Thursday, May 9, 2013

2013 Pittsburgh Half Marathon Race Report

The Countdown!
This past Sunday, I raced in the UPMC Pittsburgh Half Marathon. This was something of a last minute decision to race, but when the opportunity presented itself and a bib became available late the Wednesday night before the race, I jumped at it. I had been thinking all spring about how I would like to run an open half marathon, and that I wished I was signed up for Pittsburgh but it had closed out. I also felt like I should get one more race under my belt between New Orleans and Eagleman, and was hungry to race some more after NOLA. When my friend Mark sent out a message on a mailing list that he wasn't going to race, the stars aligned. I got all of the necessary information, and then got down to the convention center and Expo on Friday afternoon to get the entry transferred over. I now was ready to go, and scaled back the originally planned training for the day before the race.

Sunday morning started pretty early and Jocelyn and I drove down and parked at the Northshore Heritage trailhead in Millvale, and I jogged down to the start for warmup as Jocelyn, who would be a spectathlete for the day, biked along side of me on the beautiful spring morning. I got in about 3 miles warmup, some striders, dumped my extra clothing and headed down to the start. Fortunately with my bib came entry into Corral A, and I lined up in front with some Pharaoh Hound friends, Oscar, and Lucas. Shortly after 7am, we were off.
Flying in the opening mile, I am just barely hanging on in the back!
My Garmin had been giving me some squirrely pace readings in warmup that I had attributed to being downtown and between skyscrapers, so when I saw some 4:40-4:50-type numbers in the opening half mile, I thought that couldn't be right, I wasn't running that fast, and so I just continued on running by feel. I passed the first mile marker at about 5:10, and sure enough, those "squirrely" readings were correct. :-) I had planned to go out no faster than 5:30 pace, so this was a surprise, but I felt good so I kind of went with it and kept the pressure on. Next came a 5:30, a 5:29, and a 5:32, and I felt good about banking some time ahead of my goal ~5:43 pace for a chance to break 1:15. By this point I had been dropped by the leading pack of half marathoners and elite marathon entrants, and I suppose was between groups. Just like at New Orleans, this would be a solo effort and day alone out on the roads, just me, my head, my effort. I kept the effort up, and drove the cadence very high, punching it over some of the early "hills" of the Rachel Carson and Andy Warhol Bridges, and onto the North Side.
Courtesy of Sportphoto! Coming off the Andy Warhol Bridge @ mile 4.5
I was still feeling very strong, and excited about how I was running. I had come through the 5K, 8K, and 10K marks all at PR times for the individual distances, and this helped me keep my foot on the gas and driving forward. I crossed over the West End Bridge and then looped into the West End itself, before turning back towards the rivers and started running up towards West Carson St. On this slight incline on Main Street back up to Carson at about mile 7.5, I started feeling it a little. Maybe it was the effect of the too-fast opening mile, or perhaps just not being used to running at these paces for extended periods of time. Heading into the Station Square/Southside section of the course, there was an uphill trend for about 2.5 miles, and here I started to give some time back, going 5:50, 5:50, and 5:55. I was really starting to struggle a little bit through the South Side business district and was having difficulty keeping my cadence up, when the three leading women for the half marathon caught up to me at about the 10.5 mile mark. They immediately went by me, but then I thought, "Hey, I was ahead of these girls for more than 10 miles! I'm faster than them, maybe just not as smart or as fit!" Ha! So that gave me some motivation, and I picked up the pace a little bit to try to stay with them. The top two women made a move going over the Birmingham Bridge and then onto the first incline into the Hill District, dropping the eventual third place female and myself. From here on out, I would have someone to run with, and I feel like we pushed each other the rest of the way.
Caught by the leading three women, right before turning onto the Birmingham Bridge.
Elevation profile
I started getting a little irritated by my newfound competitor's tactics and the lines she was running, so I busted a move up the final hill (mile+) at 6:07 pace up the Boulevard of the Allies and past Mercy and Duquesne. Finally topping out, I had a gap and opened it up on the downhill back dahntahn. I was cruising along, happy with my race and taking in the sights and the cheers on this beautiful morning, when from about ~100yds out or so I caught sight of the finishing clock and saw 1:13:3X on it. "Holy crap, I might be able to crack 1:14!" I thought. So I really let it rip and started flying down the homestretch. Per my Garmin, I finished the roughly final quarter mile at about 4:50 pace, with a peak speed at about 4:20 pace, squeaking in under the wire with a gun time of 1:13:55, official chip time 1:13:51! After throwing up a little bit in my mouth, I limped my way over to get some gatorade, bananas, pineapple, and Eat n Park Smiley Cookies!
mile splits
This was a very satisfying result for me and a new PR by about 4 minutes. I imagine I was due for one, as this was probably only my 4th open half marathon ever, and first one since October of 2007, when I set my previous best. I have run a lot since then and my fitness has increased dramatically, so I knew I had a new PR in me, but I even surprised myself a little by going under 1:14. Talking to my coach, he seems to think that I could have gone even faster if I had paced a little bit more reasonably in the opening miles, so who knows what I would have done and what is in store for me later this year. One thing I do know, is that it is just a matter of time before cracking 1:20 or better in a half marathon run, and the idea of running 6:50 miles in an IM marathon doesn't seem so daunting. We will see though, and there is a lot more work to be done. Thanks for reading - keep working hard everyone, and big steps and PRs can and will be yours as well!

