race bling

2015 Pittsburgh Half Marathon recap

Fair warning, this is a long one. Meet me back here tomorrow for what’s in our CSA if you’re looking for something less than 2,000 words.

I’ve read race recaps by several bloggers that I follow and the general consensus seems to be that “this race didn’t go as I planned.” I will add an amen! and a preach! to that.

When I came into training this year, I was ready for a reset with running. Poorly planned full marathon training last year left me completely burned out on running and I wasn’t sure how much of it I wanted to do going forward. But I love the Pittsburgh Marathon events, and having injured myself during the 2014 Pittsburgh Half enough to have to go to physical therapy for 10 weeks, I wanted another shot. So I decided to put the effort into real, focused training for this race and go for a PR, trying to top my personal best from 2013.

And I did. Through the ups and downs of illness and job changes and the complete garbage dump that is Pittsburgh’s weather from December – April, I trained harder and stronger than I ever have before. So I was thrilled in March when I PR’d in the half at Just a Short Run, shaving more than 5 minutes off my 2013 time and setting the new bar at 2:22:49. You’d think I could have been happy with that, because that’s a big PR and finally brought me under an 11 minute/mile average for the half marathon distance.

But I wanted more. I wanted a new PR and I wanted it at the Pittsburgh Half. I didn’t have a B or C or D goal. Just PR. Get to ring that bell at the finish line festival. But I didn’t PR. I finished the race officially in 2:24:35, a little under 2 minutes behind that PR.


Let’s start at the beginning. I am always in D corral because I’m a caboose runner, usually bringing up the rear. That’s no shade – it just is what it is. By the time we got to start around 7:30, I could see the sun getting higher up there, but paid no attention because it hasn’t really been warm at all in Pittsburgh, well, in all of 2015 so far. In the corral, I was repeating in my head start slow, start slow. My problem during the 2014 Pittsburgh Half beyond the injury was coming out of the gate way too fast and then completely crashing about halfway through. So my intention was to stay at 11 min/mile at the beginning until I could find a comfortable space in the crowd and get over the West End Bridge, and then gradually increase my pace until I brought it home in the last few miles after Station Square.

I couldn’t find a space to comfortably run until we hit the incline to get up on Carson Street. That’s past the 10K point. I spent more than 6 miles weaving and dodging, running around “fences” of 4-5 people walking side by side in a line and avoiding people taking selfies who would just stop in the road. (I never EVER hate on people walking during races, but for the love, people, don’t walk 5 in a row.) This was mentally making me crazy, and I decided somewhere around Western Avenue that next year I will lie about my pace if I have to in order to get at least one corral farther up. I was formerly #CorralDFoLyfe but no more. That was complete craziness.

The miles ticked by and because I was running with no music or podcasts and just my running prompts from MapMyRun, I got to enjoy a lot of the cheering and the course entertainment. I tried to focus, listen to the pacing in my ear and keep things mentally under control.

Meanwhile, the sun was just scorching us. I wore a really light tank and shorts and I could feel my heat factor rising with every mile. I am just not a heat runner. Historically, all of my PRs have always been in cold temps – early spring races or early winter Turkey Trots. My asthma/lungs don’t like the heat and my core temp jacks up and stays up when I run in the heat, especially with absolutely ZERO heat training at all this year.

After getting through the West End and finding a little bit of a comfortable space to run, I began to focus on pushing up the pace, knowing that with the tangents to take into account, I needed to hear MapMyRun tell me I was running about 10:45/mile to actually PR. I knew Mark was waiting for me at Station Square with a cowbell and a Star Trek sign that was from the Columbus Marathon that I kept. I get a huge high from seeing people I love and know cheering for me and shouting my name, so I was so happy to see him – my faithful supporter at so many races. I yelled out to him “I AM SO HOT!” across the road and just like that, I was on my way toward the Birmingham Bridge.

(The sign that Mark held – I hope some geeks on the course enjoyed that.)

marathon sign 3 resize

During the race I was using the fluid stations for water and taking my chews like I usually do, but I was noticing that I was starting to melt and wither in the heat and at the last station before the Birmingham Bridge, I made a poor decision and gulped two big cups of water. Like gasping, chugging the water. (Also, let’s take a moment to say god bless those fluid volunteers at the course this year. With it being so hot, some of these poor people couldn’t keep the cups filled as people were needing to douse their heads as well as drink – and the volunteers gave it their all.)

This was a poor decision, because leading up to the race, one of my GI issues reared its ugly head again, and the classy way of saying it was that not only did I run with shorts and a tank and my Ghost 7s, but also all of the food I had consumed since Friday morning. So pounding my stomach quickly with way too much water at once and then taking off again at an increased pace was a poor choice.

Crossing the Birmingham Bridge, I all of the sudden understood in a new way what all those signs about “never trusting a fart” were about. My stomach was in major distress and after seeing the downed runner off to the side getting fluids in an IV, I started to mentally panic. All of the sudden I felt like I was on fire, my GI distress making me more flushed. I came down the ramp and had to mentally kick it into high gear to start up that last hill, feeling like I was running head first into the dehydration wall. I swear I was seeing spots during that last climb.

I tried my best to Kool-Aid man through that wall, but when I heard a prompt from MapMyRun that I was past 2:20, I knew the PR was gone. I pushed and huffed and puffed my way to the finish, not even able to look to my left or right to try to find Mark, though the crowds were just unbelievable flanking the final stretch. I wobbled past the foul Gatorade in search of water and walked really slowly to get my bearings a bit, feeling really woozy and almost dry heaving a bit from that final push.

Officially I finished 13.1 miles in 2:24:35, an average pace of 11:02. MapMyRun clocked me at 13.52 miles in 2:25:01, an average page of 10:44.

So here’s what I finally settled on. The only thing I should have done differently was carry my own water so I could slowly sip, knowing that temperatures were going to be higher and I was not remotely heat acclimated. I should not have gulped that water down in a huge portion right before the final push.

