Thursday, January 23, 2014

Small Business Saturday: Cop Out Pierogies

Pierogies are a pain.

Being both Slovak and Polish, I remember for years, a few weeks before Christmas, my mom, grandma, and aunt slaving at the dining room table, covered in flour and cursing at dough.  They roped me in after awhile...and I hated it.

Then came the dough-rolling machine - well, not automatic, but hand-cranked.  That made the rolling process much easier - and to this day, I am AWFUL with a rolling pin.

The filling of the pierogies was my weak point.  I could never figure out how much filling to put in so that it would still close, yet not be a lame-o pierogie.

Once I learned to drive, I tried not to be home on pierogie-making day.

But who doesn't love a good pierogie in Pittsburgh?  My brother and I ventured to the 1st Annual Pittsburgh Pierogie Festival in the South Side Works back in October - and it was awful.  The venue was not big enough for the event, and lines were stretching up steep hillsides.  I'm sure next year they will plan accordingly, but we tried pierogies from 2 different places and had to get out of there before we either fell on our faces or had anxiety attacks.

Unfortunately, one of the places that we could not get near was Cop Out Pierogies, which was featured in an article previewing the event.  My brother wanted to try their Buffalo Chicken Pierogies, as he is a major Buffalo Chicken fan.

So a few weeks later, coincidentally on Small Business Saturday, my brother and I had nothing to do, so we went to the zoo (we both have memberships).  Then we figured that Etna wasn't too far from the zoo, so it was the perfect excuse to check out Cop Out Pierogies, since they're only open on Fridays and Saturdays.

Cop Out Pierogies
The place is basically a counter, with visible freezers and an open view into the kitchen.  We were greeted warmly, and we told them that we had heard about their pierogies and came to check out the place.  Carl, the owner, immediately went to the back to get some samples.  When he returned, we tried the Pilgrim, a turkey dinner encased in a pierogie.  Holy crap was it good!  Turkey, stuffing, corn - we were already sold! We also tried a Breakfast Pierogie with egg and bacon.  Wow.  These were fantastic!

Pilgrim and Breakfast Pierogie samples
We each bought some frozen pierogies - knowing that I would be sharing mine with a vegetarian, I bought the Spinach & Feta, Jalapeno Cheddar, and Cottage Cheese & Chive.  My brother went for his beloved Buffalo Chicken, Mac 'N Cheese, and Sweet Potato.

I made some at home, according the the instructions provided by Cop Out, and had awesome results!  My brother liked his as well, so we convinced our family to let us get the pierogies from Cop Out for our traditional Christmas Eve dinner.

I mean, it would save time, right?

I called in the middle of the week to place a VERY large order to pick up that Saturday (other people knew we were going and asked us to get them some, too), and we drove out to Etna again the Saturday before Christmas to pick them up.

I had ordered Jalapeno Cheddar, Mac 'N Cheese, and Pilgrim for myself - I really wanted to order some dessert pierogies, too, but...I held back.  I was eating enough goodies at that time of year, but I plan on getting some in the future, for sure!

On Christmas Eve, my family enjoyed the traditional pierogies - sauerkraut, potato cheddar, and lekvar (my grandma's favorite).  I tried a lekvar myself, and actually liked it, too!

Pilgrim Pierogies
I still have some pierogies in my freezer to this day - I didn't make any over the holidays, but it's nice to have them as a meal option here and there now that it's January and I'm not going out quite as much.  The Pilgrim ones are gone, as they were fantastic, but I recently just tried the Mac 'N Cheese - I have to say, they are SO GOOD!  It may seem weird to have pasta-within-pasta, but I think maybe that's what makes it so good (you know...carbs).

Mac 'N Cheese Pierogies
There are other "different" pierogies flavors besides the ones that we bought - anything from Cheeseburger to Chicken Spring Roll to Hot Sausage.  They come in "cop dozens", which means that you get 14 instead of 12 (a good deal, I say).  Prices per cop dozen range from $7.25-$12.75 depending on the filling - and if you don't see something you like, they will even create a filling for you (with advance notice, of course).

Etna isn't close to where I live, but I will definitely make a trip out there occasionally for Cop Out Pierogies  - they're frozen, so I can stock up!

