Tag Archives: parenting

5 Things You Learn When Your Preschooler Sees the Summer Olympics for the 1st Time

My child is not yet 5 years old, therefore this is the first time she has really seen the Summer Olympics on television.  When I first turned it on, I expected her to show zero interest in the games since many of the sports are completely alien to her (inexplicably, they don’t do a lot of Whitewater Canoeing at her preschool).  So, I figured she might ask a couple of general questions and then demand these shining spectacles of human accomplishment and perseverance be replaced by reruns of Paw Patrol.  I was extremely wrong.  It turns out when innocent eyes view the Olympic Games for the first time, you learn some things.

1.  Swimming is awesome

Young children can relate to the sport of swimming since they are still trying to learn the skill.  Many kids my daughter’s age can stay afloat to a reasonable extent and therefore understand and respect the general mechanics of the various strokes.  Other kids, like mine, still struggle with the basics and the only stroke they demonstrate is the lesser-known Plummeting Anchor.  My daughter watched in amazement as athletes shot through the water as if the act of swimming required little or no effort.  She also observed that none of them appeared to be wearing “floaties” or water wings, which may inspire her to shed her crutch sooner than later.

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2.  Volleyball makes sense

Some events are more difficult to explain than others.  However, a preschooler can easily pick up the basics of volleyball since there is one ball and a net separates the two sides.  My child had never seen a volleyball match, but was absolutely fascinated by a women’s match between the U.S. and China.  And when I explained that most of the women were taller than her daddy, she gazed on in amazement as she surmised giants really do exists.

3.  Springboard Diving defies belief

Somehow I’ve taken for granted that there are people who can do somersaults and twists in the air before heading downward and knifing into a pool of water.  To eyes which have never seen this, it’s a phenomenon that defies all explanation.  My daughter quickly grasped the basic concept, but became impatient when divers stood on the springboard to collect themselves.  She couldn’t understand how they could control their excitement at having the opportunity to bounce off the board and splash into the blue (or later green) water.

4.  Synchronized Swimming may kill all of us

Much like her father, my child quickly became bored by this event.  At one point she yelled out, “I wish water didn’t exist.”  Confirming my suspicion that if she ever finds a genie in a bottle, we’re all toast.

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5.  Fencing is anticlimactic and not at all like Star Wars

Imagine the disappointment on my sweet daughter’s face when, in spite of the competitors wearing cool masks and wielding “swords”, not one of them lost a hand prior to learning the true identity of a parent.  Additionally, not one competitor seemed to identify with the Empire or the Rebellion.  Instead, they all represented boring entities like actual countries.  Also, from the way some of the fencers whined about points, it was pretty clear none of them had trained in the Dagobah system and they probably needed to toughen up a bit.

Overall, watching the Olympics with my little one has been a fun experience.  The beauty of the games are that if my daughter is bored by one event, there is always another one to watch.  While she is less interested in some of the events I’d like to watch (distance running), many of the other events have become the subjects of long conversations that have led into general discussions regarding competition, nationality, adversity, and expectations (she asked me if I’d ever won a marathon).  In fact this Olympic Games may end up being my favorite of all time, even if nobody loses an appendage.

What has been your favorite event in 2016?  Comment below.

J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, Measure Twice, Chalk’s Outline, and other works. Hensley is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.

https://hensleybooks.wordpress.com
http://www.hensley-books.com
https://www.facebook.com/hensleybooks
https://www.goodreads.com/JJHensley
Twitter @JJHensleyauthor

Watch for my new book, BOLT ACTION REMEDY, in 2017!

AVAILABLE NOW!

image1Cyprus Keller wants a future.
Jackson Channing has a past.
Robert Chalk has a rifle and a mission.  Kill Cyprus Keller and anyone who gets in his way.