But beyond that, everything else I did perfectly right. Most of what stopped me from getting that PR was outside of my control. My GI distress had nothing to do with what I ate pre-race and everything to do with an underlying condition I’ve been battling for more than two years. The good Lord didn’t ask me to pick the race weather, so the sun and the fact that it was unrelenting, even in a city as cloudy as Pittsburgh, was out of my control. The corral placement was basically out of my control, and I can’t control the people who are more concerned about selfies than running, so the added 0.42 mile was nothing I could really avoid either.

You know what else? I’ve realized that Pittsburgh is just not the course for a half marathon PR. It’s just not flat enough and the weather is so unpredictable here in May that I can’t put all my PR eggs in the Pittsburgh basket, to butcher a metaphor. I can go for course PRs, but it’s unrealistic for me to set a time PR as my goal in Pittsburgh, the most crowded race I run, and then be devastated when circumstances out of my control make that impossible.

So I’m acknowledging that this race was a great race for me in a lot of ways.

I raised over $850 for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. At the end of the day, that money will do more good in the world than running the race itself. I actually put all the names of my donors on a Food Bank bandanna, intending to carry it with me during the race, but it wouldn’t fit. Still, each donor was with me during that race, as I often used that as a mental place to go to when I needed a distraction from the heat.

food bank donors

I nearly ran negative splits in a half marathon. I have never run anything close to negative splits in a distance race before, and with the exception of that GI/water/heat mess on the Birmingham Bridge, I was running negative splits. My pace strategy was working.

I ran a course PR. My 2014 Pittsburgh Half time was 2:35:13. That means I took over 10 minutes off my time from last year, which over 13.whatever miles is really significant, pace wise. And I also didn’t have to visit the med tent after this year’s race. And had I not run Just a Short Run in March, this would have been the PR that I trained for.

I broke through a mental wall. Mental walls are my downfall (I’m looking at you, Columbus Marathon). This was my first race where I recognized the mental wall for what it was and basically said, eff this, and called upon all of the strength I had left to push. I can literally say I left everything I had physically and mentally out there on the course. There was a guy on the Birmingham Bridge yelling to runners about to push up to Oakland in the full that “today is the day that you give it everything you’ve got and you pull out the best version of yourself.” I feel like I can walk away saying I did that, and that’s a huge improvement from last year.

This is pretty rare for me, coming with pride out of a race where I didn’t reach my goal. Yeah, I know there are people who don’t train and show up and run like gazelles, when I’m there riding the struggle bus the second the sun comes out. But I need to run my own races and be proud of that medal around my neck. And remember that running is as much about those quiet mornings on the trail and the bone chilling long runs in February and the treadmill speed work than it is about the races. Not reaching the goal doesn’t erase the miles on my legs and the huge leap I took in training this year.

So to remind me of this fact, I went to Dick’s on Monday night and got my medal engraved with my non-PR time and I’m really glad that I did. It looks freaking awesome. Runner of Steel indeed.

finisher medal

Vader lap

last week at next gen house

While I’m still gathering my thoughts and feels about the Pittsburgh Half this weekend, here’s what happened last week at Next Gen House.

But first, here’s Vader giving me shade for sitting in his spot on the couch. Can’t go wrong starting posts with photos of cats.

Vader lap

Last Week in Running

I ran two training runs and two races last week, for a total of 23.1 miles. That brings me up to a 2015 total thus far of over 337 miles. Which is kind of unbelievable for me because I didn’t run anything close to that for last year’s Pittsburgh Half and I also have never logged so many miles in a training cycle before, not even I don’t think, during full marathon training last year.

Recap coming this week, but it’s taking me awhile to organize my thoughts, so it’s coming later this week. But check out the bling.

race bling

Last Week in Homesteading

Nothing big on this front, with it being race week and having my weekend taken up entirely by carbs, running and exhaustion. But we are doing some garden work this week in preparation for the season, and I’m really looking forward to that. Seedlings! Yes!

Last Week in Eating

Man, I ate so many carbs last week that for the very first time in my entire life, the Monday after race week, I couldn’t look a carb in the face. There was a birthday cake in the office that looked amazing, and I couldn’t even bring myself to take a bite. All my body wanted was water and vegetables and protein.

BUT, earlier last week, my coworker and I checked out the new Market Square Grocery which has a Gaby et Jules in it. Gaby et Jules is French for Ridiculously Expensive Cookies and Pastries with Unpronounceable Names. A complete luxury and probably the only time I will go in there, but really delicious to experience at least once!

gaby et jules


The night before the Pittsburgh Half, Mark and I went on a date to Serafino’s, a homestyle Italian place in Crafton. It’s BYOB and reasonably priced and not snooty. I loved the bruschetta in particular and will definitely be back to try some of their other dishes. We got to sit outside in beautiful weather and it was a nice, relaxing way to spend the night before the race.

Last Week in Reading

I finished Dead Wake by Erik Larson on audiobook this week. Definitely good, but I preferred the second half to the first, and I think I like his other works slightly better. Still a good non-fiction experience, though. Also finished Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed and started and finished a short e-book called We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which was an adaptation of her TEDTalk.

I also started and finished Toni Morrison’s new novel, God Help the Child. This was quite good. I’m not really a ToMo fan girl, but I do like her work that I’ve read and thought it would be a good addition to my attempts to read more diversely this year.

For audio, I’m listening to Margaret Atwood’s Stone Mattress, which is a book of short stories. She reads at least one of them, too. That’s part of my effort to read everything in Atwood’s canon because she’s probably my favorite author. Today I’ll start Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, which I’ve heard is amazing from so many people and places.

So man, a good week in reading for sure.

A good week in general, all things considered! How about you?


last week at next gen house

SOME FUN INTRO. I got nothin!

Oh wait. Here’s a photo of my friend’s cute grandson’s class alligator, Al, enjoying the Pittsburgh Riverhounds soccer game on Saturday. Because it’s so cute.

I asked him how Al liked the game and he said Al missed the first half because his face was turned up and he was bird watching. No worries, Al, the second half was more interesting anyway.


