2014 resolution update – July

This is the first year that I’ve made a concerted effort to work on actually completing my resolutions for the year. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t aim too high and made them realistic. Here’s an update on how I’m doing at the halfway point in the year.

Read 75 books.
Today I will finish book #46, so I’m well on my way to that goal. I do have to get the sub-goals in of finishing Margaret Atwood’s canon (6 more books) and one Russian door-stop novel. I’ve been reading a lot of books that are part of a series, so I end up going through the series and it delays my next choices. Even if I don’t hit the sub-goals, I will still read more this year than in any year since graduate school. I’m also reading in genres outside of my comfort zone, which is pretty cool. (I am a total graphic novel and comic convert.)

Write letters on three issues to my elected representatives.
I haven’t done another one since this post on the DARK Act. I need to get on that. I might write next about funding to reduce hunger.

Run a marathon.
I’m in my 8th week of a 23 week training schedule. (Most plans are 18 weeks, but I am drawing mine out due to previous injuries and lingering issues with my IT bands.) Last week’s long run was 13 miles, and it was the first time I ran that far when it wasn’t a race, and only my fourth time at that distance at all. It was quite honestly one of the most difficult runs I’ve ever had – humid and disgusting outside, dehydrated big time. Everything was screaming at me to stop, and even though I had to walk more than I had hoped, I finished. (Which was really only because of the two awesome ladies I run with.) 

It’s been good to be on a training schedule and to be following it. I’ve put in 246 miles so far this year and that number is about to go way up because it’s going to get hard soon – after the holiday weekend we bump up to 15 miles for a long run and I go into distance territory that my body has never traveled. It’s an adventure, this marathon training. Don’t forget, I’m posting photos on Instagram under the hashtag #yearofthemarathon in case you want to follow along on the adventure.

Drink 64 ounces of water a day.
I really need to kick this into high gear during this marathon training, because even though I do drink water constantly, I am always fighting being dehydrated in this weather. And I was doing some research this week that dehydration while running can also increase your heart rate, which is something I’m hyper sensitive to as an asthmatic.

Start my home brew kombucha.
Done and done. Completely knocked this one out of the park, and it might be the coolest thing I accomplished this year (unless I do complete the marathon, that is). Read about it here

Sew a t-shirt quilt.
Making slow progress on this one. I finished cutting all of the squares for my quilt this weekend. (I’m technically getting materials together for two, planning to start with my own quilt to get the hang of it before I do Mark’s.) Now it’s time to fire up my grandma’s sewing machine, which will hopefully happen in July.

Can one new thing.
Technically I’ve met this goal with our strawberry vanilla jam, a variant I hadn’t made before. But since I think the spirit of this was for me to do something entirely new, I won’t count this done yet. But it will be full on canning season in the next couple months.

Plant a bee-friendly flower garden.
Didn’t really get around to planting specifically bee-friendly plants, but we definitely have more flowers this year compared to last, which is at least a step in the right direction.

Make the chickens some treats.
I actually completely forgot about this one, so this is a good reminder. Perhaps because of the heat and humidity, I’ll make something that’s refreshing for them.

Organize the basement.
The basement has stayed relatively organized since we transitioned one side of it to a work area for Mark. I still have a few things I’d like to do down there, especially to get a root cellar ready for later this year. But it’s better than it used to be (at least when Stormy and Vader don’t knock food bowls all over the place).

How are you doing on your goals for 2014? Share them in the comments!

pittsburgh half marathon recap

My alarm went off at 4:45 a.m. on Sunday and I shot out of bed with the excitement of a kid at Christmas. I had 45 minutes to fuel and hydrate before we had to be out the door to catch a T into the city for the Pittsburgh Marathon.

When I did my first half marathon last fall, I had an entire spring and summer of training behind it. This year, with a really rough winter, my training was spotty and included zero hills. It definitely wasn’t what it should have been, so while I probably wasn’t in peak physical condition, mentally I was so excited I could barely stand it.