 

An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.

cropped-measure-twice-750-x-1200-jpeg.jpg

Also:

In the Pittsburgh Marathon, more than 18,000 people will participate. 4,500 people will attempt to cover the full 26.2 miles. Over 200 of the participants will quit, realizing it just wasn’t their day. More than 100 will get injured and require medical treatment. One man is going to be murdered.  When Dr. Cyprus Keller lines up to start the race, he knows a man is going to die for one simple reason. He’s going to kill him.

resolve-cover art CL (1)

Finalist – 2014 International Thriller Writers Awards – Best First Novel
Named one of the BEST BOOKS of 2013 by Suspense Magazine!
Top Ten Books of the Year – Authors on the Air

 And look for my short story FOUR DAYS FOREVER in the LEGACY anthology

 

Revisiting Expectations Through Ugly Play-Doh Cupcakes

We are a society of unrealistic expectations. Cosmo tells women they should resemble airbrushed toothpicks. Men’s Fitness suggests their readers can have washboard abs if only they follow the simple guidance that is wedged in-between forty seven subscription renewal cards (Actually, picking those cards up off the floor is really good exercise). Aspiring musicians feel like they have to sound like the auto-tuned, electronically enhanced performers they hear on television. Even a new writer can fall victim to having the bar set unreasonably high and therefore not finish a manuscript because she fears it won’t be a NY Times bestseller or be made into a movie.

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So, how to we guard against these expectations and convince ourselves to push forward? After all, aren’t unrealistic expectations thrown at us from an early age? If so, how early?

My daughter turned four this week. One of her gifts was a Play-Doh Cupcake Celebration Playset. As my wife and I do whatever we can to encourage creativity in our child, we were thrilled to see her show interest in this toy. I immediately knew it was going to be a blast. I mean, just look at it!

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Note the myriad of tools and shapes that can be used in the making of neat, colorful, multi-layered cupcakes. There is a mechanism for putting icing on the cupcakes, a series of cups with a variety of designs, and – of course – the mandatory cupcake Ferris wheel. The entire mechanism really is quite extraordinary. And the photos on the box do a wonderful job of demonstrating the expected results. The Play-Doh cupcakes you can create are colorful, detailed, and artistic. I’d be proud to serve these at the wedding of any of my Claymation friends.

As my daughter is of pre-school age, she struggled a bit at using the shape impressions and tended to rip the shapes when she attempted to peel the spare clay away from the form. She also had a little difficulty keeping the layers separate from each other, as the colors tended to mix and bleed into each other.   It became frustrating to her, because she kept looking at the photos on the box and couldn’t figure out why she could create the awesome yellow star that was outlined by the blue clay. I want her to be independent, but sometimes kids need help. So, I decided to come to the rescue. Hey… she’s a pre-schooler, so it didn’t bother me one bit to lend my adult expertise to resolve the situation. So, I went to work.

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My (inaudible) reactions were as follows:

This monkey shape is a little fragile. Why does the Play-Doh keep tearing right now the middle?

How am I supposed to cut the green Play-Doh and the orange Play-Doh with the same tool and NOT mix the colors? After the first cut, the tool looks like it was used to kill Gumby! Does this stuff ever come off?

I wish our beagle would stop eating the Play-Doh. Seriously, stop eating the Play-Doh!

It’s a f&^$@!# yellow star! How hard can it be to make one f&^$@!# yellow star????!!!!!!

Screw it. I’m making a blue cupcake with a red owl on top.

And… done.


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Nailed it.

As you can see, it is nearly a mirror image of the cupcakes photos found on the box. Note the smooth texture, the rounded form, and the distinct red owl that tops it off. Marvelous.

Now, my daughter found a bit of fault with our (my) creation, but we managed to get through this disappointment. The process shifted from a game of imitation (no more looking at the damn box) to one of creation. The experience became all about finding new colorful patterns, combining unusual shapes, and keeping the beagle from regurgitating pink clay.

As with writing a novel, composing a piece of music, or simply finding a new business solution at work, the entire enterprise became fun once the unrealistic expectations and attempts at imitation were set aside. When we stop aspiring to another’s idea of perfection, we stop expecting to see perfection in the mirror. And why would we want to do that anyway? After all, you don’t enter a Fun House to gaze into normal, everyday reflections. You walk through the hall of misshapen mirrors to see what crazy, distorted, images bounce back at you.  When we ignore unrealistic expectations, we tend to discover – and enjoy –  the unexpected.

