Friday, August 2, 2013

Patience and PT: Pittsburgh Triathlon Race Recap

Ah, Pittsburgh. What can I say? I feared my sixth attempt to defy the "age" odds at the annual Pittsburgh Triathlon - my favorite Olympic Distance race - would not go as well as it had in the past. In four out of the five times I've done the Pittsburgh Tri, I've been able to run down the leader(s) for the overall win. In fact, in this race, because of my lack of skill and prowess on the bike, I fully expect to fall behind in the quad-burning mountain-climb of a bike leg.

And I've always had my run speed. I was always determined to go down fighting on the run in this event. I would make the massively-quadded bikers who crushed me have to earn that win by running scared when they saw me at the three-mile turn-around.

That all ended on Sunday. To my dismay, I didn't go down fighting. In fact, if you were listening Sunday morning, I think I went out with a whimper. And now I sit in front of my computer trying to fight off the demons of Pittsburgh that are trying to kill my spirit of the comeback.

After all, it was the Pittsburgh Tri (and win) that marked my return to racing in 2003, just two months after being hospitalized as a trauma case. It was the Pittsburgh Tri that got me back on my feet after a four year mental layoff from said accident. And it was the Pittsburgh Tri that I registered for as soon as I made my decision to go to the ITU World Championship in London this year. It's a barometer. I can usually tell exactly where I'm at based on my performance in Pittsburgh.

And now - let's just say I'm having a hard time putting things in perspective.

My husband Jim says I need to be patient. That I'm expecting too much. He has a point. After several months of very little running, I've started the hardest part of my build-up (in all three disciplines) for London. I did a 40K time-trial in training last week. I also had my first run of longer than 50 minutes the next day. And I'm in a desperate struggle with my physical therapist to make my both my legs work - with strength and without pain - by September 14.

The problem is that we're in the midst of triathlon racing season and I'm running out of opportunities to have the proverbial something-to-hang-my-hat-on if (when?) all goes awry in London. Every year older I get, the more I wonder if this is my last chance to really feel strong. Or "fast." Or just "good."

There it goes - the snowball...

To back up a bit, to before the race... I was, indeed, feeling upbeat about my progress last week. Especially in physical therapy. As of last weekend, I could run - regularly - without a cast and without fear of "scary" pain in my right tibia. However, an attempt to run fast reduced me to hobbling from pain in my left hip (this was probably the thing that did me in last year - and the thing that caused my stress fracture).

The next day, I had to have my hip seriously worked on by my physical therapist. He was able to "put more space" in the joint, and, miraculously, I was able to run on Thursday with a freedom of movement (and lack of pain) I hadn't experienced in a long time (maybe years). I'm not sure why what he did worked this time, but it did.

With this new-found pain-free hip-movement, I apparently expected immediately results. No. Patience is NOT my middle name.

Swim start, last wave: women 40+ and relays, and my
right "high" elbow.
So, there I was, at the starting line of the Pittsburgh Triathlon - the defending champ. And before the gun, last year's runner-up approached me to tell me she suffered a broken pelvis two weeks after the race last year. Then she commented on my running speed - last-year. I related my current stress-fracture woes - my running was non-existent this year. Although I secretly thought (hoped?) I could pull something fast out on the run.

Race day started out cloudy and rainy - the transition area was all but under water - but the Allegheny River was strangely unaffected. In fact, the current was almost non-existent. The 1500m swim of the Pittsburgh Tri starts upstream, and besides a short swim upstream, it is mostly with the (said) current and parallel to the shoreline. It's great for spectators because they can watch their athletes during the entire swim (Jim managed to capture on camera my swim and all its idiosyncrasies - especially my asymmetric stroke). When we got in the water, I found it odd that I lacked the familiar adrenaline rush at the start. With no warm-up, it took me about half the swim to "find" my stroke, but by the time I reached the swim finish, I got a mental boost by catching several of the relay swimmers who went out much faster than I did.

The "low" (read: nonexistent) elbow.
After the swim, athletes have to run up a concrete ramp to transition which is in a small grassy area on the river's north shore between Heinz Stadium (home of the Steelers) and PNC Park (home of the Pirates). It was not a wetsuit-legal race, which made the long run to transition much easier. I took a split when I crossed the timing mat - it read about 20 minutes (almost the same as last year's time). I didn't chase anyone, I jogged to my bike, got out of my speed suit quickly - which wasn't easy with the spongy wet footing - and got out of there.

Swim exit: no, I can't walk and chew gum at the same time

The bike leg is basically a two-loop hill. It's in the HOV lane of I-279 so there are no cars to contend with, but it's just one giant hill. Last year was my best time on this course, and this year, I swore I would be faster because... well, because I'm faster on the bike.

Or so I thought. I rode hard and felt great through the bike leg, but when all was said and done, I got my butt kicked on the downhills. Which begs the question, after I was flying by people on the uphills, how does EVERYONE ride faster than me on the downhill? My aero position is good (I checked my shadow when the sun came out). My bike is supposedly one of the fastest (Cervelo P3). And yet, I end up losing all my gains on the downhills. And yes, I am pedaling, not just coasting.

Bike photos - at least I was smiling in my slowness:

Oh well. So I rolled into transition at around 1:08 for the 40K bike course. I didn't need Jim to tell me how far behind I was. I knew it was over six minutes at best. I racked my bike, jumped into my shoes and grabbed my hat and sunglasses. I knew immediately there would be a problem with my shoes. In an attempt to refine my horrible bike-to-run transition, I adjusted my running shoes too lose this time. The ground was puddles, the grass was squishy, my shoes were flopping all over the place. This has injury written all over it. So I stopped and tried to adjust.

Not once, but twice.

No, I was not focused on my run. I'm not sure what I was focusing on. But it wasn't running. I heard Jim yell not to chase anyone.

As though I would. Or could.

Maybe I do look a little distressed.
I think I gave up early. Right around the one-mile marker, I realized I just didn't have the killer instinct. I thought my run would be faster than the week before, but when I looked down at my watch, it showed a 7:40 first mile. That's when the negative talk started. What the hell was wrong with me? I feel good. My legs are working better than they have in years. My form is good. What then?

Who knows. I ran hard, but not hard enough to even work my way into second place. I finished third overall, five minutes slower than last year, with a very disappointing 44-minute 10K, and a lot of questions.

A little better? Starting to smile
because it was almost over.
When I got up on the podium, the winner (the girl I talked to at the starting line) said "I saw you out there running. You looked like you were in a LOT of pain." Really? This threw me for a loop. I didn't remember feeling much pain. Until I saw my splits, I actually felt balanced and strong on the run - and certainly not limping along in pain. Hmmm.... Jim said my form looked good.

Was he telling the truth? Is my perception of my situation different than what's actually happening? Am I expecting too much? Seriously, have I reached that age when I can no longer make big improvements in short periods? More importantly, do I care anymore? Could it be more mental than physical? Is this what it feels like to be washed up? And - omg, the horror - should I find another sport? Something more along the lines of shuffleboard? (I always thought curling might be fun.)

Lots of questions. And no answers. I hope they're out there. Because I'm (literally) running out of time.

No comments:

Post a Comment