Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Competitive Instinct

I have dug into my training this past week and am already feeling stronger. So far I have committed to running 4 days a week, with no particular mileage goals - I figure that once I get back in a regular rhythm I can ramp up my distance and intensity.

Last night I went out on one of my favorite routes -- around Herr's Island, it was a pleasant enough evening if a little hot. I started out feeling great but faded quickly once I got to the trail and it turned into a benchmarking run. Half way through I was calculating how long it would take me to get back to relax and shower and get on with my even.

I much prefer runs where I can phase out, fade into my surrounds, and let my mind wander. Yet I do not always have control over how I'm feeling, as with everything in life sometimes you just have to hunker down and do what you have to do. Towards the end of the run, when the heat and effort had turned my face an interesting shade of purple and my energy was seriously flagging, I caught site of another runner, dressed in all in white. He was running at a faster pace, so I decided that I would 'chase' him and kept him in my sights. I never did catch up to him, but the thrill of the chase kept me engaged enough to complete my run. Reminding me that sometimes the competitive drive can help you win the mental war despite who is faster in the end.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Corn of Summer

I know it may be hard to believe but running is not my only passion, in fact it's a relatively new one (though I have embraced it whole heartedly). Sometimes turning all my attention to the physical makes me feel like a stranger in a strange land, a nerd at heart that wants to roll with the jocks but finds herself dramatically out of place. Of course, that is not to say that people fit so neatly into boxes of one or the other but more so that there are certain cultures associated with different pursuits and sometimes I feel as though I am learning a new language.

But I digress.

Summer's land of plenty produce has ignited one of my other passions. Food. Preparation, consumption, hunting and gathering (at the market), all of it. The briny fresh dirt smell of a perfectly ripened tomato, the pop of fresh sweet corn kernel, pesto rendered from the tender leaves of a basil plant, the foods of summer are a sort of consumable sunshine. Ehrrin introduced me to one of my new favorites, which I have deemed 'goopy' corn, perhaps more aptly known as Mexican street corn. It is corn, slathered with some sort of goo (crema, mayo, sour cream), rolled in cheese, sprinkled with spicy powder of some sort and served with a wedge of lime. Simply delicious. And a new obsession of mine, so much so that the corn supply around casa deSapphic runner have dried up. A situation that must be remedied post haste.

And, what could be a better post run snack than a hot, gooey, ear of corn. Perhaps not so much, better to stick with the tried and true and quintessentially summer Italian ice.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Chilling Out

Transitioning from the lazy days of summer to training has left this sapphic runner a bit tired. I biked last night, and while enjoyable, I realized that hitting the physical activity every night can leave me cranky and worn out. I think I can balance this by spending more time floating in the pool and sipping a frosty beverage.

Someone who is not lazing around right now is my good friend Nat, who is off in Long Beach competing in the National Dragon Boat races with Philadelphia's Schuykill Dragons. I am proud of her and hope they are reeling in the wins. Go Nat!

I plan on a good 5-miler this evening to jump start the weekend, and lots of relaxing after that. It's all about balance after all, eh?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Putting the Run in Sapphic Runner

It has been a while since I've done any sort of serious training or running -- I have been enjoying biking, the pool, and the generally laziness of summer. I told myself I would begin my training for the half marathon this weekend which did not happen and Monday I started to panic a bit about it.

To quell the anxiety, I decided to do a long run, heading out from my place over to the South Side, to the South Side Works, across the Hot Metal Bridge and back to town via the Eliza Furnace trail -- here is a link to the the route on Google pedometer, for those who are curious.

Thanks to a passing thunderstorm earlier in the day, the air was cool and the sun was not incredibly brutal. I armed myself with a bottle of water and some funds in case I deemed some sort of sports beverage necessary. I started out strong, feeling well, coasting across the Allegheny and then the Monongahela rivers with relative ease. Heading out along the South Side trail I began to feel fatigue set in, I worried that my route was too ambitious and decided on a shorter alternative and to keep going for a bit. When I reached the point to turn around, I decided to stick with original plan, not wanting to give up on my first longer run of my training.

