These are a few of my Favorite Things

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Spring Training

For those of us who are baseball fans trying to make it through the long, cold off-season, there's nothing that sets our hearts aflutter more than those magic little words - "Pitchers and Catchers Report."  It's appropriate then that this year, the first day of pitcher and catcher workouts falls on the day dedicated to all things love, February 14th, Valentines Day.

Pirates spring training facility in Florida - Pic taken from

It also feels like a great time to recommit to my own Spring Training which, to be honest, has been lacking in the last months.  Luckily, I have some very concrete and urgent things that should underscore my training.

First and foremost, I've got a marathon to run in fewer than 12 weeks.  That's right, I've committed once again to run the full 26.2 miles of the Pittsburgh Marathon Course after taking the year off to run the half in 2016.  This upcoming marathon will be my first race of that distance since I completed the Marine Corps Marathon in 2015.  I love Pittsburgh, I love running through the many neighborhoods on the course of the full, I'm looking forward to the changes in the new course, that will, among other things, take us past the homes of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Steelers on the North Shore, but if I don't really ramp up my training soon, I won't love any of those things come May 7th.

During my last 26.2 mile venture - Marine Corps Marathon 2015

My second and most exciting motivator is that I am not merely running this race, I am Running for a Reason as a charity partner for the Miracle League of the South Hills.  Yes, I love baseball, and I believe that every child and young adult should have the opportunity to play.  The Miracle League facilitates baseball leagues and training camps where all children have the opportunity to play, to learn about baseball, teamwork, and community.  They also have a beautiful facility in the South Hills that includes one of the coolest playgrounds I've ever seen in the form of a wheelchair-accessible play structure that is designed to mimic features of Downtown Pittsburgh and PNC park.  I highly recommend anyone who has kids, or is a kid at heart, to check it out!  As I train for this year's marathon, I will also be raising money so the Miracle League can continue all of their amazing programming for kids and families in our community.  Check out my fundraiser at Crowdrise!

Coolest.  Playground.  Ever.  - photo taken from

My last motivating factor is decidedly more selfish than the last, and it's something I hate talking about, but that I need to talk about in the context of my running and training.  The fact of the matter is, I currently weigh more than I think I've ever weighed in my life.  I know it's not just the number of the scale, but it makes me feel tired and sluggish.  My times in my last few races have been quite slow compared to when I first started running.  Plus, sometimes I feel just unnecessarily worn out after activities that shouldn't make me feel this way.  I don't need to be able to fit into the same jeans that I could in high school, or anything like that, but I'm pretty sure I know my own body well enough to know that I need to lose back some of this weight I've gained over the last couple of years. Oh, and a potential bonus to that weight loss?  Better fitting the Pirates' free shirt giveaway t-shirts!

Free Shirt!  Woo Hoo!

Happy Spring Training to all of the baseball fans out there, and to everyone who is gearing up for a Spring/Summer race or another event.  Now, time to get up from my computer, and get out there and start training!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Cycle to the Moon!

Earlier this year, as part of Pittsburgh's Bike Fest, I participated in a biking challenge called Cycle to the Moon.  Cycle to the Moon was designed by Pittsburgh's bike share system, Healthy Ride, to be a celebration of bikes, bikesharing, and the beautiful city of Pittsburgh!  Registered riders were issued a free 24 hours of bike rental, and then challenged to use the Healthy Ride bikes to visit all 50 stations within a 24 hour period of their choice.  There were also "constellations" consisting of 10 or 25 stations on a 4-15 mile ride, depending on the constellation.  Of course, I wanted to go big or go home and opted to visit all 50 stations which meant a roughly 30 mile ride.

Oh, and one of the most important details - the challenge is called Cycle to the Moon because all who complete the challenge will have their name and photo literally sent to the moon in the Pittsburgh Bicentennial time capsule!  How cool is that?  I'm still holding out hope that my person will have the chance to travel to the moon one day, but having my name and likeness there is a good place to start.

