These are a few of my Favorite Things

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!