Category Archives: Anna

EQT 10-mile training – Week 5 9/22/15

Inspiration, move me brightly. light the song with sense and color;
Hold away despair, more than this I will not ask.
Faced with mysteries dark and vast, statements just seem vain at last.

Some rise,
Some fall,
Some climb,
To get to Terrapin.

Counting stars by candlelight, all are dim but one is bright;
The spiral light of Venus, rising first and shining best,
On, from the northwest corner, of a brand new crescent moon,
While crickets and cicadas sing, a rare and different tune,
Terrapin station.
In the shadow of the moon,
Terrapin station.
And I know we’ll get there soon,

(Terrapin! )
I can’t figure out,
(Terrapin! )
If it’s the end or beginning,
(Terrapin! )
But the train’s put it’s brakes on,
(Terrapin! )
And the whistle is screaming,
Terrapin!

Let my inspiration flow!

Let my inspiration flow!

Those words – written by Robert Hunter, sung sweetly and soulful by Jerry Garcia and performed by the Grateful Dead – are goose bump-inducing. “Terrapin Station” – an epic, multi-part anthem performed 302 times by the Dead beginning in early 1977 – produces a state of euphoria. Its lyrics inspire freedom, and, for me, it’s the perfect running song. When a run begins to flatline and “Terrapin” enters my headphones, my legs and lungs find something extra. It’s like Jerry’s voice is guiding me through the run. My lips mouth the words. Sometimes, my arms even raise in triumph. (Yep, if you’ve seen a short, headband-wearing dud running the streets of Greensburg while jamming out, it’s me.)

Sound stupid? Maybe to some, but, to me, the right music is as essential to running as stretching, the right shoes, hydration and determination.

Music is moving, and the right songs can shave seconds off the pace and help set personal bests.

Generally, I prefer running to the Dead. From “Bertha” to “Promised Land” to “China Cat Sunflower/I Know You Rider” to “Morning Dew” to “Touch of Grey,” the Dead’s expansive and easily accessible catalog provides ample choices for this runner, but it’s certainly not the only band worth a listen when pounding pavement or staring at the television screen on a treadmill. Glam/hard rock like KISS, Guns n’ Roses, Motley Crue and Tesla get the job done. So does rap, particularly the early 1990s gangsta sounds of Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Nate Dogg (R.I.P.) and company. Eminem usually works, too. I’m not likely to see Foo Fighters live, but no song makes me dig deeper than “Walk.” I’ve nearly pushed myself to tears while listening to that amazing call to action. Matthew Wilder’s “Break My Stride,” Katy Perry’s “Roar” and DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win” work perfectly.

It doesn’t matter what music moves you, but it is important to play the right music for you when breaking down barriers and going for goals.

Music played an integral role in a solid week of training for the EQT Pittsburgh 10-miler.

9/14/15 – Last week, I said on this blog that I didn’t mind missing Sunday’s long run because of illness. That’s only part true. Missing a run made me determined to make up for things, even if my sinuses weren’t cooperating.

After dropping Anna off at school and walking Ringo, I went to the basement for a programmed, 30-minute ride on a stationary bike. A couple moderate hills helped provide resistance and I covered 11.1 miles in 30 minutes. From there, me, myself and my tissues hit the streets for a 4.52-mile run in 34:39. My first mile was a 7:50 pace. The second mile was 7:12. Seven friggin’ 12! The third mile was 7:33.

Not going to fib, I surprised myself.

9/15/15 – Kicked the distance up to 5.38 and got it done in 43:58 – not as fast as Monday’s run but a solid pace.

9/16/15 – Erin had a rare Wednesday off, so we did spin class together. Great ride. Felt it for hours after completion.

9/17/15 – A couple of variables forced changes in schedule for the fifth week of training. 1. Erin was off Wednesday and Friday, and since I missed the long run in Week 4, doing two spin classes sounded like a good idea; and, 2. Erin was working in Pittsburgh Sunday. Anna needed to get to Sunday School and church, so that meant Sunday was not a good day for my long run.

So, with legs still tired from spin class, I stumbled onto the streets of Greensburg, where I completed a 7.03-mile run in 1:01.04. Given Greensburg’s terrain, hills were unavoidable, and I encountered four of them on this run. It was tiring, my pace wasn’t outstanding, but I conquered the distance.