Cop Out Pierogies
350 Butler St.
Etna, PA 15223



Cop Out Pierogies on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Kitchen Experiment: Pupusas

I miss cooking.

One thing that I am resolving to do in 2014 is cook more for myself (again, as I had done that in the past and got away from it).  I definitely need to eat healthier, and cooking for oneself can help with that.

However, I also want to learn how to make some authentic Latino/Hispanic recipes for myself, as I feel that just appreciating what those cook for me is a bit...selfish, I suppose?  What kind of teacher would I be if I didn't learn how to do some things on my own (and then pass on that knowledge to others).

I had first learned of Pupusas on a visit to Smoke BBQ Taqueria.  Nelda, one of the owners, brought up making Pupusas with one of the waitresses, then asked if I knew what they were. 

Um, no.

Basically, they are like corn tortilla dough, stuffed.  Stuffed with what - that's up to you.  A few weeks later, I found a recipe on Pinterest, pinned it...and like so many other pins, it was forgotten about.

Until now.

I knew that I had leftover masa harina from something I made awhile ago (and honestly, I couldn't tell you what that was at this point!).  Salt, water...always on hand.  When I went grocery shopping, I picked up 2 kinds of Hispanic cheeses - queso fresco and chihuahua.  I figured keeping it simple on the first attempt was smart.

I crumbled the cheeses together, and figuring that they would be pretty bland (the original recipe called for pepper jack cheese), I added some tabasco sauce.

Queso fresco, chihuahua cheese, tabasco sauce
  I then made the dough.  I did have to add more water than the recipe called for, but I finally got a decent consistency.  

Dough.  Easy to make - 3 ingredients!
Now, the hard part.  Assembly.  I figured that it would take some time to develop a technique, as it does with pierogies.  Making the right size indentation and adding the right amount of filling took some practice, but I started to get the hang of it.  I probably should have flattened them a little more consistently (as some parts of most of them were much darker in some places than others), but I'll remember that for next time.

Pupusas on a griddle

This one probably turned out the best...
Bottom line - these weren't that difficult to make, and they're delicious.

I ate some with some salsa, and they were a great lunch.  AND I have leftovers for tomorrow (and probably the next day, too).  

Pupusa & salsa

Mmm,  cheesy!
Would I make these again?  Absolutely, and I can't wait to try other fillings!

But first - please get on my case until I try the tortilla and empanada recipes that I have been putting off FOREVER!  Peer pressure, come on!

For the pupusa recipe, click here.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Holidays are here...

We all have horror stories of shopping nightmares, gifts impossible to find, and shopping mishaps that ended in anger, frustration, and/or tears.  The holidays can be so stressful, which is why I choose to online shop as much as possible.

But the holidays are more than just tangible gifts.

Last Christmas was probably one of the worst, as shopping was difficult because my grandfather was so sick.  I got everyone a gift, but thoughtfulness was not a priority.  Gift cards (which I personally don't mind, but many of my recipients have the mindset that you have to "open something") were the gift of choice for many of my recipients.

However, there was a lot of generosity given to my family at this time.  When I needed to leave work at Kennywood because we weren't sure what was going to happen to my grandfather that night, my co-workers stepped up without complaint, filling in on a whim.  When he eventually passed away (5 days before Christmas), I was given the time off of Kennywood and school without issue.  When we needed pierogies for our traditional Christmas Eve dinner, and no one in the family had time to make them, friends stepped in with dozens of their own - in addition to other foods, such as cookies upon cookies upon cookies.  When we needed friends and other family members for comfort after his passing, they were there.

Christmas wasn't the same, but it could have been much, much worse.

Knowing that there are people out there who deserve nice things when bad things happen, I decided to do something nice for someone else.  A "pay-it-forward" of sorts, I felt compelled to do this one thing for a very dear friend:

Part of Matt's Facebook message to me, where I found out about his wish.
Matt is the nicest guy you'll ever meet - with bad luck of his own.  I won't put his personal business out there for the world to see, but he deserves better in his life.  Not that he doesn't have wonderful people in his life already, put it simply, I think he should have everything that he desires, because he deserves it so much due to the passion, creativity, and talent that he has.  I felt like I was destined to get what he wanted so, so badly.

