These are a few of my Favorite Things

Friday, September 5, 2014

Fall Friday Five

I don't typically post a "Five things Friday" on my blog, but it seemed appropriate today, what with today being not only Friday, but also the 5th, and the foundation of my favorite season - Fall!  I don't believe in ushering seasons in months before they arrive (Christmas section at Macy's, I'm looking at you),  but school's in and we're just two weeks away from the fall equinox.  I'm ready to celebrate five things about this impending autumn.

1.  Last week, I deferred my registration for the 2014 Marine Corps Marathon.  It was a difficult decision and one that initially felt disappointing more than celebratory.  Yet in the wake of mourning this marathon, I'm excited to focus more on shorter races.  My speed has plateaued lately, and I hope that focusing on shorter distances will lead me to some new PRs.  10K, 10 miler, and half marathon, I'm mostly looking at you here.

2. Next weekend is the Erie Half Marathon.  Most of my recent races have been through some sort of city streets, whether Pittsburgh, DC, or Disney's Main Street USA.  I'm thrilled to tackle 13.1 in picturesque Presque Isle State Park along the beaches of the lake.

3. Speaking of Disney, Rebel Challenge training starts on September 16th!  I'm loosely following the Jeff Galloway training calendar as published on the RunDisney website.  More details to come, but I'm planning on drawing from both the Rebel Challenge training plan and the Half Marathon Time Improvement plan.  Maybe I'll even complete a run in less than 12 parsecs!

4. When I'm not out working or working out, I'm halfway through reading Laura Hildebrand's book Unbroken.  If you aren't familiar, it's the true story of an Olympic runner turned World War 2 airman who encounters some impossible-seeming survival scenarios.  It's fascinating thus far, and also is being released this Christmas as a movie.   (Bonus, the screenplay was written by two of my favorite creative Hollywood minds, Joel and Ethan Coen.)

5. Things to look forward to?  Apple has announced their next media event will be on September 9.  While I have no idea what they'll be announcing, I'm a huge fan of utilizing iPhones, wearable activity trackers, apps, headphones, and other gadgets during my runs.  I can't wait to see what's next!

Ready to run in Pittsburgh last Fall for the EQT 10-miler.

Let's hear it for Autumn!  Who else is looking forward to something new this Fall?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Why I'm Goofy, and You should be Too!

Runners!  Disney enthusiasts!  Zany, Goofy individuals!  There is still space to register for the Walt Disney World Goofy Challenge!  I want to take a minute to tell you all about why I'm Goofy, and why you should be too.

Channeling Malificent the morning of the Half Marathon.

Earlier this year, I participated in my first Goofy Challenge as part of Walt Disney World's 2014 Marathon Weekend.  Marathon weekend is one of eight runDisney events, four of which occur within the Walt Disney World property in Florida, and the remaining four of which are run in and around Disneyland Resort in California.  runDisney enthusiasts know that the Disney Magic is amplified by  tackling the challenges - which mean committing to anywhere from two to four events and 19.3 to 48.6 miles over the course of the weekend.  The Goofy Challenge is one of the more intense multi-race events, requiring participants to finish both a half-marathon and a full-marathon within the span of two days!  Needless to say, you have to be at least a little bit "Goofy" to participate in such a challenge.

Prior to running Goofy, I had participated in two half marathons and one full.  One of those half marathons was my other runDisney event, the 2013 Princess Half Marathon, so I knew firsthand the two truths that a non-Floridian runner learns upon first running Disney World:

1. The course entertainment is unparalleled, with character photo ops at least once per mile, thousands of spectators cheering along the way, and the breathtaking scenery of castles and coasters along the course.

2. Florida is the most humid place in the world.  Period.  Even at 5:00 in the morning.  (Seriously.  We even get some pretty good humidity here in Pittsburgh at times.  I can't imagine the shock coming to Florida from, say, the aridity of Arizona.)

I knew I could finish a full marathon.  I knew I could finish a half marathon in the Florida heat and humidity.  I knew that runDisney races have the slowest median finish times of all half marathons in the US.  But I did not know whether I could complete the Goofy Challenge.

I did it!  Crossing the finish line of the WDW Marathon to complete my Goofy Challenge.

The answer ended up being "yes."  Very slowly, very carefully, but yes.  One of the most magical things about runDisney races is that very few people are in it for either a place on the podium or a personal record.  Instead, nearly everyone, even those who are striving to achieve some specific goal, is there to have fun.  Tutus, sparkles, costumes and mouse-ears are the norm!  Runners stop to to take photos with favorite landmarks and beloved characters.  Many utilize the Jeff Galloway run-walk-run plan while others, like myself, simply apply liberal walk breaks when necessary.

The Walt Disney World marathon is an unparalleled experience in itself, one that I'd recommend any distance runner or Disney-lover add to his or her bucket-list.  The marathon is the only runDisney race that allows runners to experience all 4 parks, the Atlanta Braves training field at the ESPN Wide World of Sports, and the speedway at the Richard Petty Driving Experience.  The WDW Marathon is the only race I have EVER heard of that allows runners the chance to ride a roller coaster!  (It's not advertised by Disney, but savvy runners know that the Expedition Everest in Animal Kingom could be theirs for the riding.)  The Marathon is a must-do.  So why run Goofy?   Goofy gives Marathon runners the extra challenge, extra excitement, and extra camaraderie.  Walking around the park throughout the weekend, other runners recognized my configuration of wristbands, my race shirts, even my trademark exhaustion.  There was something magical about being part of that elite club, regardless of how much I wanted to crawl back into my bed at the Port Orleans resort when the alarm went off the second morning.  If you're an achievement hunter, like myself, Goofy gives runners an extra medal and an extra shirt at the end of the line.  Bling, bling!

