Book Report: The Highly Sensitive Person

If you’ve read several of these posts, you know that I’m doing a pretty poor job of keeping this blog balanced.  I have written a ton of running posts, a couple of food posts, and not a single post about books.  Which is deceiving in a way, because it makes it seem as if reading is my least favorite of those three hobbies.  I could spend all day curled up with a book, and routinely did so several years ago.  Now that my darling children are on the scene, that’s a luxury I can rarely afford, but it doesn’t mean that my love of reading has diminished at all.  Just that it now takes me considerably longer to get through a book.  Just to be clear, the running posts are still going to heavily outweigh every other topic on this page, but in an attempt to even things out slightly, here’s your first book report.

Today I want to talk to you about The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron.  I haven’t even finished reading it yet, but I’m sharing because of the strong impact that this book is making on me.  In the book, Aron argues that approximately 15-20% of our population can classify themselves as a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP).  She starts by identifying how to know if you are an HSP, argues against some popular stigmas regarding the trait, and then spends several chapters helping you get to know yourself, and to understand how being an HSP can affect you at work and in relationships.  There are occasional suggested exercises that strike me as a bit hokey at times, but for the most part, the book is a revolution.

I’ve always known that I was an introvert, but there are other parts of my personality that have confused or frustrated me over the years.  I’ve been embarrassed by my inability to watch certain movie or shows that I find too upsetting.  I become easily annoyed by silly things, such as when people leave their grocery carts in the middle of the aisle while shopping.  I’m mortified by how easily I resort to tears when I am feeling angry or frustrated.  I sometimes feel weak for feeling so deeply affected by events that happen to those I am close to.  According to Aron, all of these are characteristics of HSPs.  For me, just having an explanation for why I feel things so deeply has been incredibly validating.  The book has also helped me to identify the positive qualities of my trait, and to learn how to work through the challenges.  I wish I had discovered it years ago.

Are you a highly sensitive person?  Go to this website to find out, and then post a comment and share one characteristic of HSPs that you clearly have.   And please consider reading this book, as it’s a great way to better understand yourself or any HSPs that you may have in your life!

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Boston Strong

If you are at all into distance running, you know the significance of the Boston Marathon.  The race has kind of become the symbol of prestige when it comes to marathon running.  Even people who have never watched a marathon have asked me if I have run Boston.

Sadly, for me, the answer is no.  As I’ve explained before, I run long, in part, to make up for my lack of speed.  My marathon PR is still nearly an hour slower than I would need to run to qualify to Boston.  I realized many years ago that I am never going to make it to that race, unless it’s as a spectator.  And still, for me Boston is magical.  I admire all those who do qualify for the race, just as I admire the spirit and enthusiasm of the thousands of spectators that line the course each year.

Boston became real for me in 2009, the year that my college roommate, Stephanie, first ran the race.  Stephanie took up running in 2006.  I like to tell everyone that I get the credit, as I convinced her that she should run the Nike Women’s Marathon to earn the Tiffany’s necklace that they give to all finishers.  In reality, I just knew what to say to talk her into that first race.  Everything she has done from that point on, she earned through her own hard work.  In 2008, she managed to run a marathon time that qualified her to Boston.  I was beyond thrilled.  I eagerly made plans to join her in April to celebrate such a great achievement.  Alas, a last minute family illness caused me to cancel my trip, but I lived every bit of that weekend with her from Philadelphia.  I can recall where I was standing in my kitchen when I talked her through her nervousness the day before the race.  I remember tracking her progress online throughout the race.  I remember the feeling of immense pride when I heard what a great time she ran.  In the six years since, I still have yet to make my own trip to Boston, but I continue to relive the experience every year when I follow Stephanie’s own journey there.

Of course, two years ago the whole world turned their attention to Boston.  I spent that morning teaching my second graders, while sneaking glances at my computer to see how Stephanie was faring in her own race.  True to form, she went out too fast and faded a bit in the later miles, but she still clocked an impressive 3:33 finish.  After confirming that she crossed the finish line, I did the responsible thing and went back to a full focus on my students for the remainder of the day.  I wasn’t aware that anything was amiss until I walked up the hill at the end of the day to pick up my own children, and was warned by a fellow teacher to not turn on the radio on the way home.  She explained that some type of explosion had happened at the marathon and that it was all over the radio.  I immediately called Stephanie, and left her a semi-panicked voicemail in an attempt to confirm that she was okay.

