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Pittsburgh marathon review — the good, the bad, the ugly

By | May 28, 2014 2:08 am | 0 Comments

In the category of better late than never….here’s my take on the Pittsburgh Marathon, which took place this year on May 4.  This was the first year Dan & I did the marathon — he did the whole, I did the half.

The Good

1. The weather. Overcast and cool (50s), but dry is the perfect marathon weather and the ‘burgh had just that this year. While it’s not something the race directors can control, it’s nice when it all works out.

2. The Course. The half was flatter than you might expect in Pittsburgh, but it’s still pretty hilly for anyone used to the flat lands of Erie/Presque Isle. I have come to find that rolling hills are my friends in a distance race, allowing the use of different muscle groups. The long grinder at mile 11.5 was sort of cruel, but there’s a sick part of me that likes the challenge.  Dan said the second half of the marathon was hillier than the first half, but he, too, seemed to thrive on it. He had a P.R. of 3:22. I really liked the course, which, of course, included lots of bridges, too.


3. The Expo. One of the largest and nicest expos I’ve ever been to, with some cool things like a board where you could write the reasons you run and another long board listing all the participants names. Runners can be a little narcissistic, so we love that sh#$. They also had vendors selling ‘burgh specific funny running shirts (and you know I love funny running shirts) and a commemorative 2014 Pittsburgh marathon poster, which I thought would be a cool item to buy and frame if it were my first marathon.There were a lot of vendors. Many I’d seen at other expos, but several I’d never seen before.

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3. The organization. I think this is only the third year for the ‘burgh marathon since it’s return and, dang, they got it down already. This was one of the most organized races I’ve ever been to. The marathon guide book was comprehensive and really helpful, as were all the maps on the website (course map, spectator map, “escape” routes, parking lots, etc.). Packet pickup was smooth and simple (bags were pre-stuffed). The corral organization was pretty impressive, too. Runners were seeded (based on previous race times), and you could only enter your corral (A,B, C, D), where they (thankfully) left plenty of breathing room. I hate when races cram you all together for 20 minutes. The corrals were easily found between numbered streets and huge color-coded signs marked the way, too. Well done, R.D.


4. The Fans/spectators. There was a lot of crowd support on the course, due in part, I think to contests the race organizer orchestrated among the neighborhoods, pitting ‘hood against ‘hood to see who could get the most people out of bed to cheer.


5. The Course Entertainment. The Rock ‘n Roll Marathon series has got nothing on the ‘burg. This race was like a three-ring circus with bands, jugglers, cheerthon groups, etc., on nearly every block (at least in the half). It created a really fun atmosphere and something to look forward to (what’s next?), besides the next hill, of course. ;-)


6. The Shirts. The teal long-sleeve tech tee I got from the marathon is my favorite race shirt ever. Gender specific and form fitting, but not clingy. I love it so much, I emailed the race director to see if there are leftovers so I can buy another one or two.

pitts - shirt

7. The Bags. Not just your ordinary plastic bags, the navy drawstring bags with the race logo and a zipper pocket made carrying all your race gear easy at the expo, and will be nice for future races/events, too.

pitts - bags

8. The Medals. I don’t know if they’re actually made of steel, but the race medals feel heavy enough to have been. It’s an impressive (and weighty) hunk of metal with a detailed carving and “Runner of Steel” emblazoned on the ribbon, which is about as cool a tagline as a city can hand a race director.

pitts - medals

9. Family Meet-up & Party area. I had showered and was just grabbing Dan’s post-race beer and heading down to the finish line, when I got a text message saying he had finished. Had we not agreed to find each other in the family meet-up area, I’m not sure I’d have ever found him. The finish line area was packed and not easily viewed, but the park they spit the runner out into was large and the family meet-up signs big (A-C, etc.) were easy to spot.

pitts - me and dan

10. The “burgh Natives. Nearly every ‘burgh native we came in contact with was remarkably friendly, helpful, interested in the race, and excited to have us in their city. That kind of pride speaks volumes. And, I’ll be  honest, it’s not what I expected in Pittsburgh. Though..Dan does have a Steelers tattoo on his leg, so maybe that endeared us to them.