At the South Side works I popped into REI for a water bottle top off and a shot of air conditioning then continued down the trail towards town. Luckily the sun had disappeared in an overcast haze so the relatively shade free surface was bearable, almost pleasant. When I got into town I decided to head over the Fort Duquesne bridge back to the North Side and end my run with a dip in the water steps. Nothing feels quite as wonderful after a long, sweaty run as wading into cool running water. I relaxed for a minute and walked the rest of the way home, content that I was on my way to a successful half marathon. 8 miles down, hundreds more to go!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Smile Power

This Sunday I headed over to the North Shore to watch the triathletes and adventure racers on the very last leg of their journeys. Originally I intended to get up early so that I could watch the swimmers, but after a late night of dancing I was not able to rally myself until about 9:30. After starting over on foot, coffee in hand, I decided it was taking too long and I hopped on the bike sacrificing caffeine consumption for speed.

I parked my bike at PNC park, not wanting to interfere with the runners and continued on foot. As I walked I passed several athletes on the last leg of their journey. Some looked strong, and others had the look of determination mingled with fatigue that I know quite well. I smiled at one women and she waved, and I remembered how much something as simple as a smile and an encouraging word can help. I always appreciate the fans at a race, but until my marathon I did not know how vital they can be to getting you through and keeping spirits up. People on the sidelines remind us, as we much ourselves to the max that they are there to support and hold us up -- celebrating the beauty in human endurance, strength and spirit.

I plopped myself on the hill and watched folks come in to the finish. I talked to a man who completed the triathlon, his third, and he inspired me to take one on. I am not so sure that I will conquer Pittsburgh, as swimming in the Allegheny river leaves a bit to be desired -- but in the next year or two I want to take on this challenge. Fortified with a good deal of training and a touch of smile power to get me through.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Bikes, Bikes, Everywhere

The brain works in some interesting ways, like when you learn a new word and suddenly notice it everywhere, people using something you previously were not aware of seemingly all the time. You wonder to yourself, how did I not know this before? Our world shoots so much information our way we can only deal with a slice of it -- we feel fully aware but we could never truly take all aspects of a situation in. I appreciate this filter, because it allows us to constantly discover things, things that may have 'been there' all the time.

I am noticing, suddenly, all the bikes in town, in the neighborhood, my neighbors bikes in the hallway. I have been observing the size, shape, make of the bikes that rush past me, the bikes that are haphazardly chained to parking meters. I size up riders and situations. Gathering information.

With my relatively small budget, I know that I won't get a top of the line super fast machine, it is mind boggling how expensive really good bikes can be, and I'm sure they are worth it for the money. Thankfully there are some bikes in my range that will suit my needs just fine, and I hope to get out and compare this weekend. I am looking forward to hitting the open road with a dash more speed.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Poolside Living Easy

The past few evenings I have made it up to the local pool for some much needed relaxation time. Monday night I swam a few leisurely laps and then sprawled out in the waning evening sun with my Runner's World. Last night I went with my best friend's son, quite possibly the most energetic four year old out there (or close to). We had a good time racing and swimming across the pool while his mother got a little solo run time in. Playing with him reminded me of how much fun it can be to just let go and have a good time, something I can easily lose sight of when I spend so much time in my head.

July provides a good backdrop for relaxation and I'm determined to relax to the fullest. Training for the marathon increased my awareness of what my body needs to perform at its best, and part of that involves recovery and restoration. Sleeping longer, eating more, quieting down and listening to my inner voice.

Next week I plan on picking up my training in earnest for the half marathon, though I plan on taking things easy as the summer dictates, taking in the vibrancy around me. This weekend brings the Pittsburgh Triathlon and Adventure Race, which I plan to watch and gather inspiration. Spending some time on the other end of the race, coffee in hand, watching other athletes give it their all.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sapphic Bridge Bikers

This weekend was full of cycling, which seems to be a mid-summer theme. The more confident I get on the bike the more I want to be out and about, enjoying the beautiful weather and neighborhoods of Pittsburgh.

Last Friday I biked to work for the first time, taking an easy round about route home and back. It made me realize how nasty exhaust coupled with heat beating off the asphalt can be. Saturday I met up with pal Barbara for a 'bridge tour' of Pittsburgh. We started out just shy of the 31st street bridge, which I had crossed to meet her, so we began the tour with the 16th and kept on going. We crossed the familiar 9th, 7th, and 6th street bridges, which I traverse often walking back and forth to work -- then headed across the newly re-opened Fort Duquesne bridge. At this point it was off to uncharted territory with a trip across the West End Bridge which seemed incredibly daunting. Gathering up my gumption I made it across, using my twinges of fear to propel myself forward. From this point we headed down Carson Street gathering a good deal of road grit along the way and headed over the Smithfield Street bridge, to the bike rental station and a cool drink.

