EQT 10-mile training – Week 3 9/7/15

Stumbled on this Facebook post last week.

For those not interested in clicking, it’s a photo with a fill-in caption that read, “I run ________.”

My initial thought, maybe because it was morning, was, “I run to the bathroom after my morning coffee.” Then, it switched to, “I run because I love icing-filled donuts, cake and french fries.”

Then, I stopped being a smartass for 15 seconds and thought about it. My answer is “I run because my life depends on it.”

That’s a pretty dramatic statement and, no, I won’t drop dead if I stopped running today, but everyone has a motivation, and living is mine. Both of my grandmothers died from a heart attack. One of my grandfathers suffered multiple heart attacks. My father had one when he was in his early 50s. I have no desire finding out first-person.

While running regularly is no guarantee I won’t have a heart attack at some point, it’s provided ample health benefits – injuries of the past year aside. It also alleviates symptoms of after-work problems, which can be numerous in the highly stressful, demanding world of newspapers. There’s that point of every run where I forget about work or whatever else is bothering me. It’s just me, the run and my music, a journey to the finish line and a feeling of overwhelming satisfaction upon achieving goals.

Speaking of goals, a few more were met during my third week of following Fleet Feet Sports’ training program for the EQT Pittsburgh 10-miler.

8/31/15 – I used to love running in heat. These days, not so much, but I went out and put in 4 miles in 32:48 while focusing on form and speed. My second mile was at a 7:50 pace, something I hadn’t approached in some time. My run concluded about a mile from my home (poor planning on my part) so I did a light jog in intervals heading back to Casa de Kovak.

9/1/15 – Spent more than four hours scrambling to finish clearances in order to coach an U8 soccer team, which includes my daughter. Ended up having time to ride the stationary bike in the basement at Level 7 resistance for 40 minutes. My special twist to the workout – 40 push-ups before and after the ride, and every 10 minutes during the ride. Two-hundred push-ups and 40 minutes of resistance riding is a killer calorie burner.

9/2/15 – Mondays were previously reserved for treadmill running. Last week, Wednesday was Treadmill Day and I knocked out 5 miles in 41:44. Later that day, Bob Shooer and Karen Harr from Fleet Feet stopped by the Observer-Reporter offices for my latest podcast. Check it out here.

9/3/15 – First weight training of the week. Good times.

9/4/15 – I didn’t drink a drop of alcohol Thursday but I felt hungover Friday. I was tired, my head hurt and my lungs were tight. Undaunted, the streets of Greensburg called and, somehow, I muddled through 5.03 miles in 43:32. Total struggle.

9/6/15 – More weight training.

9/7/15 – Woke up at 6:05 a.m. and made my way to the Strip District for my second group run with the Fleet Feet Flyers. My goal was to finish a 6.5-mile course, which I did, feeling strong for most of the run. For a portion of the circuit, I ran with Dave (I think) of Mt. Lebanon. He didn’t run his first marathon until 53, and he’s finished six of them since starting. Really enjoyed the conversation, which lasted about 2 miles.

On to Week 4.

‘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-mile training – Week 2 8/30/15

It begins with a low, elongated growl. It quickly builds in volume and intensity. It’s followed by a mad sprint to the front door. By this point, Ringo, our loyal and overprotective Australian Kelpie, is in full intruder-bark mode.

Several things elicit such behavior from our 40-pound ball of muscle and madness – our mail lady, substitute mail carriers, UPS delivery drivers, passing motorcycles and the Sunday paperboy.

Somehow, Ringo senses the paperboy’s presence from our second-floor bedroom and, within seconds, he wakes up every living creature in the house, including Anna’s pet fish, Goldie.

This week, Ringo’s Sunday morning disturbance served as an alarm clock. It was time to get up, coffee up, hit the bathroom, gather belongings and make the early morning drive from Greensburg to the South Side Flats – a place I lived for 6 1/2 years as a fun-loving bachelor – for my first group training run for the EQT 10-miler with my new friends from Fleet Foot Sports-Pittsburgh.

For most runners, an early morning wake-up call and run isn’t mush of a thing. For me, it is. I’m the assistant night editor at the Observer-Reporter, a daily newspaper in Lil’ Washington. My typical shift runs from 3:30 to 11:30 p.m. Then, I have about a 50-mile drive home. I’ve worked nights and weekends in the newspaper business my entire adult life.

I'm hoping at least a few runners at Sunday's training run were as groggy as I was before it started.

I’m hoping at least a few runners at Sunday’s training run were as groggy as I was before it started.

In other words, I’m not a big morning person. And, yes, I worked Saturday night.

A couple of miles into my drive on Route 30 West, I realized I forgot my morning fuel – bananas for me and gas for the car. It required a quick stop to Sheetz, and I began wondering if I’d make the 7:30 a.m. start. I got there by 7:20, and was greeted by Fleet Feet’s Melissa Migliaro, who’s been beyond awesome since this training/O-R challenge started. She gave a quick rundown of what I could expect and, even with my morning brain fog, I’m certain I heard at least 50 percent of it. Melissa introduced me to Amy Zuckett of Fleet Feet. She was leading a group of runners near my pace, so I joined them for the early portions of Sunday’s 6-mile run, which touched parts of the South Side, North Side and Downtown.