9/18/15 – Second spin class of the week and, for the first time in 2-plus years of spinning, I didn’t enjoy the class. The music mix had too much pop. Only one song – Eminem’s “‘Till I Collapse” – moved me. About 50 minutes into class, I was wishing I lifted weights instead, but I finished anyway.

9/19/15 – I digested plenty of vegetables Friday, which made Saturday morning slightly uncomfortable, but I had to get out before Anna’s 11 a.m. soccer game. I covered 5.23 miles in 43:09 – another decent, but not great run.

‘Warde,’ old dad

“My dad is warde.”

That sentence was the first one my daughter, Anna, wrote in first grade. She started first grade last Wednesday and, a few days ago, she came home, we began to go through her folder, and she pulled out a piece of paper with several written sentences.

For those unfamiliar with early first grade handwriting/spelling, “warde” means weird. The first sentence Anna wrote as a first-grade meant to read, “My dad is weird.”

Anna was pumped for her first day of first grade. Sorry for the shadow.

Anna was pumped for her first day of first grade. Sorry for the shadow.

Well, Anna is right. I’m a little off. I must be having worked nights and weekends the past 18 years. Then again, I’m fairly certain I’ve never come across anyone normal. So, in my opinion, we’re all a little “warde.”

The sentence caught me off-guard, though. For years, I was Anna’s self-described “best friend.” She loved my music, pretended to pay attention to Pitt basketball and the Pirates and put me on a pedestal.

Things shifted during kindergarten and, by Father’s Day, I knew exactly where I ranked. The homemade card read,” Dad, you’re still my friend but you’re not my best friend.” On her list of best friends, I now rank eighth.

In reality, I probably rank a little lower and, while it’s a bruise to the ego, it’s also OK. Anna looks at me sometimes like I have an ear growing from my forehead, especially when I’m jamming in the car. She still goes to hold my hand but, once she realizes what she’s doing, Anna quickly pulls back. Rock music is no longer appreciated. It’s all Taylor Swift and Katy Perry all the time.

When I drop her off at Hutchinson Elementary, I tell her, “Love you, kiddo.” She replies, “OK, dad.” She shuts the door and heads up the stairs to school. I watch her walk up before I pull away. For a few seconds, I think about old times and where life may take her. To me, she’s still my little buddy. I’ll probably always think of her that way.

First-grader-to-be

Anna was dropped off at Amos K. Hutchinson Elementary School last Thursday just like nearly every other weekday morning the past nine months, but there were several differences.

  • Anna wore a pinkish-orange dress – something she picked out and purchased for herself while shopping with her mother. Given her propensity for making messes, wearing dresses to school was reserved for special occasions.
  • She went armed with a homemade card for Mr. Kepple – her kindergarten teacher.
  • Finally, Anna was dropped off just before 9 a.m. An hour later, she’d be leaving.
Anna Noel Kovak proudly holds her homemade card for her kindergarten teacher, Mr. Kepple, who Anna calls, "the best teacher ever."

Anna Noel Kovak proudly holds her homemade card for her kindergarten teacher, Mr. Kepple, who Anna calls, “the best teacher ever.”

Last Thursday was Anna’s last day in kindergarten. My bubbly, kind, caring, intelligent and funny 6-year-old is officially a first-grader-to-be.

Where did the time go?

It seems like only a few weeks ago when I walked Anna to school for her first day as an elementary student. She was excited beyond belief, and she sang a tune from Mary Poppins as we walked – hand-in-hand – toward the front entrance. And it didn’t seem like nearly 10 months passed since I took her to Kinder Camp, a weeklong program designed to get students acclimated to the new environment.

So many things about Anna made me believe she’d excel in a daily school setting and, so far, those premonitions have proven correct. She excels in mathematics. She reads books cover to cover with little need for help from mom or dad. Friends squeal with delight when they see Anna. Teachers like her. And she loves her teachers. (Mr. Kepple, if you end up reading this, Anna already misses you.)

Like I said months ago on this blog, she’s owning that school.

And I’m so proud of her.

Anna made tremendous strides in kindergarten, and she’s growing up more quickly than I could ever imagine. Her progress academically is amazing. She’s growing vertically, too. She still talks people’s ears off, but is learning there are times when it’s important to zip it shut. Anna will still walk hand-in-hand with me, just not for the long stretches I grew accustomed to.

