Two days in Pittsburgh (with a half-marathon in there somewhere)

At the end of last year, Jill from Jogging Jeans had the genius idea that Hubby and I should come to her hometown of Pittsburgh to run the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. The promise of a new city plus meeting Jill was too good to pass up (also, I wanted to be able to call myself a Runner of Steel). To add to the excitement, Charla from Running Haiku decided she would join us, stopping over on the way from Seattle to D.C. I had a feeling this was going to be momentous (all it was lacking was Tiffany, from Cute Dogs and Hugs, but she was there in spirit).

Here’s what transpired …

The city


Apparently Pittsburgh has 446 bridges, and, according to the very reliable Wikipedia, “is the world record holder for brides with piers and stands contained entirely within city limits.” So there you go.

Apart from the mandatory run up the Rocky steps in Philly eons ago and, oddly enough, a recent half in Allentown, we hadn’t spent much time in the Keystone State. Who knew there would be so much awesomeness in Pittsburgh? (In addition to Jill.) We weren’t really sure what to expect from the city but we loved it. It’s small but has a big personality, a gazillion bridges, and a great ballpark (more on that later). There’s an inclinator thingy, with great views, that looks like a house riding up and down the side of a hill. And there’s a sandwich chain where the coleslaw and fries come ON the sandwich. OK, that last one sounded kind of nuts, but Jill said it was an institution. (We didn’t get to try it, um, unfortunately.)

There’s a long-running joke between Hubby and me that every time we visit a new (small) city, he will ultimately want to move there. It’s happened with Cleveland (no thanks), Little Rock (no way), and Salt Lake City (maybe). Pittsburgh, on the other hand, is a place I could actually see myself in.

the company


The four of us mentally preparing to be Runners of Steel by standing under a banner.

I can’t say enough good things about Jill and Charla. They are as fabulous in the flesh as they are on their blogs. Meeting them was such fun, and we had one of those weekends that’s like a seven-course meal—rich and memorable. Everyone got on so well, and we were in hysterics much of the time, especially about …

The port-a-loos

One of the first things Hubby and I noticed when we went to pick up his race packet for the 5K (yes, he did both races; and yes, he did the 5K in jorts) was the presence of flushing port-a-loos by a company called Mr. John. Did I mention that they were port-a-loos that flush? This was nothing short of a revelation and I immediately snapped a photo. We don’t have such luxuries here in New England.

Apparently they don’t in Seattle either. Charla was equally as excited, which led to this shot …


Flushing units!!

Jill clearly thought we were all nuts. Apparently, outdoor toilets that flush are a dime a dozen in her world. She needs to come and rough it with us in Boston for a while. In the summer.

Charla had us all write haikus and she posted a hilarious (if I do say so myself) mash-up on her blog that you must read. You wouldn’t think we could keep the port-a-loo theme going the entire weekend, but we somehow managed to—ably assisted by …

The ballpark

PNC Park

PNC Park.

What do running, port-a-loos, and the Pittsburgh Pirates have in common? Nothing, really, unless you are three bloggers and one hubby who happen to wind up at PNC Park sitting next to an old guy who happens to be wearing the shirt from the Pittsburgh 5K that morning, who also happens to be someone Jill met a year before, who also happens to be … wait for it … the owner of a (flushing!) port-a-loo business just outside of Allentown (he and Mr. John have somewhat different business models though). I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

His name was Kenneth, and for any Aussies reading this who have seen the movie Kenny, you will know why this is extra funny. If you haven’t seen Kenny, download it now.

Kenneth was sweet on Jill, and he spent the whole game chatting with her and Charla while his clearly long-suffering wife rolled her eyes. We were in hysterics, pretty oblivious to the fact that there was a baseball game going on. Great ballpark though.

The run

Oh, right, there was a run …

It’s disturbing how little prepared I was to run a half-marathon (I think I should trademark that phrase). I was ill-prepared even for me, whose training strategy recently has basically consisted of “watching others run.” Last year, I ran many, many races, so when my two half-marathons came around, I at least had something to work with. This year, not so much. Also, I’d been sick. Also, as the arm warmers Charla got at the expo so perfectly put it: “I like running, just not while I’m doing it.”