J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, Measure Twice, and other works. Hensley is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.

https://hensleybooks.wordpress.com
http://www.hensley-books.com
https://www.facebook.com/hensleybooks
https://www.goodreads.com/JJHensley
Twitter @JJHensleyauthor

AVAILABLE NOW!

An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.

cropped-measure-twice-750-x-1200-jpeg.jpg

Also:

In the Pittsburgh Marathon, more than 18,000 people will participate. 4,500 people will attempt to cover the full 26.2 miles. Over 200 of the participants will quit, realizing it just wasn’t their day. More than 100 will get injured and require medical treatment. One man is going to be murdered.  When Dr. Cyprus Keller lines up to start the race, he knows a man is going to die for one simple reason. He’s going to kill him.

Resolve

Finalist – 2014 International Thriller Writers Awards – Best First Novel
Named one of the BEST BOOKS of 2013 by Suspense Magazine!
Top Ten Books of the Year – Authors on the Air

 And look for my short story FOUR DAYS FOREVER in the LEGACY anthology

Legacy cover

Preschool Steroids, Gymnastics Tailgating, and Novel Writing

I don’t want my daughter to take gymnastics lessons.

You see, if she takes lessons then she may want to participate in competitions.

If she participates in competitions, then she will be judged by people who cannot help but allow some measure of subjectivity to influence the score she receives.  Therefore, the end result will always seem somewhat ambiguous and possibly biased.

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So, I also don’t want my daughter to compete in diving, ski jumping, and figure skating.  Of course this also means certain kinds of snowboarding, bike riding, and dancing are off the table.  Pretty much anything that involves “style points” just has to go.

I want my little girl to grow up in a world where if your team scores more points than the other, you win.  If your time is faster than the competition, you win.  If your opponent lifts more weight than you do, she wins and she did it honestly.  Unless she’s on steroids or HGH, which has yet to have been a problem identified in her preschool class.  Or so we think.

After all, isn’t the world supposed to function in a manner where quantitative measures define winning vs. losing and improvement vs. set backs?  We evaluate companies based on stock prices, employee performance based on statistics, and organizations based on memberships levels.

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Except when we don’t.

How can I not let my daughter to partake in activities based on subjective judgments while I navigate the realm of writing fiction?  What could possibly be less objective than the process of getting books published, having readers assign values to your words, and then watching helplessly as your work is discussed – and yes, judged – by those you have never met?

The hard truth about writing is that there are some very well-known bestsellers that aren’t really any better than some manuscripts that never get published.  The only difference is that at some point a judge in a publishing company decided one book “stuck the landing” while another had a technical flaw.  If you ask another judge about the same two books, the answer will often be the opposite.

The big secrets to success in the writing industry are:  1. Having some ability to write.  2.  Possessing a knowledge of the business.  3.  Getting lucky.  4.  Remembering that #3, trumps all other aspects.  The entire enterprise is extremely odd.  There is a ton of subjectivity involved and, while hard work helps, it does not guarantee an author will achieve any predetermined level of success.

Of course, now that I think about it, in the business world our performance could be evaluated unfairly by a supervisor.  Even if one uses statistics to assess your performance, who is to say the right stats are used?  And in our personal lives, we are constantly judged by some subjective measure.  The chances are you didn’t marry your husband simply because he rated high on a battery of tests and his Myers-Briggs personality type was found to be compatible with your own.  Not to mention, we often remind our kids that life isn’t fair and there is a reason that adage has been passed down for generations.  It’s because… life isn’t fair.

Someday, my child will get passed over for a promotion she earned.

Someday, my child will get screamed at and heckled for simply doing her job.

Someday, my child will own a broken heart because some guy made a subjective judgment.
(May I use this moment to remind any future potential suitors of her daddy’s training and background)

She will be judged, just as all of us get judged.  I suppose she may as well get used to the feeling.