And, it’s official. I now embarrass my daughter.

She best get used to it. We’ve got a long way to go together. Too bad it will pass in the blink of an eye.

Happy birthday, old friend

Marley in his old age

Marley in his old age

Hadn’t been out of the University of Pittsburgh for a year when my roommate in a terribly low-grade, poorly located “townhouse” decided he wanted a golden retriever. He grew up with them.

So, the search began for a female golden retriever. For two guys – one a hardcore gambler (him), and the other an unmotivated, wannabe journalist (me) – it was a difficult search. Pure-bred dogs cost big bucks, something neither of us had.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, news broke. A female golden retriever living next door to the house where my future brother-in-law was living was impregnated by a roaming farm dog. The result?

My  Marley shrine in my man cave

My Marley shrine in my man cave

A litter of mixed-breed puppies that looked a lot like golden retrievers. Since they weren’t pure-bred, the puppies were being given away.

Up for adoption was a male puppy. I informed my roommate.

He hoped for a female but quickly agreed to take on the responsibilities. This dog was coming to Dormont, where we moved after an epic stay in South Oakland.

Neither of us knew what we were getting into, but Marley, a 7-pound butterball of cuteness was sharing our place.  Strangers swooned over him. Some going as far as saying he needed to be on television.

Yep, Marley (named for my love of Bob Marley after the original suggestion of Bob – Bob Marley, Bob Weir, Bob Dylan –  was shot down) was adorable, friendly and a picturesque puppy.

He was also an incredible handful with a voracious appetite.

Marley got into everything – garbage, cakes, empty beer bottles (he loved beer), food, the fridge. He’d stick his face into the bathtub during a shower and try to drink water. He’d stop to visit every person walking by, as he was certain every human found him impossibly adorable and wanted to pet him. He ate furniture and shoes. He stole food and beer from people at parties.  It took nearly a full year to house train him.

Marley also quickly attached himself to me.

It happened one sunny afternoon at a nearby park, where he once ran at a toddler, tackled him to the ground and proceeded to lick his face in glee. Marley was tiny and the grass was tall. He was unsure of my whereabouts, but when he found me, he couldn’t have been happier.

From that point onward, we were running partners.

Marley followed me everywhere. When he didn’t follow me, he was watching me. An incredible friendship was in its initial stages.

And to think, I almost gave up on him.

Marley was so ornery and exuded so much energy, I didn’t think I’d handle the important tasks of raising him. There were moments I was convinced I needed to help find Marley another owner.

But then that growing, adorable, wild man would look at me, and I knew I couldn’t.

Over time, Marley became a constant companion. We were a tag team, like the Rock and Roll Express, the Midnight Express or the Road Warriors, It was tough picturing one without the other. I’d walk or run him 3-5 times each day. I’d take him everywhere I could. He’d go hours without going inside the house while I was at work.

We moved all over the place – Dormont, South Side, South Park, Bethel Park, Dormont (again) and, finally, the Westwood neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Marley always adjusted quickly.

He forced me to be responsible when I wasn’t ready. Those extra drinks I’d normally have with friends, well, the dog hadn’t been out since 8 p.m.  Had to get home.

Without Marley, I doubt I’d be the family man I am now. Sure, I’m not perfect. But neither was Marley, and we needed to learn from each other.

Marley, who was born on St. Patrick’s Day in 1998, slowly aged until he hit 12, when his hips began to weaken. He hung tough for a couple more years until he couldn’t go anymore. I knew it was time. He knew it was time. Everyone else knew it was time.

But June 27, 2012, remains the toughest day of my life.

Walking into the vet that evening, Marley said hello to another dog. We went to a room where they left us alone. I sobbed. I apologized for not being a better owner. I told him how much I loved him and how vital he was. I thanked him for being a great friend and incredible with Anna, who was three when Marley died. When an assistant entered the room for payment information, I got up. Marley shot up with one last burst of energy. I’m convinced he knew what was happening, and there was no way he wanted to left alone. Don’t worry. I didn’t leave. We had one last thing to do together.

He wasn’t perfect, but perfect dogs don’t have as much personality. And Marley had the latter in bunches.

There’s some funny parallels to the movie “Marley and Me.” I’m a newspaper man, just like John Grogan. I owned a golden retriever named Marley, and he was named for Bob Marley. (And no, my Marley was around long before the book became a household read.) My friends often said if my life were a movie, Owen Wilson would star in the lead role. The lead male in “Marley and Me”? You guessed it.

