Monthly Archives: December 2014

On the run in 2015

Minor victories were achieved Monday and Tuesday. Hopefully, they’re the forbearer of a few major accomplishments.

The story behind those victories started in August, during a few hazy, late-summer runs on the streets and trails of Greensburg. During the significant climb toward my house, fittingly located on a street named for its altitude, a cramping sensation pulsated through my left calf muscle.

Cramps? Are you kidding me? I eat bananas daily. Water is often the only fluid to enter my system, with the exception of morning coffee. It couldn’t possibly be cramps.

The pain wasn’t overwhelming, so the run was completed. Same thing happened the next day, including a completed run. And the next day, and the …

The cycle continued for some time. After a couple of weeks, completing runs was no longer an option. And the number of runs decreased dramatically. Eventually, in October, out of frustration, I grew determined to get my running form back. Baby steps were going to be taken, beginning with a moderate run on a treadmill at LA Fitness.

Success. 30 minutes, almost four miles, albeit far from my normal pace.

The following day, back to the treadmill I went. The plan was to run for 35 minutes at the same pace. Less than six minutes into the run …

Pop!

And then … pop!

It was time to stop running, and time to address the problems in my left calf. After some research, this homegrown doctor determined my calf either endured a severe strain or a possible tear.

The remedy?

R – rest

I – ice

C- compression

E – elevation

RICE went into full-blown motion for a couple weeks with some improvement. But there was no running, not even jogging, or spin classes or racquetball for that matter.

Eventually, my bullheadedness relented and I consulted a chiropractor recommended by my spin instructor, and one of my favorite people at the gym. There’s been six painful sessions, including two so intense sweat poured from my forehead.

So, back to the treadmill I went Monday for a 30-minute run at a pace that would probably be considered more of a jog. Success!

On Tuesday, a 32-minute run at a slightly faster pace. Success!

Trips to the chiropractor will continue with slightly less frequency. So will an occasional trip to a massage therapist and, hopefully, frequent trips to the gym for yoga classes. Yoga will be a new experience, and one of several New Year’s resolutions in place for 2015. Count the chiropractor and massage therapist among those resolutions, too. It’s all part of the plan to return to races by the summer.

As for other resolutions, well, I’m sticking with the ones from my 40th birthday – finding more time for family and friends and training my keester off in order to cross the finish line at a marathon.

How about you? What are you resolving to do?

We had a great day; It was a super way to spend some time together

Anna and I looked forward to Dec. 10 for weeks. That night, we headed to the Benedum Center in the Cultural District of Pittsburgh for one of the premier events on the kids’ calendar – a Fresh Beat Band concert.

For those not in the know, the Fresh Beat Band are one of those made-for-television kids groups. It consists of four members – Twist (rapper/DJ), Shout (vocals/keyboards), Kiki (vocals/guitar/violin) and Marina (vocals/drums) – and airs regularly on Nick Jr. The tour, hailed as Fresh Beat Band Greatest Hits Live, might be a farewell of sorts. While a Fresh Beat Band-based cartoon is in the works, original episodes of the show stopped production in 2013. Who knows if the group plans to tour again. Here’s hoping they do.

It’s positive. It’s fun. And, most importantly, it helps draw children to music.

That’s extremely important in my world.

Anna perfectly executing the Fresh Beat Band's "Freeze Dance" in an aisle at the Bendum Center,

Anna perfectly executing the Fresh Beat Band’s “Freeze Dance” in an aisle at the Bendum Center,

Tickets for daughter and dad were purchased after Anna went an entire week earning green flags for behavior in her kindergarten class, which is no easy feat given her propensities for talking and talking with volume. Plans, which included her first trip to University of Pittsburgh landmark The O, were made.

It marked our second kids concert at the Benedum, where we’d once seen the Imagination Movers. It also marked our second Fresh Beat Band concert of 2014. We’d caught their act at IUP back in January.

So, after The O, we made our way downtown, parked in a garage and hustled across the street to the show., A light-up tambourine was purchased. So was a bag of cinnamon-coated walnuts. Added a bottle of water, and we were ready to rock.