In the days that followed, Boston was all that I could think about.  I’m sure that many other runners felt the same way.  Our national focus tends to turn to tragedies and dramatic stories, but Boston was something more for me.  My favorite thing about running marathons is the strength of the human spirit that you witness on race days.  You see it in the thousands of runners who push through their own limits to get to the finish line.  You see it in the spectators that line the course for hours, just to glimpse a few seconds of a friend or family member, or to cheer on unknown runners that speed past.  You see it in the volunteers, who spend all day working mundane jobs just to allow the race to flow smoothly.  I truly believe that marathons bring out the absolute best in most people.  To have someone attack that celebration of humanity was just heartbreaking.  To reflect back on all of the races that I’ve run, and all of the times that my family has stood along the sidelines was sobering.  I couldn’t fathom why anyone would ever want to destroy something so beautiful.

The day after the bombing, I registered for the Philadelphia Marathon to prove that runners are great at tackling adversity.  Two weeks later, I ran the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in Washington, DC.  When I crossed the finish line, and saw the large number of spectators who were there cheering despite everything that had just happened, I burst into tears.  Last year, I followed every minute of the events in Boston, hoping and praying that the event would go off without a hitch.  And today, I will once again, by tracking my favorite runner online, cheering her on from afar.

I love the Boston Marathon.  I love the goals that it inspires, the tradition that it celebrates, and especially the strength and resilience that the city, and the marathon, have shown over the past two years.  More than all of that, though, I love that it is a beautiful metaphor for my friend Stephanie, and all of the strength that she has shown, both in her running, and in her life.  I am incredibly blessed to call her a friend, and I am more proud of her than she’ll ever know, especially today, when she’ll run her 7th Boston Marathon.  Run hard today, Stephie, and enjoy every moment of the experience.  You, like the Boston marathon itself, are one of a kind.

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Family Running

I ran a 5K last weekend.  I know that 5K is a very popular race distance, but I tend to despise them.  As a long-distance runner, I always feel that the race should be much shorter than it feels.  Besides, I’m not fast, so people who haven’t run in a year can get off the couch and beat me to the finish.  If I do happen to run fast enough that I post a good time, I feel like I want to collapse the second half of the race.  There’s really nothing about 5K races that appeal to me.  Yet I ran one on Saturday, and I had a fabulous time.

The school where I teach was putting on this particular race, so I figured that it was only right for me to support them by running.  In fact, I signed up the whole family, despite the fact that my kids have never run a competitive 5K, and my husband does not run at all.  We probably should have been smart and stuck with the 1-mile fun run, but that just seemed silly to me.  So, on a beautiful Saturday spring morning, we found ourselves in the midst of a small pack at the starting line.  Knowing that my children run radically different paces, we decided to divide and conquer.  I was paired with my son, who often enjoys short sprints interspersed with bouts of walking.  My husband teamed up with our daughter, who thinks running is fun in theory, but really just prefers to stroll and chat.

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Our daughter held true to form.  After a brief 60 second jog at the start of the race, she decided that she might as well get her money’s worth.  She and my husband ended up walking the remainder of the race, waving in all of the race marshals, as they sauntered across the finish line in just over 52 minutes.  I was just happy that she finished the race in good spirits.

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My son, on the other hand, totally surprised me.  Last spring, he participated in a series of local kids’ races.  The series consisted of 5 races.  He swept all 5 races and came away with the winner’s trophy for his age group.  I should have known then that we had another runner on our hands, but as the races were each just a 50-yard dash, I figured that he was just really good at sprinting.  Running a longer distance is an entirely different challenge, especially for young children who usually have no concept of pacing themselves.  Imagine my surprise when he managed to run every step of the race alongside me, including the hilly finish, which was good for a time of 33:30.  While 33 minutes doesn’t tend to be considered speedy for this distance, I found it quite good for a 6-year-old.  Even better was the fact that he chatted throughout the race, which made the miles fly by for me.  I found myself wondering how many more years I will be able to run by his side before he starts out-pacing me.