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Brought my trusty race "slippers" out of retirement for this one!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

2013 New Orleans 70.3 Race Report

This race marked the third time that Jocelyn and I would be heading down to the Big Easy for New Orleans 70.3, and for me, it would once again serve as my season opener. The early stages of my training this year had been really solid and I laid down a nice base, and despite my schedule getting a little bit more hectic as of late, I was eager to have a nice hit out and see where I stood before transitioning into my specific prep for bigger races to come. Jocelyn and I kind of pieced this trip together in a strange fashion (I wasn't sure if I would even get to do it), flying down and back separately (and very late Friday night), and not certain on where we would stay, but ended up with what would amount to an amazing homestay and great time hanging with one of my athletes.
our accommodations for the weekend!
New Orleans has traditionally had trouble with swim conditions, having cancelled the swim leg in 2011 and 2012 due to what were deemed unsafe conditions on Lake Pontchartrain. So of our two previous years racing in NOLA, we got to swim in one (2010, and I must say the water was really rough that year as well), and the race organization had the same 50% success rate over it's four year existence prior to this edition. So that history, coupled with canceled swims in the New Orleans Tri/5i50 event, necessitated a move to a new lakefront venue and the swim course pictured below.
new swim course and site for 2013
When I first saw this picture last spring, I thought that there definitely could be logistical problems with such a course, and perhaps race management thought the same thing and instituted a time trial (TT) start for this race. The various race divisions were still grouped together and were corralled accordingly, but within the "waves" people would be going off every couple seconds. I was fortunate that my AG would be going off relatively near the front, so I would have some people to chase, but not too many people to pick my way through on the swim and bike. I lined up with good friend Bruce and we were diving off the dock and underway at about 7:40am. My swim was relatively calm and without incident, although I did accidentally swim over a few people from previous waves (sorry, the water is murky!), and I also stopped twice to do a quick tread and de-fog my goggles. I know, this is crazy. More often than not, I feel lost out in the open water and cannot see a damn thing, and therefore have real trouble sighting, let alone trying to find some feet to latch onto and stay with. This doesn't help my swim splits at all, and I am getting pretty tired of under-performing in the swim. I picked one of the newest pair of goggles that I own, but apparently they weren't fresh enough, and also swimming eastbound into the rising morning sun didn't help either. So now I am on the hunt for a good pair of anti-fog, open water specific goggles. Other than that, I felt ok and kept my turnover up, and swam pretty much the entire swim leg by myself. This, as it turns out, would be the theme for the day.
out of the swim, into T1
swim results - 3rd AG, 18th amateur, 40th overall**  
**relay teams not included in relative placements
transition times

I was in and out of transition in a reasonable length of time (the climb out of the harbor was a little sketchy and I still need to practice getting out of my wetsuit!), and I was out and onto the bike. I started pushing right away, right into the wind, and to settle into my effort. The plan was to average about 2-3 beats above the top of my Z2 (Friel-style Z3) and I thought this would yield wattages anywhere from 260-280 (I weigh about 150#) depending on the day and how my legs felt. I split the bike up into four, 14 mile segments, and had the auto-lap going on my Garmin to break it up and to help aid in keeping myself as motivated as possible, watching out for a drop in effort/watts. The headwind was cranking for the first half of the bike, then we had a wicked tailwind for the ride home. My watts and HR were pretty steady the whole time, but the difference in wind direction was the difference between roughly a 22 mph avg to the midway point, and a 26 on the way home. Although at times it seemed more like 20/28! This was a strange bike for me, due to the early TT start, in that there was hardly anyone out on the road around me, and I only had a couple handfuls of competitors to key off of and try to catch from the only preceding non-pro "wave" (M35-39). I had rode up through that field mostly by the halfway point of the bike, and it seemed as there were only a couple guys left out there. Basically I rode the whole 56 mi bike by myself, and really had no one around to push me. This was maybe the most "pure" TT/race-against-the-clock bike or run I had done up until that point. This of course made it much easier to stick to my race plan, as I had no one else around me to battle with. This is both good and bad, but fine for the first race of the year.

bike metrics

great pic, courtesy of and thanks to Scott
bike results - 3rd AG, 12th amateur, 33rd overall**
I caught up to my good friend and teammate, Matt, right at the end of the bike, and went through transition with him. I guess I was starting to get a little too comfortable in there, even with my decision to go without socks on the run, when Matt yelled over to me to pick it up as he was heading out! Thanks for keeping me moving, Matty Mo!