I loved my Goofy experience, but I will offer the disclaimer that I ran both events much slower than any of my previous races.  PR hunters need not apply for a Goody medal.  In fact, I added almost an hour on to my best half marathon time to complete my Walt Disney World Half.  Potential Goofy participants should expect a fun experience, but a challenging one.  Not only must the runners complete 39.3 miles worth of race, but they must wake up between 2-3 in the morning to reach the start line by 5:00 am!  Additionally, I would not recommend the Goofy Challenge to runners who have never run a marathon.  The twenty-six-point-two adventure is such a uniquely challenging endeavor in itself.  I would never suggest for someone to tackle that for the first time after running 13+ humid miles the day before.

Running down Main Street USA.  One of my favorite places on the WDW Courses as runners enter the Magic Kingdom.

If you are feeling prepared for the challenge, Goofy still has over 10% of its slots available!  This may not seem like a lot but, considering many runDisney events sell out within 2 hours, it must be Disney Magic that this race is still open to the hundreds of runners that will still register.  I am tempted to register myself, but don't know if the pocketbook and the work schedule will let me - I'll be journeying to Anaheim the week after Goofy to use the Force in the inaugural Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend!  As for Goofy, I hope to recap my specific memories from each individual race at some point leading up to next year's event, but, in the meantime, may you be as Goofy as I!

*All photos in this post courtesy of Marathon Photo.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Pittsburgh Penguins 6.6K Run and Family Walk

How many differently distanced races have you run?  Millions of people have participated in the most popular race distance - 5K.  Other popular distances include the 10K, the 10 miler, and the 13.1 mile half marathon.  But have you ever participated in a 6.6K?

6.6 kilometers is roughly 4 miles and it is certainly a unique distance for a race.  So why run 6.6?  Pittsburghers and hockey fans recognize the significance of the number 66.  Penguins' center Mario Lemieux wore number 66 from the time he joined the team in 1984 until he played his final game in 2006.  Lemieux is an inspiration to any athlete.  Not only was he a skilled hockey player who led the team to back-to-back Stanley Cup victories in the 1990's, but Lemieux also proved his tenacity when he returned to the game after battling Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

Lemieux raises the cup.  Photo from

The Pittsburgh Penguins 6.6K Run and Family Walk celebrate the spirit of Mario Lemieux by challenging athletes of all ability levels as the events raise money for two Pittsburgh charities, The Mario Lemieux Foundation and The Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation.  The former raises money for cancer research and patient care, as well as to create playrooms for children and families whose members are currently receiving treatment in medical facilities.  The latter promotes physical fitness and teamwork to young people through hockey and other activities.

The 6.6K run, and corresponding 1 mile walk will be held on Sunday, October 5, starting and ending at the Penguins' home stadium, Consol Energy Center.  It is an urban race, running through Pittsburgh's downtown streets, so there should be plenty to look at along the course, ample crowds to cheer runners along, and only minimal, gradual hills.  Children and adults of all ages are invited to participate in the 6.6K event.  The 1 mile walk also welcomes participants walking well-behaved dogs.  (Dogs are not allowed in the 6.6K.)  Both distances welcome children in strollers, though the 6.6K asks those pushing strollers to please stay at the back of the pack.

The afternoon sun christens the newly built Consol Energy Center during the opening game in 2010.

The event itself is fun and supports two worthy causes, but there are other activities in store for participants.  The Penguins are hosing a unique post-race party to punctuate a uniquely distanced race.  After the events, the Pittsburgh Penguins welcome all participants and volunteers to stay and watch the team's open practice starting at 11:00 am.

Early bird registration for the 6.6K ends TODAY, August 15, with fees of $30 for participants age 14 and over, and $20 for participants 13 and under.  Starting August 16, registration will be $35 for 14 and over, $25 for 13 and under.  Registration for the 1 mile walk is $20 regardless of age or date, but families of 4 can register for the discounted rate of $70.  Children age 5 and under are free with a participating adult.

Celebrate the spirits of Pittsburgh, the Penguins, and Mario Lemieux by running, walking, or volunteering as part of this race.  If nothing else, you will get to cross a great new distance off of your list. (And earn a PR, provided you haven't run 6.6K before!)  If you ran the 6.6K in its inaugural year last year, you already know what a special event this is.

Registration closes September 28th.  Not interested in running or walking?  Volunteers can sign-up here.  The Pittsburgh Penguins 6.6K Run and Family Walk is sponsored by Consol Energy.