The Ugly

1. Mile 11.5. A couple of fairly steep up-and-downers, followed by one, long, slow grinder near the end of the half probably sank a lot of P.R.s that day, I think. Like I said, I like the challenge, but for those who don’t regularly run half marathons and/or hills, it was probably a real spirit killer.  If I were the R.D., though, I wouldn’t change it. I’d make them earn that “Runner of Steel” medal.

2. Race photos. Does anyone ever take a good race photo? Only if you SEE the photographer. And, yes, I totally bought this photo:

Pittsburgh half marathon 2014 -2

The Bad

1. Downtown Hotel Prices/Availability. I waited until December to book for a hotel room for Pittsburgh and, I’m not sure if that’s why, but I couldn’t find anything in downtown Pittsburgh under $350 and that came with zero amenities (no free wifi, no breakfast, no free parking) and I thought…well, screw you.  We stayed a 10 to 15-minute drive from downtown in a $140 hotel, and I won’t do that again because it was a pain to drive into town (it’s a pain to drive in the ‘burgh at all) to go to the expo/dinner.  Race day was not a pain…thanks to those handy parking and “exit” maps, we were able to pick a lot (below my friend’s hotel) that would allow us to get in & out quickly. We had zero problems on race day morning, but I should also say Dan made me get up and go at like 5:30 a.m. (ridiculous!).  We ended up showering at my friend’s hotel because we couldn’t get back to ours before checkout at 11 a.m.

2. Expo parking/traffic. Gah. What a nightmare. We drove in circles (or squares) around the city and were turned away from the Expo parking ramp (FULL) until we realized we could drive beyond the Convention Center and park in a giant surface lot for like $5 or something.  Live & learn.

60 marathons under this Erie mom’s fuel belt!

By | May 19, 2014 2:56 pm | 0 Comments


Congrats to Erie’s Robin Smith, 58, who just completed her 60th marathon at Cleveland this weekend with a (hold onto your hats) 4:14!  And, yeah, that’s a mylar finisher blanket on her arm…she still looks this good at the FINISH!

You can see how other Erie runners did here. Just enter “Erie,” or “Fairview”, etc.  and “PA” in the search engine fields to get a list of local finishers.

Signs, signs…and inflatable alpacas

By | May 7, 2014 2:38 am | 0 Comments


The best thing about a big city marathon is the spectators. They come holding homemade megaphones (and real ones), inflatable alpacas and tons of funny signs.

I’ve run a lot of marathons & half marathons and have never seen as much entertainment (planned and otherwise) on the course as I did in Pittsburgh on Sunday. It was like a three-ring circus with bands every other block, school kids cheering, neighborhood cheer parties, and of course….plenty of fans holding hilarious signs.

Unfortunately,  I always seemed to be on the wrong side of the road, or my camera wouldn’t turn on quickly enough, so I didn’t get many photos of the spectators (below), but they did not disappoint.

A few of  the favorites I saw this weekend:

* I only cheer for hot moms. You qualify.

* Puke and rally

* If it were easy, it would be called your mother

* Never trust a fart in a marathon

* I’m proud of you, random stranger

* My mom runs marathons. And all my dad does is drink beer.

* Hot guy ahead, creepy guy behind you. Run faster!

* This will all be worth it when you update your Facebook status!

* My mom is the one with nice legs.

* Does making this sign count as exercise?


Is urinating in public paleo? (I’m still trying to figure this one out.)




BTW — if you were at Pittsburgh and were wondering about the inflatable alpaca’s, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette got the scoop:

Alpacas ‘out of hand’

Six inflatable alpacas bobbed over spectators’ heads along the marathon route. And, somehow, this felt normal.

The friendly folks hoisting the alpacas are members of the Pittsburgh Triathlon Club, a bustling 250-member group, but this is a very particular sect of the troupe.

Team Iron Alpaca was formed five years ago when six strangers biked to a nearby alpaca farm, Chris Rotelli explained, “and we were all friends by the top of the climb.”