Riders could visit stations in any order, and I chose to start at 42nd and Penn in Upper Lawrenceville next to the Children's Hospital.  That station is just a couple blocks walk from my husband's work, so it was convenient to ride in with him.  Added bonus: it's at the top of a giant, steep hill from the next closest stop, so it meant I could strategically cut a climb out of my ride by starting there!

As always, one of my favorite things about events like this is getting to explore my city.  As it turns out, I did a bit more "exploring" than intended in East Liberty as I took a couple of wrong turns, and also missed a couple stations and had to double back on myself.  Oops!  East Liberty used to be one of my stomping grounds when I was a Pitt student, but it turns out that I don't remember all it's nooks and crannies, especially with so many new additions in the area like Bakery Square and the Ace Hotel.  The cool thing about being lost, though, is getting to see all of these beautiful new parts of Pittsburgh up close and personal.

I made about 10 wrong turns cutting up from East Liberty to find the station at Penn and N Fairmount, which is especially funny to me since it's about half a mile down the road from where I started.

Fortunately, by the time I made it to Walnut Street in Shadyside, I was back in familiar territory, and knew I would be for the rest of the ride.  I even stopped to rest and drink some water across from one of my most familiar places - the Apple Store!

By the time I made it to Oakland, I was ready for some lunch.  The East End of the course had provided only mild hills, and very cool temperatures in the morning hours, but I had been at it long enough that I was not only hungry, but also craving some time in the air conditioning!  I decided to dock my bike at Frew Street and Schenley Drive station and head to Phipps Conservatory for a bite to eat.

Phipps, in addition to being a beautiful place to view flowers, trees, and other plants, has a pretty delightful cafe with lots of light, healthy fare.  I lunched on a turkey and siracha berry jam panini with brussels sprout slaw.  Yum, yum, yum!

Lunch had me reinvigorated and ready to tackle the remainder of the course.  From Oakland, I decided to head to the South Side, and coasted down the steep hill of Bates Street towards the Hot Metal Bridge, ready to cross another of Pittsburgh's beautiful rivers in search of the next few stations.

The South Side is always a pleasant ride.  Carson Street and its parallels are straight and flat.  In fact, this stretch of Carson Street boasts itself as the flattest mile on course during the Pittsburgh marathon.  There were 5 Healthy Ride stations in the South Side, all roughly along the main drag of Carson.  The South Side, just like East Liberty, Shadyside, and Oakland before it, also supports cyclists with plentiful bike lanes and signage reminding motorists to "share the road."

From the South Side, I took the 10th Street Bridge back over the Monongahela, and prepared to visit the Downtown stations.  At the end of the bridge, I used the Armstrong Tunnel to cut under the hill housing Duquesne University.  I have no idea whether bikes are allowed to ride on the street in the tunnel, but it seemed like a bad idea so I dismounted and walked it on the sidewalk.  Among the many strange mysteries of Pittsburgh, Armstrong is about the only tunnel I know to feature a pedestrian sidewalk.

I stopped to consult the map on my phone after leaving the tunnel.  All I had left to visit were the stations in Downtown, the North Side, the Strip, and Lower Lawrenceville, right?  WRONG.  I made a glaring omission by trying to forge my own course.  I had forgotten that there is one, lone station in the Hill District, and the very tip top of Center Avenue.  I was going to have to climb about 250 feet up from Consol Energy Center to make my one missing stop at Center and Kirkpatrick.

I was absolutely exhausted after climbing up into the aptly-named Hill District, however, I was happy to remember that what goes up must come down!  Flying back down the hill towards town certainly felt refreshing and well-deserved!

After my almost-omission of the Hill, I was happy to find that visiting the Downtown stations was almost completely unceremonious.  Nothing crazy happened.  None got lost along the way.  No news felt like good news.  At this point, I had 40 stations down, and 10 to go.  4 in the North Side, 4 in the Strip District, and 2 in Lower Lawrenceville.

