Saturday, February 26, 2011

Born to Run…with child…in backpack??

I remember the phone call I received from Chris McDougall, before his new book “Born to Run” was distributed to major retailers.  Chris introduced himself and gave me a little background on himself, including that he was living in rural Pennsylvania in an Amish community.  He then launched into the purpose of his call.  He had written a book about the Tarahumara Indians, the evolution of running, and had included me in the book.  Interesting, I thought.  But first I wanted to learn more about his time in Pennsylvania, and then we would get to the other stuff.   

As the call progressed, I gathered that my inclusion in the book had something to do with me carrying my daughter around in a backpack.  Chris told me he drew the comparison to that aspect of my mothering and the nomadic tribes where a woman had a baby, then basically attached the baby to herself and continued journeying forward with her tribe to follow the movement of the herd the tribes was tracking. 

I could really connect to this concept of attaching your child and then moving your life forward.   In fact, I lived it.  I was never a stroller mom.  I much preferred to have my daughter attached to me in some form.  Around the house, I would carry my daughter in a sling, and then when we were out, that would transform itself, depending on her age, weight, and our activity, to a front pack, back pack or side sling.  For example, when she was just an infant, I used the sling for grocery shopping and general errands, but when it came to hiking, I would switch to a front pack.   Once she turned a year old, the front pack progressed into a backpack.  The sling progressed to a side pack.  I simply found that we were both happier when she was connected to me.  Obviously, as she progressed into crawling and walking, I would only use the carrying devices when I was out on the move. 

I’ve always had a love for being outside in nature.  Having a child did not interrupt that connection to the world for me.  When my daughter was only days old, we were out exploring.  Of course, I would get “the look” or some comment from well meaning others who may or may not have had children, who would say “My, that baby looks just days/weeks old…and you have it out???”   I would just smile politely while thinking about the many children whose early lives are limited to the surrounding of their house, breathing that same air, no sunshine, all to “keep them safe” from the infectious diseases that are going to leap from the outside air into their bodies.   And heaven forbid that a child is interrupted from a nap to get them out in nature… to then once again fall asleep. 

Top of Black Crater, Central Oregon

Granted, I did a lot of breastfeeding in the parking lot of trailheads, or on the trail itself.  Sometimes it was just 30 minutes in between feedings in the very very early days.  But to me, it was so much better outside than inside, more natural.  So when Chris explained how I fit into his book, I thought, Great!    I had friends who were also new moms, and had witnessed the depression that many women go through after childbirth.  The wall of their house they see as their prison.  Not that a daily walk in nature with your infant is going to solve everything, but it will get both mother and child further down the road in many respects.    So I applauded Chris’s efforts to explain how natural it is for a woman to move forward with her life, in a very literal way, even during the very early years of raising a child. 

I was, however, surprised a few days later after I had initially spoken with Chris, when I opened up the e-mail he sent me of the book excerpt, which had already been sent to the publisher.   Oops.  I knew immediately that people would read a literal interpretation of Chris’s comments that I “run mountain trails…with my four year old daughter in a backpack.”   It is true that every day, my daughter and I were out exploring nature with her in a pack.  But run…well, honestly, I would run every once and a while, for a very short distance, just to make her laugh. She would love the rhythm and bounce of it.  But can I recommend truly going for a run with a child in a backpack? No I can’t.  I think it would stress not only the carrier’s system, but also expose the child to danger.  Carrying a 20-50 pounds of anything makes it more difficult to pick up your feet, and tripping while running becomes a real issue.  Tripping on your own, so what, you scrape your knee and maybe bloody your hands…but tripping when you have a child on the front or back of you??? well as irresponsible. 

I believe Chris McDougall’s book, Born to Run, has done a great deal of good in promoting a more natural form of running. But just to clear up any misconceptions about running with kids on your back, here are my specific answers to questions that I have received over the years:

Q.  How did your run with your daughter in a backpack?
A.  I didn’t.  I hiked with her everyday.  If I did run, it was only for a few yards at a time to make her laugh.  Then I would return to our normal hiking pace.

Q.  What backpack did you use?
A.  I invested in a Madden backpack (Note, Madden was aquired by Sherpani Alpina).  I chose the Madden because it is an internal frame pack, versus an external frame pack.  An internal frame pack holds the weight closer to the body, which gives the user more stability.  For me, stability was important because I did not shy away from steep terrain.    Also, the advice that I received was to keep a child in a front pack until 12 months.  The backpack can stress their spinal system, and parents need to wait until it is developed enough to hold their weight before going to a backpack.  Typically that milestone is one year old. 

Q.  How did you manage to carry her when she was four years old?
A.  Since I carried my daughter every day, as she put on weight, I became stronger.  I would also time our hikes for nap time, so that she would hike the first mile by my side, decide then when she was tired, she would get into the backpack, take a nap.  Also prior to having a child, I did quite a bit of backpacking and mountaineering.  So going for hours at a time with a heavy load was not new to me. 

Q.  Any other advice on how to hike with kids?
A.  Start them early!   Since we hiked every day, it was a natural rhythm that we settled into.  As she grew older, we would hike together until she would tire, then she willingly would take a ride in the pack.  I also always had snacks and a sippy cup ready for when she needed calories.   

Dad flyfishing with daughter