Aug 4, 2009

Suzuki Pittsburgh Triathlon

After attempting to race The Dam Tri with the flu, I found myself completely wrecked for 10 days. I didn't leave my couch for days at a time. My stomach turned every time I even thought about training. I spent my time sleeping, watching Degrassi, napping, playing video games, and sitting in the bathroom. It was definitely the worst 10 days of my year so far. After my illness subsided and I got my legs back underneath me, I started a very intense 2 week training block. When the two weeks were completed, I had logged about 38 hours of quality training. This short training block included over 375 miles on the bike, 75 miles of running, and about 18 miles of swimming. These two weeks left me a little beat up, but ready to race again. After a quick recovery week, I found myself at the starting line of the Pittsburgh Triathlon.

I had decided to do this race for a few reasons. After 10 days of being sick and two weeks of hard training, I was itching to race. Also, I have done this course before and I wanted to see my progression in the last two years. Mentally, I was in a very stable place and I was eager to test myself once again.

Rachel and I drove to Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon. My parents, especially my Dad, couldn't let himself miss my race. Even though he was scheduled to be out of town the morning of the race, he went out of his way to meet us in Pittsburgh that night. This was the first race I let anyone, who wasn't racing, stay with me. I didn't think Rachel would get in my way, this was just uncharted territory. Turns out, I spent the day before the race much more relaxed then I had ever been before. Apparently, she has this ability to take my mind right off of the race.

I awoke 3 minutes before my wakeup call was scheduled... not surprising. My eternal alarm clock is always set the night before a race. I went through all of my pre-race rituals and left Rachel sleeping as I slipped out of the door, it was early. I got down to transition with plenty of time to spare. I have raced so many time in the last few years that I could go through my pre-race sleep walking. I spent the majority of the early morning warming up. I wanted to make sure that I was completely ready to race today. I saw Rob Reddy before the start. He had an interesting night. Apparently, bringing your dog to the hotel is grounds for removal. Rob, his girlfriend, her son and the dog spent the night in the car. He could have called me... we had an extra couch.

As race time approached, I slipped in the Allegheny River to warm up. I remembered that Rachel told me to look out for the Allegheny White Fish. I laughed to myself. I hoped I wouldn't be seeing any floating condoms this morning. The water was warm and gross. I already wasn't happy with the swim conditions. Exactly like two years ago, I cut my foot walking into the river. I was bleeding, but it wasn't horrible. I thought "Damn river gets me every time."

We all lined up at the buoy ready to race. The announcer said it would be one minute till the gun. I had to swim a modified breast stroke to stay at the buoy. The current was really strong today. The first 400 meters were against the current to the turn around buoy, then it was about 1100 meters to the swim exit. Those first 400 meters lasted a lifetime. I was fighting so hard against the current, but I didn't feel like I was getting any closer. My attitude was negative during the swim. My arms were heavy and I couldn't get into a rhythm. When I got closer to the exit, I couldn't figure out where I was getting out of the water. I over swam the exit and had to go against the current for several yards. This was an annoying end to an annoying swim. As I exited the water, I spotted my parents and shot them a look... they knew I wasn't happy with my swim. After a 22 minute swim, 3 minutes faster than two years ago, I was sitting in at least 10th position. My transition was quick and I had one thing on my mind, a blazing bike split.

All year, I haven't been happy with my bike splits. In training, I am consistently riding well. However, something about the racing hasn't been translating. Luckily, I felt good about this bike course. The course is two loops. It climbs about 6 miles at a fairly easy grade before turning around and heading back towards the city. I stayed in the big ring for the entire climb and I definitely used it to my advantage. Riding very gradual and rolling hills have always been a strength of mine. In the first half of the first lap, I rode my way into 3rd. This bike course was treating me well. As I descended back towards PNC Park, the rain kicked up a little. It made the downhills dangerous, but I was looking for a challenge. I rode aggressively and finished the first lap in roughly 31 minutes. I again started climbing with a mission. When I hit the turn around again, I was in 2nd place. I saw the lead rider, Colin Gundling. He was right where I wanted him. I knew if I descended well, we'd come into transition together. The next downhill was tougher because the rain had kicked up. As the rain pelted me in the eyes, I wished I had my sunglasses on. My second descent was slower, but my second lap was faster... just over 29 minutes. I finished the bike in 1:00:15. It was like 8 minutes faster than two years ago and it was a personal best for the 40k. I was delighted to have rode like that on such a rolling course.

I exited T2 about 30 seconds down from Colin. As we ran down towards the river, he was right underneath me. At the time, I was certain that he was mine. I have always proven to be a faster runner than him. At the Dam Tri, I out ran him by over 30 seconds and I was sick as a dog! I had a great feeling in the pit of my stomach, I was going to win again... I decided not to chase him down too quickly. I thought he would come back to me naturally. I starred at his back in anticipation. I waited... and waited. Why wasn't he coming back to me? Why was he getting farther away? I started to panic a little bit. He was running really well. I was running hard, almost at my max. But, for some reason, I wasn't closing the gap. Where my legs not as fresh as I thought they were? Was this an effect of the 10 day flu or the 2 week training block. I thought I was stronger than this. I decided that at the 5k turnaround I would make my move. I would put my head down and run like hell. I would catch him or I would die trying. I hit the turn around 40 seconds down from him. I started to run hard. I could feel my heart beating out of my chest. I was red lining... but would I blow up? I looked up after a few minutes, he was getting closer. I kept pushing. I looked up again. There he was... How much did I have left? I passed Rob Reddy coming the other way. "3000 meters AJ," he yelled. "Your 30 seconds down!!! You can catch him! Go!" Could I really catch him? I put my head down one last time... all or nothing. A minute later, I picked up my head, my semi-blurred vision saw no leader. My pace slowed and started to die slowly. I had blown up. My HR was through the roof and every part of my body was filled with lactic acid. Today wasn't my day, it was Colin's. I finished the last mile, but stopped chasing. I pulled my jersey back up over my shoulders. I myswell look descent when I cross the finish line. No sense in looking like I just got defeated. I crossed the line in 2:02:15, a personal best at the Olympic Distance. I was about 70 seconds off Colin's winning time. I was very happy with my performance. I had gone pretty fast on a tough course. And, I was like 14 minutes faster than two years ago, even though that was only my second triathlon.

At first, I was upset that I wasn't able to run Colin down like I thought I could, but that kid had a great race. My hat was off to him. He had his day. He pushed hard and deserved his win. I was happy that I was there to test him. He later said in an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune that he saw me coming at him at the 5k turn around and he was worried. I may not have won, but I sure as hell gave it a shot, and he knew that. My legs may not have carried me to my fasted 10k, but at least I can sleep at night knowing that I showed up, raced hard, and crossed that line with my head up... again.

Even though that finish line is only a temporary finish, it still feels good to cross it. Some day, I'll cross that final finish line, but it won't be a line on the ground. Until then, I keep racing because it is the only thing that has ever made me feel truly alive.

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