Mr. Rotelli, the ringleader, shouted a rapid burst of encouragement as his wife, Julie, passed by in the last mile of the half-marathon.

Mr. Rotelli is a walking tribute to Steve Prefontaine. He wears a black singlet, neon arm sleeves and a bleached-blonde wig.

And the inflatable alpacas?

“You can find anything on Amazon,” he said, laughing. “It’s gotten out of hand. They’ve been in a wedding. It’s not good.”

Friday question: Best race signs

By | April 25, 2014 2:00 am | 0 Comments

This week’s question: What’s the best race sign(s) you’ve seen?

Seen at the Pittsburgh Marathon: “Yous running and no one is chasing you?” — Benjamin Reitz

At Richmond Marathon – a little boy had a sign “This is the worst parade ever!!” — Tom Grant

From our Erie Marathon water stop last year: “Chuck Norris never ran a marathon”, and “Worst. Parade. Ever.” — Ross Aresco

 See some of the best signs from Monday’s Boston marathon.



Things I found — 4/17/14

By | April 17, 2014 2:20 am | 0 Comments

Worth reading:

Dr. George Sheehan wrote this essay in 1976. He was a man who was way ahead of his time: You Let a Girl Beat You?

According to this article, what you eat the week of a marathon can make or break you. Meh…I don’t know. I suppose it probably matters, but “make or break” seems pretty dramatic. My husband can run a 3:30 marathon on chicken wings and beer.

Q&A with Shalane Flanagan, a hometown Boston girl and our best chance for an American female winner on Monday.

Speaking of marathons, here are 10 mistakes to avoid on marathon day.

Runner’s World’s best new gear choices for 2014.


T-shirt of the Week


First-time marathoner goes the distance for friends

By | March 4, 2014 8:22 am | 0 Comments


Melody Amendola, left, Michele Chereson, center, and Kelly Gibson, right, are photographed at Chereson’s home in Millcreek Township on Feb. 15. Chereson ran a marathon to raise money for the two women who were diagnosed with breast cancer. JACK HANRAHAN//ERIE TIMES-NEWS

Erie Times-News sports writer, Mike Copper, had a great story about a Millcreek Township woman who recently ran the Walt Disney World marathon. Though she’d never run more than 6 miles, she signed up for the race to support her daughter and ended up running for two of her friends who were diagnosed with breast cancer.

“Michele Chereson estimated she’d run 6 miles — none of them competitive — throughout her entire life before the summer of 2013.

The Millcreek Township resident never even had the urge to enter a basic 5-kilometer event, let alone finish one. She registered for the Jan. 12 Walt Disney World Marathon more as a way to honor her daughter Emily Chereson’s desire to complete a 26.2-mile race.

However, in the midst of training, learning of the plight of two close friends dramatically boosted Chereson’s own desire to run. She knew Kelly Gibson was already undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer when she learned that Melody Amendola had received the same diagnosis.

“My intention was to run in support of my daughter,” Michele Chereson said. “I wasn’t that interested (in the marathon), but when I found out about Melody, I told Emily, ‘You know, if I’m going to do this, I’m doing it for them.’”

Continue reading at

A Q&A with two Dopey locals ;)

By | January 24, 2014 1:39 am | 0 Comments

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Two Erie runners, Mark Dombrowski and Jenny Turak, recently completed the Dopey Challenge — a 5K, 10K, 1/2 marathon and a marathon in four consecutive days — in Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

I had to find out more:

1. What made you want to do the Dopey Challenge? What appealed to you?

MARK: In 2013, I completed my 4th “Goofy Challenge,” which is a 1/2 marathon on Saturday and a full Marathon on Sunday. I remember telling my wife “that’s it for the Goofy; not much more to prove at Disney.” Soon after I heard about the Dopey and signed up almost immediately. It was a new challenge. I’ll never be an ultra-marathoner. But string almost 50 miles together in 4 days and I’m in.

JENNY: Ever since I started running it had been my dream to run the Walt Disney World Marathon. I’m in love with both running and Disney, and 2014 was the year! I had requested my time off of work and saved up my money, and was planning on running the Goofy Challenge until I found out about the Dopey Challenge. I love running races and race every chance I get, so it immediately appealed to me. Thank goodness Mark told me it was 90% sold out after 2 days. I got in just in time!