Last Week in Running

This was my lowest mileage week in training because I missed two runs. Finally hit my wall this week with exhaustion (you know, the weepy kind) and once I recovered from that, I decided to just go forward doing what I can until the ship can fully right itself. And you know what? I PR’d in the 5K this weekend. I am learning this training cycle that you don’t have to hit every single run and make everything perfect to meet your goals. Rest is so important and when my body screams that it needs to rest and I listen? Both times that has happened, I PR’d the following weekend. I’ll write more about that in a race recap this week, but it’s a lesson that I am always repeating.

Circumstances aligned this weekend to also put me at a place called Thick Bikes on the South Side on Saturday. And I came home with this.


That’s a big girl bike. My first bike since I was a teenager. And one that actually fits me, at 4’11”. Mark has been riding a bike for awhile, doing his first triathlon last year. I was vaguely interested in biking last year, but not enough to actually go buy a good bicycle, especially with marathon training. But this year when I set my running goals, I decided to train more intensely for the Pittsburgh Half and then run more casually in a maintenance style for the summer and fall. Still running races, but not gunning for PRs or going for another full. I wanted to spend 2015 enjoying running again and get to do a ton of other active stuff this summer that I love, like camping, hiking, kayaking….and bicycling? So when circumstances aligned, I decided to make the leap. The good people at Thick Bikes spent a good deal of time with us trying to help me find the bike that felt right, especially when I was pretty wobbly at first. (And apparently my whole life in an effort to ride a bicycle with short legs, I was always putting the seat too low. On a bike that’s made for someone with a small frame, you don’t have to do that to compensate, so I felt like I was high and flying on this thing.)

Sunday the weather was so gorgeous that Mark and I got to ride together on the Panhandle Trail by our house – just under 5 miles for my first real ride on a bike in more than 15 years, but it was so much fun. So. Much. Fun. I can’t wait to spend time out riding this year.

Last Week in Eating

We had some really good meals this week, with a repeat of the Knockoff Chipotle Sofritas, but this time with black beans from Weatherbury Farm that we got through our CSA. I don’t know why I have always been afraid of cooking dry beans, but it was virtually no harder than cooking rice, except for a slightly longer cooking time and the fact that they soaked in water while I was at work. Seriously, so easy. And so cheap.

Mark made venison fajitas with a marinade that has lime and tequila in it, so no surprise those were great. I also made a broccoli and rice casserole that’s one of those delicious, cheesy comfort foods that you could eat non-stop and then realize you ate the whole 13×9 pan.

Sunday, I made a chocolate chip cookie recipe that turned out interesting – almost like shortbread balls with a ton of chocolate chips in them. Different, but good.


cookie balls


I am looking forward to a moderate amount of reasonable carbs this week. I say moderate and reasonable in the same sentence so that I remind myself that carbing up is not about eating 52 pounds of pasta.

Last Week in Homesteading

The big win of the weekend was finishing Mark’s t-shirt blanket. It was supposed full length, but apparently I measured for a full length Joanna and not a full length Mark, because it is a little too small for him. But it works as a couch blanket, at least. There’s always next time for correct measurements!

I think the next thing I’m going to sew is an apron for my niece. Just have to think about what kind of fabric to use. And which pattern to use. And hopefully I measure that project for my niece’s size and not mine…

Last Week in Reading

Still listening to Dead Wake on audiobook. It’s long, audio-wise, and several commutes last week left me without my headphones since I got smashed into place on the bus where I couldn’t reach my phone. (And one of those commutes home I got to listen to a man practice his choir piece! While he was wearing headphones! Lucky me!) I’ll get there, but it’s an interesting listen so far. I especially like the stories about individual passengers on the ship, like a famous lady architect. And the stories about espionage and code breaking.

I finished Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, which was a fun and silly read. I can see why people get into it, that’s for sure.

Started reading Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed: 16 Writers on Their Decision Not to Have Kids this week and I’m flying through it. A lot of the viewpoints don’t represent me or my decision to remain childfree (at least so far), but I am encouraged by a book that seeks to make these voices heard above the stereotypes. Which I feel like I encounter in at least one form every single day of my life. And I have been called selfish, shallow and self-absorbed as it relates to my decision, so that part hits home. If you’re a parent and you just don’t get why someone would choose not to be one, this might be a good book to open your mind.



last week at next gen house

It finally felt like real spring around here last week – and I’m starting to feel refreshed and renewed, settling into a new schedule and routine. Still not 100% settled, but I am now convinced that spring is here to stay. I mean, there’s three colors of flowers coming up in the front yard. Feeling very welcoming of literal and metaphorical spring right now.

Last Week in Running

Last long run of the training cycle was Saturday, and I did 8 miles. Originally wanted to do 10 or 12, but I had a lot going on Saturday and had errands to run and just decided to finish the 8 mile loop and be done with it. I came in at 20 miles for the week, which wasn’t my goal, but it was more than nothing. My matra for times where I can’t seem to get everything together is “something is better than nothing,” something I learned in a class when I was first starting to try to live a healthy lifestyle. 20 miles is better than no miles, and I’m already in the best shape I’m going to be for running the Pittsburgh Half. I’ve already met my two running goals this season – PRing in the half and liking running again. So I’m going to run a few times this week and run the Carnegie 5K next weekend. And I will enjoy myself and go for a 5K PR, if I’m feeling like it.

More importantly, I’m only $2 from my fundraising PR as well. Just TWO DOLLARS. Can you be the person that puts me up over the top? I’ll be talking about this more later, but I have a plan to be able to take all of my donors with me during the race. Will you be on the list?

Last Week in Eating

Made the zuppa toscana as promised in the CSA post for dinner last night and it was delish. Saturday afternoon I had a free hour, and decided to bake a couple of treats. I’ve been missing my grandma lately, as we approach the anniversary of her death, six years ago. Whenever I miss her, I pull out her recipes and make something. Instead of choosing the favorites this time, I chose to make two things I’ve never made before – New Orleans Pecan Bars and Scotchies. Both delicious, though the presentation left a lot to be desired since the Scotchies puffed up and then collapsed. Her instructions are different than other cookie bars as far as the process. But they still tasted rich and deadent, and we were happy to devour them. I used to bake all the time, but that just doesn’t happen much anymore, for time reasons as well as health ones. But every so often I like to bust out my skills and bake, making my kitchen smell like hers when a cookie bar was in the oven.