More on that later. On to the weekly recap.

Monday, Aug. 24 – After running three of four days, Monday was lift day. Heavy chest and abs workout. My pecs were sore until Wednesday.

Tuesday, Aug. 25 – Did some pull-ups and dips before heading to a second-floor treadmill at LA Fitness Greensburg. I’m not a big treadmill fan, but I find doing a treadmill run per week helps build my pace, which was 7.3 mph for 4.02 miles.

LA Fitness frowns upon photo taking inside its gym, so consider this photo "sensitive material."

LA Fitness frowns upon photo taking inside its gym, so consider this photo “sensitive material.”

Wednesday, Aug. 26 – Tuesday’s run was a success, which made me excited to tackle Wednesday’s hilly road course. I covered 4.65 miles in 40:28. After slowing between miles 3 and 4, I picked my pace up by 11 seconds per mile to finish. This run was considered a triumph.

Thursday, Aug. 27 – Thursday’s goal was to run a shorter course but pick up pacing. Another success as I covered 4.01 miles in 33:33. Three consecutive good runs instilled confidence for Sunday’s long run.

Friday, Aug. 28 – Spin class at LA Fitness. Great, great workout. Best spin class since I bought cycle shoes. Feeling real good walking out of the gym.

Saturday, Aug. 29 – I enjoy weight training too much to abandon it, so Saturday was shoulders day. I tend to make my funniest noises on shoulders day. I also attended a seminar about good running form at Fleet Feet. Karen Harr hosted the program, and I found it highly informative.

That's me with Fleet Feet's Karen Harr before Sunday's run. If you want to learn about better running technique, you need to meet Karen. And, yes, I haven't grown since the last time you saw me.

That’s me with Fleet Feet’s Karen Harr before Sunday’s run. If you want to learn about better running technique, you need to meet Karen. And, yes, I haven’t grown since the last time you saw me.

Sunday, Aug. 30 – The time to run six miles – my longest since doing the 6.4-mile leg of the Pittsburgh Marathon May 3 – was here. The group I started with began an ascent of Arlington Ave. before a turn Newton St. to head back toward the South Side Flats. I went ahead of the group at Newton and caught view of another group – about five runners – descending those interesting South Side stairs. I followed them from a distance across 10th St. Bridge, onto Second Ave. and into Downtown. They stopped around Smithfield St. for a moment as I passed and meandered through downtown. At the 4-mile water stop, I grabbed a quick drink as other runners congregated. Now, I’m far from an expert runner but my 15-plus years of doing it tells me I’m not successful at starting, stopping and starting again. So, again, I soldered onward by PNC Park and across Clemente Bridge. My legs tired slightly at this point but the energy of Downtown helped provide a second wind, which would be needed crossing Smithfield St. Bridge. That’s when my body started to tire, my form got a little sloppy and I tried to remember techniques Karen focused on during the seminar. “Knee drive, knee drive,” I told myself. Too bad I wasn’t paying attention and missed the turn to the stairs leading to River Trail. No worries. It added a little extra mileage.

When I got back to the parking lot, I reached for my phone to stop the Map My Run app I was certain I started at the beginning of the run. Turns out, I never started the workout. So, I have no clue about my time. Not that it mattered. My focus was strictly on finishing, though I stood around for several minutes to stretch and change hoping to see a few people I encountered on the run. It didn’t happen. I’m taking it as a sign I ran well.

Sorry for being long-winded. It was a great week, and I’m excited for Week 3.

EQT 10-mile training – Week 1 recap 8/23/15

“You have to remember, you’re starting at zero base.”

Julie Amsdell, director of marketing for Fleet Fleet Sports Pittsburgh, said that to me during a fitting Thursday at the store.

Easier said than done, but this 41-year-old is getting comfortable with the fact my fitness is nowhere near where it was 13 months ago. And, in order to successfully build up and train, for the EQT 10-miler, which takes place Oct. 25, it’s something I continually reminded myself during the first week of training.

Unlike most people training for the race through Fleet Feet, I didn’t get started until Wednesday (two days later than the Train to Run program kicked off) and was unable to attend the first Sunday group run. The goal is to get to next Sunday’s run.

Day 1 (8/19/15) – Took part in morning spin class at LA Fitness Greensburg. Class lasted 60 minutes, and it was intense. My weight before class was 150.5 pounds.

Day 2 (8/20/15) – Took part in a brief 30-minute weight training session (core and back the focus) then took part in my first run in two months. I went 3.1 miles on a treadmill in 25:30. The pace was 7.3 miles per hour. I chose a treadmill so I couldn’t slow my pace.

Day 3 (8/21/15) – My legs were sore, but I took part in another spin class at LA Fitness Greensburg. This class lasted 65 minutes, and as the instructor Kevin told me afterward, it’s one of his two toughest rides.