2. What special things did you get for doing the Dopey Challenge? (discount on the package, special medal, etc.)?

MARK: Six race shirts and six medals. One shirt and medal for running each of the races; a shirt and medal for running the 1/2 and full (Goofy) and a shirt and medal for running all 6 (Dopey).

3. Have you run at Disney before? If  yes, what keeps you coming back.  If no, would you go again?

MARK: This was my fifth trip to Disney World Marathon Weekend. It’s a first class event. Considering the number of runners—10,000 each for the 5K and 10K and 25,000 each for the half and full—the races are incredibly well organized. The entertainment along the course is great, typical Disney. Running through the parks is hard, but awesome. Mainstreet USA in the dark, 6:30 in the morning, and the street is lined with cheering spectators and “Cast Members” (Disney employees). For the full marathon, runners get to run through all four theme parks plus Wide World of Sports and Disney’s NASCAR track. Once again I told my wife I’ve had my fill of Disney races, but who knows!

JENNY: I ran the Disney Wine and Dine half marathon in 2011. I had the time of my life, and at the time I wasn’t as into running as I am today. It was just incredible—from the fireworks at the start, to the characters, concerts and entertainment on the streets, to running through the parks and the cheering crowds, to the medals and Disney swag available to purchase. I’m a kid at heart and love just being in Disney. There is something so magical about it. Disney really knows how to do races right, and I plan on signing up for the Wine and Dine half marathon in November 2014 as soon as registration opens.

4.How do Disney races compare (or stand out) from other marathons?

MARK: All races have unique characteristics that make them appealing. I’d say Disney races are more social and casual. In 2013, my goal to to get as many character picture as possible along the course while still getting a respectable finish time (result in the marathon was 31 photos with a 4:11 finish). While that was fun for me, many others at Disney seem to have even more fun. I have a friend who stopped for a beer and did some shopping at Epcot before finishing the marathon. At Disney, there are also a lot of “highway miles” between the parks. Disney works to make them entertaining with characters and music, but it’s a lot different that running through downtowns and neighborhoods that you’d find in the majority of races (PA Grand Canyon excluded). I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that you’ll never see as many port-a-potties as you see at Disney in the runner’s village at the start and along the course.

JENNY: At Disney they say Every Mile is Magic, and it really is. Like I said previously, there are just so many aspects that make Disney races so special. The course entertainment goes above and beyond any other marathon I’ve been to, and it’s more like a party than a race. They even have fun DJs and music to pump you up, and they make you feel like a true champion when you finish. They give you a treat box, take your picture, cheer for you when you pick up your bag, and they have character pictures after and you can get your picture with your medal. The Dopey Challenge was the best experience of all my life! I’d recommend Disney races to anyone… Even if they are not an avid runner, because it is just an incredible amazing experience and the miles fly by. Especially since you run through the parks and it keeps it so exciting! The most magical part for me was running through Magic Kingdom at the marathon. The castle looked like something out of a dream, and all the lights on mainstreet were mesmerizing. Plus cheering crowds like you wouldn’t believe! I felt like a superstar and was dressed up like Cinderella and everyone was yelling “go Cinderella” such a rush!!

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5.  Which was the hardest race for you?

MARK: Usually it’s the marathon, particularly the second half. This year, it was definitely the half marathon. Orlando had a record high temperature on the day of this year’s half marathon—86 degrees.. Even though I finished around 7:30 a.m., the temperature as already 80 degrees with 80 percent humidity. It was tough. Thankfully the next day the temps for the marathon were in the low 50s and the humidity was gone.

JENNY: The hardest race for me was actually the 10k. It was soooo humid that morning and hot and my body was in shock after the negative windshields I was used to training at in Erie. The half marathon was the same way, but I was saving myself for the marathon so ran slow and got my picture with every character and just made it a fun experience.

6. Was there ever a point at which you thought….what have I done? I can’t do this!

MARK: Nope. There’s way too much going on around you to keep you occupied.