Last Week in Homesteading

Well, the buch got bottled.


It’s delicious and a success and it feels so good to be finally up and running again with this. Thanks to the donated SCOBY of one of my favorite people at my last job, it’s going again. I flavored these with mango, since that’s Mark’s favorite. But the next one might just be straight plain kombucha. I’m currently growing the SCOBY enough to split it and do a double batch. (!!)

Also falling into the homesteading category was real progress made on Mark’s t-shirt blanket. I have the entire front sewn together and am now in the processing of pinning the back. Which is a camo sheet, obviously. You can tell here it’s a mix of band shirts, cartoons, zombie jokes and the Punisher.




I am excited to be sewing again. One I finish the blanket, I’d like to make a couple of smaller projects before the gardening season gets into full swing and takes up more time.

Last Week in Reading

I finished Hausfrau on audiobook last week. It was well written, but I really loathed the main character and her behavior, so that colored my perspective of the book. Started listening to Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania on Scribd.  I love Erik Larson’s non-fiction, since it reads more like fiction. I’d read a book of his on the history of dirt, he’s that engaging. Looking forward to getting into this latest book. (And pst, Scribd has all of his books on audio!) I’m also still reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on my Kindle and hope to finish that this week. I hit 40 books so far in 2015, which puts me more than on track for my 100 books in 2015 goal, but we’ll talk about that later. Links in this section are to GoodReads since I don’t really care where you buy your books.

Have a great week! Here’s a gratuitous cat photo of Stormy trying to take my spot in bed.

stormy blanket


darth vader comic

last week at next gen house

Ever have one of those off-weeks where you feel like you aren’t firing on all cylinders and nothing works the way it did just a few days before? That was last week at Next Gen House.

I was finishing up my last week at my old job, and while theoretically you would think that would make things calm down, it didn’t. Not in any way. My goal for this week – the first at my new job – is to just get through it intact and to do the best that I can to create a new normalcy. That being said, here’s how the week went.

Last Week in Running

Well. This week did not go remotely as planned. I started off strong, with a lovely, 7 mile outdoor run on Tuesday on the city trails. Work had a team building activity close to the trails and let out an hour early, allowing me to squeeze in 7 miles during daylight. Wednesday was another 5 on the Panhandle trail by our house, where Mark got to ride his bike and I ran. But by Thursday, my last day at the old job, the lack of sleep all week had caught up with me. I had to skip my Thursday workout because I got home too late and exhausted (physically and emotionally). All week I had tossed and turned every single night, being up for hour stretches all over the place. Not sure if that was my thyroid or just the stress of the job change. But needless to say, I figured that I was better off just sleeping because my body didn’t want me on that treadmill at 10 at night, no way, no how. Fridays are a rest for me, and I decided to keep it a rest even though I missed Thursday so that I would be okay to do 12-13 on Saturday with Elite.

Then I get up Saturday and it had rained the night before and it was cold. And the excuses start going in my brain, because I’m also exhausted again, with another night of restless sleep. And then a myriad other things start pounding my brain and I decided to skip the group run and try to go back to sleep. And this was probably my biggest mistake. I should have gone to the run and done at least what I could and then come home, but instead I laid back down. And there I didn’t sleep, but I mentally beat myself up and worried and stressed about all manner of things, logical and illogical, for another 45 minutes until I decided I’d have to at least run on the treadmill, so I ate a little something.

Once I got on the treadmill, I felt like it was the hardest thing I had ever done. I got through two torturous miles where every second felt like a year. Got off, went downstairs and told Mark I didn’t think I could do it and started crying. I am pretty sure all of the feelings I had about leaving a very difficult job finally came rearing in like a mac truck and the exhaustion caught up to me and between that and the immense guilt I had about skipping a long run, I just couldn’t hold it in. So I made peace with myself for a few minutes, got it out and then ran 2 more. So my 12-13 mile plan turned into 4 slow slog miles on a treadmill. We traveled for Easter, so I decided to skip Sunday’s as well and start with a clean slate today.

It was hard, coming off a great week with a PR to basically tank my training this week and run only 16 of the 34 miles I was supposed to run. But I didn’t have it in me and I should have faced the big changes happening in the rest of my life and realized how that would impact my training. I am a creature of habit and thrive on a routine. When that routine is disrupted, things go crazy. So I am going to relegate this past week of training to the past and just mentally wipe it clean and move forward. I’m where I need to be fitness-wise and I need to take pride in how far I’ve come and just move on. This week is a new week, and I hope to be as much on my game as possible, though I am going in to it knowing that more things are changing and I will have to take the runs one mile at a time.

Last Week in Eating

Well, it was Easter week, so we can definitely put my family Easter dinner on the high point. I always stuff myself to the gunnels and this year was really no exception, though I didn’t have to moan afterwards. (Though I did basically sleep the whole way home.) We also got to spend Saturday night with my family, which included celebratory cake and a make your own ice cream sundae bar, which was delish.

We also opened a bottle of champagne I got when I was in the Finger Lakes for the Wine Glass Half Marathon (which I had promised myself I wouldn’t open until I got a new job). And we drank some out of our Star Trek glasses, of course.

champagne and star trek

This week we’ll be making some standards that are easy to manage with a busy schedule. I am hoping this weekend to break out some new recipes I’ve been wanting to try but haven’t had the bandwith for.

Last Week in Homesteading

Guess who has two thumbs and a kombucha brew going strong? This girl right here. I’ll be tasting it this week to see if it’s ready to be bottled. That’s a really great sentence to type after a long, kombucha-less winter. Definitely dreaming of the garden too, pretty much every time I see our backyard, which is muddy, brown and gray. Though the chickens are pretty happy about the muck because they eat worms from it after it rains and then take a dust bath once it dries up!