Hydrated, we headed up 2nd Ave to the 10th street bridge, coasting down the South Side trail over to Hot Metal. We decided to skip the Birmingham Bridge which involved a back track through town. From the South Side we continued down 2nd Ave, through Hazelwood and over to the Glenwood Bridge -- Barbara paused to snap a picture of Dyke street along the way. From the Glenwood we headed out into Homestead and across the Homestead High Level Bridge. When we reached the end we stopped again to re-group, sticky, hot and dirty and prepared ourselves for the climb towards Squirrel Hill. I dug in and used what energy reserves I had left to get myself up the hill -- we made it, and refreshed ourselves with an iced coffee and an air conditioned sit down before heading home.

It was quite a ride. Beat but satisfied, I've decided to take a day or two off of riding and relax by the pool, soak up the sun in a less active way. Nothing sounds better than an evening at the pool with a good book and nice cool drink.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


When I was in college in Atlanta I used to go to coffee shops to study. They afforded me just the right balance of quiet and activity to focus, and the access to caffeine certainly kept me going. One particular shop, in the Virginia Highlands, had a beverage called the fog lifter, that I remember vividly -- it consisted of coffee, espresso, steamed milk, and caramel syrup showcased in a clear Irish coffee style mug. I went to this particular shop when I was going through a very solitary period in my life, and getting out 'in public' kept me plodding along. I can still taste the way the sweetness of the caramel mingled with the bitter espresso on the back of my tongue, the astringent after taste, pages upon pages of notes on English Lit before 1660 sprawled out in front of me. Sunlight, a constant in Atlanta, streamed through the windows calming me to the extent possible in those days.

This memory came back to me so vividly because I feel I am at a fog lifting juncture. My solitary pursuit has changed from literature study to running -- but the rough feelings are the same. Last night, running a 5-mile loop, solo, in the sun, amongst people but not with them I realized how fortifying this can be, time in my own head doing something I love. In all the sweetness and bitterness of the past months, I feel the fog beginning to lift, a new optimism taking hold.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


After all the riding I did over the weekend I'm feeling the twinge to get a new bike. I've put my preliminary feelers out onto the internets and am overwhelmed by the choices. Now, the fact that I don't have an exorbitant amount of money to spend on said bike should narrow things down a bit, but I'm still not sure of the best options for me. A road bike? Hybrid? Tri? Eeek.

Ideally I'd like something designed for my small frame, a woman's bike that I can ride on the trail and the road. A bike that could work for a triathlon, but need not be a state-of-the art type competitive number. I see a lot of long rides in my future so I'd also like a bike that will be comfortable going the distance.

So, if any of you dear readers have any suggestions for me I would be much obliged (or happen to have nice used bike you want to sell me that will fit the bill!)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Bike of July Weekend

The Fourth of July weekend I got back on to two wheels, taking advantage of some clear days or at least clear patches. The humidity of mid-summer often gives way to afternoon showers, pleasant in their own right but not always conducive to a leisurely bike ride.

Saturday morning I rode over to the Firehouse Farmer's market in the strip, to meet up with Ehrrin for the first time in weeks and round out my selection of produce. After getting our fill of the market we headed over to 21st Street for our weekly cup, catching up with Liz and Emily who always keep me laughing.

Saturday afternoon I met up with some pals for one of my favorite trail rides to the Southside, complete with a rest stop at Rita's Italian Ice --- fueling ourselves with fruit ice and frozen custard for the riverside journey.

Barbara and I headed out Sunday morning for a longer trail ride along the Montour Trail. I ran on this trail several times last year while training for my first half marathon, so I was somewhat familiar with the terrain. We started out with a quasi-ambitious goal of 30 miles, and quickly felt what the tired-ness of previous days of cycling. Cutting it short to 20, we realized on the way back that some of the fatigue we were feeling was the result of the trails incline, which made the ride back all the more pleasant. The surroundings were lush, but the traffic on the trail made it a bit less desirable than the Boston trail. It is still a good bet for a long ride closer into town (and when you want to work in a trip to Ikea...).