Awesome Running Mix: Volume 1

Ever since I saw Marvel's The Guardians of the Galaxy last week, I've been completely enamored with the soundtrack.  The 12 tracks, which represent both hits and one-hit-wonders of the 1970's, were hand-picked by the film's director James Gunn.  I love the soundtrack, first and foremost, for the way it captures the adventurous, irreverent spirit of the movie.  I knew immediately that I wanted to incorporate these songs into my running mixes.  According to a handful of interviews, actor Chris Pratt also listened to these songs while training for his role in this movie.  Pratt now-famously lost 60 pounds during this training period, so, obviously, working out to this soundtrack yields results!  Whether trying to get fit, nail a PR, or just have a blast while running, I've comprised some of my favorite tracks from the bunch. 

To Channel your inner Space Cowboy

"Come and Get your Love" - Redbone

For those unfamiliar with the term, Space Westerns are a sub genre of Science Fiction that feature elements of a Western - exploration of uncharted lands, archetypical heroes and villains battling on the fringes of civilization, and other hi-jinx in the "Final Frontier."  Guardians of the Galaxy kicks itself off with our hero,  Peter "Star-Lord" Quill, dancing to "Come and Get your Love" as he explores an uninhabited planet in search of a mysterious artifact.  The scene sets the tone for the movie perfectly, and the song has just the right joie de vivre of the lovable outlaw who aims to misbehave.  The song is catchy, upbeat, and ideal for a lighthearted run exploring a new route or appreciating the character of an old one.

To Rock Your Way to a PR

"Cherry Bomb" - The Runaways

If "Come and Get your Love" is Star-Lord's song, "Cherry Bomb" belongs to Rocket.  The raccoon-like creature embodies the relentless energy and wily strategy necessary to achieve a personal record in a race.  The girl-power punk-rock anthem has both the driving guitar and the powerful vocals to propel any runner speedily towards a new goal.

To Endure the Middle Third of a Long Run

"O-O-H Child" - The Five Stairsteps

Cool, calm, sunny, and steady, this track is practically designed to be rocked during a long run.  The lyrics alone are enough to make this the mantra of the distance runner mid-workout:  O-O-H Child, things are gonna get easier.  

To Crush the Final Third of a Long Run

"Ain't No Mountain High Enough" - Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell

After "O-O-H Child" pushes you towards the end, trust the lyrics of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" to push you across the finish line.  No matter how may hill repeats you may already have run, just remember that there's no mountain too high to keep you from the family, friends, brunch, and bling that await you on the other side.

To Strut your Stuff at a Rest-Day Dance Party

"I Want You Back" - The Jackson Five

On a cross-training or rest day, many a runner enjoys dancing, whether in a fitness studio, in the club, or just in the kitchen while making dinner.  One of the more commercially popular songs from this soundtrack, "I Want You Back" spent time on the Billboard charts, and was gleefully danced to as the Jackson Five performed on the TV show Soul Train.  During his lifetime, Michael Jackson cemented his legacy as one of the world's most skilled dancers, but, after watching Guardians of the Galaxy, this song crowned a new champion of dance.  I won't share any spoilers, but stick around during the credits to see some masterful dancing to this track, and then bust some moves yourself!  (For those who have already seen the movie, or don't mind being spoiled, watch the delightful dance clip here.)

Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix, Vol. 1 has earned its spot in my rotation of running mixes.  While I focused on just a handful of tunes here, the remainder of the songs on the mix are just as awesome.  The full mix is available on iTunes for download and, for those who prefer a more retro experience, on CD.  Sadly, it looks like there is not a cassette available for purchase, so the purists will have to make their own mix tape.  Whether you enjoy these songs while running, dancing, walking, or adventuring, I hope that others enjoy this soundtrack as much as I have!

*All photos included in this post have been taken from the Guardians of the Galaxy gallery at  While this post is an endorsement of a product, all opinions are my own and I have not received any compensation for my endorsement.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost

I've been out wandering.  Back in March, I earned entry into the Marine Corps Marathon, and planned on training to not only run, but also to PR in the October race.  In May, I started on the path to another goal, the Runners World Run Streak, in which I would run at least a mile each day for 40 consecutive days.  But then I wandered.

Setting and reaching a goal is often difficult.  Knowing how to course-correct when a goal isn't going to be achieved?  That's so much harder.  

During the Runners World Run Streak, I successfully completed 25 consecutive days of running.  On the 26th day, I found myself too busy, too tired, and neglected to complete my run.  This lapse in the plan was hard for me to reconcile.  I felt disappointed and hesitant to let others know that I'd faltered in my quest. I felt like those 25 successful days were rendered meaningless without the other 15 to complete the sequence.  In hindsight, it's ridiculous and unfair to myself to feel this a total failure.  In the end, my Runners World Run Streak included 73 miles of success.  According to the challenge website, I placed 2251st out of 43,166 participants.  I may not have conquered all 40 consecutive days, but there's a lot to be proud of in that little challenge.

Stretching after a short speedwork session at the Mount Lebanon High School track.

Similarly, my best laid plans for Marine Corps Marathon Training have not been my best executed. Currently at week 5 of my plan, I've neither completed the quantity of miles nor the quality of speed and strength exercises I've planned.  Within the next couple of weeks, I will decide whether to tackle the race or to defer entry until 2015, and focus on shorter distances for the time being.

