Staff Writer, Ebony Montgomery

I would like to introduce you to my puppy, Rye.  I adopted her back in April.  She is a fantastic companion and has endless energy.  If you have ever had a puppy, you certainly understand that they need plenty of exercise.  This works out well for me because I love to take her everywhere that I go. 

One of our favorite activities to do together is hiking.  We go hiking 2-3 days most weeks.  As a new puppy owner, I have learned quite a bit, and I’d like to share some of that with you today.  

Start Slow 

If you are like me and still have a puppy, remember that they are just babies.  They may seem like they have a lot of energy but can quickly become overwhelmed on a long walk.  Take plenty of breaks and be sure to pay attention to their hydration and reaction to the temperature.   

What to Pack 

Here is a shortlist of items that I am always sure to pack every time that Rye and I go hiking.   

  1. Lots of water 
  2. A Portable Bowl 
  3. Treats/Dog Food  
  4. Plastic Bags for well…you know 
  5. A Chew Toy 
  6. A Towel, Rye loves to jump into any water 
  7. Dog Sunscreen 

Whenever I start packing her bag, Rye gets super excited.  She knows that we are about to go on an adventure.  

How does this compare to your checklist?  Let me know if I forgot anything.   

Be Ready to Explore 

This is the best part!  EVERYTHING in the world is still so exciting and new to Rye.  She finds smells, and other animals the most intriguing.  When you take your dog for a hike, be sure to take in the moment with them.  It is important to not be in a rush and to let them discover their surroundings.  Be patient, and soak in everything as if you were in your dogs position.  Nature is a lot more fun that way.   

Introducing the Youth Nature Running Series

Staff Writer, Kelly Sarkis

Running has long been a love of mine—I started running when I was in 10th grade as a 1600m runner. I ran at snail speed compared to my teammates, but it didn’t matter. I was there to spend time with my friends, get some exercise, and have an excuse to eat a chicken patty every day.

I continued my running journey in college by joining Pitt’s Club Cross Country team. There, I fell in love with the running community. Joining this team even inspired me to run the 2017 Pittsburgh Marathon. Today, I am still a slow runner, but I am running three times as many miles on the trails of Pittsburgh’s parks, training for my first ultramarathon.

Why am I so hooked on running long distances? Nature.

Whenever I run at Frick or Schenley Park, an immediate sense of calm takes over my body as I step onto the tree-covered trails. I feel a weight lifted off my shoulders as I go further and further down the trail, and my mind refocuses on my surroundings—the birds chirping, water flowing over rocks, the rustling of the leaves. The meditative motions of running paired with urban nature cause a sense of relaxation to take over my body. (Delete: In addition to the meditative motions of running, I feel so relaxed from being in the wilderness.)

Running and spending time outdoors has countless benefits. Running improves cardiovascular fitness, strengthens bones and muscles, and boosts brainpower. Time spent outdoors is also known to boost the immune system, decrease stress, and increase attention span among other benefits. Combine running and the outdoors, and you can transform your overall wellbeing.

Because of these benefits, Venture Outdoors and P3R’s Kids of STEEL partnered to create the Youth Nature Running Series. This series is designed for kids and their caregivers who want to enjoy running while exploring the outdoors. This 15-day program incorporates run-walk activities with short nature lessons. This program is designed for anyone, runners and non-runners alike. All you need is a sturdy pair of shoes and a willingness to try something new, and you are ready to start!

Each day, there is a postcard cut out which contains a workout and short nature activity participants can choose to complete before or after their run. During the run, participants learn about different types of trees, practice walking like a fox, and master the square knot. No trails are needed, as nature can be found in a city as well.

Staff Writer, Kelly Sarkis

 

As you’re reading this, I should have already raced my first ultramarathon—the Glacier Ridge 50-Miler.  

Even worse? In less than a month, I was supposed to run the Laurel Highlands Ultra, starting in Ohiopyle and head north on the 70-mile Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail to Seward, PA.   

To say I’m bummed is an understatement. I’ve put in over 1000 miles of trainingran through 4 pairs of shoes, and consumed insane amounts of fruit snacks.  

My mind has trained to be out in the woods staring at my feet for 10+ hours going up and down rocky slopes, knowing that the view at the top probably isn’t great, thanks to Pittsburgh’s notoriously cloudy weather. I can endure cold, wet daysdiscomfort in my legs, and forcing food in when I’m only 5 miles into a 40-mile day.  

Seeing my mind transform into this beast has been so rewarding. When I started this journey, it was overwhelming to think about all the long runs I’d need to do. I broke each long run down into smaller, more manageable pieces. For example, a 30mile run becomes three singledigit runs or a 20mile run becomes just spending 5 hours outside.  I’ve proven to myself time and time again that through all the mental and physical challengesI can, and will, endure 

Of course, there is something calming about being in nature for hours on end. It’s been unbelievably beautiful seeing the woods lifeless in January come back a breathing, green tunnel in April. I get to see wild things untouched by humans (did you know porcupines could climb trees?!). The repetitive motion of running is meditative, and the runner’s high has me hooked.  

On the day of that was supposed to be the Pittsburgh Marathon, I went for a long run on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, tearing up for all runners I passed who are also missing out on their race day.  We cheered for each other as we passed on the trail, even though I wasn’t running this virtual race. Since I had been running in the woods for so long, away from other runners, I forgot the true power and support of the running community. 

Coming this far in training and not running was not an option. I finished out my training plan, and I decided to virtually run the Possum’s Revenge 69 Miler, hosted by Trail Racing Over Texas. Close enough, to 70, right?  