Matt and I just out of T2
I had the plan once again to keep my HR about 2-3 beats above the top of my Z2 (Z3) run zone, but also taking the first two miles out in 5:50-5:55 pace. First mile, mission accomplished, second mile I was a little bit off as it started immediately with one of the few hills (bridges) on either course. After coming down off of that, I started clicking off the miles, again in isolation. There were some relay competitors ahead of me that I would mark up the road and then run down, however it seemed as though there were no amateur guys me left for me to hunt. (*In reality, there were two M35-39 guys still up the road). I was feeling really good and cruising at about a 6:05 avg pace through 7-7.5 miles, when my left hamstring locked up on me. I immediately slowed down and shortened my stride, and shuffled along for 100m or so until I felt things loosen up, and then I ramped it back up again. For the rest of the way I did feel some twinges in my left hammy, and my right quad started threatening as well (probably compensation), so now I became hyper-aware and started walking (running!) that fine line between pushing too hard and cramping terribly, and playing it too conservatively with my pacing. This post-cramp segment was notably slower than my first (6:21 vs 6:05), but I felt like I kept the pressure on pretty well and was pleased that I was able to do so, running by myself. At this point in the race, this is where you usually have some struggling competitors to key off of, or the really fast/solid guys that help you reach down to new depths of motivation and toughness, and get the absolute best out of yourself.

run metrics
early on in the run

run metrics - 1st AG, 6th amateur, 22nd overall**
I came through the finish in a total time of 4:13:47, a course PR for me at the NOLA 70.3, although the course has been different every time I have done this race (and in 2012, was a duathlon!)! I enjoyed the 2010 finish line the most, when we ran down Decatur St in the French Quarter and finished in front of Jackson Square, but this was a close second finishing in Louis Armstrong Park. I was reasonably happy with how the day turned out. I came out of the water in 3rd place AG, rode my way into 1st on the bike and held it through to the finish. I finished 27th overall, and 6th amateur. I didn't feel 100%, and my fitness and form still have a ways to go, but I was very happy with how I paced and executed on the day. Training has not been ideal, but I was hungry to race, and I feel like my execution was spot on and mental fitness is right where it needs to be. Bring on some more racing!
Done! 4:13:47
1st place, M30-34 age group
Thanks to all of my sponsors, the Ballou Skies cause and our vital mission against DMD, QT2 Systems for coaching methodology and services, Quintana Roo for my amazing Illicito bike, Power Bar for the best quality nutritional products, Top Gear Bike Shop for amazing service and the best triathlon shop in Western PA, Blue Seventy for my Helix wetsuit and swimwear needs, Rudy Project for the best lids and shades, NormaTec for essential recovery with their MVP system, and Fuel Belt for their excellent hydration system and running accessories. Your products help me train, race, and recover at my best, and also that inspire and motivate me to be my best in life and triathlon. Thank you for your support on our journey to excellence.

The Pittsburgh Crew, post-race

After the race, we had to hustle up and get back to Paul's place and get the bikes and Jocelyn packed up to fly home that night, but afterwards I was able to relax a little bit, eat some Po Boy, beignet, and start the evening with some NOLA Brewing's Hopitoulas IPA! Later that night we went to an authentic Crawfish Boil, and then out on the town for some wild times! Bruce was planning on completing the "Triple Crown" (drinking a Hurricane, Hand Grenade, and Monsoon), and of course he talked Matt, Chad, and I into it as well. Or maybe we talked ourselves into it, I can't quite remember! A great race and weekend ended with some wild fun and a not-so-fun flight home the next morning. Work hard, play hard I suppose! Thanks for reading!
Starting the night out with Hurricanes
Finishing the night off with Monsoons!

2013 Race Schedule

Better late than never, my (proposed) 2013 race schedule.

April 21st - New Orleans 70.3
May 5th    - Pittsburgh Half Marathon
May 25th  - New Brighton Sprint
June 9th    - Eagleman 70.3
July 28th   - Ironman Lake Placid 

The rest of the season TBD, and as my first half results, and then, more importantly, my nursing school schedule will allow. Will I race again in KY, or at World's, perhaps get Savage, in my backyard, maybe in Buckeye City, Magic City, Brotherly Love, or North or South of the Border? And who knows, maybe I will work some magic or say the hell with it and head back to the Big Island! Time will tell, and I'll keep you updated!