This wasn't going to be easy for me, personally.  I HATE crowds and traffic, and Light-Up Night in Pittsburgh is a madhouse.  I had a game plan - go downtown right after school (2:30), park, and explore the city until a line started to form.  I even called the downtown Macy's to be sure that I wasn't going to get kicked out of the store before the autograph signing (they said that I wouldn't).

My plan started off well - I parked in the garage on the Boulevard of the Allies across from Point Park University, found an awesome spot on the 3rd floor right by the elevator, and set off to Macy's.  I found where the autograph signing would take place, then left to go out into the city.

The entire time I was out-and-about, I took short video clips of what I was doing.  You'll see why in a bit.

I needed to eat (otherwise, there was no way I was going to make it), so I stopped at Chipotle in Market Square to fuel up.  This killed some time.

I went back to Macy's to make sure that there were no crazy Gloria Gaynor Stalkers in line already (there weren't), and explored the city some more.

After awhile, and since it was raining, I decided to contain my exploration to Macy's.  I played "Musical Chairs" among the seats on different floors so I didn't seem crazy for sitting in one place for too long. While I sat, I edited the video clips together (again, you'll see the result soon). Around 6:00pm, an announcement was made that Rick Sebak was on the 5th floor, so I went to visit him for a bit.  When I came back down to the 1st floor where the autograph signing would be taking place, there was a man in line.

It was about 6:30pm by this point, and I figured I could stand there for 45 minutes.  I asked the woman at the register what I needed to do to get the autograph, and she pointed out the CDs on the table.  I bought one, and got in line - I was #2.

More people got in line shortly after, and then after Ms. Gaynor's performance, a rush of people came through the doors and formed a much longer line very quickly.  Promptly at 7:15, Ms. Gaynor arrived.

She didn't say much besides "Hello", but I informed her that this autograph was for a friend who was going to be ecstatic about receiving it.  Not only did she sign the CD, but also an 8x10, which read:

"To Matt ********, You will survive! Love, Gloria Gaynor."

(******** being his last name, of course)

I failed on the "Hey! Hey!" part, but I took what I could get.

I thanked her and her security personnel profusely, then finished editing the video and uploaded it to Facebook (thank you, free Macy's Wi-Fi).  I mentioned Matt in a comment, hoping he would see it.

Other people did - including Rick Sebak - and started to comment...but not Matt.  I had to take matters into my own hands, so I called him as I drove home.

I told him to check Facebook - and this is what he saw:

The reaction?  Priceless.  Besides feeling like this was something that I was destined to do, I knew that hearing that reaction out of him would be worth more than any issues that I had obtaining the autograph - yet, I had NO issues. It was actually fun!  I saw things I probably would not have seen otherwise (as I have never been to Light-Up Night before), and I made my dear friend happier than I have ever seen him before.  

Maybe I WAS destined to do this.  I'm so glad I did.

I stopped by his house and gave him both the autographed CD and picture.  The elation on his face was amazing.  Seeing him so happy made me even happier.

All worth it.

The moral of the story? If you have the chance to do something nice for someone - do it.  The reward to yourself is as big as the reward for that person. 

Although, I don't know how I'll ever top this...

You, however, have the opportunity to "pay-it-forward" by helping children have a Merry Christmas of their own.  Many of them would not receive any gift - not one - otherwise; even just one gift would seem like the best gift in the world to them because someone was thoughtful enough to think of them during the holiday season. To learn more about the CHS: Holiday Gift Project and how you can get involved visit:

This post was written from a prompt by Community Human Services Holiday Gift Drive in partnership with Pittsburgh Tweetup.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

"Where did you go?"

The question of the summer/fall.  

Well, I've been busy - but not busy eating out or even making food myself, unfortunately.  I took on a supplemental position as an assistant band director for the school at which I teach (yes, I do have musical background, but I assisted with more non-musical roles - uniforms, attendance, etc.), and it took up a LOT of my time.  In addition, I went from teaching ESL and 2 levels of Spanish, to teaching ESL and 4 levels of Spanish - only 1 of which I had taught before.  So, my summer and fall have been filled with lesson planning, football games, band festivals, and parades. 