Last Week in Reading

I finished the Star Trek audiobook that I started during the JASR half marathon last weekend, and started Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Doesn’t Stop Talking, which is completely fascinating. I often find myself nodding my head up and down and saying “yes, that’s me!” out loud in the car.

I also finished A Little Life, which was a huge tome that puts you through the emotional wringer. Probably didn’t help that I finished it, bawling my eyes out all over the library copy, the night before the long run that wasn’t this week. Amazing book, but not in any way light hearted. It requires lots of breaks and lots of fortitude. After that, I needed a light read, so I am blowing through Heap House, a children’s/young adult book that seems a lot like A Series of Unfortunate Events but takes place in 1870s England in a house that sits in the middle of garbage heaps, where the protagonist can hear objects tell him their names. It’s bizarre, but it’s a really fast read and is decidedly much more on the lighter side.

So that’s it for this week. I’ll leave you with a page from a Darth Vader comic I read recently. Going to help me move on from last week (and the last few years!).

darth vader comic


just a short run 1 resized

just a short run recap

Training with Elite this year led me to sign up for their series of three races – the Frigid 5 Miler in January, the Spring Thaw 10 Mile in February, and the Just a Short Run half marathon this past Saturday. Last year the first race I did was the Carnegie 5K the week before the Pittsburgh Half. So it was new for me to be racing in winter. And I figured that all three races would be more like training runs, since they all fall within the training schedule. The Frigid 5 was a challenging hill run, the Spring Thaw a good 10-mile long run, and I thought the JASR half marathon would be the same.

But then I PR’d.


How cute is the medal?

Here’s the reasons why this should not have been a PR for me.

I had a hot mess of a race morning. I was really busy and exhausted the night before, so I didn’t spend time laying out my race-day gear like I usually would. I woke up super early on Saturday, but I lolled around too much and ended up running around trying to find my usual head wrap (which has yet to be found, so I subbed in the blue gaiter that I’m wearing in the photo). I hurriedly fueled up with my usual pretzel roll and drank a bunch of water, but I felt like I couldn’t find anything. And then I completely forgot my gloves at home. Which leads me to the next part.

It was cold. Single digit “feels like temps.” I was really hoping this would be a run that would start to approximate the temps we will likely see on May 3, but this wasn’t it. Thankfully the turtleneck I was wearing had cups at the end of the sleeves to cover my fingers because I needed them. (I will thank Jennifer here for offering up gloves from her car that we’d pass during the race. Thank you!)

I didn’t have the greatest pre-race evening meal on Friday. Well, I take that back. It was delicious. But a little too much grease to be considered optimal for pre-race fueling. Mark and I volunteer at a fish fry on three Fridays in Lent, so we eat leftovers with the help afterwards. It’s a great fish fry – everything is homemade and the fish is hand breaded! (Bethany Evangelical Lutheran in Dormont) But it’s still a fish fry. Which meant (amazeballs) macaroni and cheese and (delicious) fish.

I was sick just last weekend. My first run back from the flu was only 6 days before this race. I had missed 10 days and 7 runs of training, and I wasn’t expecting 100% out of my lungs yet, as I had residual mucus issues during my runs in the week.

So I got to the start line, cold and with my mind on going to the Pens game after the race. I popped in my earbuds and decided to listen to an audiobook of all things, something I’ve never done while running outside. (I usually listen to podcasts on the treadmill, but outside I haven’t been running with any music or distraction.) I picked William Shatner reading Star Trek Memories of all things. I fired that up, started Map My Run, and we were off.

I am known to complain vociferously about North Park. I find it boring, most especially when all of the vegetation is brown and crusty from winter. That coupled with the construction makes it extra gross right now. I know it’s like the runners hub in the city, but blech. I prefer the city trails.

I got updates from MMR in my ear every quarter mile, and I knew I started off the first mile fast, at 10:45/mile. My long run pace has been 11:30, so I knew I should probably slow down if I was doing this as a training run. But my legs were getting stretched out and I wasn’t huffing and puffing and I was busy listening to Captain Kirk. So I just kept doing my thing and started to try to run by feel instead of pace.

And the miles ticked away with the quarter mile updates telling me every single time average pace 10:45. 10:45. After awhile, I started feeling like Map My Run was screwing up, because the distance was also a little off as well, which is always the case with races when you don’t care about the tangents. (I will never care about tangents. This isn’t math class.)

But I felt so good. So I kept listening to the book and kept going and finished the first 3.1 and the first 5 mile lake loop. I had decided to use the water stops in this race to practice starting again after stopping to drink, so I don’t have to carry my own water for Pittsburgh (unless the temps mean otherwise). That was going really well except for the fact that the water was frozen. (But way to go volunteers, for being there in that weather!)

I didn’t enjoy the fact that the construction had us running on some highly sloped surfaces. That always spells trouble for my knee and hip, since my body does not like to have one side higher than the other and was something that led to my initial IT band injury. I could feel my hip bugging me a little on those sloped sections and I was even happy to be on hills as long as the surface was level.

Somewhere into the second lake loop, I started doing some mental calculations because my average pace had stayed between 10:45 and 10:48 the entire time I was running. I realized that if MMR wasn’t entirely off, that I would have a potential to PR, even making up for the distance discrepancy. I tried not to get too excited about this, telling myself it was a casual race and I wasn’t out to PR. So back to the audiobook I went, one foot in front of the other.

Around mile 12 I took the total elapsed time and did some math and realized I was looking at a few minutes of a PR with one mile to go. So I decided to stick with it and maybe push just a little bit more once I hit the tennis courts. I figured a few seconds extra of PR couldn’t hurt. But at the same time, I really didn’t believe this was actually happening, thinking there was no way I could run a half marathon under an 11 minute mile average and I prepared myself to see a higher time on the clock as I rounded the bend. My mind decided to focus on getting to the bagels, and I just went for it.

And it turns out my calculations were right and MMR wasn’t too far off, because I finished in 2:22:49 chip time, a 10:55 average. MMR recorded 13.42 miles in  2:23:46 with a 10:43 average (was too excited to switch it off until I got to the bagels, which accounts for the extra time).