Sunday afternoon I was eagerly anticipating the Underground Railroad bike tour, and event held in conjunction with Bike Fest. Unfortunately, it looked as though the weather was not going to cooperate, as I prepared to leave rain drops seemed to be pounding sideways, not the best conditions for a ride. The rain cleared, close to the start time, and I stewed a bit until I heard that folks were still gathered, at which point I hopped on my bike and road over to join them. The rain started up again and things looked a little grim, but we huddled around and learned a good bit about the connection of Allegheny County to the Underground Railroad. The sky cleared and we all set out on the tour, through the North Side and into Downtown, stopping at sites along the way for history lessons. This event was put on by the Pittsburgh Major Taylor Cycling Club, who offer several rides throughout the week, and anticipate organizing a ride along the Underground Railroad bike route next year. Riding and learning appeals to me, as I move my body I feel more open and connected to the world around me -- so combining of the two makes for a satisfying experience.

So there was my weekend of diverse rides and getting back into the bike. Tonight I plan on dusting off my running shoes and hitting the rain cooled trail. As much as I enjoy bicycling, I crave the feeling of my soles hitting the gravel.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Western Penn and the Joys of Summer

Last night my running buddy and I took of on the riverfront trail 'detour' to the scenic Western Penitentiary. Due to casino construction, the path the connected the riverfront trails has been cut in two making a detour necessary. We headed out from my place and along the official detour route, enjoying some of the Manchester streets and homes that I don't often venture towards. Seeing the neighborhood through a new pair of eyes is refreshing, so often we become accustomed to our surroundings -- turning off to new discoveries so as not to overload our senses.

Catching up with the Ohio River, we continued on through swarms and swarms of gnats, assorted tiny birds, and clumps of purple wildflowers. Approaching the prison, we heard what sounded like tennis balls bouncing against walls and realized the inmates were out in the yard (heavily guarded by barbed wire mind you) for their evening recreation. Western Penitentiary is a desolate place, most of the old prison has fallen into disrepair, though there are some signs of life, a place to fish and folks out on bikes, the oddly comforting sounds of prisoners enjoying time in the fresh air.

We ran back and over past the Aviary, visiting with several of the outdoor birds on the way. Though I'm still feeling the fatigue from a few weeks of travel, I felt strong on the run. Looking forward I'm considering the Ikea Half Marathon in September to get me motivated, it's in early September which gives me plenty of time to rest up before the Stomp the Grapes Half.

I topped off my summer evening by slicing into my first tomato of the season, red and ripe from my farm share, I topped it simply with a drizzle of olive oil, fine sea salt, and a pinch of basil from my window plant. Summer on a plate. And a reminder that sometimes the most simple and basic things are the most satisfying.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


Back in the 'burgh and I'm glad to be home, sometimes the best part of traveling is coming home to the familiar after inserting oneself into another landscape, another context. Visiting the big city can have have a jarring effect on me, building after building, concrete and glass, people as far as the eye can see. I find myself searching out the natural, the respite from it all that make cities function more healthily. Paki and I took a long walk along Lake Michigan, out onto a pier which held only one other human soul and lot of birds. So close to the power of the lake and so close to the pulse of the city it was rejuvenating.

Something has shifted in me, or perhaps more aptly a part of myself has been uncovered and developed. I have always leaned towards the internal and I find that in dedicating so much time to running I have gotten in touch in a deeper way with my natural rhythms and and the rhythm of the world around me, which leads me to crave the quiet contemplativeness of nature rather than the pulse of the crowd, artificial light, human creation.

Yet, I do enjoy the opportunities a city affords, more and more I split the difference and fine ways to get into the natural world close to home. Of course the conflict between the two can lead to some dicey situations (when the geese attack) but for the most part I find contentment in my urban escapism. Last week, returning from a satisfying and long overdo bike ride, I saw a little blink of golden. The sun was retreating, the sky a hazy inky blue, the grass a dark husky green and suddenly bursts of gold were everywhere. Fireflies. And it felt like I was seeing them again for the first time, a reminder of the wonders of summer. All around me people were taking them in with delight, and as I peddled my way back home it reminded me that sometimes it takes a nightfall to let the natural light shine through.