The 4 North Side stations are kinda out on their own little island compared to the rest of the Healthy Ride locations, but I am always happy to cross the Allegheny towards one of my favorite city neighborhoods, especially on the all-time coolest bike lane on by all-time favorite bridge.  The Roberto Clemente (6th Street) Bridge celebrates biking as well as the Pirates' all-time great outfielder with these awesome graphics of Roberto biking while dressed in his uniform.

Visiting the North Side stations also proved uneventful as I cycled past two adjacent to PNC park then made the mild climb up to stations near CCAC and the Mexican War Streets.  I crossed back over Clemente, this time serving as the final bridge on my course, and counted down just as I do at the end of a long run.  44 down, 6 to go.

The straightaway of Penn and Butler in the Strip District and Lawrenceville served as the final portion of my course.  These sections of town are typically easy to ride, though I realized as I entered the busiest area of the Strip that I was going the wrong way!  The Healthy Ride Stations were located along Penn Ave, however, the flow of Traffic on Penn is inbound only, and I was going the opposite way.  Let's just say I was a little creative with how I rode through this neighborhood, sometimes on the sidewalk, sometimes on the street, and sometimes dismounted and pushing the bike.  Kids, probably don't try this at home.

Finally, I made it to the Doughboy statue and bared left on Butler Street (yes, with the proper flow of traffic now) to visit the final two stations at 37th and 42nd Streets.

Finally!  Locked my bike at the Butler and 42nd Street station, took a big swig of water, and cheesed for the camera.  I'm going to the moon!

I so enjoyed this challenge and many thanks to the folks at Healthy Ride for designing it!  The feeling of pride accomplishing something like this, and the unique way to enjoy my city are two of the main reasons I run, hike, and ride!  And, well, the fact that I can say that my photo will be on the moon is just the icing on the cake.  Hopefully I will find something similarly fun during next year's bike fest.  Until then, ride, yinzers, ride!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Yinz Run Half Marathons?

4 years ago, I decided I was was going to run a marathon.  I stood at the finish line of the 2012 Pittsburgh Marathon, actually just there to kill some time prior to meeting some out of town family members for brunch downtown.  I was so fascinated and inspired by the runners and walkers as they triumphantly, sometimes exhaustedly crossed the finish line, I knew I wanted to run the race for myself.

So in 2013 I ran the Pittsburgh Marathon, my first 26.2 mile venture, with a very "go big or go home" mentality.  Why run half of something when you can run the whole thing?  After 3 consecutive Pittsburgh full marathons, with a Walt Disney World and a Marine Corps full peppered in the calendar, I knew it was time to switch gears and run the 13.1 mile half in Pittsburgh this year.

Half Marathon Course Map from

The funny thing about having trained for and completed 5 full marathons is that, when it came to training for this half, I kind of let it fall by the wayside.  In February and March, when temps were colder, I thought to myself, it's only 13.1 miles!  I can do this!  By April, I'd realized that I'd undersold the race, that just because 2016 was the first year since 2012 that I didn't have a full marathon on the calendar didn't mean that I didn't have to train properly for other races.  Oh I ran 3 miles here and 5 miles there, but not with the focus and nuance to properly race a half.  I knew I could finish a half marathon, and I did, but I knew going into this race that it would be a running (and walking) tour of this beautiful city more so than a race, and I knew I'd be okay with that.

Race weekend threatened thunder, lightening and rain from the time the 10 day forecast was revealed until the time I woke up race morning and learned that we were in the clear.  I was glad that I was running for fun, because the threat of weather so severe that it could postpone or cancel a race would've made me crazy nervous if I'd been a first time runner or gunning for a PR.  But we woke up to grey skies and light rains, so it truly was Game on, Pittsburgh!

Corral D waiting in the rain.  Pay no attention to the 8:00 mile pace sign because that is NOT me, lol.

Covered in rain, but still ready to go.