As a fun, final note, after 12 years of racing, I finally won my first age-group award.  Somehow, my 33 minute race time was good enough for third in my age group.  My PR is almost 8 minutes faster and I’ve never placed before, which tells you how small my age group was.  Still, both my children and my students were impressed by my medal, so it was worth it to enjoy their excitement over the award.  I’m hoping that this is just the first of many races that we run together.

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Hot Chocolate 15K Race Report

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Taking a bite out of our chocolate bar medals post-race.

I kicked off the 2015 racing season yesterday with the Hot Chocolate 15K in Philadelphia.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I decided to sign up for this race because I knew a large number of people who were running.  It also seemed like perfect timing in the build-up to my half-marathon next month.  And yes, I really liked the cute hoodie that they were handing out to all participants.  As a result, I found myself driving into Philly early on Saturday morning.

My awesome friend, Jen, helped me out by picking up my race number and goodie bag at the expo on Thursday, which spared me the extra trip into the city.  Jen reported that the expo was small, but well-organized, and provided plenty of sugary-snacks to munch on while wandering around.  Her adorable daughter was happy to help out with the sampling.

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The best thing about running races in Philly is that the logistics are usually pretty easy to figure out.  Over the years, Jen and I have run more times than we can count on both sides of the Schuylkill River, so we are very familiar with that area.  The race was starting and ending at Eakins Oval, which is just in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum.  We chose to park about 2 miles away, which kept us out of the congestion near the race start, and allowed us to tack on an easy 2 miles before and after the race to increase our training a bit.

I found this race to be a bit unusual, as the 5K actually started 45 minutes before the 15K.  By the time we arrived at the starting line, around 7:35, the 5K was already underway.  We actually were able to mill around and see the winners come through the finish before we wandered over to the start corrals.  The corrals were well-organized and easy to access.  To our surprise, we found that we had been placed in the first two corrals, though we did decide to move back a few spots so that we could start together with Jen’s brother.  Jen and I both got a big kick out of the “No Walkers” signs that were posted below the first several corrals.  I think it’s great that most races allow for walkers, but I find it both dangerous and frustrating when walkers get mixed into the early corrals, so I was happy to see the guidelines so clearly posted.  As members of the first corral, we crossed below the start line 9 minutes after the official race start, which felt very reasonable.  There were, however, another right corrals lined up behind us, so I imagine that athletes in the final corrals had quite a long wait before the start of the race.

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Once we were underway, the race itself went without a hitch.  The wave start did a good job of controlling the volume of runners on the course.  Though there were close to 7,000 runners, the race only ever felt crowded during the first half-mile or so.  For the remainder of the course, there was always a good volume of runners nearby, but there was also plenty of room to move around fellow athletes when need be.  There were respectable crowds during the first and last miles, but most of the race ran along the river, so it was pretty devoid of spectators.  Fortunately, we knew to expect that and we managed to pass the time quite easily by chatting with each other.  The race course was simple, but scenic.  We started in front of the Art Museum, and ran along the Ben Franklin Parkway for about half a mile before circling around and heading back towards the museum.  The course then traveled out along the river for about four miles before doubling back and finishing just in front of the museum.  The out and back course actually kept things interesting, as there were almost always runners to watch coming from the opposite direction.  I enjoyed searching for and cheering on several friends as we crossed paths along the course.

The big news of the day was the weather.  The overnight rain managed to move out in time and we were greeted with brilliant sunshine for the entire race.  We were also fortunate to have good temperatures, hovering right around 50 degrees.  The challenge was the wind, which was gusting between 25-35 mph for the duration of the morning.  We were able to finish the race with the wind at our backs, but that meant that the majority of the first 5.5 miles was run directly into the wind.  It made it much more challenging to stay on pace, and in fact, there were a few times when we passed through a tunnel and the wind intensified to the point where it felt like we were running, but standing still.  Suffice it to say, we were thrilled to reach the finish line.  Better yet, we discovered that even with the wind, we managed to cross the finish line in 1:29:52, which was good enough for a 9:39 pace throughout the race.  I had been hoping to stay between 9:15 and 9:30, so I was happy to come in so close to that, given the weather conditions.

