Tag Archives: Pittsburgh

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.

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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.

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)

Countdown to racing season

Gone with “Road to Recovery.” Hello to “Countdown to racing season.”

Is the left calf 100 percent healed? Not exactly. And the right calf gets awfully tight sometimes, but neither ailment is enough to be considered a hindrance toward impending goals.

And that’s why it’s time to be out with the old.

A couple weeks ago, a friend who runs a paralegal service here in Greensburg and who is a physically fit marvel, made a fitness-changing suggestion via a Facebook message.

“Have u tried compression socks when running?”

Now, compression socks became part of my life five, six months ago. Wore them to walk the dog. Wore them after the gym. Wore them to work. Wore them after visiting the chiropractor. Not once did I wear them to run.

Well, now both legs are adorned with compression socks every time I run, whether it’s a long, time-consuming one to bolster distance endurance; a hilly battle of survival on the streets of Greensburg and its surrounding areas; or a shorter, fast-paced burst to improve speed and kicks. Those socks may look odd, but they’ve been a fitness blessing.

And they’ve helped me become re-energized for the upcoming racing season.

First up is the Pittsburgh Marathon, which takes place Sunday, May 3 (the same day as our seventh wedding anniversary). I’ll be part of a relay team, headed by the friend who suggested compression socks to run with. From there, the plan is to sign up for some 5k, 10k, 10-mile and possibly an adventure race or two while gearing toward the Greensburg Half-Marathon, which usually takes place in late September.

Then, in 2016, barring any significant setbacks, I’m running the Pittsburgh Marathon in its entirety.

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.

Terrapin Flyer soars into Pittsburgh

Terrapin Flyer opened a brief tour Tuesday in Pittsburgh at Rex Theater.

Terrapin Flyer opened a brief tour Tuesday in Pittsburgh at Rex Theater.

Need a quick way to lose three to five pounds? Get your dance on with Terrapin Flyer.

Terrapin Flyer hails itself as “Chicago’s premier Grateful Dead tribute band.” Given the outfit’s lineup, which includes Melvin Seals of the Jerry Garcia Band and Mark Karan of Ratdog, it’s safe to say Terrapin Flyer is a hot ticket outside the reaches of the Midwest.

Like Tuesday in Pittsburgh.

Deadheads packed Rex Theater on the South Side for the start of a brief Terrapin Flyer tour, which runs through Monday, when the band plays Cleveland’s Beachland Ballroom.

It marked Terrapin Flyer’s first Pittsburgh appearance, and it was a memorable one for fans and a pair of band members (bass player and founding member of Grinning Mob Bradley Rhea and vocalist Kara Cavanaugh) from Western Pennsylvania .

Terrapin Flyer lineup: Melvin Seals (Hammond B3 organ), Mark Karan (lead guitar, vocals), Doug Hagman (rhythm guitar, vocals), Bradley Rhea (bass, vocals), Jim Farmer (drums), Kara Cavanaugh (vocals). 

From left, Kara Cavanugh, Bradley Rhea and Doug Hagman doing work.

From left, Kara Cavanugh, Bradley Rhea and Doug Hagman doing work.

With the exception of a quick soundcheck, Terrapin Flyer did not rehearse before kicking off its fall tour. And Melvin Seals didn’t arrive until about 7:30 p.m., just 30 minutes before the scheduled start.

No rehearsal. No problem. Terrapin Flyer sounded tight through a sweaty, energetic first set, which quickly had the Pittsburgh crowd getting down. By the time the band kicked into “Mister Charlie,” there weren’t many sets of stationary feet. “China Cat Sunflower” paired with “I Know You Rider” hit the right spots, but the highlight of the opening set may have been the final song, “Deal.”

Pittsburgh setlist: (Set 1) The Harder They Come, Sugaree, Mister Charlie, They Love Each Other, Friend of the Devil, My Sisters and Brothers, Walking the Dog, Big River, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Deal; (Set 2) How Sweet It Is, Don’t Let Go, I Second That Emotion, Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, Catfish John, Highway 61 Revisited, Tangled Up in Blue, That’s What Love Will Make You Do.

The second set opened with the James Taylor classic, “How Sweet It Is” and Terrapin Flyer added depth and power to the song. “I Second That Emotion” was the highlight of a show, a perfect showcase for Doug Hagman’s vocals and Seals’ electric playing. Seals was explosive, and his play erupted during the Bob Dylan classic “Highway 61 Revisited.” If the Pittsburgh show is any indication, Seals is at the top of his game. There’s a lot of ways to define badass. For some, it might mean The Undertaker’s unbeaten streak at WrestleMania. For others, it could signify former Steelers linebacker Greg Lloyd. To me, badass is Melvin Seals flailing away to the delight of the crowd and bandmates.

But for all the chops this band possesses, and those chops are extraordinary, the four-part harmonies may be more impressive. For confirmation, check out the recording at archive.org/details/TerrapinFlyer2014-10-21.

Go ahead, listen and dance. Drop a few pounds.