The race started on time and my corral crossed the start line within 30 minutes of the initial gun time. The first three miles of the course are flat and relatively fast.  The field of runners is dense as thousands of full marathon, half marathon, and relay participants start out together, but the course is as wide as the city streets of Pittsburgh's Strip District neighborhood.  The first 11 miles of the half course would be the same as the first 11 of the full course I'd become accustomed to, save for a couple of small changes due to road construction on the course.

In those 11 miles, I'd get to cross all 3 of the city's famous rivers via all 5 of the course's signature bridges, 4 of which I absolutely love running, and 1 of which I absolutely hate.

Crossing the 16th Street/David McCullough Bridge around mile 3.  I love this one!
My favorite thing about the Pittsburgh Marathon courses, other than the bridges of course, is a tie between the unparalleled crowd support and the tour of the city's unique neighborhoods.  Those two facts are surely related, as the residents of neighborhoods on the route have a friendly competition as to who has the best "cheer section."  The race even sends surveys out to participants post race and the worthiest neighborhoods and organizations can win not only bragging rights, but monetary donations to their nonprofits and neighborhood initiatives.

After crossing the 16th Street Bridge, runners enter the North Side, which is really an amalgam of multiple small neighborhoods including East Allegheny, Allegheny Center, and Allegheny West.  The North Side is one of my most favorite places in the city, and its residents come out in spades to cheer the runners, including a Mimosa station shortly after mile 4!

Runners in the North Side run for a bit through the Deutschtown business district, then zig across the Rachel Carson Bridge, and zag back across the neighboring Andy Warhol Bridge to complete the Tour de North.  These bridges, 2/3 of the Allegheny River's "Three Sisters" are totally fun to run.  By this point in this year's race, I was employing a walk/run strategy pretty liberally, deciding when to walk mostly by effort and not by prescribed time.  These two suspension bridges are great for walk/run, as they slope gently up to the center, and then back down again.  I walked up the bridges, coasted joyfully down them, and continued on to find mile 5 in the North Side's Allegheny Center.

Crossing the Rachel Carson Bridge
Back in the North Side, not raining but now very humid!

Runners pass the Pittsburgh Children's Museum with the Downtown skyscrapers in the distance.

One small change to this year's course layout was in the North Side, where runners turned a block of off last year's course and ran past the Community College of Allegheny County for a block or two.  I suspect this was to make up for slight distance lost by the construction on the Birmingham bridge circa mile 11.

The new part of the course, complete with banners celebrating the Run for a Reason charity partners.

Crossing the 4th bridge, across the Ohio River and in to the West End neighborhood, I attempted to keep rough pace with the 5:30 full marathon pacer.  I knew that I was taking it so slow and easy that I'd fallen behind any of the half marathon pacers, and decided that keeping vaguely with the 5:30 full marathon group would put me at a comfortable and reasonable pace for this half I hadn't really trained for.

On the West End bridge.

At this point, I was more than half way done, and still feeling okay with my easy pace.  The West End neighborhood also has a fun and frantic cheering section, and I accumulated my very own cowbell with which to run the final 6 miles!  After the West End, the course follows the South Side's Carson Street for several straight, flat, kind of boring miles.  I knew that my father was waiting for me at 18th street, and, looking at my watch, knew I would be right on pace for when I planned to pass him.  Even in a slow race, there is something gratifying about knowing I can predict and keep a certain pace expectation.

On Carson Street with less than 5K to go!

Doggie spectators supporting Going Home Greyhounds in the South Side.

After the flat, friendly miles of the South Side, the course takes a brutal turn.  Runners of both the full and half marathon courses turn to ascend the Birmingham Bridge, a bridge that, unlike the three sisters bridges crossed earlier in the course, slants uphill for the entire duration of the structure.  At the end of the bridge's hill, half marathoners turn left, full runners turn right, and somehow, the course continues uphill both ways!  For those keeping score at home, this is the 1 out of the 5 bridges that I HATE!

The fifth, final, and most fearsome bridge.