Anna's favorite Fresh Beat Band member is Kiki. Mine is the Real MC, Twist.

Anna’s favorite Fresh Beat Band member is Kiki. Mine is the Real MC, Twist.

Now, unlike some dads, I have zero problem attending these shows. I’ll get up and dance, sing along and act a fool – all in the name of fun and celebrating music that makes Anna happy. And we definitely had fun watching the Fresh Beat Band.

For me, the event also held some nostalgia. Anna is nearing the age of 6, and her tastes are rapidly changing. On the rare occasion she sits and watches television, she prefers tweener shows like “Dog With a Blog” and “Austin and Ally” to cartoons like “Word World” and “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” her and I watched during daylight hours before I’d head to work. Anna’s days of kids concerts are nearing an end. She’s asking to see acts like Katy Perry and KISS. My little best buddy is evolving. It is what it is. I’ll always hold these early years close to my heart.

You'd be happy to after filling your belly with O fries before a concert,

You’d be happy to after filling your belly with O fries before a concert,

On Sunday, Anna drew a fever and she’s home from school today. I’m off work after a six-day stretch, that included a fatal apartment fire Friday night less than two hours from deadline. It’s like old times, except my bouncy, bubbly buddy isn’t chattering nonstop.

We’re even watching some of our old favorites like “Olivia” and “Wonder Pets.” It’s like a portal to the not-so-distant past, when we jammed out to groups like the Fresh Beat Band.

In some weird ways, it’s been wonderful. Just hope she’s back to full health in time for Christmas Eve, and, when she is, I’ll be right here, watching tweener shows, reading an endless string of books together and going to see Katy Perry.

The revolving door starts spinning

If the primary argument in retaining a coach is program stability, it’s not a ringing endorsement for the job being done.

And stability seems to be the main reason some Pitt football fans want to see head coach Paul Chryst remain stay for a fourth season. Chryst’s name emerged Wednesday as a potential replacement for Gary Andersen at Wisconsin, though it’s all speculation. Andersen departed Madison abruptly after two successful seasons for the football riches of Oregon State. Andersen’s move is a curious one, and an indictment of how the coaching world views the Wisconsin job.

PittsburghPanthers.com

PittsburghPanthers.com

Chryst heading to Wisconsin makes sense. He grew up in Madison, played quarterback for the Badgers and earned praise for his work as the Badgers’ offensive coordinator. His work as OC led Langeloth native and Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez to unabashedly endorse Chryst for the job at Pitt. And when Bret Bielema left Wisconsin for Arkansas, Alvarez said at the time he wouldn’t feel right plucking Chryst after only one year at Pitt, and after Alvarez vouched for him.

But times change. Who would have thought a decade ago, when Alvarez ran one of the country’s best football programs, that Wisconsin would become a revolving door for head coaches. What Alvarez said about Chryst two years ago was … two years ago. It’s hard to imagine Alvarez not at least gauging Chryst’s interest, and it’s even tougher to imagine Chryst not being interested.

Not that Chryst did much to distinguish himself at Pitt, where the game-day atmosphere probably reminds him of coaching against Indiana or Purdue. And Chryst’s spotty record could be a determining factor at Wisconsin, which no doubt wants to quell the label of being a stepping stone to other jobs.

In three years at Pitt, Chryst owns a 19-19 record heading into the Armed Forces Bowl, which pits the Panthers (6-6) against Houston (7-5) in Fort Worth, Texas, Jan. 2.

Granted, Chryst didn’t unravel a program in desperate need of solid coaching when he was hired to replace Todd Graham, who was hired to replace Mike Haywood, who was hired to replace Dave Wannstedt. Chryst provided stability, and it’s difficult to say the Panthers don’t appear to be headed in a good direction. Pitt’s three best skill players – ACC Player of the Year James Conner, Tyler Boyd and Chad Voytik – are all sophomores. The offensive line displayed consistent improvement. Players responded to an awful stretch with two wins to end the regular season and become bowl-eligible.

But inconsistency elsewhere characterizes Pitt football during Chryst’s tenure. The defense struggles to make stops. There are head-scratching losses to the Akrons of the college football landscape. Pitt regularly snatches defeat from the jaws of victory, as recent results against Duke and North Carolina prove.