Damn.  Do people tailgate for gymnastics?

I’d love to read your opinion on the topic.  Comment below!

J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, Measure Twice, and other works. Hensley is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.

https://hensleybooks.wordpress.com
http://www.hensley-books.com
https://www.facebook.com/hensleybooks
https://www.goodreads.com/JJHensley
Twitter @JJHensleyauthor

AVAILABLE NOW!

An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.

cropped-measure-twice-750-x-1200-jpeg.jpg

Also:

In the Pittsburgh Marathon, more than 18,000 people will participate. 4,500 people will attempt to cover the full 26.2 miles. Over 200 of the participants will quit, realizing it just wasn’t their day. More than 100 will get injured and require medical treatment. One man is going to be murdered.  When Dr. Cyprus Keller lines up to start the race, he knows a man is going to die for one simple reason. He’s going to kill him.

Resolve

Finalist – 2014 International Thriller Writers Awards – Best First Novel
Named one of the BEST BOOKS of 2013 by Suspense Magazine!
Top Ten Books of the Year – Authors on the Air

 And look for my short story FOUR DAYS FOREVER in the LEGACY anthology

Legacy cover

 

 

Teaching Your Child About Death: Someone Is Doing It Worse!

I’ve killed lots of people.

death

Sure they’ve all been fictional, but I’ve been fairly creative in the way I’ve dispatched professors, politicians, drug dealers, and an assortment of others.  So, you would think explaining the concept of death would be an easy task for a crime fiction writer who spent a decade working in law enforcement.

“Daddy, can we walk down the street to see the big white dog?”

Such a sweet question coming from my preschooler while we were taking a walk through our neighborhood on a beautiful Spring day.  There was one problem.  The big white dog we usually saw hanging out in a neighbor’s back yard had died months ago.  Now I had to explain this, and therefore the concept of death, with my three-year-old daughter.  She is our only child and my wife and I had never discussed the topic with her before.  Now, I was out on the street without my spousal back-up (she’s infinitely smarter than I am) and I was going to have to tackle the subject on my own.  But, I’m a writer.  I carefully choose and manipulate words to achieve a desired effect.  I had this well in-hand.

“I think Juno went away,” I said cleverly.

Nailed it.

My daughter asked, “Where did Juno go?”

Drat!!!!!!

Brilliant aversion plan:  FOILED.

Well, I was going to have to be an adult and explain the circle of life to a girl who up to this point believed Elsa and Anna’s parents just went away on an extended twenty-year cruise.

I took a deep breath.  “Juno died, Sweetie.  Do you know what that means?”

She looked up and shook her head.

“Juno was very old, so he went to sleep and didn’t wake up again.  Everything eventually dies and that’s okay.  That’s just the way things are.  Do you understand?”

I knew I was supposed to add something more, but the look on my daughter’s face told me she was trying to comprehend my words.  We walked hand-in-hand in silence for several seconds before she stopped and looked down at the sidewalk.  I knew then that some realization had finished processing in her impressionable mind.  As she stared at the concrete path in front of us, my mind raced:

Oh, no.  She’s going to cry.

She’s going to think our own dogs are going to die – this week.

She’s going to ask me if I’m going to die… THEN she’ll cry. 

I’ve scarred her for life and doomed her to a life of alcoholism or worse – reality television.  

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“Daddy,” she said softly.

“Yes, Sweetie.”

“At school, my teacher said when things die they go —“

What followed was my daughter crossing her hands around her throat, sticking out her tongue, rolling her eyes back in her head, and swaying back and forth while loudly making a grotesque gurgling sound.

My eyes opened wide as I watched this overdone theatrical death play out in front of me.  Finally, the surreal street performance scene ended and my daughter looked up at me for confirmation that she had properly mimicked the act of dying.

I slowly nodded and said, “Okay.  Good talk.”

We then continued our walk as I discovered I had a newfound confidence that I had never known as a parent.  I now realized that just as with that initial fear of trying to write your first novel, much of the worrying is completely unnecessary.