I was excited to run the half course for the first time and, at the end of the Birmingham Bridge, this is where the half and full courses made their first split.  I was unpleasantly surprised to find that the hill of the half was almost as severe as that in the full, however, I was pleased to find one of my favorite unofficial cheering sections, the Hash House Harriers, handing out beer around mile 11.5, just as I'd always found them at mile 23 on the course of the full.

Will run for beer!

I powered up with a cup of their Yuengling Lager, and soldiered on to the end.  Luckily, after the elevation grade of the race's 5th bridge and its aftermath, the course progressed easily downhill for the final mile.  Despite the downhill, I continued my run/walk strategy, and eased into the final part of the course.  At this point, it was no longer raining, and a bit humid.  Runners were presented with a welcome cool while passing Duquesne University, in the form of a city fire hydrant spraying a cool mist of water.

A uniquely urban encounter in the final miles.

The refreshing cool of this Uptown oasis was just what I needed to power through the final mile.  I referenced my phone to verify where my mom would be spectating at the finish, and coasted downhill to the end.

Running towards the finish.  This time with MORE COWBELL!

After close to three easy hours, I finally crossed the finish line.  It wasn't my fastest or most daring race, but it was my 8th half marathon, and completed in my favorite city in the world.  I accepted my medal and grabbed some snacks - in the form of a hometown favorite Eat n Park smiley cookie and a much needed sodium-replenishing bag of Salt and Vinegar chips.

To the victor go the spoils.

By the numbers, I enjoyed 13.1 miles, over 3 rives and 5 bridges, in under 3 hours, to complete my 8th half marathon!  And, as always, I can't wait to run the next.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

I'm Feeling 33!

Happy 33rd birthday to me!  In honor of my 33rd, and also the 2nd anniversary of Run, Yinzer, Run, I have a couple of fun new ideas up my sleeve.  Stay tuned next week for some of my new features, but, in the mean time, I wanted to spend the day celebrating and reflecting on 33 accomplishments, facts, and goals from my past, present, and future!

Looking Back - 11 Accomplishments

1. Sept 2012 - Completed the first 5K of my adulthood at the Run For Your Lives zombie 5K.

2. February 2013 - Completed my first half marathon at the Disney Princess Half.

3. May 2013 - Completed my first full marathon at the Pittsburgh Marathon.

4. August 2010 - Accepted a job with Apple, Inc.  Almost 6 years later, this is the longest and happiest I've ever been at a single employer!

5. October 2013 - Became an Apple Certified Macintosh Technician.

6. Spring 2002 - Won an Ossip award for Nonfiction writing from the University of Pittsburgh.

7. 2004-2005 - Served 1 year term with AmeriCorps, focusing on mentoring and tutoring youth in Homestead and Pittsburgh.

8. Fall 2008 - Opened the Propel Andrew Street Charter High School as an instructional aide and founding staff member.

9. September 2013 - Raised over $500 for Team Fisher House to support the friends and family of veterans receiving treatment in VA hospitals.

10. February 2010 - Adopted my dear corgi, Spencer!

11. March 2016 - Celebrated my 6th anniversary with my husband, Greg, and on to many more!

Looking Forward - 11 Goals

12. Complete a triathlon.

13. Run a marathon or half marathon in all 50 states.

14. Expand my volunteer experiences with local animal rescue and youth education nonprofits.

15. Improve my cooking skills, knowledge, and control of my kitchen.

16. Specifically, learn how to cook with beets.  I love beets.  They're a staple of my native Ukranian cuisine.  But I never know how to cook with them!

17. Write a book.  Don't know whether it will be something I share and publish, or just a story for my own reading, but this is a task I've long wanted to complete!

18. Complete the Rachael Carson Trail Challenge - a 34 mile trail event in my hometown.

19. I'd like to finish my Bachelor's degree, but, 15 years post-highschool, I'm still not entirely certain what I want to major in.