There’s just something about the Pittsburgh Marathon for me that’s hard to put into words. The energy is like a wave. Standing in the start corrals for 35 minutes until my group got close to the start line was cold, rainy and exhilarating. I was trying not to jump up and down from just sheer excess energy – not even nervous, just excited from head to toe. Once we were off, I settled into my music and mouthed the words at some parts, heading through downtown to the Strip District.

I knew my friends and family cheering section was waiting on the North Side, just around mile 6. All I could do was think about getting to them during the first 6 miles. I was moving at a really fast clip and had to sometimes stop myself from getting too excited – my heart was racing and I was smiling like a crazy person. I was getting swept up in the energy. Even the hills on the North Side felt like nothing. 

I spotted my cheerers on the other side of the road from where I was running and I darted across to slap their hands. That moment for me when I saw them cheering and screaming my name and waving signs – it’s indescribable. Maybe it’s because I was never an athlete growing up and the activities I participated in didn’t really warrant “cheering sections.” But I felt like I was soaring and lifted up. So much so that I choked up as I passed them and almost burst into tears right there on Western Ave.

It was with that burst that I crossed the West End Bridge and entered the West End. And hills. And I realized I was way too hyped up and tried to slow my pace again. But by mile 9 around Station Square, I knew the wheels were going to fall off the wagon. My calves started cramping – not even just being sore, but twisting in pain. And my IT band? Yikes. I could barely muster the strength to finish those last few miles. I kept going and managed to only take two small walk breaks for 30 seconds, but I knew the PR was gone. I had used up all my gas in the first 7 miles and was going to run on fumes at the end.

At mile 12 I knew I was going to see my cheerers again during the last stretch, so I really pushed my legs and let that drive me forward. Mark took a few photos of me running by and my face pretty much shows how rough it was. I got to mile 13 and only had a tenth of a mile to go, and one of the medics flanking the end of the route looked directly at me, saw my name on my bib and yelled “You GOT this JOANNA! Just 100 yards to go! You can do it!” and I had to choke down tears again as I basically hurtled myself across the line and walked with jello legs forward to collect my medal and some fuel and a spaceman blanket. And some ice. And meet up with my friends.

I feel like I learn something new about the way I experience running in every race. And this race? I realized how much I just love good races and the thrill of running in general. I still want to push myself to complete a 26.2 this year, and I know how much commitment to training that will take, as well as rehabilitation for my IT band. (I start physical therapy today for an injury I’ve had since last year but never really addressed.) 

But I also realized that for me, PRs are not something to strive for. I’m not fast and I never will be. Completion is the goal, because if I keep pushing at faster and faster times, I end up having a great first half of a race and a punishing second half. I would rather coast along and enjoy myself and the thrill of being out there and watching my cheerers. During this race I was off of my PR ultimately by 7 minutes, which is only thanks to how fast I ran the first 7 miles. 

I do this for health and because I love it, not because I’m ever going to win anything, and I want to stop trying to win against myself. I will remember the first half of this race in my mind as one of the best runs I’ve ever had. And the only thing I’m going to chase this summer is that feeling. 

I can’t forget to mention probably the most important part of this whole thing. Through Run for a Reason and the generosity of my family and friends, I raised $710 for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. My original goal was to raise $350 and I doubled that. Correction – YOU doubled that. I am comforted by the fact that something very good came out of this effort and that there are bellies being filled in our area by the money the Food Bank team managed to raise.

I won’t be writing about running much unless I race during the next few months, so if you’re interested, you can follow me on Instagram and watch for the hashtag #yearofthemarathon to see thoughts and photos on training. So now it’s on to physical therapy and training with some races peppered in here and there – the Columbus Marathon in October being the ultimate goal. Columbus, here I come!

carnegie VFD 5K recap

Saturday marked my third Carnegie 5K, benefiting my little borough’s volunteer fire department. For a small borough, the race is always well attended. It’s even becoming a sort of tradition among my friends to do it together, since it’s a well organized race with a low entry fee and a nice course through the ever more revitalized downtown Carnegie area. 