Always remember:  No matter how bad you tell the story, somebody out there has already done it much much worse.

(Disclaimer: Don’t get mad a the aforementioned teacher.  It turned out she was explaining how plants could die if they didn’t get enough water when she had made the choking gesture.  She’s a wonderful teacher who apparently does fantastic impressions.)

J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, Measure Twice, and other works. Hensley is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.

https://hensleybooks.wordpress.com
http://www.hensley-books.com
https://www.facebook.com/hensleybooks
https://www.goodreads.com/JJHensley
Twitter @JJHensleyauthor

AVAILABLE NOW!

An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.

cropped-measure-twice-750-x-1200-jpeg.jpg

Also:

In the Pittsburgh Marathon, more than 18,000 people will participate. 4,500 people will attempt to cover the full 26.2 miles. Over 200 of the participants will quit, realizing it just wasn’t their day. More than 100 will get injured and require medical treatment. One man is going to be murdered.  When Dr. Cyprus Keller lines up to start the race, he knows a man is going to die for one simple reason. He’s going to kill him.

Resolve

Finalist – 2014 International Thriller Writers Awards – Best First Novel
Named one of the BEST BOOKS of 2013 by Suspense Magazine!
Top Ten Books of the Year – Authors on the Air

 

 And look for my short story FOUR DAYS FOREVER in the LEGACY anthology

Legacy cover

 

 

 

How to Exercise on Jupiter with Your Child

Keeping in shape can be a challenge.

Keeping in shape during the holidays can be incredibly difficult.

Keeping in shape during the holiday season, when you are the parent of a young child, can be a lot like trying to quell a toddler’s temper tantrum during the thunderstorm that caused the power to go out, prematurely ending an episode of Dora the Explorer.

So how do you exercise when the weather demands patience and your child demands attention?  I mean it’s not like you can exercise with your three-foot-tall bundle energy, right?

Over the past couple of years, the “exercise room” in my house also became the “playroom”.  So, I’d take my daughter down there in the hopes that she would entertain herself while I would lift weights or put in some time on our exercise bike.

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Inevitably (and understandably), she would want me stop my bench press routine to join a tea party.  Or, she would ask me to stop peddling the bike so I could try the strawberry coffee she “made” for me.  Of course, not wanting to be THAT parent, I’d stop lifting to sip “tea” from a tiny blue cup or I’d stop peddling because… well, we all know that nobody in his right mind can turn down a nice cup of strawberry coffee.

One of the other games she likes is “being a giant” with me.  This is nothing more than her sitting on my shoulders while I stomp around the room.  But one day while we were enjoying our gianthood, I took a long stride and did a lunge.  Then another, then another, then another.  My daughter thought it was incredibly fun and I found it extremely tiring.  In fact, it was exhausting like… EXERCISE.  And without warning, the Pipsqueak Workout was born.

Below are a few simple exercises you can enjoy with the most important person in your life.  To them, you are everything.  To you, they are everything… including great workout equipment!

Obviously, the safety of you and your child are the most important thing.  Do not attempt any of these exercises unless you are absolutely certain that no harm will come to you or your little one.

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Silly Squats:  Put the child on your shoulders (or back) and make sure they are secure.  Stand up.  Keeping your back straight, perform a few squats.  Each time you stand, make a sound like rocket launching, or cuckoo clock, or whatever.

Lion Lunges:  As I mentioned with the “being a giant” game, put your child securely on your shoulders and take long strides across the room.  Make absolutely certain you can maintain balance.  Roar like a lion with each stride.  It will make you feel fierce and primal and keep your kid laughing.

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ARMS

Creature Curls:  While standing, have your kid reach up and grab your hands.  Gently lift your child up by curling your arms.  Don’t do this too many times, as you don’t want to hurt your child’s shoulders.  If you prefer, hold your child under him arms and curl his bodyweight that way.  Make monster sounds with every repetition.  Because monsters are strong.  Probably.