20. Raise funds for Parkinson's research and treatment by running as a charity partner with the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

21. Participate in an Apple Retail New Store Opening event.

22. Complete the Dirty Dozen bike ride.  Part of me feels that this is a total pie-in-the-sky, unattainable goal, but another part of me really wants to conquer the hills, and complete the ride with my dad!

Past, Present, and Future - 11 Facts

23. I share a lot online about being active, but I spend a lot of time in front of Netflix.  I've seen my favorite shows 30 Rock and Arrested Development at least 5 times each.

24. I love every food except mayonnaise.  And I will even eat that in small quantities!

25. I was born on Friday the 13th and consider it to be a lucky number and lucky day!

26. I don't own a car.  My husband does, but I get 99% of the places I need to go on foot, bike, or public transportation.

27. I made my own wedding dress.

28. I'm currently learning American Sign Language.

29. In my teens and 20's, I had a very hard time managing my anxiety.  As I've gotten older, a handful of techniques, including a focus on exercise, have helped me feel less a victim to that anxiety.

30. Despite the fact that I don't play much any more, I'm trained as a cellist, pianist, and vocally as a soprano.

31. I can read music and sight sing.

32. I'm always warm when I sleep at night, no matter the temperature.

33.  I've had childhood birthday parties at ChiChis, The Ground Round, and Pizza Hut.  As an adult, my most recent birthday was celebrated at Primanti Brothers.

Happy shared birthday to Stevie Wonder, Bea Arthur, Dennis Rodman, Stephen Colbert, Lena Dunham, Joe Louis, Iwan Reheon, Richie Valenz, and all you other magical May 13th birthdays!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Strategizing the Pittsburgh Marathon

The countdown to the 2015 Pittsburgh Marathon has reached the single digits!  The big day is even appearing in the 10-day weather forecast, so you know it's getting serious here!  (The weather forecast, however, is NOT making me excited yet at highs in the 70's and rain.  Hopefully this changes as we get closer...)

Taken on a training run.  Hopefully the 'Burgh will look like this come race day!

The training and the physical preparation are pretty much in the bag at this point.  There's not a whole lot a runner can do in the week leading up to a marathon to become physically more prepared, other than sleeping and hydrating.  Mentally, however, I'm using taper time to strategize about my race.

Race Map and Elevation Profile from the Pittsburgh Marathon website.

This will be my fourth marathon, and my third consecutive Pittsburgh Marathon, so I am familiar with both the distance and the course.  I know from experience that I can divide the race into roughly three parts:

One of the 5 bridges runners will cross - this photo taken at the 2014 EQT 10 miler.

Miles 1-13  - Keep Calm and Don't Go Out Too Fast!

I expect to feel relatively strong and happy, but I know that I'll need to pace myself from going out too fast on fresh legs and a mostly flat part of the course.  I've felt great in the first 13 miles of most of my training runs, including last month's Run the Bluegrass half marathon.  For those familiar with the Pittsburgh course, you may recognize that there is a significant elevation gain at mile 12.  I have run the uphill of the Birmingham Bridge and Forbes Avenue many times in training, and actually feel pretty good about it!  I've learned that this is another place where I need to be smart and not go too fast, taking walk breaks up the hill if needed, since there are many more hills to come.

The Pittsburgh Soul Steppers around mile 18 in Homewood.  A pleasant and happy distraction!

Miles 13-20 - Distract Myself

If anyone out there is running the Pittsburgh Marathon for the first time, there's something you need to know about the hills.  Everyone talks about the big hill in mile 12.  What nobody talks about is that  miles 13-23 are full of rolling hills in the form of slight grades, often on long stretches of road.  This killed me the first time that I ran Pittsburgh.  I expected a flat, easy plateau at the top of mile 12's hill, but the slight elevation gains of this section of the course have felt brutal to me on tiring legs.  I plan to turn on kind of an autopilot mode, to trust my training and use the scenic urban neighborhoods and  friendly crowds on course to distract me from any tiredness in my legs.

The city as seen from high up on one of the East End's hills.