Morning sun on the Keuka Outlet Trail between Lake Keuka and Lake Seneca in New York.
I'm mildly disappointed that I've strayed from my plans, but, last week, I had a run that reminded me I'm not lost.   I'm proud to be involved with a series of virtual races called Nerd Herd Running.  Last week, the Herd held the Lord of the Bling 5K/10K.  Virtual races allow participants to run on the date and at the location of their own choosing.  I happened to be on vacation in the Finger Lakes when I went out for my race.  I loved the idea of running in a scenic, wooded area to best embrace the Lord of the the Rings theme.  After a brief Internet search of local running paths, I found the Keuka Outlet Trail, a perfect course along a riverbank, where I enjoyed wandering for 6.2 glorious miles.  I didn't have a particular goal other than completing the 10K, and, while completing the race, I remembered how beautiful it is to simply run, breathe the fresh air, enjoy the course, and celebrate small victories.

The beauty of wandering - found this waterfall during my Lord of the Bling 10K in Rivendell, Middle Earth.  (The part of Rivendell played by Penn Yan, New York)

Will I complete Marine Corps Marathon training?  Will I focus on shorter races?  Will I simply run for fun?  I'm not certain what the next few weeks hold, but I'm going to trust my body to enjoy the wandering and get a feel for what is next.  What I do know is that I will enjoy the wandering, and not worry so much about whether I am lost.

J.R.R. Tolkien - The Fellowship of the Ring

Friday, May 30, 2014

Race Preview: Pittsburgh Citiparks Community Footraces

Summer is here, if not in the scientific sense - 21 days remain until the Summer Solstice - it has arrived in the sense that pools have opened, schools have closed, and it's officially okay to wear your whites and your flip-flops.  Summer, at least in Pittsburgh, holds a treasure trove of 5K and 10K races, including the Pittsburgh Citiparks Community Footrace Series.

The Community Footrace Series includes:
  • The Greenfield Glide 5K - June 1
  • The Riverview Park 5K  - June 6
  • The Brookline Breeze 5K and 1 Mile - August 9
  • Run Around the Square 5K and 1.5 Mile - August 23
  • Richard S. Caliguiri Great Race 10K and 5K - September 28

Panther Hollow Lake adjacent to the Greenfield Glide Course - While runners don't get to come all the way down to the lake, this also means that they don't have to climb the hill back up!

The Greenfield Glide takes runners through Schenley Park, one of four large, urban parks within the Pittsburgh city limits.  A hilly course, the glide winds through the park's wooded trails.  The course doesn't appear to dip quite down to my favorite part of the park, the lake in lower Panther Hollow, but runners should be able to catch some glimpses of the lake, streams, and hopefully some wildlife along the trail.

The Greenfield Glide starts at 9:30 this Sunday morning, June 1.  Pre-registration is closed, but registration is available the morning of the race for $25 (runners) or $15 (walkers).

The Riverview Park 5K is unique among organized races in that it takes place in the evening, starting at 7:00 pm.  While most races start in the morning, requiring participants to wake early and get warmer as the race goes on, the sun will be setting gently during the duration of the Riverview Park 5K.  Another cool fact about this race is that runners get to race around an observatory.  This is also a trail race through another one of Pittsburgh's parks, and the Allegheny Observatory sits atop a hill as a favorite landmark along the course.  According to the Observatory's website, tours are held Friday evenings from 8-10 pm, allowing the possibility of some truly unique post-race entertainment.

The Riverview Park 5K Run and Fitness walk starts at 7:00 pm Friday, June 6.  Online and mail-in registration are open until June 3 and day-of registration opens at 5:00 pm at the park.  All registration fees are $15.

The Allegheny Observatory high on the hill above Riverview Park.  Photo from the Observatory website at
The Brookline Breeze is my "home race" among those in this series, held in my neck of Pittsburgh's woods.  In actuality, the Brookline Breeze has very little to do with woods and holds the distinction of being the most urban race among the quartet of Citiparks' events.  The Breeze does start in a park, but it is a small community park, and roughly 3 of the race's 3.1 miles are run on the city streets.  The race is another hilly one.  Last year, the hills saw the added challenge of roadwork and potholes along the course, but this year's race should be the "breeze" runners are promised, as Brookline has recently completed its construction projects.  The Brookline Breeze also includes a 1-mile Mini-Breeze, geared towards children and families, as well as a 1-mile Pet Walk.

The Brookline Breeze events take place the morning of August 1st, with the Mini-Breeze starting at 8:35 am, the Pet Walk at 8:38 am, and the 5K at 9:00 am.  Online registration is open until August 6, and fees range from $9 - $15 depending on the event.

Participants gather in Brookline Memorial Park prior to the 2013 race.

The Run Around the Square is the race I know the least about going into it.  I don't run much out in the far East End of the city, but the course map shows that the race splits its terrain between the flat, city streets of the Regent Square neighborhood and the mildly hilly trails of Frick Park.  Frick Park is the largest of Pittsburgh's city parks, and this course gives runners just a glimpse of the lush woods and plentiful trails.  The Run around the Square also boasts a 1.5 mile Fun Run/Walk and Pet Walk, which appears to be contained to the Regent Square neighborhood roads.

