Monday, July 27, 2009

Return of the Killer Instinct (Pittsburgh Tri Race Report)

Somewhere along the line, I lost it. My killer instinct. Who knows whether it was from age or from my bike accident? It was already gone before I returned to racing last year. I no longer possessed the ability to kick into 5th gear to win a race. But I wasn't mourning. I'm 44 years old -- I certainly don't expect to win races anymore. These days, I don't even expect to win my age group. I have become content to travel to races and enjoy the experience.

Most of you who know me are probably thinking "WHAT? Who is SHE kidding?" But, yes, after Ironman CDA, my killer instinct seemed long gone, dead and buried. Until yesterday in Pittsburgh. Yesterday in Pittsburgh, I found it. And I yanked it up from the depths to win the overall women's race in the Pittsburgh Triathlon.

The Pittsburgh Tri is one of my favorite races. Because I love Pittsburgh. I love the culture, the museums, the restaurants, the overall setting of the city -- the beautiful city at the "Y" of the three rivers, surrounded by bridges and small mountains. I look forward to this race every year because I get to see Pittsburgh again.

The story for me this year was "the chase." Sure, there are many stories that could be written about this race: the bike course is brutal (a 40K in two loops of 6 miles uphill and 6 miles down in the HOV lane of I-279); the 10K run is flat but slow because it's on a dirt trail; the weather is usually hot, humid and often rains (this year it rained on the bike course); and the first leg of the 1500M swim is upstream (this year, against a stronger-than-usual current in the Allegheny River). But for me this year, the race came down to the last two miles.

In those last two miles of the run, my killer instinct returned to its full former glory. After putting in my fastest swim and bike times ever in Pittsburgh, I found myself about 1.5 minutes behind the women's leader. I knew this because my husband Jim yelled it out -- he also conveniently left out the fact that the woman in front of me was a fast runner. I already knew she was a fast biker because she passed me on the second loop uphill like I was standing still. Usually people who pass me like that can be reeled in quickly on the run, but not this one. By the time I even got a glimpse of her, we were almost to the 3-mile turnaround, and I had all but given up hope to defend last year's victory. I was running relaxed but fast, and I had begun doubting my ability to hold the pace. Unfortunately, I didn't even know what pace I was running due to lack of mile markers.

The only thing I had going for me was that the leader did not know I was closing in. That all changed at the turnaround when she saw me about 10-15 seconds behind. Whether she was running scared at that point, I'll never know - it was ME who was beginning to fall apart. My mind started the questioning:
  • Was 5 weeks enough time to recover from an ironman?
  • What's the big deal if I finish second?
  • Is it time to accept the inevitable? (that at my age I won't be winning any races)
  • How can I expect to hold this pace even if I pass her?
  • If I do catch her, how will I feel when I die and she passes me at the finish line?
All the while, I was making gains, and in the midst of the questioning, I found myself right on her shoulder with about two miles to go. I had to make a quick decision: pass her now and hang on for dear life? or hang behind and try to pass her with about a half-mile to go? (risking that she might also surge in the last minutes of the race?) There was one thing I was sure of - I couldn't continue the mental gymnastics.

Enter, my killer instinct. I decided I would force my hand now and pass her with only one goal: to end the race. I wanted HER to throw in the towel - to give up chasing me, thinking I couldn't be caught. I mustered up my strength and made my move. She tried to go with me. I accelerated and she dropped back. I never looked back. I didn't want to give any indication that I was feeling the exhaustion. I was now running on pure desire. I wanted the win, and I was willing to work for it. Just one more chance to cross that finish line as first overall woman. Lord knows, every chance I get could be the last. My gamble worked, and I won by more than a minute. It also turned out to be my fastest time ever in the Pittsburgh Tri, a race I've done 5 times. And, although the race was small and I only beat a handful of women, I'll take it. And I'm glad it was in Pittsburgh. Because I LOVE Pittsburgh. And they also have the coolest trophies. (View the full results.)

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