It won’t be the race day I was hoping for, but I’m thankful for all the friends and family that have supported me through this journey.  I’m planning on doing the Laurel Highlands Ultra in 2021 and am looking forward to see how 2020’s events make the running community even stronger.  

 

Book Recommendations by Venture Outdoors Staff

Staff Writer, Jojo Buss

Being stuck indoors gives me time to take stock of my book collection. While I cannot explore the desert or kayaking down a river, these books give me the sense of wonder and adventure that one needs to stay sane in this different time. Reading books about the outdoors transports you to a different world, one filled with grass and dirt and rain and sweat, one that I’m trying to live in all the time. Below I have listed some of my favorite outdoor books, in no particular order. These books have taught me about our nation’s history, public lands, how to get “sendy”, and how to advocate for the places you love most. 

“The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon” by Kevin Fedarko

If you’ve ever been to the Grand Canyon, you know it’s one of the most surreal places in the world. This book is all about my favorite part of the canyon, the Colorado River. While the first half of the book discusses the history of dams and how the canyon and river came to be what they are today, the second half tells a riveting story of how a group of boaters ran the Colorado River in some of the fastest and highest water conditions ever seen. 

This book should be read before a big adventure, use the thrill from the river to increase your overall stoke for what lies ahead.

“The Hour Of Land” by Terry Tempest Williams

Terry Tempest Williams is one of America’s greatest writers, conservationists, and advocates for public lands. In this book she breaks down each chapter into a different story about our nation’s National Parks, Monuments, Grasslands, and Waterways. Williams finds a way to describe these scenes with such details that you automatically get transported there. 

Read this book while sitting in a grassy field, soaking in the sunshine, and daydreaming in between chapters about your next road trip.

“Under the Stars: How America Fell in Love with Camping” by Dan White

Ever since I was a little girl something about sleeping outside, in the dirt, under the stars, listening to the bugs was all I wanted to do. In this book, White gives you a breakdown of how camping came to be. From guided trips in the Adirondacks with Teddy Roosevelt to learning what exactly “glamping” is, this book takes you on a historical journey of sleeping outdoors. 

This book is best read at night, snuggled up in a down blanket, preferably by headlamp light.

Finish those three books in no time and need more suggestions?

Honorable Mentions:

“The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Sign”s by Tristan Gooley

“The Best American Travel Writing” – Any Year

Literally anything written by Edward Abbey

 

This piece has been written by Jojo Buss, Community Programs Manager at Venture Outdoors

Running With My Dog… Attached to Me

Staff Writer, Lo Zemanek

Like many runners in the Pittsburgh area, I have been training to run for the city’s (now virtual) half marathon this May. Unlike many runners, however, most of my training runs have involved the use of a 30-foot rope tied around my waist – with my dog attached at the other end.

Meet Garner!

Hiking in West Virginia

Garner is a two-year-old border collie that we rescued from Animal Protectors. When we first found out we would be the lucky new parents of this rescue pup, I started having visions of spending all my future training runs with my dog at my side: just logging in miles on forested trails with my dog off-leash, scurrying to occasionally chase a squirrel, but then returning faithfully to my side. This, however, has certainly not been the reality.

He knows how to “sit pretty”, stand on his hind legs, play dead, and even close doors. He is a great cuddler and gives tons of puppy kisses. He loves all dogs and people of all ages. He also has high anxiety, is terrified of cats, and is a flight risk – in a little over the year that we’ve had him, he has run away five times. Do you know how busy 40th Street in Lawrenceville is during rush hour? Now imagine there is a dog that is scared of fast-moving cars zooming through these streets during that time. It’s terrifying. And getting my miles in as a run-away dog chaser is not exactly what I had hoped for while planning this year’s training runs.

Learning how to “stand”

So… we had to create a new plan for my half marathon training that helps both me and my anxiety-ridden pup get in our exercise, spend time outside, and still have fun.

About four times a week since I started training in February, Garner and I jog to an open green space not far from our home. When we get to the green space, I attach him to a simple 30-foot rope that is connected to a belt around my waist and I toss a ball or frisbee (depending on his mood) to him and run alongside him as he chases and catches it. We do this until we reach 3-5 miles. I don’t get bored of this running around in traveling circles with only a 30-foot radius – his excitement over catching the toy never seems to stop, so the fun can continue on for up to an hour. Other neighborhood dog parents who bring their dog to this green space and enjoy the luxury of having their dog off-leash look at me with a sideways glance – but Garner doesn’t seem to mind either way.

On my long run days, this is a fun way to break up the run: Garner and I will run for about 4-5 miles using this long-leash method, then  I drop him back off at the house and I am out the door to finish out another 6-8 miles on my own (so I can actually spend my own personal time in the Allegheny Cemetery, where dogs aren’t allowed).

And even when you might think running 4-5 miles chasing a frisbee with a human attached to him would tire him out for the rest of the day, he still longingly looks out the window to get back outside a mere half-hour after we return to the house (yes, to our dismay, you can see that our countertop is one of his favorite sentry posts in our home).

His favorite look-out spot

Although the in-person Pittsburgh Half-Marathon has been canceled this year, I still plan on running 13.1 miles virtually on my own in a few weeks. And I know I will be able to attribute much of my success on my runs to Garner who spends so much time (literally) attached to me. He has been a continual reminder to both my husband and I that all good things take hard work. Garner has only been with us for a year and he has come a long way. I do have hope that maybe, in a few more years, we will be able to ditch the leash forever and run free in the woods together for miles on end. In the meantime, you can catch us running around Lawrenceville attached to each other with the help of a 30-foot rope.

To see what a typical training run with my dog looks like, watch the video below.

Training run with my dog

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