It threatened to rain all morning, and we had a few drops at the beginning of the race, but not enough to really make a difference. Ironically the weather turned beautiful just an hour or so after it was all over, but I’m glad it didn’t get rained out. (You can tell it was cold from this group photo, since we’re all hunkered down just a little bit. And yes, my legs were freezing. Good choice for the actual run, but standing around waiting for door prizes afterward, not so much.)

I was pretty proud of my performance, with it being the first short race of the year. I came in at 28:55, 41 seconds off of my PR of 28:14 that I set at the Armed Forces 5K in Erie last July. But realistically, none of my PRs have ever come early in the racing season, since I’m coming off of winter laziness. I’m also trying to train myself to run to my heart rate, not a particular pace. My shoes are just about ready to give out, which I started to feel more acutely this weekend. Just one more week until they are retired!

It was nice to have a low pressure, casual race before this weekend’s Pittsburgh Half where I want to push for that personal record. Thanks to the generosity of friends and family, I’ve made it over the $600 mark for my Run for a Reason fund. Less than one week left, but there’s still time to donate


boston trail half marathon recap

First race of the season is complete – the Boston Trail Half Marathon

I am rarely out in the McKeesport/Elizabeth Township area – I think I might have been there once in the over 8 years I’ve lived here. So I really knew nothing about this section of the Mon/Yough Trail, which is a link in the Great Allegheny Passage. (If I had kept on running, I would have made it all the way to DC!) 

This was an absolutely beautiful trail and perfect weather conditions for a run. Not too much wind, except for a little bit coming back, lots of sun, and relatively cool temperatures for how sunny it was.

Now, me? I wasn’t really in peak condition for a run, let alone a race. Having been out the evening before, getting less sleep and more food and beverage than I would typically consume the night before a race, I knew going into this there would be no PR. 

Instead, it was about like this:

  • Mile 1: Holy cow it’s beautiful out today.
  • Mile 2-3: Wall. Help me. Why did I do this? Last night’s dinner is in my mouth. Why did I do this? I have double digits left. Why did I do this?
  • Miles 4-9: Well this isn’t so bad. Feeling pretty good. Need more water stations. But this is enjoyable. Yes, I will mouth along the words to my music. Look at me go! I’m a runner! I passed the 2:30 pacer! Holy cow, will I actually PR in this?
  • Mile 10: I need more water. Thirsty and face feels like salt monster from Star Trek’s “The Man Trap.”
  • Miles 11-12: My legs. Oh my legs. Oh hi, Wall. Nice to see you again.
  • Mile 13: Complete autopilot. No recollection of this mile whatsoever except for running by an 8 year old and yelling “you’re doing awesome!”

Turns out, the 2:30 pacer didn’t actually keep to a 2:30 pace. So, while that was some good fake motivation for awhile, I ended up really slowing down those last few miles and came in at 2:36:51. (My PR was at last year’s Montour Trail Half Marathon – 2:28:18.) Also I didn’t bring my own water and was relying on the water stations, which wasn’t enough for me.

It was also my first race where I was entirely alone. No fellow runners and no cheerleaders. It worked out that way because it wasn’t really a shining race moment, but it was also an accomplishment in that I pushed through poor prep the night before and finished. 

I really am looking forward to the Pittsburgh Half in less than two weeks and hope to prep properly and break that PR. Carnegie 5K next weekend, too. So stay tuned!

(Also, remember that there’s still time to donate to my Race for a Reason fund benefiting the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. I’m just $5 away from $600 and I know I can break that mark in the next two weeks. If you haven’t already donated, please consider getting me over that hump! Donate by clicking here, or read more about why I’m doing this from this post, here.)


2014 resolution update

Usually by this time of year, the resolutions I made in January are like a distant, vague memory. But this year in a stunning turn of events, I’ve been staying on track. So seeing that we’re about one third of the way through the year, I thought I’d check in.

Read 75 books.
I just finished #23 this week, so I’m on track to meet my goal. I need to still pick up a Russian doorstop novel along the way, as well as several more Margaret Atwoods to finish her canon. But so far, so good. Man do I love to read! 

Write letters on three issues to my elected representatives.
I have one down, two more to go on this front. For my most recent letter, see this post on the DARK Act recently introduced in the House. Bad news.

