Category Archives: Life

EQT 10-mile training – final edition

Strange things happen on the road. Sometimes they happen in bunches.

Once, during an afternoon run on a short trail that runs alongside Clearview Avenue in Crafton, two young ladies sitting on a step asked me if I had a cigarette. To humor them, I stopped, patted my pockets and said, “Sorry, I forgot them.”

The final two weeks of training for the EQT Pittsburgh 10-miler, which runs Sunday and will be the next feature in the O-R Challenge series, were a bit unusual, though nothing quite as weird as being asked for a smoke.

It started with my third, and final, Fleet Feet Flyers group run. The gang met in front of a coffee shop on Walnut Street. A 7-mile run (technically, I believe it was a 6.91-miles) was laid out for those of us doing the Train to Run program. I went out with a group whose pace I liked, but ended up moving ahead on the climb along Penn Avenue to North Linden Avenue in Point Breeze. Eventually, the course led back to Shadyside but, somewhere along Ellsworth Avenue, I missed a turn. (Full disclosure: I’m blaming the gaffe on trying to check out the wooden street at Rosslyn Place.) The directions said to turn right on Filbert Street. I continued to run Ellsworth. After multiple blocks, East Liberty came into my sight and my run-tracking app told me I hit 7 miles.

A lady was walking down the sidewalk and I think I startled her when I asked between breaths, “Do you know where Filbert Street is?”

She told me I passed it a few blocks ago. I thanked her and made a right-hand turn. The good news was it added nine-tenths of a mile to my run.

Later that week, I broke my smartphone when it fell out of my pocket as I was closing my car door.

Crunch,

Now, I’m back to my old iPhone4 that can’t download my work email or add any apps. Sorry if anyone from Fleet Feet or EQT or the Observer-Reporter tried to reach me the past week. I still haven’t been able to check my work email.

Oh well.

And, on my final training run, which didn’t take place until Friday because of a Disney World vacation, a young man approached me on Broad Street in South Greensburg and asked, “I lost $280. It fell out my car window. Did you see it back there?”

I wish I had, but I was more busy wiping snot on my shirt.

So, unlike previous training updates, I can’t offer any mile or time updates other than Friday’s run, which covered 5.34 miles in 43:23.

Hopefully, I’m ready for Sunday morning. I believe I am.

EQT 10-mile training – Week 6 9/28/15

Not an Iron Maiden fan. Never have been, even with my musical roots firmly planted in the 1980s. But, when it comes to running in Greensburg – and most of Western Pennsylvania, hills are an unavoidable circumstance when piling miles on to a workout plan. That’s why my mind often thinks about “Run to the Hills.”

Now, this blogger has lived in tons of hilly neighborhoods – Dormont, South Park and Bethel Park among them. None of those communities seem to hold the number undulating roads as the City of Greensburg.

My home is located on Summit Drive, and it’s aptly named. If Summit Drive isn’t the highest point within the city limits, it’s awfully close.

Before left-calf injury No. 1, which happened in August of 2014, ascending Summit Drive to finish runs was a regular accomplishment. Over time, I found five different access points to scale the hill toward Summit Drive – each a different type of brutal.

Following left-calf injury No. 2 and a right-foot sprain and the subsequent decline in endurance and leg strength, climbing Mt. Summit became too much. During the first five week of following Fleet Feet Sports’ training program for the EQT Pittsburgh 10-miler, I didn’t attempt a full run up the hill home.

That changed in Week 6.

9/21/15 – More than a week passed since a treadmill run, so the timing was appropriate to work on consistent pacing again. A five-mile run in under 41 minutes, never running slower than a 7.4 mph pace.

9/23/15 – Back to the street of Greensburg for a run with a steady incline between miles 2.0 and 4.5. Yep, poor planning on my part. Traversed 6.43 miles in 54:58. Later that day, did a 5:30 p.m. spin class with Erin at LA Fitness. Talked to the instructor, my boy Kevin, before class. I told him about my run, and he told me about his 9:15 a.m. class. We questioned our collective sanity in tackling a second test of endurance that day so, naturally, he made class tougher than usual. Glad I did it.