And let's not forget my other job at your favorite Pittsburgh amusement park.  That's not over until Christmas.

I don't regret any of it one bit.  

However, you know I like to stay busy, and all of the band stuff is slowing down now that football season is over, so it'll be time to tackle some new restaurants, try some new recipes, and make some Hispanic/Latino foods that I have been dying to try out making myself (Empanadas? Arepas?...)  I'll be looking for some other ideas as well, and I'm hoping to see more of what the Hispanic community in Pittsburgh has to offer.  If you have any ideas or suggestions, please do not hesitate to let me know via email (, Facebook, or Twitter!

I hope to hear from you soon, and watch for more posts!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Kennywood Latino Day 2013

Finally.  A nationality day for Latinos!

I adore every nationality day at Kennywood, as you well know from previous posts - however, I have always been disappointed that there was not a Latino Day.  I am aware that Latinos only make up about 2.3% of the population in Pittsburgh, but that is all the more reason for people to know that yes, there are Latinos here, and yes, they make GREAT food.

Thankfully, Alberto Benzaquen of the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce answered my cries and organized this entire event, with some of the best entertainment from Latinos that Pittsburgh has to offer.

And - some of the best food.

I was so excited to hear that La Palapa (of Pittsburgh Public Market fame), Las Palmas (the BEST street tacos in Pittsburgh), AJ's Peruvian (never been, but excited to try it), and Casa Rasta (who have been nothing but good to me in so many ways) would be the vendors.  

La Palapa's setup

The offerings from Casa Rasta
I knew I had to get something from every single one of them.

I ventured back to Pavilion 4 on my break to find the vendors in high-gear, cooking food and setting up their assembly lines.  My first stop - Casa Rasta for some elote: grilled corn, slathered in mayonnaise (yes, mayonnaise), sprinkled with queso fresco and chile powder, and accompanied by a lime for squeezing.  Sound familiar?  See my recipe for esquites, which is essentially the same thing, but off the cob.

Half-eaten elote (I couldn't help myself!)
Next - AJ's.  They had a big spread, but knowing that I was going to be eating from every vendor, I went small and tried two of their empanadas - one pollo (chicken), and one spinach.  I also purchased an Inca Cola, one of the few "pops" I will drink in non-diet version (since there isn't one).  I've had it before from Las Palmas and Chicken Latino, so I knew I liked it (it tastes like cream soda):

Inca Cola

Spinach and chicken empanadas from AJ's Peruvian
My last stop was La Palapa, because unfortunately, Las Palmas was still in the process of setting up.  I LOVE La Palapa's pineapple tamale, so I went with that.

Pineapple Tamale from La Palapa
I carried my haul of food back to the office in a stack, worried that perhaps I would be too full to eat it all.

My stack of food! I not know myself?  I ate it all.  Every last bite.  The pineapple tamale was divine, as always; the empanadas...I've had better, sorry to say; and the elote - OH, THE ELOTE!  It was fantastic.  Superb.  A mess to eat, yes, but worth every wipe of the napkin.  I just wish people had told me about the charred corn in my teeth and on my face sooner.... savior, Jay, our IT guy, was going back to Pavilion 4 for his lunch, so I asked him to grab me a taco if Las Palmas was set up at that time.  And you know what?  They were.  He got me a chicken taco, which was just as tasty as the ones I get on Brookline Blvd. in front of their store:

A beautiful chicken taco from Las Palmas (watch out for that glob of hot sauce on top, though!)
BUT - I could have knocked Jay out for putting the HOT salsa on that taco.  HOLY MOUTH-ON-FIRE!  I survived, but I know he got a secret thrill out of watching me sweat it out (grrrrr...).

Because I was working, I missed the entertainment, but I could hear the sounds of Choro No Vinho playing while I purchased my food - they are EXCELLENT, and I am proud to have worked with Abby Gross of this fantastic band at school last year. 