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Pee-wee Pull-ups:  If you have access to a pull-up bar, lift your child so she can reach the bar.  While standing behind her, have her grab the bar and try to pull herself up.  Of course she won’t be able to do this, so you will have to lift her above your head for each repetition.  This is great for your shoulders, upper-back, and triceps.  And you kid will feel superhuman because she will think she can rattle off a Gummy Bear-load of pull-ups.

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Crazy Crunches:  Get in your normal crunch position.  Then have your toddler/pre-schooler lay on you in the same position.  Start performing crunches and marvel at how much harder they are when you have an extra 30 pounds of weight on your chest.

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Planetary Pushups:  You are both on a planet where the gravity is extreme.  Pushups are going to be extremely difficult, due to the gravitational pull.  Or… maybe it’s the kid on your back.  Have your child lay face down on your back while performing pushups.  Not only is it a good workout for your chest and arms, but it works your abs while you try to stabilize a wiggly toddler who is clinging on to you.  If your kid holds on by grabbing you around the neck, you get extra points for completing the exercise while being deprived of oxygen on this strange planet.

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CARDIO

Tag!  You’re Tired!:  Imagine there is a circle on your floor (maybe a 10 ft diameter) and that you and your child are not allowed to go outside of that circle.  Tell your child you are playing tag and have them start by being “it”.  As your kid tries to tag you, you will have to jump, dodge, bob, weave, and slide.  You will be amazed at how quickly this little agility exercise can wear you out.  Once you get tagged, you’ll need to chase your child.  There is no way she will stay inside the imaginary circle, so enjoy your new sprint workout.

 

It’s also possible to turn these exercises into a learning opportunity for your child.  Have your child count the pushups or or recite the alphabet during crunches.  Have her say a different color for each squat or a farm animal for each curl.  Be creative.

But most importantly, don’t do any of this if your child isn’t having a blast.  It’s always better to pack on a few pounds rather than being the jerk who forces his kid to “have fun”.  Believe it or not, your kid doesn’t give a damn if you can do 10 pushups or 100.  If most of your curls involve lifting a tiny blue tea-cup, then you are doing just fine.

How do you balance parenting, exercise, and everything else?  Leave a comment!

J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, and Measure Twice. Hensley is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.

RESOLVE was a finalist for Best First Novel by the International Thriller Writers organization, was named one of the Best Books of 2013 by Suspense Magazine, and is one of Authors on the Air’s Best Books of the Year.

https://hensleybooks.wordpress.com
http://www.hensley-books.com
https://www.facebook.com/hensleybooks
https://www.goodreads.com/JJHensley
Twitter @JJHensleyauthor

AVAILABLE NOW!

An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.

Measure Twice 750 x 1200 jpeg

 

Running Coach Mark Shipley Discusses Running, Magical Mustaches, and… a Russian Boxer?

I recently had the opportunity to interview Mark Shipley who is a running coach based in the Pittsburgh area.  In the interest of full disclosure, while I live close to Mark, I’ve never actually seen him run.

But he does.
A lot.

The reasons I’ve never spotted him are mostly because (unlike me) he has the willpower to get himself out of bed and run during the early morning hours and it’s likely that even his “slow” pace is faster than my mind or body can accept.

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I asked Mark questions about his background, recent experiences, and his goals.  But, I also asked him whether it was more difficult to coach newer runners than experienced runners.  Since I know from my law enforcement background that teaching certain technical/tactical skills (like using a firearm) can be much more difficult to do with someone who has accumulated years of “bad habits”, I expected Mark to respond in a certain way.  However, his answer surprised me.

As a bonus:  Through this Q&A I was also able to ascertain that Mark will never co-star in a facial grooming commercial with Brett Favre.  While this news is a bit disappointing, it’s probably for the best.

 

Question:  I know you started running in your late 20’s, but what made you get into coaching?

I started coaching because I had become a mentor to several runners and enjoyed it. I was learning a great deal about the sport, but by becoming a certified coach, I was able to take that next step. I learned more of the science behind what I was doing as well as some new coaching techniques and philosophies. Then, by becoming a certified coach, I was able to start officially training runners and building training plans for them.