JENNY: I loved every mile and was smiling the whole time!

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7. What is it like to run four progressively longer races in four days? Did you conserve energy in the first couple?

MARK: I’d say I moderated my pace for all four. With the shorter races, I tried to stick with 9 minute miles. Normally, I’d be about 30 seconds a mile faster. For the1/2 marathon, I started with 9:15 & 9:30 miles, but I knew the heat was going to take a lot our of me so I slowed down considerably. The full marathon was a crap shoot this year. I felt good for the first 18 miles and kept decent sub 10-minute pace. I slowed down the last 6 to 8 miles because I needed to walk away without injury since my next marathon is Boston.

JENNY: I knew I would complete the challenge no matter what, but I conserved on the half marathon because the marathon is such a long way to run and I was exhausted already after the 10k with the early morning wake up calls (3a.m.!) and the humidity. I’m the worst heat and humidity runner! I think I ran the 5k too hard also, and my legs were sore. It’s hard to know how to pace yourself for so many miles. Luckily the marathon was perfect ideal weather and it was the best I felt of all four races! I was on such a high and it was the best experience of all my life, and I even got my picture with all the characters.

8. If you don’t mind, would you provide times for each of your races?

MARK: 27:13 in the 5K; 55:38 in the 10K; 2:07 in the half marathon; 4:24 in the full marathon

JENNY: I did Disney solely for fun. I dressed up as a different princess every day and felt like I was back in my childhood. I started off trying to run the 5k for time, but it was so crowded and got stuck behind walkers from start so decided just to get pictures with characters and have fun with it. Lines for pictures at half marathon were insane! I was in corral F so people were running way slower than my half marathon pace… I usually run around a 1:45 half and they were running 9:45 pace. Again, got frustrated from start, so I decided to conserve energy and waited 5-10 min for each picture. The pathways were so skinny so it got pretty frustrating after stopping and getting stuck behind walkers. I learned a lot for next year, and will definitely do some things different because I’m pretty competitive and was not happy with my times. But anyways here are my times: 24:45 in the 5K; 56:23 in the 10K;  3:04.30 in the half; 4:17.37 in the full marathon.

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9.Parting thoughts?

MARK: Anyone planning to run a Disney race should consider it a chance to have some fun. Stop and take pictures with characters. Enjoy the parks. The second time I did the Goofy Challenge, I had a sub two-hour half and a sub four-hour full marathon. So, with the rest of them, I had little to prove. I still wanted to have respectable finish times but I also wanted to have a “magical” experience. Disney does it right.

JENNY: Disney is really such a wonderful experience! For how many runners are  involved, it is really well organized and it is so convenient staying at a Disney resort because they have buses to take you to start and back to the resort after you finish. I had the time of my life and am already planning on for sure running the Dopey again next year, and, like I said earlier, the Wine and Dine in November. I can’t get enough of Disney . Lived up the whole experience and went to 3 parks while I was there as well and just had such a blast! They also have the best running expo at ESPN Wide World of Sports — walking in there felt like Christmas morning. I didn’t want to come home and can’t wait to go back again!

Signs, signs, everywhere are signs (Baltimore edition)

By | October 16, 2013 12:19 pm | 0 Comments

The best thing about a marathon? The spectators… especially the spectators with signs. I always see creative new ones — the funniest ones in Baltimore this weekend were those poking fun at the government shutdown. Here’s a selection of signs I managed to catch while on the run.







Under Armour is  headquartered in Baltimore and we ran right past/through the Under Armour campus.




The first sign says: “Keep going! Don’t Stop…You’re almost there.”  The second sign read: “That’s what she said!”


“Pain now, Beer later”

DSCF0301 DSCF0306

“Your perspiration is our inspiration!”  (These were the friends of one of the women I was running with.) DSCF0308

C”Chuck Norris never ran a marathon”


You have no idea how tempting this sign was!


It truly was. Perfect marathon conditions. DSCF0313




Smart way to give high-fives without actually touching a bunch of sticky, sweaty hands!


Beautiful things are everywhere…if you look for them.


This lady was at mile 18 and….indeed…I felt like crap.