Run a marathon.
Well, I’m in training. 
This Saturday marks my first race of the season – the Boston Trail half marathon (not in Boston). That’s followed up by my town’s 5K the following weekend, and then the Pittsburgh Marathon Half on May 4. Don’t forget there’s still time to donate to my fund for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank! Shameless plug! I’m only $5 away from $600!

Also, I’m posting photos on Instagram under the hashtag #yearofthemarathon in case you want to follow along on the adventure.

Drink 64 ounces of water a day.
Doing pretty well with this one, especially through the day at work. I also carry my water bottle around with me at home, and really it’s only after runs that I don’t do so well rehydrating. Going to keep working on that.

Start my home brew kombucha.
Fail. Still nervous. Will make it happen this summer though.

Sew a t-shirt quilt.
Making good progress on this one, especially since it’s something I have zero experience in. I have Mark’s shirts all prepped and ready with interfacing, and mine are almost complete. Then it’s time to get the sewing machine cranking! I’ve even had an apprentice. Isn’t he helpful?


Can one new thing.
Not quite into canning season yet, so this one will be a summer thing.

Plant a bee-friendly flower garden.
I recently did some research on bee-friendly plants that do well in our area, with info from the Penn State Extension. Look for a post about that in the near future!

Make the chickens some treats.
Winter has made me not want to go outside with them more than necessary, so probably once I’m in the backyard with them more often, I’ll be more inclined to start making some treats.

Organize the basement.
The basement has come light years from what it was. This is a pretty significant accomplishment, as it’s now a more usable space for both Mark and me. And we’ve kept it relatively in order!

How are you doing on your goals for 2014? Share them in the comments!

run for a reason: one month to go!

In exactly one month, I’ll be getting into a corral in downtown Pittsburgh to run the Pittsburgh Half Marathon for the first time. It won’t be my first half marathon, but the first one that feels like it matters in more ways than a personal record. 

Part of it is that the race is probably my favorite of the year, simply because of the energy and fun along the course. I run the core of city all the time on the trails in my training, but to get to run on the actual roads that I travel on my commute is pretty cool. And being part of a swarm of runners is pretty awesome. I’ll even get to retire my shoes after the race – my old faithfuls over to the left that carried me through the first real racing season of my life last year and will carry me into this year’s. 

And the cheering during this race? Awesome. Last year I ran the fourth leg of the marathon relay, so this year I’ll basically be running most of the first three legs. So I’ll get to see sections I didn’t get to see last year. And if the cheering was strong after the half marathon turn-off in the part that I ran, I know it will be strong from the start. 

But besides the fact that the Pittsburgh Marathon gives good swag, has a good expo and gives finisher medals that say “Runner of Steel” on them, this race is important to me because of the Run for a Reason program. Runners know that one of the great pleasures of racing is that the night before you get to carb up on pasta without guilt. And right after the race, when you’ve hauled your body for over 13 miles, a banana and a half of a bagel never tasted so good. But there are people who don’t have the luxury of eating a banana and a half of a bagel for breakfast on a regular day.

I’ve been raising money for the last few months for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and just yesterday made it over the $500 mark. Which is pretty amazing, considering that it will provide about $2500 worth of food for families who need it. 

That’s a lot of food. But I don’t want to stop. I’ve still got a month to go until the race, and I know that $545 doesn’t have to be where I stop. 

There are many great charities that people run for, usually ones that serve people or animals in need, whether groups that provide support for individuals with a particular disease or animals that need to be rescued. I’ve supported other runners in their causes too. And I know how many solicitations people get for charity on a routine basis. To me, there’s something different about a charity that works to meet people’s basic needs. 

Before anything else but water, food is a necessity for human life. There are people who need it – who go to bed hungry or have to send their children to bed hungry because there isn’t enough. That’s quite simply why this matters to me so much. I can’t support sustainable agriculture and just food legislation and eat at restaurants that use local and sustainable ingredients (and are often high-end for that reason) without also having a deep understanding of the fact that some people don’t have enough food to sustain themselves each day, let alone locally grown, organic food. It’s a privilege to choose what I eat for breakfast every morning and in this country, it’s actually a privilege to eat it at all.