Pitt rarely lands top recruits, and for every two-star guy like Conner that succeed at Pitt, there are 10-15 four- and five-star guys within Pitt’s recruiting base excelling at other schools.

Should Chryst stay at Pitt, and the guess here is the Panthers will have an interim coach for that bowl game against Houston, he’ll enter a make-or-break year. Marked improvement will be expected in Year 4. If there’s another 6-6 season, or even a 7-5 one, Chryst will likely be looking for work.

So why take the chance? Chryst could land several years of job security at Wisconsin. Whether or not he can coach in Alvarez’s shadow will likely determine his answer if he’s offered. And judging by Chryst’s unspectacular demeanor displayed at Pitt, that won’t be a problem.

Then, Pitt’s revolving door will be moving again.

Avoid being these things at the gym

The gym often serves as a sanctuary. It’s a place to work off the stresses of a grinding, thankless job. There’s no honey-do list. No kids talking nonstop. Put on some headphones, and there’s nothing standing in the way of self-improvement.

A gym is where making funny faces in front of strangers is perfectly acceptable, even encouraged. Sweating isn’t nasty; it’s the sure-fire sign of a great workout. Rap to yourself between sets, and no one gives an odd look. Try doing that on the streets without a few awkward glances from passersby.

Yet, the gym, like any other public place, can be an incredibly annoying place, especially during the post-work, pre-dinner rush.

So what annoys you the most at your gym? Is it a lack of nearby parking in the winter? Creepers in the sauna? Old guys staring?

Fortunately for me, those aren’t problems, but the following things are.

5. Mean people. Time to go on the record. Gymtimidation only exists if a person is easily intimidated. Some of the nicest people at the gym, and the first to offer strong advice, are the biggest. Most enter the gym focused, intent to work out, not socialize. That said, the gym is rife with mean people. I’ve dubbed them “bitch faces” and “la douches.” Ladies, if you wear skin-tight, barely there shorts but look straight at the ground, scowl at people when you actually lift your eyes and refuse to speak to the ladies working day care when you pick up your kid(s), you might be a “bitch face.” Fellas, it you finish a set, throw down your weights, stomp around the gym, huffing and puffing, and walk chest out in crowded corridors, you’re probably “la douche.”

4. Messy locker rooms/bathrooms. A common weekend problem, especially if the cleanup crew works weekday hours. There’s urine on the toilets. Toilet paper and paper towels everywhere. And the powder. Oh my, the powder. Pre-workout powder. Post-workout powder, Talcum powder. It’s on the floors, the benches, the counters. Treat the gym like your home and clean it up.

3. Socialists. No, this isn’t a political movement. Socialists are the people using the gym for conversation, merriment and as a primary source of flirting. There are poser clubs, groups who do a set then stare at themselves in the mirror, clenching an arm and hoping no one just saw them flex. There are the cardio chit-chatters – friends walking side by side on treadmills, talking loudly then wondering why they garner the attention of others. Cliques of meatheads who hog the pectoral fly machine for 30 minutes while they talk in between sets.

2. Energy changers. Ever run a 5k or something longer? One of the great, great things about the running community is the positive energy exuded before and after a race. People – total strangers – offer encouragement and congratulations. It’s an incredible feeling, and one that can be replicated at a gym in a more self-contained way. But there are people who impact positive energy in a harmful way. There’s the gym mayor. He’s intent on talking to everyone, asking how the workout is going while putting in little work himself. There’s the meathead. He’s probably got his mesh ballcap on backward with the bill cocked to the right. He moves tons of weight but spends more time looking at himself. There’s the noisemaker. This person grunts through movements and weezes through cardio. There’s the crazy old lady. She wears clothes that don’t fit someone half her age, talks incredibly loud and randomly cackles. There’s the creeper. He takes spin class to look at the ladies in yoga pants and tank tops and makes no effort to work hard.

