercise enough and I was in pretty good shape--maybe I'd do some Pilates or stretching, but who needed to run?
On Second Thought: Once I started to run, many things in dance became easier because I was strengthening muscles I didn't realize were weak. And my cardiovascular fitness improved immensely! Dance is really an anaerobic pursuit outside of dance fitness classes. In technique class, we dance full out for maybe a minute or two, then spend 10 minutes listening to the teacher or waiting for our turn. Performances are really the only time dancers would be moving for longer periods of time, but even then it tends to be more like sprints than marathons.
Dancing Through the Miles: I also think dancing has made me a better runner. For one, I'm used to concentrating on details of what muscles I'm using and how I'm moving, so thinking about form comes pretty naturally. Dancing has also helped me with the mental game; in my first 5k, I had several songs on my playlist that I had danced to in the past. I'd go through the choreography in my head and tell myself that I could keep pushing until the end of the song because I'd done it before! That's a difficult thing about dance performance--you don't have the option to pace yourself or pull back when you get tired. Sometimes you have to just will yourself to keep going.
About that Keep Going Thing: I broke my foot while on stage, about a minute into a 4-minute duet with my husband. I landed a jump on the side of my foot and heard a crack. Not really sure what to do, I got up and somehow managed to make it through the rest of the piece. As we were walking off the stage, I whispered to my husband that I thought I had broken my foot. He laughed, thinking I was exaggerating. He had noticed my fall, but figured it couldn't be that bad since I finished the dance! That injury resulted in 4 months on crutches, lots of cross-training, and a six-month break from running.