Miles 20-Finish - Dig Deep, It's (Almost) All Downhill from Here!

For me, the undisputed most challenging part of the Pittsburgh Marathon course is climbing the hill of North Highland Avenue at mile 20.  Mile 20 is often the "Wall" a runner has to overcome in a marathon.  In Pittsburgh, that wall is made even more impassable seeming by the slow, steady climb of the course.  Fortunately, once you get to the top of the hill at Bryant street, runners get rewarded with a corresponding downhill in mile 21.  Then, more ups and downs before the course gets it's huge downhill at mile 23.  As much as it seems like a giant downhill should be easy, its still tough on my tired body to complete these last few miles.  Once I get to the top of the hill in Highland Park, I'm going to try and push my pace, and make the last 10K my fastest 10K!

Crossing the finish line at my first Pittsburgh Marathon in 2013!

I'm hoping that this strategy will bring me home a new marathon PR.  My 2015 goal race is ultimately the Marine Corps Marathon in October, in which I hope to break 5 hours.  Pittsburgh is going to be something of a "practice marathon" and, while I don't know that I'll be able to break 5 hours yet, I'm hoping to beat my best previous time.  Let the countdown continue, and I'll see everyone in 1 week at the Expo, 5K, Pet Walk, and Pittsburgh Marathon!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon - Race Recap

Well, it's been over a week since the race, but I'm finally sitting down to recap my amazing experience at the Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon in Lexington, Kentucky.  Just in case you don't make it to the end of the post, I want to make it clear right off the bat - I recommend the heck out of this race.  The race itself was on the most stunning, rural course, the expo was well-organized and held and the beautiful Keeneland racetrack, and the race weekend was filled with unique experiences highlighting Lexington's rich bourbon, farming, and thoroughbred traditions.  I loved this race weekend!

Post-race, all smiles!

The City of Lexington

My weekend started on Thursday, when I completed the 6-hour drive from Pittsburgh to Lexington and checked into my Airbnb accommodations.  For those unfamiliar, Airbnb gives private homeowners the ability to rent out rooms and properties directly to travelers.  I found and was immediately drawn to a woman renting out her Amish-built art studio which resided in her backyard garden, complete with chickens, dogs, rabbits, and guinea pigs milling about!  I chose this location for it's uniqueness, and I immediately felt drawn into the specialness of the Lexington community.

The view outside of my door!  Hey, chickie chickie!

After dinner and drinks on Thursday night (in a University of Kentucky bar during a Wildcats-WVU March Madness game!) I turned in for the night knowing I'd have a full day ahead of me.

The Expo and the Day Before

Friday morning, I woke up and went straight to the expo.  This race weekend was somewhat unique in that the race was Saturday morning, so the expo took place on Thursday night and all day Friday.  Run the Bluegrass has an overarching theme of thoroughbred horse racing, and the Expo was held at the Keeneland racetrack, a stunning property full of stately buildings and rolling, green fields.  The Expo was not to big, not too small, and seemed well organized.  I got my bib, my shirt, and bought a good amount of swag including special race-branded Bourbon!

First thing Friday morning at the Run the Bluegrass Expo.

The official race shirt, a lightweight cotton hoodie, and my purchase of race-branded Bourbon!

Another cool thing about this race is that organizers offered unique experiences during the days before the race, including Bourbon tastings, farm tours, trips to meet award-winning horses, and meals from noted local chefs and restaurants.  I did not end up participating in any of the official tours.  I ended up doing my own visits to a couple of the distilleries.  I'm guessing that their organized distillery tours are pretty similar to the tours I found.  I made my own visits to 2 Lexington distilleries -  Woodford Reserve (lots of cool old distilling methods and historical buildings) and Town Branch (up-and-coming distillery/brewery with a variety of beers and spirits).  If I come back to run, however, I will definitely partake in the opportunity to meet one of the horses, or go to one of the special meals.

Tasting Kentucky Bourbon at Woodford Reserve Distillery.