Day 4 (8/22/15) – My first outdoor run since June 21, and I was unable to meet my pre-run goals mainly because I wasn’t ready to conquer the giant hill leading back to my house. (It’s called Summit Drive for a reason). Covered 3.64 miles in 30:08 according to Map My Run. Tired between miles 2 and 3 and endured cottonmouth near the end.

The Adidas men's Supernova Glide Boost 7 won the "run-off" Thursday at Fleet Feet Sports Pittsburgh.

The Adidas men’s Supernova Glide Boost 7 won the “run-off” Thursday at Fleet Feet Sports Pittsburgh.

Day 5 (8/23/15) – Second consecutive outdoor run took place at Twin Lakes Park. Two laps around the lakes covered 4.62 miles in 40:49 according to Map My Run. The trail around the lakes undulates in some places and includes a decent hill with a winding path. As I expected, my pace slowed on the miles with the hill included, but, my lungs felt better than Day 4.

My weight at the end of Week 1 is 149.5 pounds. I lost a pound despite having birthday cake everyday since Thursday, which happened to be my 41st birthday.

On to Week 2.

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.

Deuce Skurcenski: A Western Pennsylvania legend

One word of advice I offer to young sports writers – the guys who graduate college and believe they should immediately be covering the Steelers instead of high school girls soccer – is this, “You haven’t made it as a sports writer in Western Pennsylvania if you don’t know Deuce Skurcenski.”

Deuce became part of my work life sometime during the 1997-98 school year. I was an aspiring sports writer, working at the Beaver County Times and being mentored by John Perrotto, who I still consider the best sports reporter in Western Pennsylvania, and Bill Utterback, a top-notch writer whose abilities supercede those of newsprint.

Once you get to know Deuce, you have stories to last decades. He’s a statistics-keeping force of nature that can only happen in Western Pennsylvania.

Two of these Deuce cards hand at my desk. They weren't the only Deuce baseball cards.

Two of these Deuce cards hand at my desk. They weren’t the only Deuce baseball cards.

I can’t forget sitting beside Deuce at Three Rivers Stadium during the 1998 WPIAL football championships. I was there, with Utterback, Jim Equals, Bill Allmann and crew, covering the Class A tilt – as Deuce would say – between Rochester and Monaca, and the triple-A fray – another Deuceism – between Blackhawk and Moon (if memory serves correct).

While writing during the Class AA game between Shady Side Academy and Wash High, Deuce continually asked …

“Was that Ruggerio or Alexander on the carry?”

“Do you have eight or nine yards on that carry?”

Well, I didn’t have Ruggerio or Alexander for eight or nine yards.I wasn’t covering the game, something I told Deuce repeatedly. He never stopped asking.

A year later, I was working at the Observer-Reporter and covering the Class AA championship game between Waynesburg and Wash High.

The Raiders were rolling when, at halftime, I went to the restroom. Deuce was at the urinal beside me, and he kept looking over with that look – the one that indicated he had something important to say.

“What’s up Deuce?” I asked, a slight regret in my voice..

Deuce zipped up, stepped back and dropped into a two-point stance, “Awwwwww, Miiiike Kovakkkk, Lanfer Simpson, ooooohhhhhhhhhhhhh.” As Deuce aptly described the Raiders’ dominating fullback/linebacker, his hands flew in the air and he shook them rapidly. Think spirit fingers from “Bring It On.”

There was the time Deuce was supposed to drive to Uniontown with me for a big-time hoops game between Peters Township and the Red Raiders – two of the top Quad-A teams in the state at the time – but he backed out at the last minute. If you know his history with Uniontown, you understand why.

For all the funny stories and sayings Deuce provided sports writers, coaches and athletes, he always greeted you with a smile and a handshake. He always called you by name. He always identified where you worked. He always told you to tell co-workers that, “Deuce Skurcenski says hello.” One thing I always admired about Deuce, to him, it didn’t matter if you worked at a weekly, a low-watt radio station, a suburban daily with a dwindling subscription base or one of the big metros, he treated you the same. And that’s to say he treated you well.

Deuce was also a tremendous self-promoter. He carried Deuce baseball cards. He autographed them and personalized them. He told you how many football and basketball games he attended, whether it was for the Post-Gazette, Woodland Hills High School or himself.

Many of those cards still hang at my desk.

Living on the South Side Flats for years, I often bumped into Deuce while walking my dog during the day or late at night, walking home with friends after a night on Carson Street. Those friends always asked who I was talking to outside Paparazzi restaurant. I always said, “He’s too hard to explain.”

Thank goodness his essence was captured in an entertaining 2008 documentary, a film Chris Dugan and I made sure to attend during a special screening at a South Side theater. Still remember a wide-smiling Deuce asking us what we thought about the flick afterward.

Lawrence “Deuce” Skurcenski died Tuesday night. He was 73. Old friend Mike White of the Post-Gazette knew Deuce as well as anyone in the region, and he wrote this obituary.

High school and small-college sports in Western Pennsylvania won’t be the same.

Rest easy, Deuce.

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.