Right at the 5K mark. Are we done yet?

I had no illusions about this half. I just wanted to finish in less than three hours (my half PR is 2:30; how the not-so-mighty have fallen). I can walk a half in 3:00, so it would be shameful if I overshot that.

Here’s how it went:


The half-marathon crossed five bridges. I like bridges.

Mile 1: Start alongside Charla and Jill and watch them immediately disappear into the crowd (this was Jill’s first half and she did amazingly well. So, that’s what training gets you …). Realize I hadn’t cued up my playlist and spend five minutes fiddling with my iPhone. (You’d think I’d never done this before.) Run slowly.

Mile 2: Realize that the new Apple EarPod headphones are useless for running. They keep popping out of my ears. Spend five minutes fiddling with them and cursing Apple for getting rid of the old style (mine broke). Spend another five minutes cursing myself for not trying these new ones out before the race. Run slowly.

Mile 3: Realize my watch isn’t showing the distance, only the pace. Spend five minutes stopped on the side of the road fiddling with it. Run slowly. Nice bridge!

Mile 4: Run really slowly. Start sticking fingers in my ears to try to keep the headphones in. Nice bridge!

Mile 5: Run really, really slowly. I think it’s called walking. Nice bridge!

Mile 6: Run really, really, really slowly. Reset watch again.

Mile 7: Give up on headphones completely and shove them into my pocket. Now all I can hear is the sound of my breathing. (I have an ear infection so I’m hearing every noise inside my head.) Nice bridge!

Mile 8-10: Out for a stroll. Lovely day for it. Give up on watch completely.

Mile 11: Major mile marker confusion with the marathon. Think I’ve gone farther than I have. Crap. Nice bridge!

Mile 11.5: Massive hill. Not unexpected, but still massive.

Mile 12: Holy crap, it’s still going.

Mile 13: Nice downhill. Think I’m going to breeze into the finish like I’ve been running the whole time. Crowd starts to roar. Realize there are early marathoners coming in. It’s not the first time this has happened to me. Stupid little bonus hill takes the wind out of my sails and I have to walk for a few seconds in front of the crowd. Sadly, no more bridges.

Mile 13.1: Can’t see the cameraman. It’s probably a good thing as I may have punched him out.

Told you, momentous …

The event: Pittsburgh Half-Marathon
The location: Pittsburgh
The date: May 5, 2013
My time: 2.43.18
Hubby’s time
: 1.38.22
The T-shirt:
Bright yellow long-sleeved Asics
The aftermath: Smile cookies from Eat’n Park, potato chips, bagels, fruit cups. There was also a huge finishers’ expo but we didn’t partake as it was so crowded, which meant, sniff, no beer.


One day in Boston

What happened in my adopted hometown on Monday defies belief. Many people have already said many profound and moving things about it, in better words than I ever could, so instead I thought I’d just share my small story.


I was a little too far away to see the clock at the Boston Marathon finish line, and my phone had strangely stopped sending me the athlete-tracking text messages. The last one I got, at 1.34 pm, about an hour earlier, said Hubby was at 30K. His time was 2.44.44. In the two marathons he’d run previously, his time was just under 4 hours, so I began to get excited. I knew he had a bad cold though, so I couldn’t be sure where he was.

I started bouncing up and down, partly from nerves, and partly to stay warm—my spot was on the un-sunny side of Boylston Street. When I arrived downtown, around noon, I tried to figure out how to get to the other side. I walked around for about 40 minutes, 10 of which were spent inching through a crazy human traffic jam. When I realized my sunny-side hopes were futile, I settled on a spot that was only a few people deep, hoping that their runners were faster than mine and that they would eventually move away so I could at least be at the front. They did, and I found myself on the barricade. I was right opposite the Forum restaurant.

It was a pretty good spot. The only teeny hiccup came when a woman decided to hold up a homemade sign right in my line of vision. I jokingly groaned and she shifted it with a smile. Previously, a woman had asked me if my runner was coming in and did I need to switch with her to get closer. I thanked her and said I had some time. Everyone was good-natured and so excited. They were all there for the same reason.