The Race!

Here's the first thing you should know about the Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon: it's hilly.  It's CONSTANTLY hilly.  I come from Pittsburgh, where we boast the steepest hill in the United States (Canton Ave in Beechview, 2 miles from my apt).  The thing about Run the Bluegrass is that no one hill is super long or super steep, at least not by my Pittsburgh standards, but you are going up and down hills from the start to the end.  Literally.  There is no respite.  If you come from a flat training environment, I honestly don't know how you would like this course in terms of its challenge.  For those coming from flat areas, the race does publish a treadmill training guide with grade equivalencies.  I personally prefer training outdoors, but I think the treadmill guide is such a cool training feature.  It also gives outdoor trainers an idea of what they're getting into!

In addition to the challenge of the hills, race morning greeted runners with a "feels like" temperature of 17 degrees Fahrenheit.  Super cold for waiting in the corrals, but honestly pretty perfect for the race.  It was sunny, clear, and not windy at all.  I could handle 17 degrees, especially once I started moving.  Pre-race, runners were definitely bundled up in the corrals!

So cold and sunny waiting for the race to start!

The race started at 9 am, which was great because it gave the sun plenty of time to rise despite the chilly temperatures.  I started in corral 4 of 7, and experienced only a short wait as the corrals started 2 minutes after one another.  With a medium-sized race field of approximately 4,000 runners, the course wouldn't ever be too crowded.

I embraced the beautiful scenery and the hills, running and walking conservatively up, and using my momentum to race quickly down.  The course was stunning to view, running through countless horse farms, with thoroughbreds exercising or grazing in the fields along the road.  The horses and the farms were both breathtaking, and I even saw some cows, chickens, and dogs along the course as well.

 Honestly, it was a very even race for me.  Opposite to the Urban and Disney races I normally run, there weren't a lot of landmarks or marked changes in the course.  Just steady hills and reliably stunning scenery.  I kept an even pace as well, averaging 11:54 in the first half and 11:28 in the second.  (Which adds up to be my second-fastest official half marathon time!) The course felt smooth, calm, and peaceful throughout.  I didn't have a particular time goal, and, I honestly never thought too much about my running.  I just enjoyed the scenery and the sunshine, and let myself run! 

The pictures do nothing justice.  Not the challenge of the hills, and not the beauty of the course.  There were hardly any spectators, which seemed a bit odd coming from the city/Disney race background, but it made for a zen-like, lovely experience.  In the end, I kept faster-than-marathon pace, which is great because I used the race as a training run for the Pittsburgh Marathon, and I had an amazing time.

Another special feature of the race was that a guest of honor was Scott Menzies, widower of Meg Menzies, a runner tragically killed by a drunk driver last year while out for a morning run near her Virginia home.  Scott was a speaker at some race weekend events, and mile 9 of the race was dedicated to Meg's legacy.

Mile 9 was dubbed "Meg's Mile."  As it turns out, Mile 9 also boasted the steepest uphill grades on course.  Dedicating the mile to Meg and her family helped me remember to be strong, and enjoy the run I was in, regardless of it's challenge.

After Meg's Mile, I rose up and coasted down through three more, and made my way to the finish!

To me, the thing that makes this race so worthwhile is the absolute celebration of Kentucky culture - the rolling bluegrass hills, the thoroughbreds, the bourbon, and the hospitality!  I would recommend it to any runner without reservation - they even have a 7-mile run the same morning, and kids races the night before.  Oh, and the races allow runners to bring along leashed dogs, push strollers, and they had their first wheelchair athletes this year.  It's truly a welcoming and joyful race experience.

And, in case the race didn't seem happy enough, runners get free Kentucky Ale beer, and free Papa John's pizza at the end.  Yep.  10/10 would run again.

*All un-watermarked photos are my own.  All watermarked photos are purchased from Run the Bluegrass as part of their $10 for unlimited downloads package!  Yet another reason to love Run the Bluegrass!*