"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, December 2, 2011

Hills again, but that's Pittsburgh for you

After the long ride back to Pittsburgh after the half, I had trouble getting to sleep. I might have gotten to bed around 2, then slept until 10. I did some work, then headed out for a run. I left my mom's house, went down Shaler, up Kearns, around Clearview and Strathmore, Berry, Stafford and West Carson, then up the McArdle Roadway and home for 12 miles. My calves and hamstrings were still wrecked. I had originally planned on 15 miles, with a loop up William and Boggs before coming back, but I was tired.

It rained all day Tuesday, and I didn't care enough to run, so instead I ate a lot of mint chocolate chip ice cream and watched movies. I spent a lot of that day bemoaning my Philadelphia race, at one point congratulating myself for coming so close to my PR despite the poor execution and latter-mile injury, then alternating to realizing that if I ran that fast considering how much went wrong, I had the opportunity to run much faster if I had done things right. In short, I spent the whole week sitting around my mom's house, pissed about the race and relegated to traveling on foot or arranging rides with friends.

Wednesday morning I picked myself up to run around Mt. Washington and added to it by running the new trails along the face of the mountain. It was wet, covered in leaves and mostly clay. For someone who wants to take a walk, it's ok. For a runner, it's a dangerous disaster. I twisted both ankles was on the brink of slipping off constantly. That said,the trail afforded me some great views of the city and I got about nine miles.

After 12 years of running the Downtown YMCA Turkey Trot, I put an end to it. Although it's very popular and had its best attendance ever this year, it's value as a road race has plummeted in the last few years. It's now a series of out-and-backs starting and finishing on the north side and just a mess of people. Great for the YMCA's fundraising, but its quality as a race has plummeted. I was on the race committee in 2008 when construction limited a lot of the courses the race had used from 2003-2007. Given the restrictions we had, we could only do a 5k but I hoped to be able to bring it back to the five mile course when possible. Then I moved, then the director left and took the focus on quality with him.

I did it for two more years, but also started running Dan Holland's Gutbuster race in Frick Park. I am not exaggerating when I say it's the hardest race I have run. Alternating up and down hills on trails that are often slippery. What didn't help was that I ran a 5k one year and a five mile the next before coming to the Gutbuster, so I was already wiped out. Last year's freezing rain made it miserable. This year it was dry for once, just warm enough, though it had rained all day Tuesday and it certainly wasn't dry.

The first mile is almost entirely uphill, with a flat stretch in the first 200 meters or so. I stuck with a decent pack that included Luke Briola, Jim Hommes, Nolan Wildfire and a little kid who looked like a short Andy Webster. We chatted up the hill, until Webster tried to take off near the mile mark, which we hit in 6:57. I bolted ahead of him and immediately opened up my stride on the loop around the fitness circuit and the sledding hill. I headed back down and saw my mom heading up, the two mile was not supposed to go this way and I told her as much. She just said "I know."

I didn't see anybody for a while, and I had a pretty solid lead. I came down the second mile in 5:17 (where was that when I needed it on Sunday?), then up the next hill in 6:44. I didn't see a four-mile mark, but I think I was a little over 24 minutes. I went back up the first hill and hit miles 4 and 5 in 12:43. I started seeing the people behind me coming down the hill and I was climbing, and I start giving high fives, essentially celebrating with almost half of the race left.
I apparently had no reason not to, my lead appeared safe. The next mile was 5:21, a little slower than mile 2. When I hit the Tranquil Trail, I was a little flat, but I figured I could afford to slow down, mainly because when I tried to run hard, my right hamstring didn't respond.

Again, I figured my lead was safe, so this obstacle shouldn't be too troubling. I saw Leslie and Pete near the bottom of the Biddle Trail, and they didn't say too much. That trail was the hardest part of a really hard course, the steepest section, half of the trail was a creek and the other was jagged rock. I slipped at one point and looked back and suddenly Jim Hommes was on my tail. I was shocked- I had no indication anyone was anywhere close to me. I hadn't seen anyone when I made turns, and I didn't hear Leslie and Pete yelling for him. That leads me to several possible conclusions- 1. he did most of the catching up on the hill 2. he told Pete and Leslie to be quiet so he could sneak up on me 3. I didn't hear them cheering for him.

We were in this same position in 2003 at the Turkey Trot, back when the race was worthwhile. I held him off there, but by that point I had a stronger lead. And I hadn't raced a half four days before and run myself into the ground over the last 3.5 miles.

For a few seconds I felt as though I was going to lose, the surprise that he was there, when I was feeling the weakest, nearly broke me. Jim's one of the toughest masters runners around, and his focus has always been exemplary for long races. I felt like there was no way I could fend him off anymore. I ran like an asshole and I was getting my comeuppance. Until I didn't.

I got to the top of the trail and turned onto another uphill, but less steep, trail. I started charging ahead, hoping to put a lot of distance between us before he joined me on the smoother trail. I split 6:53 on the seventh mile, not unreasonable given the lack of a push I had before I saw Jim. I kept cranking up the hill, then pushed a little more back down the hill. This trail was slippery, so I had to run with more caution than I had before. I also had to navigate around walkers and the runners in their fifth and sixth miles. Once I got to the bottom, I had a clear path to finish, and split 5:22 for the eighth mile to finish in 49:16. I think I had a 20 second lead over Jim, who had run a 50k a few weeks prior.

I would have liked to run under 48 minutes, but I could argue with winning, considering the way the prior few days had gone. Mom had fun doing the four mile, and I was left excited about making the Gutbuster my solitary Thanksgiving race in the future. I don't know if it prepared me for cross country running at nationals, but it was certainly tough.

Friday morning, I tried to go for a run on the Seven Springs golf course, but my hamstring felt incredibly weak. I got about two miles of running in before I realized I was better off resting.

Later, after I was back in Pittsburgh, I drove out to the Richard and did my Standard Beechwood loop, averaging 6:05 for 10.5. I finished right before dusk. I felt much better than in the mountains, and to be able to average that pace on those hills was relieving.

Saturday, I was once again without a car, so I ran from my mom's house down to the jail trail and out to Four Mile Run. I hit 11:01 for a two-mile stretch, but slowed down afterward. I made a rare trip up the Panther Hollow Trail, up Neville and over onto Bayard, past the Huff's old place, before turning onto Craig and Bigelow. Now, Bigelow is not a frequently traveled road for pedestrians. There's a sidewalk, but it was overgrown with dry weeds. Things open up a little bit in Frank Curto Park, then shortly after that the sidewalk ends and suddenly I'm on a busy almost-highway. That lasted about two-to-three minutes, then I was downtown, looping around to Gateway Center and back up the Boulevard of the Allies to the Liberty Bridge and Mt. Washington for just under 13.7 miles.

Sunday morning, I ran a little more than seven miles with Jess Gangjee on Mt. Washington before going back to Virginia.

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