I’ve stood near the finish line at plenty of long-distance races now, but there was something special about this one. Many runners sported huge, silly grins; they almost looked too relaxed, given what they had just done. Others were expressionless and focused, some were grimacing in pain. The crowd clapped and hollered every time an army recruit ruck-marched past in full uniform. One runner, injured, was helped to the finish in the arms of a soldier and another athlete. Runners who looked as though they weren’t going to make it got an extra loud push.

At 2.33, I got a text message from a friend saying she had just seen Hubby pass the 40K mark. Then a picture. Blue shorts! She had asked me earlier what he was wearing so she could spot him, but I didn’t know. When he said goodbye to me at 5 am, he was covered up in a black jacket and track pants. I had been scanning shoes as I figured he’d be wearing his new, vivid orange Newtons, easily spottable. Turns out he was in his pale army green Newtons instead. Not very helpful at all.

He finally passed by at about 2.41 pm, albeit on the other side of the street. I yelled his name, but he didn’t hear me and kept going, focused. I got the text message a minute later saying he’d finished, in 3.53.13. A five-minute PR! With a cold! I was so proud.

I stayed for about a minute or so and then turned and started to make my way to the “W” section of the meeting area, where we had agreed to reunite. I stopped in at a grocery store for about 3 minutes. Just after I walked outside, there was a loud, piercing, thunderous boom. It was a wholly unfamiliar sound. My heart didn’t really start to thump until I heard the next one, which was much, much louder. Closer, as it turned out. I immediately looked to the sky, horrified, expecting another. There were a couple of seconds of shocked silence, and then, sirens. I have never heard so many all at once.

I knew Hubby had crossed the finish line but I had no idea where he was and assumed he had no phone. I tried to get to our meeting place, but I was having trouble navigating my way there. Cops had materialized, seemingly out of nowhere and were yelling at everyone to clear the streets. My heart was still thumping. I didn’t know what had happened. I called a friend in Quincy and asked her to put on the TV. I went on to Twitter but it was too early for anything concrete, and besides, my hands were shaking.

About 10 minutes later I got a text message telling me to meet him at the “W.” Relief. Then I got another text asking me where I was. Then another asking me if I was OK. He didn’t know where I had been standing. I kept trying to reply and call but nothing was going through. I have a string of undelivered texts on my phone. We spent the next little while trying to connect. It was probably only 20 minutes but it felt like longer. We finally met up. His lips were blue he was so cold.

Turns out he was at the water table just beyond the finish line when the bombs exploded. He turned in time to see the second one. Then there was a stampede. He said later that he really pushed hard to get the result that he did. Five minutes …

We’ve lived in Boston for seven years. We knew the marathon was a huge deal, of course, but it wasn’t really a part of our New England experience. We’d never gone as spectators. Then we started running races. Hubby tried to get a number in 2012 but it didn’t work out. This year, he got one through the National Guard and couldn’t have been happier.

Given all the preparation and training, and talking and stressing about the race in the weeks prior, I had joked with him that, after this experience, his life was going to be forever split into two: what came before the 2013 Boston Marathon, and what came after.

I guess that really is true now, for so many.

The running community is full of amazing folks. They’re hard core and spirited and tenacious and resilient and friendly. They don’t care if you’re a complete slowpoke like me. I doubt I’ll ever run the Boston Marathon, but I’ll definitely be on the streets in 2014 to watch the city reclaim its marvelous race.

I think I may have forgotten how

About three weeks ago, I caught a cold that turned into a keep-me-up-all-night-hubby-sleeping-in-the-guest-bed cough from heck. So I haven’t been doing much at all besides working and sleeping—and sometimes sleep working.

During this hacking-up-a-lung period. I went to one of my regular Tuesday night Strength & Stride classes at the Y, just for kicks. I couldn’t walk for four days. No kidding. I honestly believe my muscles have forgotten how to exercise. They have a pretty short bloody memory. Wasn’t it just a few months ago that they were helping me reach new heights of activity and red-facery in my 52 Weeks, 52 Runs challenge?

This past week, I got something in my inbox that put the fear into me.