Consider donating even a dollar to support my Run for a Reason fund. Often people feel they have to make a larger donation for it to matter, but I’d love to see my fund fill up with a dollar here, five dollars there. Every little bit matters and every dollar turns into five when combined with the GPCFB resources. So if you really want to give $50 and can’t just give $10!

You can visit my donation page by clicking here. Please share it at will. I’m planning on trying to PR at the Pittsburgh Half Marathon, and I’d love to blow past my fundraising goal and leave it in the dust with the old PR as well. Thanks for helping me to make that happen! 

Food Bank team fun run

Monday morning I set out for the Waterfront to meet up with some runners who are participating in the Pittsburgh Marathon events Run for a Reason, raising money for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Even though I love to run races, it’s actually pretty far out of my comfort zone to run with strangers, particularly on a trail I’ve never run before (Steel Valley). Oh yeah, and in the snow.

We set off from the trail head at the historic Homestead Pump House and ran just over 4 miles down the trail to the Food Bank’s building in Duquesne. (Though I ended up running 5, since I didn’t heed anyone’s directions and in the zone, just kept going down the trail for another half mile until I realized I wasn’t in Kansas anymore and had to turn back. Well done, Joanna.)

After the run, we had some refuel snacks and warmed up before we toured the facility and learned all about the organization we’re running for. (And we also met former Steeler Andy Russell, who is a huge supporter of the GPCFB’s efforts. He signed the mug pictured above!)

I thought I knew the general extent of the services the food bank provides, but until I walked around the warehouse and saw everything up close, I had no real idea of how vast an operation it actually is. The amount of assistance they provide is just amazing – 27 million pounds of food each year, to people in 11 counties through their 400+ member agencies. 

As if that isn’t impressive enough, the food bank has a focus on providing healthy food. I think people assume that food banks just focus on getting people food in general and don’t worry about the nutritional value. But the food bank has many programs that address nutrition as well – and many initiatives behind the scenes as well. For instance, their Produce to People program distributes fresh food in 15 different locations. It makes me really happy to know that – because everyone deserves healthy food.

They are still looking for more runners to Run for a Reason. If you’re running one of the Pittsburgh events this year, join the Food Bank team! They will be having more group fun runs throughout the training season (and hopefully beyond!) and it’s a great way to combine fitness with a good cause. 

You can donate to my fund here and even join the team from that site. After the event, I’ll randomly select one donor and he or she will receive the mug pictured above, signed by Steel Curtain Steeler Andy Russell

on resolutions

Happy New Year!

There’s something about January that brings a sense of new beginnings. Maybe it’s the breath of fresh air after the hubbub of the holidays, or the fact that we flip a new year on the calendar that makes us feel like we can press the reset button and start anew. In 2013, I set some goals for myself – concrete things like “run a half marathon” and not just “run more.” I met most of those goals, and exceeded some of them. It gave me a sense of satisfaction to open my goals document every so often and check to see that I’ve made progress. 

So I’m setting my resolutions for 2014 and will keep myself accountable for progress on them during the year. They’re all reachable, but will be a challenge in one way or another. I don’t like to go overboard, since I know that my work and my commute take up a huge portion of my week and my attention during my waking hours. Plus, I don’t like setting myself up for failure. I’d rather succeed at a few small things and be content with that.

With that, here are my goals for 2014 in three categories: mind, body and home.

Read 75 books.
I read 70 books in 2013, and I’m going to up the ante by just a bit in 2014. Within those 75 books, I have a goal of reading one of what I call the Russian doorstop novels that I haven’t read before, as well as finishing up the rest of Margaret Atwood’s canon. I use Good Reads to help me keep track of what I’m reading when.

Write letters on three issues to my elected representatives.
I have no shortage of things that outrage me, and I know that battles about GMO labeling, Ag-Gag laws and farm bills will keep me occupied with this one.