The Run Around the Square is on August 23 - the Fun Run/Walk starts at 8:15 am and the 5K starts at 9:00 am.  Registration is open online through August 22.  Fees are $25 for the 5K and the 1.5 Mile Pet Walk and $20 for the 1.5 Mile without a canine companion.

Chilling with the Duck after the 2013 Richard S. Caliguiri Great Race.  Duck not included in 2014 edition.

The Community Footrace Series concludes with the Richard S. Caliguiri Great Race, the largest 10K race in the state of Pennsylvania and one of the largest in the country.  The Great Race also holds a 5K run/walk on the same morning.  The Great Race is a point-to-point race, with shuttles transporting runners to a start line either 10K from downtown, in the Squirrel Hill corner of Frick Park, or 5K from downtown, at the University of Pittsburgh in Oakland.  The Great Race is a mostly flat and downhill course, running through parks and business districts, past museums and universities, and ending downtown in Pittsburgh's beautiful State Park at Point State Park.

The Great Race sells out FAST each year!  Registration is currently still open online for $33.  Once the race is capped, the race allows bib transfers, and, as the race date nears, runners always seem to have bibs available on Craigslist and Facebook.

All of the Pittsburgh Citiparks races are friendly towards both runners and walkers, novices and those striving to earn a medal or award.  Best of all, they are a great way to enjoy some of Pittsburgh's most beautiful parks and neighborhoods!  Hope to see you all there!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Challenges Accepted: 3 Fitness Challenges for the Achievement-HuntingAthlete

For the last three weeks, I haven't done much in the neighborhood of running.  I haven't gone for many runs, I haven't made many plans for future runs, and I haven't written about running.  Theoretically, it's wise to take several weeks off after completing a marathon.  It's also easy for me to lose some motivation when there's not a finish line or shiny new bling at the end of the training cycle.  Yes, I run because I love it.  I love the chance to step away from the busyness of life and spend some time to myself on the road or the trail.  But I'm also an achievement hunter.  The runs feel all the sweeter when there's a challenge to attain.

Will run for bling, badges, and bragging rights.

I do have a fall marathon on the calendar, but my official training calendar for the Marine Corps Marathon doesn't start until June 9th.  In the interim, I've discovered a trio of challenges to add some purpose to my workouts.

The National Bike Challenge

This is the second year I've been involved with the National Bike Challenge.  While some apps and games have a variety of complex rules, the premise of this bike challenge is almost too simple - ride as many miles as you wish, and record them.  The challenge becomes even easier for smartphone users as it partners with the app Endomondo to track your miles while you ride.

From the website of the Rust Belt Battle.  Oh, and Cleveland?  You're going DOWN!

My favorite thing about the National Bike Challenge isn't its ease, or the fact that it encourages me to cross-train; my favorite thing is the additional local challenge, the Rust Belt Battle between Pittsburgh and Cleveland cyclists.  Lots of cities encourage their own local challenges, which track miles the same way.  Not only is a bit of hometown pride at stake, but local Pittsburgh bar OTB Bicycle Cafe allows riders to earn free pints of beer and soft drinks when they reach certain milage milestones.  Will ride for beer!

Awesome bike bell from Bike Pittsburgh's Bike to Work Day member swag bags!

The National Bike Challenge officially started 3 weeks ago on May 1st, but it lasts through the end of September.  There's still plenty of time to join and to log those miles for both personal and city pride.

The Lose-It Cardio Challenge

Another app-based challenge, the Cardio Challenge is tracked though the Lose It smartphone app.  The app acts as a journal for users to record the calories they consume in their daily food and drink as well as the calories they burn during exercise.  The premise is similar to other apps such as My Fitness Pal and Livestrong.  The unique thing about Lose It is that it incorporates challenges where users are encouraged to focus on specific behaviors from eating more vegetables to sleeping more hours at night.  The Cardio Challenge rewards participants with a point every time they burn their body weight in calories.  Users can participate in whatever type of cardio they like from running to mowing the lawn, power yoga to playing drums, cycling to skydiving.  Lose It allows participants to add activities manually, or to sync several apps and fitness trackers including the Fitbit, Nike Fuel Band, UP by Jawbobe, the Map my Run app, the Runkeeper app, and the Nike Plus Running app.

Horseback Riding - Roughly 300 calories burned per hour.

Football - Approximately 550 calories burned per hour.

The Cardio Challenge is hosted by my employer in partnership with Lose It.  While this particular challenge is not open to the public, there are dozens of similar challenges available to join.  A team challenge, The Cardio Challenge has me allying with 3 of my coworkers in friendly competition to get more points than groups of our peers.  That's my favorite thing about this challenge - there's nothing like some friendly trash-talking each day at work to motivate me to get more and more points!

My team, The Best Team Ever, is standing in 3rd place.  Ben Not Allowed and #riding Keith's coattails?  We're coming for you!

This particular challenge is not open to the public, as it requires a private access code from my employer, but the Lose It app hosts dozens of challenges each month, with varying start dates and methods of point accumulation.

The Runner's World Summer Run Streak

Like the Bike Challenge and the Cardio Challenge, the Summer Run Streak enjoys an extremely simple premise.  From Memorial Day to the Fourth of July, participants commit to running at least one mile each day.  This adds up to 40 consecutive days of running.  Aren't runners supposed to take days off to rest during their training programs?  This is true, but most programs suggest that runners who are otherwise healthy can complete these types of streaks as long as a couple of runs each week are recovery runs with a slow pace and short milage.  I'd never dream of running hard and fast for 40 days straight, but each time Runners World sponsors a Run Streak, I'm compelled to challenge myself with the streak.