I may be biased, but the food for Latino Day won over every other ethnic day this year.  I didn't write about them again this year, as the vendors hadn't changed (plus I missed my second-favorite - Greek Day - because I was on vacation), but Latino Day NEEDS to be an annual event - and I'm sure Alberto will make sure of it.

Kennywood Park
4800 Kennywood Blvd.
West Mifflin, PA 15122


Casa Rasta on UrbanspoonLas Palmas Carniceria on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Barcelona & Madrid, Spain, June 2013

Overlook view, Parque GuellWoo!  Going to Barcelona!We're going to Spain!Our dinner on the plane to BarcelonaPlane foodAirport restaurant, Barcelona
Airport restaurant menuStreet advertisingSpanish-style housesOur hotel, Hostal Lami, Barcelona (Esplugues)Worst. Elevator. Ever.Waiting for the tram
Tram signageEl Corte Ingles (department store)ArtBuying Metro ticketsAlejandra (Tour Director)Getting to the Metro
Metro stopsRobbie on the MetroThe girls on the MetroMetro stationLas RamblasHard Rock Cafe, Barcelona
From June 24-July 1, 2013, four of my students, my brother, and I traveled to Barcelona and Madrid, Spain. I had never been to Europe (none of us had), and it was quite an adventure.

And 2 years in the making, We couldn't have done it without help, especially from the Pittsburgh restaurant industry. You. Are. Awesome.

I would like to thank everyone who helped us along the way:

- Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen, for donating the proceeds of their Father's Day brunch to the trip, as well as selling City Dining Cards on our behalf. You are so generous!

- YADA YADA Empanada, for your awesome fundraiser!

- Casa Rasta, for holding a benefit dinner and donating the proceeds to the trip. Gracias!

- PGH Taco Truck, for donating drink sales on several occasions.

- The countless people who bought flower bulbs, coffee, cookie dough, bears, dining cards, beanies, and much, much more to help out our cause!

- The teachers, staff, and administrators of the West Mifflin Area School District, who have been SO supportive of having our students experience other cultures!

- A special thanks to Meg A., who handles student activity accounts for the district, for putting up with my many deposits and check requests! You rock!

I am also happy to announce that I am planning another trip for 2 years from now - to COSTA RICA! This will be an exciting one, with zip-lining, whitewater rafting, kayaking, and horseback riding! See this link for details, and let me know if you're interested:

I hope you enjoy looking at our pictures from the trip! Please let me know if you have questions or feedback!

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Pittsburgh Marathon: 5K & Half Marathon 2013

I did it again.

People said I was crazy. Doing the 5K and half marathon events as part of The Pittsburgh Marathon again this year, like I did last year. What was I thinking?

My 5K and half marathon bibs for 2013
I think I was thinking I was the same as last year.

Truth is, I'm not.  I've been very, VERY undisciplined over the past year - with both working out and eating, but mostly the eating.  This food blogging thing makes you want to eat EVERYTHING, no matter what the calorie-count.  Not to mention also eating irresponsibly at home, due to the number of ingredients on hand that may not be the healthiest, in addition to a lack of planning time for meals.

What happened to me?

I remember starting Weight Watchers 2 1/2 years ago, and being PSYCHO about it.  I could not go over my daily points target, or I'd feel like a failure.  I lost so much weight (92 pounds!), slowly and steadily. 

Now the thought of tracking everything that goes in my mouth seems like a daunting task.  There have been days when I've tried, and by dinner time, it all went out the window.  Breakfast and lunch are easy when I'm working, but once I get home - forget it.

And weekends? Ha. 

So needless to say, my training for this year's marathon events was lackluster.  I made sure to get my long runs in when I needed to, but as for shorter runs in between - they were few and far between.  I did a 5K in North Park three weeks earlier, and my time was god-awful (it was quite hilly, though), and I was SUPER sore afterwards.  I almost thought that doing the half-marathon wasn't going to happen.

But, I said I was going to do it, so I persevered.

The 5K didn't seem like such a big deal, since I had been doing long runs for my training.  It was CHILLY that morning, so I went with long sleeves, which I hate doing when I know I'm going to run. All of my training runs, with the exception of my 10-mile run the week before, were cold, but it was going to warm up quickly this day.  