After we finished, we quickly put our jackets back on, watched a few more finishers come through, and then headed over to collect our prized finishers mugs.  The mugs were filled with all kinds of chocolate goodies.  We received a cup of hot chocolate, some warm melted chocolate for dipping, and then a variety of potential dippers – mini pretzels, a Rice Crispies treat, a wafer cookie, a large marshmallow, and a mini banana.  Jen avoids gluten, and I try to avoid processed sugar, so we saved the sweets for the kids, but enjoyed dipping our bananas into the chocolate.  I also tried a couple of pretzels and we both sampled the hot chocolate, which was a great way to warm up while the winds gusted around us.  Unfortunately, the winds caused us to ditch the post-race celebration pretty quickly.  We sampled our snacks for a few minutes, and then tossed our cups and ran back to our cars to warm up and continue on with our days.

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Overall, I was impressed with this race.  I think it is important to know what to expect from a race, and to judge it accordingly.  This was a great race for those looking to have a good time.  The two different race distances provided varying levels of challenges for both beginner and more advanced athletes.  There were a lot of walkers in the field, which made it a nice option for people looking to experience racing for the first time.  The race cost us $64, which seemed a reasonable price, given that we received hooded sweatshirts, a bowl full of chocolate goodies, and a well-organized race.  We even managed to use a coupon code to snag hats which read “Will run for chocolate”.  If you have a sweet tooth, or enjoy a fun, festive atmosphere, you really can’t go wrong with this racing series!  An enjoyable start to the 2015 racing season.

A Gradual Obsession

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My dear friend, and running partner, Jen, who is often to blame for the crazy running shenanigans that I get myself into.  We tend to bring out obsessive habits in one another.  This picture is from our first year running together way back in 2005.

Running is an interesting beast.  When I first started running almost fifteen years ago, it was neither easy, not particularly enjoyable.  Three miles was a challenge and anything beyond that was intimidating.  I signed up for my first half marathon after about a year, but I was so nervous about completing the distance that I ran two 14-milers before the actual race.  18 months later, I completed my first full marathon, but still was far from hooked.  Back in those early days, I would train for a race, run the race, and then take time off, sometimes for several months.  For several years, I coached and ran through the fall marathon season and then took a complete break from running from November until spring rolled back around.  During those years, I would run 1-3 races a year, with at least a year between marathons.

I returned to competitive running almost a year after my children were born, and slowly began to rebuild my base.  I ran a 5K, then trained for another marathon.  I started to reap the benefits of good, consistent training, which encouraged me to keep at least a moderate amount of mileage up throughout the entire year.  I began to run more races, but still only a handful a year, with one or two of them being longer races.  In 2013, things began to pick up.  I ran two marathons and three halfs that year.  More notably, I crossed the 1000 mile mark for the first time ever, capping off the year with 1102 miles.  The intensity continued to increase in 2014.  I ran a total of 12 races last year, including my first ever Ragnar Relay, and my first ever ultra.  I finished 2014 with 1371 miles, which included a very light December with only 42 miles the entire month.  I was aiming to take a six week break after Philly, but I found myself feeling restless after a little more than a week away from running so I compromised by keeping my December runs short and easy.  That should have been a warning sign.

I entered 2015 with fairly modest plans.  I knew I wanted to run a half in late spring.  I wanted another ultra attempt, since my first one last year was a fairly painful experience.  And I had thoughts of running another marathon, as my next full would be my 10th marathon overall.  In between, I figured I’d run a couple of 5ks and 10ks for fun.  I decided that Labor Pains, in early September, would be a good ultra choice.  From there, I committed to the Delaware Half Marathon in May, and the Marine Corps Marathon in late October.  Then things kind of fell apart.  When training for an ultra, the long runs tend to get really long.  Rather than run 30 miles on my own, I thought it made more sense to run an easy marathon as a training run, and then just tack on a few miles at the end.  I convinced my running partner to run the Maryland Trail Classic with me in August.  A few weeks later, she talked me into the 1/2 Sauer, 1/2 Kraut Marathon in June, again rationalizing that it was a cheap local race, and it would be more fun to run an easy marathon than to do 24 miles that day unsupported.  I signed up for the race.  In the meantime, a handful of shorter races showed up in April.  Almost everyone I knew was running the Hot Chocolate 15K, so I had to do that one.  Then my school decided to put on a 5K as a fundraiser, and of course it would be rude to skip that race when I run so many others.  Our family has developed a tradition of running The Color Run together every summer, but this year the race was moved to late April, so of course that one was added to the calendar as well.  Which brings us to yesterday, when my lovable, yet crazy running partner talked me into joining her for the Wineglass Marathon in early October.  I’m still not quite sure what reasons she gave me, and yet we both signed up.