9/25/15 – For the second consecutive week, Erin was working in Pittsburgh on Sunday, so that meant I had to get Anna to Sunday School. That eliminated Sunday as a long run day. I set out Friday morning for an 8-miler, and it was a strong run. Mile 7 was at a 7:47 pace, and I finished 8.44 miles in 1:11.00, including a 78-second stop for traffic at Huff Ave.

9/27/15 – The legs were slightly weak from Friday’s run, but, on Sunday while  Anna was in Sunday school, I put in 4.79 miles in 39:57. Miles 1-4 were strong, with paces ranging from 7:50 to 8:08. After Mile 4, it was time to climb Mt. Summit. The next .79 miles weren’t fast – it was a 9:50 pace – but I made it from the bottom of the hill to my front door. A huge barrier knocked down.

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.

EQT 10-miler training with Fleet Feet – 8/21/15

Ever do something for 15, 20 years only to realize far too late there’s not only better ways of doing it, but the methods previously employed were – for a lack of a better term – dumb.

That’s something I found out the hard way late last summer.

An avid runner and occasional long-distance racer, I rolled through the streets of Western Pennsylvania for years without anything more nagging than an occasional sore muscle. No tears. No rolled ankles. No cranky knees or bad back.

Nothing.

Never thought about how goofy-looking I am while running until Julie Amsdell and Melissa Migliaro of Fleet Feet Pittsburgh were watching me. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Migliaro)

Never thought about how goofy-looking I am while running until Julie Amsdell and Melissa Migliaro of Fleet Feet Pittsburgh were watching me. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Migliaro)

Then, as I ran up Broad Street near Paradise Fire Company in Greensburg last August, a distinct burning sensation emanated from my left calf.

Had to be cramps, I thought.

To remedy, I ate more bananas and upped my water intake, which is difficult considering how much H2O I put down daily.

Every time I hit the streets, same thing – a burning sensation in my left calf.

Finally and stubbornly, I sought a diagnosis. It was a strained left calf muscle. Surgery seemed like an extreme, far-too-costly solution, so I began visiting a chiropractor. Every week, we’d get together. I’d lay face down on the table, grab the “Oh, shit” bars and wince and grunt through treatment. After several weeks, my left calf felt better and I was running again, wearing some sweet, old-man compression socks for good measure.

Then, during the winter, I sprained my right foot during spin class. I was sidelined again for weeks, though it did force a purchase of cycle shoes.

The two injuries proved costly. My endurance was nowhere near the level of last summer. My speed evaporated. Fun runs were no longer at a 7:30/mile pace. It was taking 8:45 per mile, and it was tiring.

Then, it happened again. On Fathers Day, running up a slight grade in Southwest Greensburg, my left calf burned. This time, I quickly recognized the problem.

After another extended running absence, enter Fleet Fleet Sports Pittsburgh.

Julie Amsdell of Fleet Feet breaks down my walk, using medial terms I no longer remember. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Migliaro)

Julie Amsdell of Fleet Feet breaks down my walk, using medial terms I no longer remember. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Migliaro)

An elite running shop, located just off Route 19 in the South Hills, Fleet Feet contacted the Observer-Reporter about possible coverage of a training program for the EQT 10-miler, which takes place Oct. 25. They didn’t know me, but they knew about the O-R Challenge. Now, I’ve tried out for a high school all-star basketball team. I’ve attempted to hit a professional softball pitcher. I even conquered a gyro eating challenge. This sounded perfect.

So, I reached out to Melissa Migliaro, Fleet Feet Sports outreach manager, who quickly replied. After a few email exchanges, I was at the store Aug. 20 for a fitting and to confirm my participation. I spent 80 minutes with Julie Amsdell, director of marketing for Fleet Feet and a fitting specialist. She analyzed my walk and running gate, broke things down and helped me pick the right pair of running shoes and inserts. I learned my right foot has a slight splay, which contributes to tightness in that calf muscle. I learned the running shows I recently purchased for high arches were too stable. I learned I need to roll leg muscles before working out.

After watching me walk barefoot, Julie Amsdell had me try four different pairs of running shoes. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Migliaro)

After watching me walk barefoot, Julie Amsdell had me try four different pairs of running shoes. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Migliaro)

It was highly informative and the people there couldn’t be nicer.