5K Start Line
My Aunt Marie and her friends Theresa and Tina were running/walking the 5K as well, so we carpooled (with Theresa driving us to the North Shore, while Marie drove Tina and I to a garage near the finish line downtown).  

The course was different from last year's, and I have to say, this year's was better.  A bit flatter, with enough sights and motivation to keep me moving at a decent pace.  

My 5K Results, 2013
My time was 34:39 - about 3 minutes faster than the 5K three weeks earlier, and only 1 minute, 2 seconds slower than the year before - definitely better than I thought I would do.

A look back at the finish line - which I would see again the next day.
My idea of carb-loading for the next day - free cotton candy from Pittsburgh Candy Buffet Co. What is wrong with me?!
I got more exercise later that day by attending the expo at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center (which I had also attended the day before, to pick up the packets and do some shopping).  The expo is one of the best events of the year, with hundreds of organizations showing off their products and services.  I got myself a new phone case for running (which I LOVE) and a few other items, like more running socks, at great prices.

Water Walls at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center
My name on The Wall of Runners
The next morning, when I got up at 4 AM, I was nervous.  Nervous that I wouldn't finish.  Nervous that I would hurt myself.  Nervous that I would fail.

But I had to try.

My cousin, Tommy, was running the full marathon, so we met up with the rest of my family at my aunt's house in Munhall to take one vehicle downtown.  We said our goodbyes in PPG Plaza, used the Port-O-John's before the lines got crazy, and headed to our corrals - I was in Corral E, while he was in Corral A.

Port-O-John's all over Pittsburgh for the marathon.  These ones were in Shadyside.
There was no way I was finishing the half before he was finishing the full.  He's that good.

I waited in Corral E for over an hour before we started moving toward the start line.  We heard the National Anthem, God Bless America, and some other music, but the announcements were impossible to understand until we got closer to the start.  Ryan Clark from the Steelers was doing some announcing, as he had for the last 3 years that I have done marathon events (he's awesome at it, too!)  We got closer, and closer - and then we crossed the start.

And we were off.  

Luckily, I spotted my family not long after the starting line on Liberty Avenue, and called out to them.  They spotted me trotting by, yelled and waved, and then I was off toward the Strip District, one of my favorite places in Pittsburgh.

I ran down Liberty, and thought, "I can make it to the 1-mile marker without walking."  And I did!  I felt good, being on the flat road, so I kept going as long as I could without walking.  We made it to the turn-around to get on Penn Ave., and I figured we were approaching the 2-mile marker soon.  My goal was to make it there without walking. 

And I did.  I have never, EVER ran 2 miles straight without walking.  Yay for firsts!

I walked for awhile, then ran until the 16th Street Bridge.  There are 5 bridges on the half-marathon course, and they are KILLER when you first get on them.  I learned last year, though, that walking uphill and running downhill is the way for me to go.

We ran into the North Side, then back over the 9th Street Bridge (Rachel Carson Bridge), then back to the North Side over the 7th Street Bridge (Andy Warhol Bridge).  Only 2 more bridges to go.

Last year, when I ran with my cousin Nicole, she had to stop to pee - and I had a feeling that I might need to do the same this year.  I didn't want to, but I had the urge - I just kept telling myself to sweat it off.  I refused to stop.

I knew that my Twitter buddies, Mike and Kelly Pound, were working the water station at the 6-mile marker on the North Side.  As I approached, I looked for the red bucket hat Mike said he'd be wearing, and spotted it easily.  I ran over to him, and after a fist bump, words of encouragement, and a cup of water, I continued the course (sorry I missed Kelly, though!)

I was amazed by mile 7 at how quickly the miles were coming up - training and a race are totally different, especially when there are THOUSANDS upon thousands of people along the race course as motivation.

I like motivation.

The West End Bridge always seems like the longest, but with the best view.  As much as I wanted to take a picture, I didn't want my time to suffer.  We continued into the West End Village Shoppes, where it was like a huge block party.  Running without walking was easy to do there.

And then - West Carson Street.  Ugh.  Uphill most of the way, so lots of walking was done there.  I was losing steam, and feeling blah.