“”Don’t stop…people are watching” and “Look alive. Morgue ahead.” LOL.


I still have no idea what this means.


Psshhhh…I can’t remember the last time I had all 10 toenails.


“I’ll run with you, if you know CPR,” “More Cowbell?” and…the simple “Runners Rule!”  (So do race supporters!)


“Keep running, you’re working harder than Congress” (Though, it’s not all that hard to outwork that crew, right?)


“We’re strangers, but I am SO proud of you!” (Awwww….)


The most awesome sign in the Baltimore marathon — Camden Yards (finish line is .21 miles from here).



THE most awesome sign in ANY marathon!



Who does a marathon on a whim? (Apparently, I do)

By | September 23, 2013 6:35 pm | 0 Comments


So I’m doing another freakin’ marathon. In three weeks. I know. I’m as surprised as you are.

Though, not really. I have always been easily influenced by my friends. Ask my mother, she’ll tell you. Fortunately, I grew up and found healthy friends (or I’d probably be incarcerated by now).

This spontaneous marathon story starts back at the Beast on the Bay where my friend, Leann, decided if she could run for four hours on sand, then she could totally do a marathon.

Running friends Cyndie & Robin told her, “You’re in luck, Leann, we’re doing one in three weeks in Baltimore with Jessie. You should come with us.”

A few days later, Leann and I are volunteering at marathon packet pickup. She asks about my Quad race. I ask what she did that morning.

“You really want to know?” she asks with a laugh.

“Uh…well, now I’m not sure,” I say. “Why? What did you do, like an Ironman or something?”

“I did 20 with Robin and Cyndie,” she says.

“Oh. My God. You’re doing Baltimore?” I ask. “Who decides to do a marathon on whim? You’re nuts, woman. But, I mean, you can totally do it.”  I throw that last part in because I don’t want to discourage her.  There are people who actually do love marathons.

“You should come with us,” she says.

“No way,” I say. “I’m done with marathons! I’m on the 7-year marathon plan, remember? I’m good until like 2018.”


But, Leann, like most distance runners, is nothing if not persistent. And she’s persuasive.

8:12 a.m. on Sept. 19, I get this email from her:

“Is there any amount of peer pressure and begging that will make you make a trip to Baltimore?!?!?!

* you would be there for my first 5k (her times) — half — and full.

* you would be there for Jessie’s first full

* you could add to Robin and Cyndie’s stories along the way

* leisurely pace

* fun in Baltimore….”

Fun? I hate to miss out on any fun. A weekend in Baltimore with girlfriends sure sounds like fun…even if I have to run 26 miles. YOLO, right? I can do anything for four or five hours, right?

8:34 a.m. I write back, “Ohh…I am so tempted. Tell me more: When are you going…where are you staying…when are you coming home…how much is the race now…is registration still open?”

Well, that did it. Over the course of the day, the other three piled on, filling my e-mail box until I write back: “I hate you. I hate you. I hate you. (I’ll talk to Dan tonight).”


1:30 p.m.  I text Dan: “I think I want to do Baltimore.”

“I knew you would,” he says.


14 hours and $120 later, this message appears in my e-mail box:

Thanks for registering for the 2013 Baltimore Running Festival! 


I think I need this shirt:


Or, I need some lazier friends — the kind who like to go to movies and buffets.

Things I found — 9/19/13

By | September 19, 2013 1:03 am | 0 Comments

Worth Reading

* Training for a marathon? Here’s how to avoid injury.

* Treadmill, Elliptical Trainer, or StairMaster: Which gym machine is best for weight loss? The answer may surprise you (and it’s DEAD on, in my personal experience.)

* Looking to hit the hills? Check out some of these routes (and upcoming races) at Penn State Behrend (yeah, I wrote this, but it’s OK to put myself on the “worth reading” list, right? Right? ;-) )

Funny Stuff

* 20 great triathlon spectator signs. (I swear to God, I would stop dead at sign No. 2 and make him drop trou…er, sign.)

* 6 ways to pass the time while waiting for Boston confirmation.

T-Shirt of the Week


Available here in a variety of styles and colors.