There’s so many stories about Marley, but he’ll never be immortalized on the silver screen or in a novel. It’s already been done.

He’d be 17 today, and I still miss him. Anna does too. She talks about him regularly though I’m not certain how she remembers him.

I know I’ll never forget him, from how he rough-housed with friends to how he sat with his head in my wife’s lap while she was fighting off going into labor during the Steelers’ Super Bowl win over Arizona to his last meal – a meatball hoagie.

Happy birthday, old friend. Long may you run.

photo (12)

Happy birthday, Anna

Erin began having serious labor pains sometime during the second half of Super Bowl XLIII. A call was placed to the doctor. Erin wanted to finish watching the game, so did the doctor. I was ready to roll.

Her breathing intensified as the great Larry Fitzgerald shredded the Steelers’ defense for a late touchdown and a lead for the Cardinals. Our old, faithful golden retriever, Marley, was right by Erin’s side, his head occasionally on her lap in a canine’s attempt to make everything better.

Not long after Ben Roethlisberger’s game-winning touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes, we were in the car and on our way through Pittsburgh to Magee Women’s Hospital.

Between 1 and 2 a.m., Anna Noel Kovak was born, and my life was forever changed.

Anna spent Saturday in Elsa costume for a Frozen birthday party with 12 of her closest friends.

Anna spent Saturday in Elsa costume for a Frozen birthday party with 12 of her closest friends.

After cutting the umbilical cord, nurses cleaned and wrapped Anna and asked if I’d like to hold her. There she was, all 7 pounds and 6 ounces of her. Wrinkly face. Dark hair.

Completely beautiful.

Now, there have been some powerful moments in my life – getting married, the precise moment the Grateful Dead’s music became an eternal soundtrack and, heck, even the time former Observer-Reporter sports editor Tom Rose was arrested. (If you need the details, fire up the Google machine.)

But I’ll never forget what ran through my mind the second I held Anna in my arms and looked into her eyes.

“I don’t know a thing about you, but I know I’ll die for you.”

Crocodile tears poured from my eyes. I was instantly smitten. Six years later, I still am.

Anna rules.

Anna rules.

Today marks Anna’s sixth birthday. She’s at school and I’m about to get ready for work, but it doesn’t damper the mood. She’s an incredible friend, and Anna amazes me on a daily basis. I marvel at her enthusiasm (a mother once told me Anna makes a story about eating bananas for snack exciting). her quest for knowledge, her sweetness and her exuberant personality. There’s nothing I don’t love about her, from the way she says “Daddy” to the way her pants always find a way to drift below her waistline in public.

Happy birthday, Anna Banana.

40 and loving 2-hour delays

Remember rolling over, tired and groggy, trying to wrap your head around another long, boring tedious day of junior high or high school only to find out there’s a 2-hour delay?

Life doesn’t get much better.

Sleep in. Take time getting ready. And still get credit for a full day in class.

Nope, can’t beat it.

That special feeling was lost on me until this year, when my daughter Anna enrolled in kindergarten. The 2-hour delays are back, and she’s had three of them since the middle of last week.

Trust me when I say 2-hour delays only get better with age.

Anna loves her sledding. Lucky for her, so does dad.

Anna loves her sledding. Lucky for her, so does dad.

There’s no pleading with Anna to get out of bed by 8:05 a.m. No rushing her through breakfast, getting her backpack ready, making sure she’s taken her vitamins, brushed her teeth and either has her lunch packed or made the decision to buy from the cafeteria all before rushing out the door by 8:50 in a mad-dash attempt to get her to school by 9.

Nope. During a 2-hour delay, the coffee tastes sweeter, the rush to eat breakfast is replaced by a calm, casual pace and there’s no pleading to stop telling dad stories to focus on getting dressed.

It permits time to take the dog for a walk, permitted the temperature isn’t hovering around zero. We can sled in our backyard, which serves as the neighborhood slope given the steepness of our hill (trust me, it makes mowing brutal),

Unlike many parents, I don’t work mornings. So, the 2-hour delay doesn’t inconvenience me or my employment.

In fact, when the weather’s nasty on my drive home from work at night, I’m rooting for a 2-hour delay.

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.