The Run Streak does bleed into my first weeks of Marine Corps Marathon training, but I think that getting out the door each day for short runs will help me to build both a physical and a mental baseline for the remainder of my training calendar.  Like the other challenges, this one makes tracking runs super easy through the Map My Run and Map My Fitness apps.  I suppose that committing to 3 app-based challenges also means I'm about to resign myself to a summer of poor battery life in my poor iPhone, but I suppose that's the price I'll pay.

Summer's the time for beer, baseball, and streaking! 

The Runner's World Summer Run Streak starts Memorial Day, May 26th.  Runners can pledge to complete the challenge here and can share their successes with other streakers with the hashtag #RWRunStreak on social media for the duration of the challenge.

Join me in my quest for fitness challenge glory!  Hopefully, I can keep up with all of these over the next few months.  Surely I don't need any other challenges on my plate, but I'd love to hear about any other challenges floating around out there in the fitness community.

Friday, May 9, 2014

3 Rivers, 5 Bridges, 26.2 Miles - A Pittsburgh Marathon Race Recap

I finished myself another marathon.  Pittsburgh 2014 marks my third full marathon. With Disney 2014 only 4 months prior and my first Pittsburgh Marathon only 364 days prior in 2013, Pittsburgh 2014 marks my third full marathon within a year.  Three races in, I haven't yet cracked the secret to improving my speed, or not feeling faraway and exhausted in mile 18.  There is one thing that I am certain of though: the feeling of exhilaration and accomplishment that the races provide is addictive and I will keep another marathon on the calendar as long as my mind and body allow me to keep running them.

It seems that the strategy for recounting an event of this magnitude should be the same as the strategy for running it, focusing on one mile by mile, neighborhood by neighborhood.

Corral C runners wait not-so-patiently at the starting line.

Pre-race:  Pittsburgh had runners wait in a corral system.  While previous years had 5 or more corrals, this year the runners were broken down into only 4 of them.  I'm not sure the reason for this change, but it provided some difficulty as there was not physically enough space for all of my corral's runners (Corral C) to fit in the designated space!  Many of us waited outside the corral fence in front of the Fairmont Hotel as corrals A and B left to make space.  I'm sure this traffic jam created some nerves at the start.  The slight sprinkling of rain gave me some cause for uncertainty, as the weather report had been fluctuating between rainy and sunny for days.  Luckily, the rain was brief, the runners eventually all got to the starting line, and we were off!

The green, orange, and red segments map the Pittsburgh marathon course.

Mile 1-2: The Strip District
Coming off the start, the streets are predictably crowded.  According to the marathon's race results page, the event had almost 5,000 participants in the full, 15,000 participants in the half, and almost 2,000 relay teams.  This means that 22,000 runners and walkers would make their way through this stretch in just about 30 minutes time!  Luckily, the Strip is fast, flat, and full of cheering crowds.  On non-marathon days, this Pittsburgh neighborhood is known for it's food and farmer's markets, and it was oh-so-tempting to smell some of that food cooking as we ran by, but we soldiered on!

Running in the Strip District.

Mile 3: The 16th Street Bridge
My mom walks around town during the first half of the course to greet me in different locations, and I saw her while approaching the 16th street bridge in the Strip.  Having someone to look for is a great periodic distraction from the facts like having 35+ more kilometers to go!  As for the bridge itself, 16th Street is mostly flat, and the first of 5 bridges that runners cross in this "City of Bridges."

Mile 4-6: The North Side
Pittsburgh has almost 100 distinct neighborhoods and the North Side is one of my two favorites.  Nestled between the Allegheny and Ohio rivers, the North Side is a spot many Pittsburgh athletes frequent to run and bike along the riverside or to kayak out on the water.  Professional athletes also call it home as the Pirates and Steelers home stadiums reside in the neighborhood.  Maybe it's because I love the North Side so much, but both years I've felt really fast in this part of the course.  We cross two more bridges in this part, the 9th and 7th Street Bridges, and their slight grades up to their center prove a bit steeper than that of the first bridge crossed.  There a rolling hills throughout this neighborhood, but the crowd is still dense and vocal including a group having a mimosa party on their front lawn.  Not only did I feel fast, but this neighborhood pushed me to some of my fastest miles in the race.  We shall later see that it's too early to run so fast, but it was fun in the moment!

The West End Bridge looms overhead.

Mile 7: The West End
Bridge number 4 takes us from the North Shore to the West End, and this bridge also challenges runners with a slight grade to race up to the center of the structure.  One of the best parts about running an urban race is getting to run on the road and all of these places pedestrians could never go, and the West End includes a lot of this.  It also includes a spin through the small West End Village neighborhood where the band played "Sweet Caroline" and the runners all sang along.  Mile 7 and we were still feeling fine!

Found my very own Pittsburgh Dad in the South Side!