So here I am now, in the year that was supposed to be moderately ambitious.  In the next 6 weeks, I am running a 15K, two 5Ks, and a half-marathon.  Quite a few races in a short time, but all of very manageable distance.  And then the summer starts.  The first marathon comes in June.  Then I wisely took July off from racing, since we are taking two weeks of vacation.  The problem begins in August.  As I realized last night, Trail Classic is going to serve as my longest run for Labor Pains, which will now be my longest run before Wineglass, which will be my peak run before Marine Corps.  My college roommate has been racing intensely for several years and I used to make fun of her because she never ran 20-milers, choosing instead just to roll one marathon into the next.  Now I find that I am planning to employ the exact same strategy.  In my moderate year, I currently have nine races scheduled, including three marathons and an ultra in just three months.  Perhaps the craziest part of all this is that it doesn’t sound that crazy to me.  I’m not a fast runner, so I still have difficulty acknowledging that I am a “serious” runner.  And yet earlier today I found myself explaining that tomorrow’s 15K will be a light race for me, since I’m not planning to push the pace too much, and 9 miles is relatively short for me.  It wasn’t until my colleague gave me a disbelieving look that I was able to stop and remember that 9 miles sounds pretty long to most normal people.

I think it’s time that I finally admit that I may, in fact, have a running addiction.

The Next Generation

My apologies for my lengthy absence.  It started with a sore foot, that caused me to lay off of training for four days.  Then our family took an awesome trip to Disney World and I made a radical choice – I decided to lay low with the running.  I did get out for three 4 mile runs while away, but I chose to spend most of the time sleeping in and enjoying the parks with the family.  Plus, since we were covering 5-6 miles a day walking through the parks, I knew I wasn’t lacking for exercise.  I returned to my regular schedule two days ago and was thrilled to find that two weeks of lower mileage left me with a lot of energy for my runs this week.

Today I had the first session of my after-school running club.  Faculty members at my school are encouraged to sponsor after school clubs for the children to enjoy.  I decided to offer a running club, and today was our first meeting.  I have a group of eight students, ranging in age from kindergarten to fourth grade.  Most of the kids are first time runners, but one is a regular and competitive 5K runner.  I knew that the varying ages and abilities would make it a bit of a challenge to make sure that everyone was feeling the right level of difficulty and still having fun.  I decided that the solution was to stick with interval training.

We started with a short lesson on different types of movement – walking, jogging, running, and sprinting.  I explained to the children that we wanted to spend most of our time in the walking – running range, and that sprinting was usually reserved for when you see the finish line of a race.  After laying down the guidelines, we set off.  We are fortunate that our school backs up to a local college, where there is a wonderful 2.5 mile nature trail that runs around the perimeter.  The children and I set off along the trail and our group quickly spread out as the faster runners took to the front of the pack.  Every 60-90 seconds, I would blow a whistle which signaled the lead runners to turn around and walk back to our final athlete, passing out high fives along the way.  Once the lead runner got to the back of the pack, the group was allowed to take off again.  The varying abilities quickly became apparent.  Some children tired of running within 2-3 minutes, while my experienced runner never stopped the entire time.  We went out along the trail for a little more than 15 minutes before turning around and returning to our starting point.  One of my favorite parts was when the group decided they needed a short break, and every child proceeded to lay down in the grass along the side of the trail.  We made it back to campus, did two short sprints across the soccer field, and then sat down to stretch.

It was such a delight to watch the children racing along the nature path.  Most of them have no concept of how to pace themselves, and they alternated between quick bursts of energy, and foot-dragging slowness.  They all made it through however, and when all was said and done, I estimate that each child covered between 1.5-2.5 miles total.  The time flew so quickly that it makes me sad that we have to wait a whole week before getting back out there.