Run a marathon.
Yes, I’m putting it out there. I’m not going to beat myself up if I work on the training and my body doesn’t cooperate (I’m looking at you, knees!), but I’m going to try. I know in my heart I will always regret it if I don’t try, and that’s reason enough for me to start. I will begin training in February, with the goal of working up to a marathon by the fall. I’d also like to do several halfs this year, and to travel to at least one race outside of my area. The goal for the full marathon is just to finish, and my goal for a half marathon in 2014 is to get a PR, which I think is doable. 

Drink 64 ounces of water a day.
Rather than set a goal for weight loss, I’m focusing on health and fitness this year. Water is a big one for me – I feel so much better and have so much more energy when I’m properly hydrated. It also helps me with my running to be hydrated at all times, so I’m going to dedicate myself to hydration.

Start my home brew kombucha.
Mark gave me the tools to make kombucha for my birthday last year and I have yet to start, out of fear that I’ll mess it up. I did stop buying kombucha in the store, like I promised myself, but I haven’t taken the leap. 2014 is the time.

Sew a t-shirt quilt.
I have my grandma’s sewing machine, and I’m going to put it to good use this year. I’m not particularly gifted in this area, so I’m starting easy and hoping to make Mark a quilt from a pile of old, beloved t-shirts.

Can one new thing.
I want to branch out this year and can something we’ve never canned before. Doesn’t have to be elaborate, but I’d like to try something new and different.

Plant a bee-friendly flower garden.
I want to do some research on bee-friendly plants and make the flower beds along our garage an all you can drink nectar buffet for bees. (Can you tell that Vanishing of the Bees inspired me?)

Make the chickens some treats.
I want to be more actively involved in the chickens’ care and I really want to make them some treats to give them a diversion.

Organize the basement.
I did a great job of simplifying and downsizing our house this past fall, but the largest work to be done is our basement, which is a mess of boxes and disorganization and junk that is just begging to be a functional space. If the only house related thing we get done at all this year is to organize the basement, I would count it a success.

I’m going to check in monthly here to keep myself accountable to these goals, and hopefully share some how-tos when I have some success! 

What are your goals for 2014? Share them in the comments – I’d love to know what you’re doing to make 2014 the best year it can be! 

run for a reason: Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank

In 2013, I became a runner. Sure, before this year I ran a few 5Ks and an adventure race, but wasn’t really into running. It wasn’t until February of this year that a group of my friends decided to challenge ourselves and run in the Pittsburgh Marathon Relay in May that I started to train. My goal was just to make it to 5.5 miles, but some last minute shuffling made it so that I needed to run the 6.1 leg. That race hooked me in a big way. The feeling of running through my city on roads where I’d normally sit in traffic, with the crowds cheering my every step and knowing my friend was waiting for me to get to her for the last leg? Amazing.

So then I kept training and kept setting goals and signing up for races. I just finished my last race of 2013 on Thanksgiving Day – a Turkey Trot with my dad at Presque Isle State Park in Erie (in packed snow and ice, to boot). It was, fittingly, my 13th race of 2013. It’s been a good year. So what’s on the docket for next year?

This year I’m returning to the Pittsburgh Marathon event to run the UPMC Health Plan Pittsburgh Half – 13.1 miles of glorious Pittsburgh, the first weekend in May. And this year, I’m running for a reason. My goal is to raise $350 for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank – $26.72 for each mile I’m going to run that day.

I chose to run for the GPCFB because there’s nothing so important as making sure people’s basic needs are met. And through more than 350 agencies, the GPCFB helps to feed people in an 11 county area surrounding and including Pittsburgh. They distribute 27 million pounds of food in the area each year. 27 million pounds. But they don’t just stop at distributing food – they also work toward ending hunger by education and advocacy. And that’s a cause that’s near and dear to my heart.

Through their partnerships, they are able to make every $1 donated translate to $5 of food for hungry people. You can read more about their work here.

So next May 4, I’ll be running my first half marathon of the season to support GPCFB. If you’d like to make a (tax-deductible) donation to my fund, you can do so by clicking here. Share it around with anyone you know – or if you’re feeling like running through my city, register to run for GPCFB too!