1. Space hogs. Ever want to get on a machine and can’t because some 100-pound, incredibly ripped lady is doing sets then dropping down on a mat for crunches. And this cycle lasts 20 minutes? Ever want to get changed in the locker room only to have some jabrone hog an entire bench with belongings? Ever want to get on the mats for some ab work only to have a group occupy the area with their free weights and extra equipment while they chat and check their smartphones? If you’ve been to the gym, it’s definitely happened. The gym is a great place to improve yourself, but it’s not all about you. Be respectful of others.

Somerset: a football school?!

Should the Somerset Area High School baseball team advance to the PIAA Class AAA semifinals, that wouldn’t exactly be classified as a surprise.

After all, the Golden Eagles are a frequent qualifier for the state playoffs, and they played for the Class AAA title in 2008.

Somerset also produces the occasional state track medalist. The boys basketball team pops into the state bracket from time to time.

But football? Somerset and football usually mix as well as Dylan and the Dead (Looked good on paper, but lacked in execution)  or Paul Roma rolling with the Four Horsemen (a disastrous decision that forever tainted the Horsemen’s legacy).

Go back 50-55 years. There aren’t many landmark seasons for Somerset football. When the Golden Eagles were strong in the early 1990s, they couldn’t get past Forest Hills. In the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Richland proved to be the Golden Eagles’ foil, so did teams like University Prep and Clearfield.

Those recent losses must have provided motivation and inspiration, because things changed drastically this fall. Somerset, where high school football was often an afterthought before Bob Landis became head coach, has postseason fever for the first time.

Somerset rolled through the first nine weeks of the regular season, consistently ranking among the state’s top five scoring offenses and shutting down opponents on defense. Scored were lopsided. Optimism slowly climbed.

Somerset 41, Bishop Carroll 0; Somerset 43, Forest Hills 12; Somerset 42, Bedford 20; Somerset 55,, Richland 6; Somerset 50, Greater Johnstown 13; Somerset 55, Westmont Hilltop 7; Somerset 54, Bishop McCort 14; Somerset 47, Cambria Heights 0; Somerset 35, Penn Cambria 7.

Junior quarterback Dylan Barnes developed into a game-breaking dual threat. Junior Jake Heiple paced a fast-break ground game that averaged 250 yards per game. Three receivers average at least 22 yards per catch, including senior Bryce Mostoller’s eye-popping 38.3 average on 33 catches. Somerset doesn’t post insane passing numbers, but it’s enough to be respected by defenses.

Speaking of defense, the Golden Eagles forced turnovers, created pressure and made plays everywhere. Mostoller has 31 tackles for loss; Raven Beeman has 28.

All those playmakers combined with excellent special teams had people talking in Somerset. This cozy, quaint baseball community thought these Golden Eagles might be the town’s best football team since the 1950s. A Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference title was a win – at home – away.

Then, in the Week 10 regular season finale, Bishop Guilfoyle came to Somerset and won easily. It was shades of the late 80s and early 90s. A rare great regular season capped with a disappointing home loss.

And the loss didn’t seem like a good sign for postseason success as Guilfoyle, despite being a private school, is Class A.

Well, Bishop Guilfoyle is convincingly in the PIAA Class A semifinals.

As for Somerset? The Golden Eagles are part of the Class AAA final four.

Sound crazy? It is.

But Somerset certainly earned its way.

At 14-1, Somerset carries a five-game win streak into Saturday’s semifinal against perennial power Archbishop Wood, winners of the last two Class AAA titles. Somerset manhandled Punxsutawney and Clearfield to win the District 5-6-8-9 subregion. It followed with a 42-14 win over District 4 champ Selinsgrove in its first PIAA playoff game. Last Saturday, Somerset shut out Bethlehem Catholic.

So here sits Somerset, a community known for farming, coal mining, skiing and hunting, with the big boys of Class AAA football. Archbishop Wood is loaded. So are the semifinalists in the western side of the bracket – WPIAL champ Central Valley and Bishop McDevitt, alma mater of LeSean McCoy. Those schools boast Division I talent.

Somerset, a decided underdog Saturday, has kids who don’t go to school the first day of deer season. Pretty sure the school gives students that day off. At least that was the case when I attended Somerset more than 20 years ago.

Not that it matters because, at least for this magical fall, Somerset played plenty of big-boy football.

Deer season can wait.