Miles 8-10: The South Side
This stretch is long, but it's mostly flat.  The city's busses, bike trails, and light rail train all converge here, so the spectators are plentiful.  My dad rode his bike down to meet me here, and I enjoyed talking with him during a much-needed walk break (and selfie-break).  I'm always amused running through the South Side, as it's the city's nightlife mecca and most Pittsburghers have found ourselves out to all hours of the night carousing here at some point.  Today, however, it was about the run, and I enjoyed this straight, flat part of the course.  In fact, mile 10 boasts the title of "flattest mile" on course.  Remember this fact for later.

The flattest mile on the course - enjoy it while it lasts and beware!

Mile 11: The Birmingham Bridge
Remember when I told you mile 10 was the flattest mile on course?  Mile 11 is the opposite of that.  Remember when I said that the other bridges sloped slightly up to their center and then sloped back down?  The Birmingham bridge mostly just slopes uphill.  The Birmingham bridge also holds a surprise.  After climbing the bridge, half-marathoners turn left and full-marathoners turn right, but both are treated to another hill after the bridge!  Somehow, the post-bridge road that we split on to really does go uphill both ways.  The elevation chart for the full marathon is posted below, and I will let you guess where the Birmingham Bridge resides on this chart.

Mile 11 climbs about 200 feet, and the course just keeps climbing!
Half marathon on the left, full on the right, but everyone is having the same thought about this bridge right now.
Mile 12-13: Oakland
Topographically, Pittsburgh is known for its rivers, its bridges, and its hills.  After Birmingham, runners won't cross another river or bridge, but we sure see a lot more hills.  The climb into Oakland is arguably the toughest part of this race, and I chose to walk much of it, hoping to save some energy for the second half of the course.  Along with the North Side, Oakland is my other favorite Pittsburgh neighborhood, stuffed full of libraries, universities, and museums.  During the race, however, my love of Oakland's ambience is overtaken by my exhaustion after the hill, and my anxiety of having another 13 miles to go!

Mile 14-16: Shadyside and Point Breeze
This part of the race feels like a bit of a blur to me.  The first time I ran it, I was shocked to learn that the infamous hills don't end at the crest of the big hill into Oakland.  This year, I was more prepared for the low-grade, steady climb of Fifth Avenue.  I kept a pretty good pace here.  Shadyside is also where I saw one of my favorite inspirational signs on the course:

For my Game of Thrones fans.  If you're not into Game of Thrones, I really can't explain this any better than by saying "Hodor."
Mile 17-18: Homewood
Homewood has a reputation for being one of the liveliest neighborhoods on course.  This is a place where runners will see residents having their own dance parties and cookouts up and down the street. I don't even think I stopped at any official course aid or water stations in Homewood, as residents lined the street handing out their own cups of water and pieces of fruit.  Homewood is unique in that the spectators range from little children to the elderly, and they all seem to have more energy than I did at even the start of the race.  It's a good thing that Homewood is so upbeat, because this is also where I start to lose it as a runner.  People talk about hitting a wall.  In all three marathons I've run, mile 18 is where I start to feel unhinged, I slow down, and I doubt my abilities to finish.  Luckily, the residents of Homewood cheered me on, even when I slowed to walk, and entertained me with their relentless spirit.

The Pittsburgh Soul Steppers held their own marathon - a dance marathon!

Mile 19-21: East Liberty and Highland Park
The good thing about hitting the wall at mile 18 is that I find myself on the other side of the wall by mile 20.  I am certain the the course has something to do with this.  Mile 19 is another long, steady climb into Highland Park.  Mile 20 resides at the peak of this climb, and then mile 21 is back down that same long, steady hill.  In each of my three marathons, mile 20 is the point where I am confident that I can finish.  Pittsburgh just really makes you work for that 20 mile marker with the climb up North Highland Ave!

Up, up, up the mountain in Highland Park.

Mile 22-23: Bloomfield
This is another favorite neighborhood.  Self-described as Pittsburgh's Little Italy, Bloomfield is a place for amazing restaurants, amusing residents, and seemingly year-round festivals and parades.  Bloomfield is also where runners reach an amazing milestone.  Spectators like to say "it's all downhill from here."  Around mile 22.5, this sentiment is really true!  This stretch is also where I met a few new friends.  Running on Liberty, I met Lauren, a Team in Training runner who had just run the Big Sur Marathon the previous weekend, and her coach, Jeff, who invited me to some upcoming speedwork sessions in the South Hills.  Exiting Bloomfield, I met the Pittsburgh Hash House Harriers, who were offering their own form of aid to runners in the form of cups of beer.  I took a beer, hoping for a hoppy pep-up to carry me through the last 3 miles.

Pittsburgh Hash House Harriers.  They like running, food, and beer?  Sign me up!

Mile 24-25: The Strip District
Back in the Strip District, the only way I can describe these two miles is LONG.  They're straight and flat, but Downtown and the finish line seem so far away.  As a back-of-the-packer, I mostly see people walking and looking generally exhausted in this area.  I've heard tales from faster runners that this is where people's bodies physically give up on them, and many a runner chasing a PR or a BQ have collapsed or fallen in the final stretch.  As long as it felt, I knew that I would be chasing down the finish line soon.