Leading into the race, I’ll be posting progress here as I partake in Fleet Feet’s Train To Run program. I plan on having a few people from Fleet Feet in for a podcast (Mike’d Up with Mike Kovak), I’ll join them for a few Sunday morning runs and we’ll build up to the latest O-R Challenge, which will be me running the EQT 10-miler.

They promised to keep me healthy and to help me improve.

After meeting them, I’m a believer.

Childhood heroes: Dusty Rhodes and Roddy Piper

It was a Saturday morning, 1980-something, and I was posted on the couch at my grandparents’ house on Water Street in West Brownsville. Nobody in the room could look away from the television.

Professional wrestling, as it was called back then, or sports entertainment for those born after 1990, drew us in like a tractor beam.

This wasn’t just some nickel-and-dime program filled with jobbers, ham-and-eggers and scores of larger-than-life characters. Nope, it was a replay of WrestleMania.

The first WrestleMania.

Within 10 minutes, I was hooked.

King Kong Bundy, Ricky Steamboat (who wrestled Matt Borne, a person I’d later write about as a sports writer), The U.S. Express (Barry Windham and Mike Rotunda), Junkyard Dog, The Iron Sheik, Cyndi Lauper, Mr. T, Hulk Hogan and two characters I was quickly drawn to – “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff.

I was 10 years old, but I left my grandparents’ house a new man, transfixed by this blend of athleticism, brawn, violence and entertainment. It blossomed into a boyhood obsession. When forced to go to the grocery or department store with my mother, I immediately hit the magazine rack to scour pages of The Wrestler or Pro Wrestling Illustrated. I’d memorize each magazine’s wrestling rankings for various leagues – WWF, AWA, WCCW and, my favorite, NWA. I bought into characters. I truly believed Nikita Koloff was a Russian war machine incapable of being destroyed by American forces and, someday soon, he’d lead a communist takeover of our country and we’d be forced to live lives of misery, and singing Nikolai Volkoff’s version of the Russian national anthem. I spent Saturday mornings watching three consecutive hours of wrestling. Thumb wrestlers, rubber action figures, wrestling magazines – it all filled my closet and were among my most cherished possessions. I went as far as to figure out how to watch Saturday Night’s Main Event on my tiny 9-inch black-and-white bedroom television without awakening my parents.

We went to every card held at Cambria County War Memorial in Johnstown and Jaffa Mosque in Altoona. When possible, we hit matches in Pittsburgh. We watched wrestlers drive into the arena together. We were there so often, Ric Flair occasionally looked for us in the crowd so we could stand and salute the Four Horsemen. How cool is that?

Wrestling became such a part of my life I wanted to be a professional wrestler, and when I disappointed my parents with a report card, wrestling was taken from me.

Those six-week periods remain some of the worst of my life. At least me and a few friends had an imaginary wrestling company to ease the pain of not being able to watch.

Unlike many of my friends, most of whom developed a similar passion for a “sport” many of us believed to be 100-percent real, I gravitated toward the bad guy, or the heel as they’re called today. Hogan, Tito Santana, Steamboat and the like were of little use to me. I rolled with Flair, Arn Anderson, Curt Hennig, Jake Roberts and Randy Savage.

If the wrestler could cut a great promo, now that was worth something.

And when it comes to promos, not sure any did it better than Dusty Rhodes, the only true face who I found fascinating,  and Piper.

Rhodes, now there was a face worth following – the best face in the history of the business. Piper may be its best heel. Sadly, both died recently.

I received news of Rhodes’ death while driving to work June 11. It was a big blow. Rhodes was innovative, charismatic and the ultimate underdog. He wasn’t my favorite wrestler –  Flair was and always will be – but the yearslong feuds between the two leave me with lasting memories.  And no one cut a better promo than Rhodes.

Not even Flair.

Piper was the maniacal, kilt-wearing madman whose character was from Glasgow, Scotland. He brought instant heat to everything he did, and Piper’s Pit was often the highlight of WWF’s normally boring weekly programming.

Piper was a genius with the mic, so much so his in-ring work was not appreciated fully. From Portland to the NWA to WWF, Piper put in great work. He put people over. And, as wrestling fans wised up over the years, he became a beloved figure.

News of his July 31 death hit the news three days ago. Another reminder that we’re getting older and that the heroes of our youth can’t last forever, especially when those heroes made sports entertainment a career.

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.