So I got to do this when I got home, because I had just taken 5 minutes and 29 seconds off my personal record.

PR board

Here’s a couple of reasons why I think this happened, now that I can wrap my brain around it.

I wasn’t nervous. At all. Treating it like a training run made it so that I had no pre-run anxiety. I had no expectations of myself and just wanted a good run. And I had one.

I have been training the right way. All the extra miles on my legs this year has really paid off in my strength and endurance. I know now how much following the right plan and committing to it really makes a difference.

I had a lot of rest recently. Perhaps the resting I had to do while sick ended up being beneficial to me. I had run 17 miles in the week leading up to JASR, but before that I had a full on break. Maybe my muscles were less fatigued from that.

A big stress is now gone. This is my first long run after finding out I got a new job, and there has been a great peace and a lift of a burden I was carrying from that decision. I don’t know how much that was a factor, but I’m somehow not surprised that I ran my fastest half marathon when I felt free for the first time in a long time.

So there you have it. I have been training for a PR this year and met my goal already, 5 weeks before the Pittsburgh Half. I’m not sure if I will adjust my goals for the Pittsburgh Half, but I think I’m just going to sit in this happiness for awhile. Or rather, run in it. May 3 isn’t that far away now.

office kombucha

last week at next gen house

What a whirlwind of a week. The weather’s been all over the place and so have I, from wrapping up projects at work to meeting a brand new baby to running a half marathon to cheering the Pens on to a win at Consol Energy Center.

And one of these weekends I need to get around to taking some donations to Goodwill and getting some old books to Half Price. I’m hogging Vader’s sunny windowsills.

vader windowsill

So let’s get to it.

Last Week in Running

What an unexpected week. Last week I was celebrating getting in just four miles after being out for 10 days with the flu. And this week I’m celebrating a PR. I ran 30 miles this week, including the Just a Short Run half marathon on Saturday at North Park.

I began running hills in my own neighborhood, something I have always avoided because frankly, my house is at the bottom of one of those Pittsburgh neighborhoods that can be described as “slopes.” The kind of hills your car isn’t super excited about. But I got outside and ran several times and kicked my butt on those hills, which was an accomplishment in and of itself. Now if there was just somewhere flat to run without 400 stoplights! The Panhandle Trail is still a mud pit, since it’s not paved, so it’s not conducive to training at the moment. So this week’s 17 miles of training were a mix of inside and outside. I’ll take it.

just a short run 1 resized

But the big shocker of the week was running a PR at Saturday’s race. I took 5 minutes and 29 seconds off of my previous best, coming in at 2:22:49. I’m going to recap the race tomorrow because I have a lot of thoughts about it. But it was unexpected and such a great boost, both for my training and also for my general spirits. So it was a good week in running.

Last Week in Eating

Back to cooking this week, but still a lot of simple meals. Sunday, Mark worked on fixing our dining room light fixture while I prepped and cooked a pasta dish (sometimes with power, sometimes without!). It’s a penne with broccoli and sun dried tomatoes that was the meal I cooked for him the first time I told him I loved him, which we now call “I love you pasta” (yeah, gag from that mushiness). I don’t make I love you pasta very often because it’s one of those great recipes that’s really prep intense, but it was perfect for a sunny Sunday evening.

Last Week in Homesteading

The winter kombucha saga continues. My SCOBY starter with the Christmas lights? Never ended up going anywhere. Don’t really know what happened, since it didn’t mold, but the tea keeps evaporating out with no SCOBY forming on the top, just a tiny sliver of one.

Enter one of my favorite clients at work, who happens to also brew her own kombucha. I found this out when we were attending a meeting where she had a bottle of what looked like GT’s. I asked her if she drank kombucha a lot, because I brewed my own. It turns out it was her own brew, just in a recycled bottle! She graciously offered to give me one of her healthy SCOBY babies. So for a day, it got to gross people out at my desk.

office kombucha

It’s now brewing in a jar at home, so fingers crossed!

Every day that we have some warm weather, I’m dreaming of seedlings and the garden. I know it will be here before we know it.

Last Week in Reading

While I’m still in my free trial of Scribd, I listened to Aisha Tyler’s book Self-Inflicted Wounds: Heartwarming Tales of Epic Humiliation, which was humorous and an easy listen. I also started a short (less than 5 hours) audiobook during my half marathon on Saturday, which is William Shatner’s Star Trek Memories, about the production and behind the scenes people working on the original Star Trek series. Waiting on a few more audios from the library, so I’m not sure what will be next there.

I am still working my way through A Little Life, which is over 700 pages. So part of the reason it’s taking so long is that it’s just long page-wise, but the other is that the prose is really thick and deep. I find myself quickly immersed in it and it’s hard to pull my head out of it and re-enter the world. It’s a book of highly developed characters, which is something I’m drawn to anyway. I hope to finish it this week, but I will likely have to read something fluffy next, because this book packs an emotional wallop.

So that was last week at Next Gen House.

Don’t forget that I’m still raising money for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank by running the Pittsburgh Half Marathon on May 3. You can donate by using the module to the right on the blog, or visit https://www.crowdrise.com/pittscommunityfoodbank2015/fundraiser/joannastone.

sick cat cuddles

last two weeks at Next Gen House

Hi there. Long time no blog.

A little vagrant called Influenza B descended upon Next Gen House. Let’s say that it was a terrible house guest, taking down Mark first and then me, spanning the course of more than two weeks. If you have never had the actual flu before, consider yourself blessed. If you have, you get it when I say it feels like a train hits you and throws you over the side of a cliff. You’re down for the count and no amount of mental toughness will allow you to function. We were sick. Really sick. I think these guys even knew it, since they were supremely cuddly. That or they liked the electric blanket.

sick cat cuddles

So I missed some stuff. A CSA share (my first one to not be able to blog since I started this!) and 7 runs in my training cycle (including two longs) and 4 days of work, a birthday party, and some beautiful weather, just to name a bit.

I’m catching up, slowly but surely. Lots of things changing in the next few weeks, with one big one coming right after Easter.