Mile 26: Downtown
Mile 25 felt like the longest mile of my life, but mile 26 felt like one of the shortest.  The final stretch of the Pittsburgh Marathon twists and turns runners through the city streets of Downtown Pittsburgh, with the finish line being around several corners.  This is also where my mom comes to greet me again on Smithfield street and my husband, probably still asleep in the early miles, comes out to see me finish the race.

So happy knowing that in 3 minutes I'll be finished and in 30 I'll be eating brunch!

By the time I finish, the crowd of both runners and spectators has thinned considerably, but the bagels and Smiley Cookies at the finish line are still plentiful.  I knew back in Highland Park that I wasn't going to beat last year's time, but I was still a bit disappointed to learn that my first marathon was still my fastest to date.  I already have the wheels turning in my head, however, as to how I can improve my time in races to come.  PR's aside, no matter how slow, there is always a tremendous amount of satisfaction over crossing that finish line and hearing the roar of the announcer:

"You are a Runner of Steel!"

Pittsburgh Marathon finisher medals from 2013 and 2014.

By the Numbers:

  • 26.2 Miles
  • 5 Bridges
  • 3 Rivers
  • Approximately 6 hours
  • 3,170 Calories burned
  • 3 Marathons in the bag!

Thank you to the staff, volunteers, and spectators.  Thank you to my Mom, my Dad, my Husband, and my Dog for cheering me on.  And Congratulations to all the other Runners of Steel!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Pittsburgh Marathon Purina Pro Plan Pet Walk

Yesterday, I ran a marathon.  Blogging about a 26.2 mile race seems roughly as exhausting as running one, at least when you're still emotionally and physically exhausted from the trek, so I've decided to tackle something a little bit lighter while I regain my energy.

The Hotdog Princess, ready to run!

Puppies!  Specifically, the Purina Pro Plan Pet Walk on the Saturday of Pittsburgh Marathon weekend.

Greg, Spencer, and I enjoy the Pet Walk course along the Allegheny River.

This year marked the second annual Pet Walk.  While the rules seem to imply that any well-mannered pet would be welcome, and my husband and I always hope to see some sort of exotic animal companion, the field seems to consist solely of the canine variety.  The Pet Walk enjoys a stroll of roughly one mile around Pittsburgh's beautiful and historic Point State Park.

Human and canine participants gathered at the Point State Park starting line.

In the spirit of Pittsburgh spring sports, the family and I donned our favorite Pittsburgh Pirates gear as well as an assortment of accessories from our friends at the Animal Rescue League and their charity racing syndicate, Paws Over Pittsburgh.   The Animal Rescue League not only cares for homeless dogs, cats, and domestic animals, but they also are the only shelter in Pittsburgh that rehabilitates wild animals and helps reintroduce them to their natural habitat.  Needless to say, this family of animal lovers is always happy to support this worthy organization.

Spencer models the Paws Over Pittsburgh bandana.

I'm hoping that we will continue to see the pet walk each year as part of the marathon weekend.  I suspect, based on the Pittsburgh Marathon's push to secure entrants for the Pet Walk in the weeks leading up to the event, that the participation is not what they hoped.  I don't know enough about event planning to estimate the cost for the walk or whether the event makes a sizable amount of money for the Animal Rescue League, but I do know that my pet and my family had a blast!  My hope is that participation in this event will grow each year so that all Pittsburgh pet lovers can enjoy it while raising funds for this cause.

Dogs big and small enjoy a walk around Point State Park.

The main event consists of the one mile walk, and an assortment of other activities abound in the park.  The walk itself is a great way for pets and their owners to enjoy the unique 36 acre state park nestled in the middle of Downtown Pittsburgh.  Having grown up in Pittsburgh, I take the park somewhat for granted, but it's pretty remarkable that our city includes three beautiful rivers and a park with remnants of a fort (Fort Duquesne) from the French and Indian War.  At the apex of the park's point and the halfway mark of the Pet Walk course sits the newly-remodelled and locally-famous fountain.

Pet walk participants traverse the fountain steps.

The Pet Walk takes place immediately following the Pittsburgh Marathon's 5K race and Kid's Marathon, and shares the park with their finish line festivals.  Purina Pro Plan was there with a ton of giveaways including the same freebie treats as they had at the expo.  Spencer also got a tennis ball and frisbee from Petsmart while we collected handouts of coupons.  One of the coolest festival activities was an agility course where pets and their owners could learn some agility basics from trainers and then test out a four-obstacle course.

The weave poles proved to be Spencer's best event.

Not pictured - the other two obstacles as Spenny did not successfully complete them!  He preferred to walk around them and find treats in the grass.

One thing we will certainly remember for next year is that awards are given, not for speed like in the human races, but for the cutest pet, best costume, and pet/owner lookalikes.  Not much competition was had in the costume contest, with trophies going to dogs simply wearing their Steelers jerseys.  My wheels are already spinning to get our guy an award in this category next year.  Hot dog?  Banana?  Wookie sidekick?  One thing's for sure.  The pets and humans that have attended the first two years of the Pet Walk hope to see this event stay a signature fixture of the Pittsburgh Marathon weekend lineup for years to come.

Throwback to Corgi Party 2013 at last year's inaugural Purina Pro Plan Pet Walk.

Spenny's final thought about this year's walk.  So much fun, maximum Derp was achieved!