"It's a little self indulgent..." - My mom
"After I read a sentence, I get mad at myself for caring what you're doing." -Karl Dusen

Friday, June 24, 2011

Northwest Side

I came back to Pittsburgh two weeks after Memorial Day to do some volunteer work in Sheraden, and as timing would have it, run another race. A few months ago, my friend and former intern Jenni posed an open question- where would you do a service project with 350 people and $30,000? I immediately and factiously responded, "Fairywood,"then anywhere west of Duquesne Heights. Kevin Acklin then put together 12 great projects that community organizations have targeted and Renew Pittsburgh put some plans together for Deloitte to unleash its employees. I thought it would be fun to join in.

I led the Sheraden swimming pool group, which painted over graffiti on an exterior wall and cleared thick overgrowth from the surrounding land. The pool had been closed for three or four years because an Army Corps of Engineers sewer project would have caused problems for the pool's water system, so entropy had made things a little thick. I didn't help myself by starting off recklessly, cutting clumps of weeds and tall grass with hedge shears. The problem was that I hadn't done any work like that for a long time, nor had I bent at some of the angles that the work required for an even longer time, so after an hour and a half, I started to hit the wall and reexamine my effort. It was hot, but not unbearable, and we made a lot of progress, right up until the downpour started. That boded well for the race conditions, I thought. Until the temperature rose again, and compounded the humidity from the rain. This is backwards!
By that point, the bus came along and took my volunteers away, so I got ready for the Riverview Park 5k.

I had wanted to do the race for a while, and Michelle helped me make that happen in 2009. I had biked to work that morning, 18 miles, when I was trying the one-day-a-week cross training plan, though it was more to see the part of the commute I usually skipped over on the bus. While at work, she told me the race was that night, at 7:30. I hurried to finish my work and get back home. Unfortunately, I had to stay past the time the bus left, so I had to bike back home. I did so frantically, and when I reached Highland Park, some jagoff in a convertible forced me into a parked car, beating the hell out of my right forearm. I got home, changed and got into Michelle's car. We sped from Shadyside to Observatory Hill hastily, but her directions neglected one detail, three details, rather, downtown would be bustling with a Pirates game, the gay pride parade and the Three Rivers Arts Festival. Our comfortable margin for travel compressed dramatically, but somehow we got to the course with three minutes to spare, while a young man was slowly singing the national anthem. I sprinted to the start with a check for our race numbers, telling the race director we would fill out the forms later. I got the numbers, but Michelle was nowhere to be found.

Suffice it to say, when the gun went off, I was ready to go.
I ran the whole race alone and won with about 35 seconds to spare. Michelle ended up not racing and the race director tore up my check because my "wife didn't get to run." A few hours later, the Penguins won game seven of the Stanley Cup finals.

This year I was able to calmly walk up to the RD and ask him "is it too late for me to register?"
He took a look at me and said "I think you're okay this year."

I was able to get a warmup in and see the Hounds who made it- Matt Meurer, Greg Byrnes, Brandon G and Steve Kirkland, previously known as Bradford Mike. Matt and Greg both live on the Northside and Brandon lives in the northern suburbs, so the three of them have put together the "Nor'side" gang and made Steve, who lives in Greenfield, an honorary member.

I got out quickly and hesitated for a second, partially to avoid going out too hard and more because I wanted to run with the guys for a while. When nobody joined me, I figured the real race had begun and it was up to me to make it. A little more than a quarter mile into the course I took a turn up the long driveway to the observatory.

The hill really broke my spirit and my pace early on, but I figured I would be better off extending my lead before we headed downhill, where I never feel secure. I never had a natural chance to see who was behind me, so I took off down the hill. I was pretty damned hot, and the humidity was great enough that nothing was evaporating. I threw some water on my face and that woke me up a little, but it was safe to say my pace down the hill was not as reckless as the hill would suggest. The course is a loop with no net elevation change, so I was mindful that every step down the hill would come back in the third mile.

That's the problem with hills, they're just like the wind. The advantage from a tailwind does not equal the disadvantage from a headwind, and you don't gain the speed on a downhill you lose on an uphill, ceteris paribus. Throw in the downhill first, and there's the temptation enjoy the hill too much and not have enough left to climb again. This was a major problem for this course.

Brandon G was on my tail for a while, and he said I was at about 10:03 at two miles. I charged up the hill and heard one woman say "You're winning!" No shit. By how much, though? Help me out here, sister. The suspense was killing me, because it the haze of the heat, I wasn't sure if the steps I heard were my own, and I severely doubted my ability to fight back if Brandon, Steve or Greg passed me. My dive at the Kevin Gatons race, not two weeks before, hung over me.

I kept climbing, now under glorious shade. That's the point where you realize how gorgeous the course is, and what a shame it is to be in such discomfort. I did get a look around a tight turn and saw nobody behind me for quite some time, so I eased up. The uphill only stops about 100m from the finish, and I just cruised in in 16:48.

I really enjoy the race, it's one of my ideal road races. The early registration price is $12. The day of the race, you can get in for $15. The course is tough but representative of the area, and the Friday night race time is unique where weekend morning starts are the norm. And, it's hard. Each time I've raced it, I've come in with a major physical deficit- either the long bike rides and frantic preceding half hour or the day of manual labor, and I've ended up trailing for one second out of a little less than 34 combined minutes of racing. I've been shocked to win both times, but maybe it's something about the overall race that spurs me to overlook those circumstances. I've run a lot of road races, and you don't find that at every one.

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