Tag Archives: Observer-Reporter

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 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.

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.

Going ape

Mud races. Check.

Long-distance runs. Check.

Obstacle courses. Check.

Rock climbing. Check.

When it comes to adventure activities, this blogger is a big-time fan and regular participant. Never before, however, did I have the pleasure of ascending 30-40 feet into the trees at North Park outside of Pittsburgh, where British-based Go Ape has a tree-top adventure course. It comes complete with five zip lines, two Tarzan swings – including one with about a 35-foot flight into a hanging cargo net, countless obstacles and difficult rope ladders to come.

In other words, it’s the perfect place for someone like me.

And I was fortunate to get there last week with Observer-Reporter staff writer F. Dale Lolley, who covers the Steelers and doubles as Outdoors editor. Lolley wrote a story for his Outdoors section, and I got to wear the O-R’s go pro camera while working my way through the course.

Check out the story and video here.

For more information on Go Ape, click here.

Old-timer hits the court

A couple weeks ago, I attempted to hang with a group of teenage all-star basketball players, as mentioned here previously. The article appeared in Monday’s edition of the Observer-Reporter.

Here’s a link: http://www.observer-reporter.com/article/20150405/NEWS01/150409686

If you’d just like to check out the video, here’s another link:

Growing old gracefully? Not exactly

That's me on the left. The hairline receded a little, and I'm pretty sure my nose actually got bigger over the years.

That’s me on the left. The hairline receded a little, and I’m pretty sure my nose actually got bigger over the years.

Guys, we can exercise, party, kid around and act young, but there’s no hiding an ugly truth.

We’re getting old.

Hairs are growing where they never did. Hangovers last so long, swearing off drinking entirely sounds reasonable. Joints creak. Muscles ache. Getting up at night to go to the bathroom isn’t an inconvenience; it’s simply part of the routine.

A couple doses of growing old truth serum were served to me recently. The first came last Tuesday evening when this 40-year-old challenged himself to hang with high school seniors trying out for the Washington-Greene High School Senior All-Star Basketball Game, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Washington, for an upcoming feature in the Observer-Reporter.

I consider myself to be in good shape. I run regularly for long distances and at faster-than-average speeds. I’ve placed in my age group at races. I lift weights five days a week. I play racquetball and walk our dog, Ringo, … ok, enough already, right?

The fact is, no matter how much I train, I can’t hang with the speed and energy of 17- and 18-year-old kids. That became evident during the layup line at tryouts. Granted, the line lasted for 12 minutes – 12 minutes! – but it wasn’t long before the breathing turned heavy. As for getting off the ground, a four-inch vertical leap was on full display – over and over. When it came time to get on the court, I was tired. The kids were just getting started.

The second dose hit the next morning in spin class. Normally, spin class is reserved for Friday morning but Erin wasn’t working and she wanted to do spin class. I originally balked. but relented. After all, spin class is an outstanding way to train for distance running. It strengthens legs, bolsters endurance and commands complete attention.

I’d like to blame her for what happened next, but, let’s face it, I’m getting old.

About 30 minutes into class, I rose from the seat for a climb when I felt something unusual in my right foot. On rare occasions, the pedal causes a slight discomfort – unlike many enthusiasts, I spin in sneakers. This, however, was different. It was actual pain.

So guess what?

Yep, I kept riding.

Who says people get smarter with age?

I finished class, but I knew something was off. As the day continued, I became convinced something was broken. Walking was excruciating. Shoes provided instant discomfort. Of course, I didn’t go to the doctor. Instead, I went to work.

After dropping Anna off at school Thursday morning, a visit to MedExpress was in order and, after a few x-rays, a diagnosis of a foot sprain was given.

It’s Monday afternoon and that right foot still hurts. A few people told me foot sprains are worse than breaks. I wouldn’t know, but I know foot sprains suck. I’m basically confined to the house with the exception of going to work. It’s making me a bit stir crazy, even if I downloaded Trivia Crack.

Getting old kinda sucks, too. I can’t do many of the things I used to accomplish, and I’m beginning to realize achieving certain goals I’ve set for myself may be better suited for less mature audiences.

Now, it’s time to try and get off the couch.