|Morning in Pittsburgh|
It's obvious I needed to finally get scientific in my nutrition analysis, so I gave in and did the sweat rate test - you know, the one where you weigh yourself before you run, then run for an hour monitoring your fluid intake, then weigh yourself after you run. The difference in your weight minus the weight of what you drank is the amount of fluid lost per hour. I used one of those online calculators to do the math.. I put in my weight before, my weight after, and my fluid intake in ounces (not estimated - I drank with a calibrated water bottle). The answer came back - in black and white - and no, I am NOT making this up: "The numbers you entered suggest that your fluid loss was WAY the f*ck off the charts - please check your numbers or retest." I checked my numbers. I even got on the scale again. Yep, the numbers are right. I plan to retest this week.
But.. so.. if the answer IS accurate, I'm so screwed that it won't matter what I eat or drink in my next Ironman. Seriously, it must be a fluke that I've ever even finished one in the first place.
In the meantime, I decided to focus on something much more entertaining and less likely to be screwed up by me - speed work and short racing distances. Thus, I entered an Olympic-distance race I've always loved: the Pittsburgh Triathlon.
|View from the Pittsburgh swim start - do you see why I love this race?|
I've not been able to go back to Pittsburgh for two years because Ironman Lake Placid fell on the same weekend in July. But this year, I just had to go back to Pittsburgh to race (I ran the Pittsburgh Marathon in 2010). I never go in blind, though - I checked results from the past two years only to find that it had gotten even more competitive, and I didn't stand a chance at winning the women's race. It's easier to know these things in advance, thus I could set some kind of goal - it was to find out how my newfound bike speed stacked up against my times in the past and Pittsburgh's tough bike course.
|Downtown Pittsburgh from the North Shore|
One of the other great things I've been able to witness by doing this race five times over ten years is the improvement to the Allegheny Riverfront, specifically the North Shore where the race takes place. The original charity supported by the Pittsburgh Tri is Friends of the Riverfront. The first time I did the race, the swim was made wetsuit legal at 80 degrees because of the polluted water, and the run course included a short dirt trail being constructed by Friends of the Riverfront. By the fourth time I did the race, the Allegheny River water had become increasingly clean (dead fish were barely a memory), and all six miles of the run took place on the riverfront trail. It was nice to see such an improvement in an area that had been in a state of severe decay.
|Yeah, it's early (and my body-marking was all horizontal)|
(I hoped it was a sign.)
The race began just below PNC Park (the baseball stadium). We had to swim a short section against the current and then two 90-degree turns would send us with the current to a point directly below Heinz Field (the football stadium). Air temperature at the start was in the mid to high 60s, and the water temperature was barely wetsuit legal at 78 degrees. In the interest of a fast transition, I opted to wear my BlueSeventy swimskin.
The second turn buoy sent us downstream and things got easier immediately. I spotted the next orange buoy and swam in its direction. While approaching it, I realized I was WAY off course and actually swimming right toward the starting line - yowza, unfortunately I made the same mistake as the earlier swimmer I mentioned. When I looked up, I saw a line of swimmers about 50 or more yards to my left. This was NOT the way I envisioned my race starting - frantic, I spotted the next buoy, put my head down, and swam my way back onto the course as quickly as possible. By the time I was back in the mix, there were only three buoys left to navigate. Once I was back on course, I reminded myself to have fun, stretched out my stroke and did my best to enjoy the last few hundred yards... right up until someone swam me into the final turn buoy. My hand accidentally hit him in the head and I stopped to say "sorry," but he was angry and yelled at me. I turned and swam away to avoid fisticuffs.
|Everyone looks a little confused.|
And then it happened again... As I entered the transition zone, I heard... ANOTHER Radiohead song ("15 Step"). What the? Seriously? Am I dreaming? I had to decide what to do - stay and listen? or get out on the bike course? My decision was to get out of transition ahead of the girl who led me out of the water. I'd have to listen to Radiohead after the race.
(But now I was sure it was a sign.)
The Pittsburgh bike course consists of two laps of one big hill - as expected in a city that's built into a (three-) river valley. It takes place on I-279, in the HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lane - without traffic of course. Bikers must avoid road debris (at an all-time minimum this year) and rumble strips. Although they didn't bother me at all, I overheard angry complaints about the rumble strips after the race.
|Finishing the first loop|
The second loop was similar to the first in feel and speed, and I made up very little on the woman in front of me. At the turn-around, I did notice another woman only about a minute behind me - she was easy to see as she had a pink bike and a pink helmet. With my biking history, I expected her to overtake me before transition, but I didn't expect the spectacular fashion in which I handed her the lead. When I dismounted my bike, I lost control and almost fell down. My bike hit the pavement, and I did some serious damage to my hip just in stabilizing myself and not falling down.
One of the worst things ever, as a veteran of a sport, is to hear someone (I imagine it was someone's mother) say: "do you need some help?" when you have to pick up your bike and run into the transition zone.
|Yeah, my hip was hurting|
By the time I was running, the pink girl (no longer pink but wearing a Virginia Tech orange tri top) was now in front of me. In transition, Jim gave me the information that the leader was about 2.5 minutes ahead, but if I just relaxed and ran my own race, I "should" catch her. I wondered if he even saw pink-now-orange girl leave T2 in front of me looking very strong and determined.
I told myself not to chase her and settled into a good rhythm. In less than a half-mile, I was running on her heels and (in my mind) it was only a matter of time. I think she knew it too - she kept turning around like she was running scared. I held my pace and passed her before the first mile but not without a fight. She surged several times, and then finally gave up trying to hold me off. I couldn't help but smile to myself knowing I was more than twice her age.
Somewhere near the second mile, I chased down the leader. It happened so quickly that I immediately backed off on my run to avoid burning myself out just in case a really fast runner was still behind me. Conserving energy, I still tried to run a steady pace to the finish. With about one mile to go, I met a young guy named Ryan who was doing his first triathlon. He said he would try to hang with me and so we carried each other to the finish line.
|Coming into the finish|
|The infamous watch check at the finish line.|
My fueling in this race was simple and effective: one Gu Roctane and 12 ounces of water before the start, one 24-oz bottle of Gu Roctane drink on the bike, and only water during the run. The reason I took only water during the run was because I couldn't decide whether to drink or pour it on myself. I think the air temperature had reached near 80 degrees by the run. For the middle of summer, the weather was mostly perfect for this race.
|Reminiscing with Pittsburgh media |
who waited for me to come out of "Mr. John" Flushing Unit
It was a good weekend: Radiohead, a triathlon win, and a course PR. The only way to top it off was to get ourselves over to Carson Street for my other favorite thing to do in Pittsburgh - order the English Breakfast and a pint at Piper's Pub.
With a season like the one I'm having, I needed it. All of it.
|See? Awesome. Fish. Trophy.|
(anti-fashion Gu Energy socks)
(wicked cool Punk Rock Racing visor)