I accepted a new job. Same type of work, different industry. I have a personal policy against talking about work online, since I prefer to keep that part of my life compartmentalized. But let’s say that my previous job situation was untenable. I was suffering some serious physical side effects from stress and that margin that I’m working hard for this year was elusive. The new job is a step up for me in virtually every way, and I’m proud of myself for going after something that will help to restore more balance in that whole work/life balance paradigm. I’m really excited to see what it brings.

Now then. Here’s what was going on at Next Gen House in the last two weeks.

Last (2) Weeks in Running

As I mentioned, I missed 7 training runs due to the flu. I wrote these in my training spreadsheet as “Flu. Plague. Death.” which is pretty close to how it felt. It was very hard to be off that long from running, but it took that long for the virus to get through with its sinister work and for my lungs to clear out enough to make running and an elevated heart rate something that wouldn’t choke me.

I’m  happy to say that yesterday, I was finally able to return with a run. I managed a 4 mile run with quarter mile walks on either side of that. Check out these beastly calves.


I am modifying my training schedule for the upcoming week in light of the fact that I had no miles for 10 days at all. But I have a half marathon on Saturday that I’m still planning on running, even if I can’t really race it. Going to see what this week brings and how the running feels and then adjust my goals for Just a Short Run accordingly. Thankfully there is still time to recover my fitness in this training cycle, before the Pittsburgh Half Marathon.

Last (2) Weeks in Eating and Homesteading

Two weeks of illness have brought mostly simple meals to this house, since it’s not exciting to cook something when you have to take nausea pills just to swallow it and you can’t taste it anyway. Also, virtually no homesteading type activities whatsoever (which is why I lumped them together). But with the weather breaking, I am itching to get out in our muddy yard to clean it up and get ready for spring. It will be garden season before we know it!

Last (2) Weeks in Reading

Sadly, I was so sick that during most of my illness I wasn’t reading much. Feeling so sick that I can’t even hold a book and read a paragraph is rare for me, and a small form of torture. (Not reading or running? Crazy making.)

But I finished To Kill a Mockingbird and now understand what all the fuss was about. Wow.  Finished the audio version of What If? as well, which was a fantastic audio listen with Wil Wheaton as a narrator. Listened to the entirety of a book called Missing Microbes which I might review here on the blog, since it has a lot to do with antibiotic resistance.

I also read a fair amount of graphic novels and comic trades, five total, including Captain Marvel and Rat Queens (which is SO GREAT). You can see in the photo below those two, which are part of my library holds pickup the other day. I also started the other book in the photo, A Little Life, after reading about it virtually everywhere. And somehow, I was first in line for one of the hold copies when it was released! Yay me!

library holds

So how are you? Running some miles? Reading some books?



last week at Next Gen House

The worse the winter, the more glorious the spring. And by spring, I mean temperatures over 32 degrees. We saw 40s this weekend and it felt so much like spring that I almost brushed the snow off my lawn chairs to sit outside with a book. Spring fever is a very real thing.

But here’s what happened last week – with one less hour to work with!

Last Week in Running

dinoI had 28 on the schedule this week, but ended up running 29 when my the core of my group decided to do 12 on Saturday. Even though the long run was kind of a slog, with difficult ice packed terrain, we kept an average pace of 11:41. I looked back in my records, and I haven’t had a run of that length at a pace that fast since 2013. And knowing how rough the terrain was and how it was still pretty cold, this run was the boost I needed to get through the next few higher mileage weeks. I am definitely improving this year and am finding my groove.

Higher temps this week will bring more outdoor runs (and hopefully the melting of the ice!), which I’m looking forward to. On Saturday we ran through the South Side a bit, and took a detour to see the Mister Rogers dinosaur – which was actually created by one of the mentors in my pace group!. Didn’t hurt to see something Mister Rogers in the last mile of a long run, since I can’t help but smile and geek out a little.

On to 34 miles this week, the highest mileage week so far. Need to continue the yoga to keep my muscles happy!

Don’t forget that I’m still raising money for the Food Bank. You can donate by using the widget in the right sidebar on the blog or visit my fundraising page directly. Every dollar counts – and multiplies by 5 with the Food Bank’s resources. A $25 donation means $125 worth of food to hungry families in our community!

Last Week in Eatingbone marrow butter

On Sunday night, we made a tomato cream sauce for pasta with shrimp. We went to the Strip to buy the shrimp specifically at Marty’s Market, since I won’t eat shrimp sourced anywhere else. While we were at Marty’s, we were perusing the gold mine of house-produced items, and the owner offered us a sample of bone marrow butter on a piece of crostini. It was so amazing, we bought a container to take home. It’s like the richest butter you could imagine, so a little dab will do you. And the pasta turned out yummy too.

We also made some of my frozen swiss chard from our garden and it seemed to cook up just fine, so with excess greens this summer I will try to do the same thing to preserve them.

I made a batch of pretzel rolls on Sunday which ended up being twice the size I expected. The yeast was crazy active, I guess. That and the recipe was probably wrong about portions. Either way, they are more suited for sandwiches than anything else, but they are my preferred pre-run fuel. So now the freezer is stocked for the next month!

One of the evenings last week we had plans that were cancelled for bad weather, so we had to wing it for dinner. I had a very long day at work and wanted comfort food, which for me always involves potatoes. So I came home and roasted up some of the potatoes we got this week in the CSA with some garlic and parmesan, and used some of the Steel City Salt Company Peruvian Pink salt that Mark had given me for Christmas. Delicious! I can’t wait to try the smoked salt.

sea salt potatoes

Last Week in Homesteading

Kombucha is going strong, with a SCOBY forming with no mold for the first time all winter. Christmas lights are working!

While cooking dinner last night, I heard the chickens start making a racket, but it sounded like what one of them does when she wants to announce that she’s laid, so I didn’t think much of it. Mark looked out the window a minute later and a hawk was perched on our compost pile while the chickens were cowering under one of the big bushes along our garage. He went outside to scare the hawk away and the chickens finally got brave enough to leave the bush and go home to roost an hour or so later.