Luckily, as we got into the South Side, there was Gu.  I have never tried Gu before, but I needed something to help out my stamina.  I had some, then passed through another fluid station where I took both Gatorade and water, then finished the Gu.

Gu got me through.  That stuff works!

I got a second wind as I ran (and walked) through the South Side.  I spotted Julia Thrower near Nakama, and we exchanged "hi's" and she shouted a "Looking good!"  I was surprised at how fast the South Side seemed, and the Birmingham Bridge was just ahead.  

Another fluid station and a relatively flat bridge, along with the 11-mile marker, made me realize that I was indeed going to be able to finish this race.  The course rule is that you must be over the bridge by 11:00 AM, or you have to board the sweep - I checked my time on my phone: 9:39 AM.

Thank goodness.

And then the worst part of the course - Forbes Avenue.  A highly-graded road, this is the most dreaded part of the half-marathon course.  A man was on the side, shouting, "You're halfway up the LAST hill!"  I thought, that's not true, but it helps.

We turned onto Jumonville with the realization that there was ANOTHER hill going toward Duquesne University, with the 12-mile marker and another fluid station, with many encouraging people letting us know that this was indeed the LAST hill, and it was all downhill from there.

And it was, with the exception of a slight hill near the finish line.

I spotted my mom, who took my picture and ran to get to the finish line (I walked up the last hill and told her I'd let her catch up).  Then I ran to the finish as hard as I could.

My time was 2:44:24 - almost 11 minutes off of last year's time of 2:55:17.  I got my finisher's medal, got my picture taken, took every provided food imaginable (water, banana, Eat 'N Park Smiley Cookie...), then ran into Jennie Roth, who had also just finished.  We congratulated each other, then it was off to find my family.  

My 2013 half marathon finisher medal
I spotted my mom heading into Point State Park, but getting to her was not easy.  Dodging a barrage of people, I finally caught up to her, and then it was a matter of finding my aunt, uncle, and cousin Tommy.  Text messaging was failing (as I'm sure everyone was trying to find each other), but luckily my aunt called my mom, and we were able to reunite.

Tommy did in fact finish the full marathon before I finished the half - with a time of 2:37:30!  He was 14th out of the men, and 3rd in his age division.  That speed is also what made him finish the Boston Marathon 3 weeks earlier - long before the tragedy occurred.  Thank goodness for that speed.

Many, MANY of my friends and co-workers did either the half, full, or relay - everyone that I tracked finished, and with awesome times!  I'm so proud of all of them!

I could feel the soreness start to set in as we walked back to the parking garage - then once we drove home, and I tried to get out of the back of the van, it REALLY set in.  I went home to shower and get ready for lunch at Red Robin (my aunt's choice), and then - something was wrong.

My stomach was absolutely killing me.  I was getting stomach cramps, like I did when I first developed Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which hasn't been much of a problem lately.  I know not to eat pork, which is a trigger, and I hadn't.  We went to Red Robin, and I felt so horrible that I ended up taking my entire salad (minus maybe 3 bites) home.

I spent the rest of the afternoon doubled-over in pain at my parents' house, with cramps coming and going.  I was ok by dinnertime, and was sure to eat (as I knew I had burned at lot of calories and HAD to eat).

Do I regret doing these races?  Absolutely not.  Even as I am in pain today and walking...funny...I don't regret doing them.  What I do regret, and what I have learned, is that I need to start taking better care of myself again.  I weighed myself this morning - and the scale says that I have lost 6 pounds in the last 2 days.  Good that I've lost weight, but that'st not very healthy - and I'm sure that will be different tomorrow.  

This year's races would have been easier if I hadn't weighed over 20 pounds more than I did last year.  So, Weight Watchers, you need to become my friend again.  Food is controlling me, and I need to control it.  Even if it means that my blog stats suffer, I need to do this.  I am tracking my food today, and I will be doing so from now on.  If I say I will, then I will.

I'm saying it.  Motivate me, people - it got me through the races, and it will help me get through this.

Remember this?

Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon
UPMC Health Plan Pittsburgh Half Marathon
Fed Ex Ground Pittsburgh Marathon Relay
UPMC Health Plan/UPMC Sports Medicine Pittsburgh 5K Run