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Hannah Holt covered 26.2 miles in Utah dressed as book during Dyslexia Awareness Month

Hannah Holt is no stranger to marathons. She's completed at least 15 of them. But last Sunday, in Southern Utah's arid, hot terrain, the Portland teacher set a new world record for fastest marathon ever run while dressed as a book.

Yes, there's a Guinness World Record for that.

Holt, 41, ran the St. George Marathon in Southern Utah in a hand-made costume, dressed as the cover of her latest children's book, "A History of Underwear With Professor Chicken" to raise awareness of dyslexia. Holt is a linguistics teacher at Portland's Edison High School on the Jesuit High campus.

COURTESY PHOTO: HANNAH HOLT - Hannah Holt of Portland stops for a photo during the St. George Marathon in Utah. Holt ran the marathon dressed as a book she wrote to raise awareness during Dyslexia Awareness Month.She beat the current record of 5 hours and 30 minutes, running all 26.2 miles in her costume in 5 hours and 12 minutes.

"It wasn't my fastest marathon time ever, but I made the record at 5:12," Holt said Wednesday, Oct. 5. She's run marathons in much less time — in fact, she's fast enough to have qualified to run in the Boston Marathon next April. Participants in her category have to prove they can run the Boston race in 3 hours and 40 minutes or less, but her journey to Utah last weekend wasn't for speed, it was for advocacy. Holt ran to raise awareness and a little bit of money for Reading for Life Utah. One of Holt's four children has dyslexia, a learning disability that involves difficulty with reading and language processing.

"Learning to read is like running a marathon for a dyslexic child, and a lot of people, even some teachers and legislators, don't understand that," Holt said.

Holt, who grew up in Lake Oswego and attended Brigham Young University, has 11-year-old twin daughters. In 2020, while working in the publishing world as a nonfiction book author, she found out one of her daughters is dyslexic. It changed her life's trajectory. She said shortly afterward, she transitioned to teaching, to become a specialist that could help children with learning disabilities like her daughter's.

"Third grade and fourth grade is when you make the switch from learning to read, to reading to learn, so a lot of kids don't get diagnosed," Holt said. "They're able to mask (symptoms) or memorize all the things they need to learn. The problem with dyslexia is they don't intuit the way other kids do."

National health researchers believe dyslexia affects 1 in 5 people, but identifying it and getting children the resources they need requires proper diagnosis and intervention.

In Holt's case, she said an email from a teacher that referred to her daughter as "defiant" was the first clue that something was amiss. The term is often applied to children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. She figured her daughter might have ADHD. The dyslexia diagnosis surprised her, but the process of getting a tutor and other support for her child inspired her.

"I realized I want to do what this private tutor is doing, or at least do something to help kids," Holt said. This year marks her first as a teacher.

Her job meant she was back in the classroom Monday morning, after running more than 26 miles in a costume made from a cardboard box and vinyl banner. Holt ran just weeks after recuperating from an ankle injury that prevented her from training for several weeks prior to the marathon.

COURTESY PHOTO: HANNAH HOLT - Hannah Holt (foreground) runs among a group of St. George Marathon participants in Utah. Holt ran in Utah to raise awareness and funds for Reading for Life Utah.Luckily, the record time to beat for fastest marathon run while dressed in a costume was achievable, even in what she described as "wearing a sleeping bag in 70-degree weather."

Her costume only weighed about 3.5 pounds. The water pack she wore over her shoulder was actually heavier, but in order to keep her knees from chafing under the costume, she had to ditch her favored running shorts for long leggings.

Holt also had to photograph herself at every mile in her book costume, a requirement she said that is part of the process of requesting the record be changed to reflect the new fastest time.

It was worth it, she said, if the process and advocacy helps even one child.

"We look to high schools for improving graduation rates and not the fact that 88% of dropouts were struggling readers in third grade," Holt said. "In marathon running, we have a saying, 'Drink before you're thirsty. By the time you're thirsty, it's too late.' My personal experience navigating the special education system in Oregon is that schools wait until your child is almost completely dehydrated educationally before offering services. If I could tell the parent of a dyslexic child one thing it would be this, 'Don't wait to seek out help for your struggling reader.'"

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