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Running Coach – Mark Shipley
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Do you find it easier to coach experienced runners, or do newer runners tend to have less bad habits that they need to break?

Newer runners are 10 times harder to coach than more experienced runners. Sure, experienced runners have issues about falling back into old patterns, but those are typically easy to break if you can show them improved results with the modifications you’re proposing. Usually there’s someone they know who’s tried something similar, so they’re easier to convince. New runners have to be protected from themselves, and that’s not an easy task.

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They want to run everything too hard, and they want to progress too quickly. Their energy and enthusiasm is great, but it also does them a disservice when it comes to their bodies. In most cases, a new runner will show incredible improvement over the first couple months. They’ll go from being winded after a few blocks to breezing through an hour long run. Well, their cardiovascular system has adapted, but their muscles and more importantly their bones have not adapted so quickly. And that’s the rub. Unless you can get them to back off, they tend to get injured from overtraining after several months. That is usually a self-correcting problem though because after injury, they are more apt to ramp up slowly. The more difficult bad habit to break is always running too hard. A newer runner tends to think that in order to run faster, they need to run faster. Seems logical, right? Wrong. It’s counterintuitive, but you must run most of your runs slowly, at conversational pace, in order to progress as a runner. There is a place for fast running, but it’s not every run.

Many distance runners dream about qualifying for, and running in, the Boston Marathon.  This past year, you got to live that dream.  What was that experience like?

How many books do you want me to write? In a word: “Incredible”.  I don’t know how else to describe it. It took me 10+ years of running to qualify and 11 to stand at the start line, but all of that hard work was worth it. There are 2 moments that I distinctly remember from the process. The first was crossing the finish line at the Erie Marathon knowing that I had qualified and that my time would be good enough. There were so many emotions going through me, and I thought about my first marathon where my time was more than 2 hours slower. The other was just before the start of Boston. I was in corral 7 which is below the crest of the hill before the start. Thus, I couldn’t see the start from where I lined up, but as I came over the top of the hill and could see the starting line, I knew that I had “made it.” I had chills and took a moment to take it all in. Then it was go time. I had a mission that day as did the other 36K runners and the hundreds of thousands of spectators. We were taking back the Boston Marathon, and everyone took that job very seriously. I gave it everything I had, and Boston (and the surrounding towns) showed the runners its best side.

I’ve run numerous marathons, large and small, but Boston was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The crowds, the emotions, the Wellesley girls, Heartbreak Hill, and Boylston St. were beyond belief. I literally was hoping for the end of the Wellesley scream tunnel because the girls were so loud that my right ear was hurting. However, nothing prepared me for the turn onto Boylston. I have never experienced a roar like that before. And then to pass by both bombing sites was so humbling. I took off my visor to wave to the spectators as I approached the finish, and then I put it over my heart at each of the bombing sites. I hadn’t planned any of that, but it just seemed right. Then after crossing the finish line, I have never seen anything like this at any other race. The spectators, volunteers, police, and emergency personnel were all thanking and applauding each other. The people of Boston were thanking the runners for giving them their race back, and the runners were thanking everyone for an amazing experience.

Now we all know that there is a lot of information about running out there on the internet (which, of course, is NEVER wrong), so what are the major advantages of having a running coach?

Every runner is an experiment of one.

experiment

Canned training plans can be good, but what they can’t do is adapt to your needs. There are times when you need to adjust your training due to injury, how you’re progressing against the plan, or life in general. A plan can’t do that, but a coach can. A good coach will know when to push you and when to pull you back. And say you’re in the middle of a training plan but want to run that awesome race you do every year. Your coach will likely be able to adjust your training schedule to allow you to participate while still keeping you on track for your goal race.

As the father of a young child, how do you balance a career, coaching, running, and parenting?