I know we can’t avoid predators like hawks – it’s the circle of life and all that. It’s the price we pay for letting the chickens run around outside like they want to. But I am glad we did not have to deal with losing a chicken last night, that’s for sure. Stupid federally protected hawks!

Last Week in Reading

To be honest, every week that I get to read is a good week in reading.

I finished a few trade volumes of some new comics, including one called Marvels that takes place in the Marvel universe but from the point of view of the New Yorkers that all of the sudden are supposed to believe that seeing the Human Torch is just normal. I also went through a bunch of first issues that I got for my birthday to determine which ones I’d like to keep reading – which ended up being all but one, of course.

I decided to bail on the audio version of Man in the High Castle since the narrator was just not holding my interest and I was wasting time having to go back to repeat sections. I’m going to finish that one in print, but for now my audiobook is What If? by Randall Monroe, the creator of XKCD. I’m listening to it on Scribd and it’s narrated by Wil Wheaton, which is the perfect pairing of narrator and book.

I’m reading a book on fermenting called Fermented Vegetables: From Arugula Kimchi to Zucchini Curry, a Complete Guide to Fermenting More Than 80 Herbs and Vegetables for an online book club.

I also started To Kill a Mockingbird this week on Kindle. It wasn’t part of my curriculum in high school, and I think by the time I got to college and grad school, people already assumed that every American student read it. So I managed to get a master’s in English without reading it. Because I’m fascinated by Harper Lee and the news that a new book of hers is coming out this year, I decided it was time to read it. So I pushed it forward on my list and I understood within a few pages why this book is what it is in our culture. If I was reading it in print, I’d be scribbling all over it.

to kill a mockingbird

I know the Kindle has a highlight feature and places to enter notes and whatnot, but it’s definitely not the same as being able to scribble notes in your own writing. I wonder if someday people will archive authors’ Kindle marginalia. Would it still be called marginalia?

Deep thoughts for a Monday.

kombucha lights

last week at next gen house

Now that we’ve turned the corner into March, I’m ready for more mild weather. I know that long winters can contribute to more gratitude for the spring. But more and more it feels like we have two seasons here in Pittsburgh: cold mess and hot mess.

While we wait, here’s what happened last week at Next Gen House.

Last Week in Running

brooks ghost 725 on the schedule this week, including the 10-mile Spring Thaw race on Saturday. That’s the lowest mileage I will run until the week of the race, since my training amps up for these last 8 weeks. Tuesday I had a really great outdoor fartlek run – and I was really glad my schedule allowed me to get out to the group workout with Elite. I am really craving running outside more and I’m thinking I need to make more of an effort to run outside my office directly after work while there is still daylight, instead of waiting until I get home. I think I might try to do that for my Wednesday run this week.

I will probably recap the race itself this week, but I ended up treating it like a long run instead of a race, which is something I only decided moments before we started. I got to meet Jennifer from Running on Lentils and we ran together! (Also, she is a lovely person and you should be reading her blog. She’s one of the official Pittsburgh Marathon bloggers this year!)

I also got new shoes this week (the Brooks Ghost 7 – pictured at left!) and took them for a spin on the treadmill on Sunday. They don’t feel quite right yet, but I need to put my insoles in and give them a go outside before I make any judgments. I have to remember that brand new shoes don’t feel quite the same as ones with 350 miles on them!

Don’t forget that I’m still raising money for the Food Bank. You can donate by using the widget in the right sidebar on the blog or visit my fundraising page directly. Every dollar counts – and multiplies by 5 with the Food Bank’s resources. A $25 donation means $125 worth of food to hungry families in our community!

Last Week in Eating

We made several good meals this week, including a great slow cooker goulash, but the highlight of the week (and probably the month of February if I’m honest) was the Knockoff Chipotle Sofritas. Sofritas are Chipotle’s new vegan option – a marinated spicy tofu. I haven’t had it at Chipotle yet, but Mark did, and he really liked it. His co-worker mentioned this knockoff recipe was delicious, and actually tasted even better since the sauce is thicker and not as runny as Chipotle’s (since the tofu soaks in its sauce there like the other meat options do). I even got to use some of my frozen roasted poblano peppers from our garden.

It. Was. So. Good. I could have eaten it every day that week and was sad that I only made enough for four servings. (I used two packages of tofu and doubled the sauce in the recipe and it was perfect.) We ate it over homemade lime cilantro rice and black beans. Mark made his homemade guacamole and we were in heaven.

Don’t be afraid of cooking tofu, either. I had a meltdown about halfway through because I felt like I wasn’t frying it correctly. (It’s lightly fried, not deep fried.) But it turned out perfectly and I had nothing to be scared of. Just be fearless, like Julia Child says. Have the courage of your convictions.

collage sofritas

Last Week in Reading

I finished the third book in the Silo trilogy, Dust, as well as Bad Feminist on audio. Really liked both, but they were both heavy in subject matter, so I’m catching up on a bunch of comics this week in both trades and single issues. I also started Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick on Scribd, which imagines an alternate future where Germany and Japan won WWII and occupied the U.S. So I guess I didn’t get that far away from heavy subject matter. But I found that book after watching the Amazon original pilot that is based off of the novel. The book is fine so far, but the narrator is not so great, so I’m not sure I’d recommend it on audio. It’s crazy how narrators can make or break an audiobook for me. I guess I’m just picky!

Last Week in Homesteading

I am giving kombucha one last winter try, after many unsuccessful attempts. (I’m just not willing to keep my house at 70 degrees in the winter to sustain a SCOBY. No way.) I now have it in the warmest room of the house with all heating vents in the room open, and I tried the suggestion of wrapping Christmas lights around the jar. Which seems to be keeping it at a nice temperature. (Only after I first put LED lights around it because I am an idiot. LED lights don’t get warm.)

kombucha lights

I also had to use a thin gaiter that Mark had to cover the top until I can get cheesecloth (which we both thought was in the house, but we can’t find it anywhere). It seems to be working so far! Fingers crossed that I get some SCOBY and no blue fuzz!