Ukrop's 10K number


This race, in Richmond, Va., which I ran triumphantly (relatively speaking) last year, is on again this weekend. In 2012, I was freaked out about it because it was my first 10K. In 2013, I am freaked out about it because I think I may have forgotten how to run. Something about bibs and heel striking and IT bands …

Two weeks ago Hubby and I traveled to Charlotte, NC, where I proceeded not to run the North Carolina Half-Marathon. While I am determined to go one step further and actually start the Ukrop’s 10K, I imagine there will be very little running involved. Maybe a little jogging …

Ukrop's Monument Ave 10K

Last year’s Ukrop’s 10K.

It’s a good thing my entire identity is not wrapped up in running (and thank goodness it’s not), as I’d be having a major existential crisis right about now.

Wish me luck!

Gone soft

Savvy readers will note that I was scheduled to run a half-marathon this weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina. At the end of last year, with 52 runs of varying lengths (including two half-marathons) under my belt, this seemed like a fine, if not genius, plan.

Almost four months later, my plan has gone slightly awry. I know it’s customary for running bloggers to post their training schedules for big races such as this one, so here’s mine.

Week 1
Monday: rest day
Tuesday: rest day
Wednesday: rest day
Thursday: rest day
Friday: rest day
Saturday: rest day
Sunday: rest day

Week 2
Monday: rest day
Tuesday: rest day
Wednesday: rest day
Thursday: rest day
Friday: rest day
Saturday: rest day
Sunday: rest day

Week 3
Monday: rest day
Tuesday: rest day
Wednesday: rest day
Thursday: rest day
Friday: rest day
Saturday: rest day
Sunday: rest day

You get the idea ….

I am sitting on a plane as I type this, on the way from Boston to Charlotte. Needless to say, I will not be running the half-marathon (although Hubby is). I was planning to switch over to the twilight 5K for tonight, but I got slammed with a nasty cold, so that didn’t happen either.

I have every intention of making this the last time I flake out. If I have to start from scratch and ease myself back into 5Ks again like, gasp, a novice, then that’s what I’ll do. Er, next week.

In the meantime, I have something to remind me of past glories. We finally, finally got around to having a T-shirt blanket made. Huzzah! It represents only about a third of the T-shirts that we own, but it is a good chunk of the cotton ones. We got it made through Project Repat, which creates fair-wage jobs in the U.S. by upcycling T-shirts, and I love it.


Gives a new meaning to bed shirts.

I am determined to shake off this new-found slothiness before the Pittsburgh Half-Marathon in May. I can’t let Jogging Jeans and Running Haiku think I’ve gone completely soft, despite the fact that my new blanket is exactly that.

Drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds

I guess I wasn’t kidding when I wrote at the beginning of 2012 that I needed something to keep running interesting (hence last year’s 52 Weeks, 52 Runs). Two months into 2013 and in the absence of a bona fide wallet-busting, sleep-depriving challenge, I have not only slowed down on the blogging front (wrist slap), but also on the thing I am supposed to be blogging about.

I’m thinking I should rename this blog Stride and Tumbleweeds.

Tumbling tumbleweeds

It’s probably faster than me over 5K.

In keeping with the modern tendency to blame our failings on anyone/anything but ourselves, I have come up with the five causes of my recent lack of Stridery.

1. Winter

I ran in some truly biting New England conditions last year, but there was nary a snowflake let alone two feet of accumulation necessitating six hours of shoveling. We were supposed to run the Frozen Pilgrim 10K in Plymouth, MA, the weekend after Nemo turned my front yard into this:

Snowstorm Nemo

Nemo comes to town.

The Sunday of the Pilgrim we were hit with another storm, and conditions were perilous. We had optimistically picked up our packets the day before, but when we looked outside the morning of, we realized it wasn’t going to happen. Amazingly, the run went ahead, but everything about the conditions screamed “danger!” so we decided not to go. It takes a lot for Hubby to turn down a run.

A week later, the Half at the Hamptons was also canceled days in advance due to forecasts of another weekend storm (third in a row). Hubby dutifully went and picked up his T-shirt at the event the race directors held to make up for the disappointment. Sadly, the weather turned out to be OK (if still slightly miserable) on the day, but the organizers made the right call.

We’re beginning to amass quite the collection of shirts for which we didn’t do the run (there are also a few from last year). I’m not sure what to do with them. If I wear them, even in the house, I feel like a fraud.

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