Very carefully. Honestly, this was a difficult transition, and it took the better part of a year for all of us to figure out what worked and what didn’t. I never used to be a morning runner, but now I get in most of my workweek miles very early in the morning on the treadmill while everyone else in the house is still asleep. And on the weekends, I sometimes start even earlier. I informally lead a group called the “early birds” because we’re typically out running our long runs well before the normal runners show up.

What is the most common mistake you see runners make?

See above re: newer runners. If I have to choose something else it would be comparing yourself to other runners. Be the best runner you can be. That doesn’t mean that you should not try to improve. It only means that you shouldn’t use someone else’s scale. They may improve more or less quickly than you. Learn to listen to your body, and it will guide you.

You’ve been known to display a variety of facial hair styles.  Is this a kind of superpower?  Do you prefer the Magnum P.I. look for longer races?  The George Clooney beard for 5Ks?  How does this black magic work?

Black magic. I like it, especially since my beard is going more toward white wizard status now. As all married men know, a happy wife makes for a happy life. Part of keeping my wife happy is me having facial hair. In the 14+ years that we’ve been married, I’ve been clean shaven for probably less than a month total. It doesn’t matter if it’s a goatee (my default) or a full beard. As long as my chin is covered, she’s happy. Over the winter I’ll usually grow a beard for a while until it starts to itch too much. If I’m running a spring marathon or 50K, I will try to hold on until just before the race before shaving. Before any major goal race, I have a superstition where I’ll get my hair cut short. It started out of necessity because of hot weather but has grown into a tradition and now superstition. As an extension of that, I also go with the Rocky IV approach when training through the winter. Think about Rocky training in the harsh Russian winter. He’s out there busting his butt in the freezing cold, rocking the full beard. Then he shows up in the arena, laser focused and with a clean shave. I do the same thing.

snowy footprints

It’s more about visualization than anything. I’m switching mindsets from training to game day, and that does it for me. I know it sounds corny, but it actually works for me. I treat goal races as though they are important work trips. I’m all business, and that helps get me into the right mindset. And I may or may not have yelled “Dragoooooooo!!!” at the end of a long, snowy training run in the dead of winter.

As far as running goes, what is your next goal?

My immediate goal is to run well at the NYC Marathon and get my 2016 Boston Qualifier. I’m not in the greatest shape right now, but since I’ll be 40 in 2016, I get an additional 5 minutes of qualifying time, meaning that I only need to run 3:15 or better. Hopefully I can do that. After that, it will be time to get ready for the spring season and the JC Stone 50K and Boston Marathon. For the former, I’m gunning for a podium finish which will be no small feat. For Boston I have a goal, but I’m not yet ready to go public with it. A few of my friends know, but until it gets closer and I get in better shape, it will stay a guarded secret.

Thanks to Mark Shipley for answering my questions.  Mark can be reached through his Twitter ID: @TheCranberryKid.

Mark Shipley is a Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) certified coach and currently coaches runners for Mojo Running and Multisport in Seven Fields, PA. After starting running in 2003 to fulfill a bucket list item of completing a marathon, he’s run 19 marathons and 5 ultramarathons. A native of Cumberland, MD, he currently resides in Cranberry Twp, PA with his wife Tracey and daughter Charlotte. He is employed by Inmedius, a Boeing Company, in Ross Twp, PA where he works as a Senior Manager, Software Engineering.

 

Readers:  What are your experiences with using a running coach?

 

J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, Measure Twice, and other works. Hensley is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.

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AVAILABLE NOW!

An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.

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Also:

In the Pittsburgh Marathon, more than 18,000 people will participate. 4,500 people will attempt to cover the full 26.2 miles. Over 200 of the participants will quit, realizing it just wasn’t their day. More than 100 will get injured and require medical treatment. One man is going to be murdered.  When Dr. Cyprus Keller lines up to start the race, he knows a man is going to die for one simple reason. He’s going to kill him.

Resolve

Finalist – 2014 International Thriller Writers Awards – Best First Novel
Named one of the BEST BOOKS of 2013 by Suspense Magazine!
Top Ten Books of the Year – Authors on the Air

 

 And look for my short story FOUR DAYS FOREVER in the LEGACY anthology

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