If you read my previous post on our trip report to Pittsburgh, you know that my wife talked me into running this race with her so that she could coerce me to go to Pittsburgh for a long weekend. You also know that my wife could not run the race due to knee issues, so this left me flying solo. I was originally just running it as a training race and would stay with her, but now I figured I might try to PR it. The elevation map for the race looked fairly flat except for miles 11-12.5 and then a downhill finish. So that was now my plan. I had done an easy, recovery week of training the week prior so it was shaping up to be a perfect .
I woke up around 4:45am after a pretty good night sleep at the Hampton Inn. I had an Amrita bar and a Vega Performance bar to kick the metabolic engine off along with a cup of Starbucks Via coffee. I was quickly dressed, since I had laid out everything the night before. I brought along a old pair of track pants to keep warm and then ditch before the race. It was supposed to be fairly cool this morning, around 40-50 degree ( F), and there was a slight chance of rain.
Heinz Field and Carnegie Science Museum
We hopped in the CR-V and headed down I-279 to the parking lot by Heinz Field. On Saturday, the parking attendant said she was not going to be there until 5:30am, so we could park for free if we beat her. Fat chance! There was another attendant there before and we waited in the short line to pay our $5 to get in. A T-line rail train had come and left while we parked, so we would have to wait for the next. We got up the platform, which was pretty empty and waited. More and more runners accumulated while we waited and eventually the train came and quickly shuttled us downtown.
It was pretty busy with runners downtown when we came up from the rail line. I spotted a bank toilets and made a B-line for them. There were NO LINES!! I haven’t seen that at a race in a long time. We then sauntered down the street to the cross street where “B” start corral was located. They had all the side streets blocked off with chain-link fencing one block on each side from the starting line street. We hung out there for a bit until it got closer to start time. A few rain drops fell as we waited but nothing major. It was a really cloudy morning.
I said goodbye to my wife and made my way through the security checkpoint. There were more toilets in the high security area between the gate and the start line. I didn’t have to go real bad at that point and kept going past. I also didn’t want to wait in the line. It wasn’t huge, but I was impatient. I made my way up the starting corrals to the 8min/mile pace area, which was not very full at this point. The full and the half marathon all started together by pace too. As I waited my bladder began to indicate I should have taken one more leak before. Oh well too late now.
We were off. It had started to rain a bit harder at this point. The first couple miles up Liberty St. were very flat and I got up to a good cruising speed. I was averaging a sub-8, which is what I needed to do to PR. The need to pee became more and more urgent and I found it hard to concentrate on anything else. I kept checking out the toilets along the course but they were all full. Around mile 3 I finally found an open one. Ahhh!! Well, that was the longest pee I ever took I think. It seemed to not want to end. I was looking at my watch as the seconds were ticking away. Ugh…now I got a deficit to make up.
I sprung from out of the Port-O-John like I was rocket. My average pace on my Garmin was now saying 14:00 min/mi average for this 3rd mile. No problem I can make this up now. I still ended up averaging an 9:00/mi pace for the 3rd mile so it didn’t hurt me too much. We made a right turn over the first of many bridges. This was the first real incline of the day, but I was still hanging on to a solid 8:00/mi pace.
All hell broke loose around mile 6. I started getting a really sharp cramp under my rib cage on the right side. I don’t typically get side-stitches, but now I am pretty sure that is what it was. It started to hurt bad enough that I needed to walk a bit. I realized that it was most-likely from not breathing properly, which is usually what causes. I began doing some deep breathing exercises and it eventually worked itself out. I felt my PR slipping away with every slow step. Mile 6 & 7 were averaging just a hair under 9:00/mi. Wah…wah…wah!
I decided that my PR was gone now and I decided to just enjoy the race and take in the views as we crossed more yellow bridges. There was a large group of kids singing that “Happy” song at the bottom of the hill on Alexander St. on the South side which gave a little spring in my step again. Then I saw Denise standing on a barricade down towards the Duquesne Incline which also helped me pick things up again. It was a pretty nice long, flat stretch along the South Side before turning left over the Birmingham Bridge. There were a ton of spectators out all along the South Side cheering away. It looked like a really cool neighborhood too with lots of shops, bars and restaurants. It started to hurt a bit as we crossed the bridge. The bridge itself was pretty steep and then it was a slog up Forbes Ave and then Boulevard of the Allies.
Around mile 12.5 it started downhill all the way to the finish. There were lots of spectators cheering everyone into the finish line which was nice. I crossed the line in 1:51:19(official results), which is about 5 mins off my PR. It was a nice race regardless and I was happy to have spent a nice weekend in Pittsburgh.
It is really hard to believe that I have lived in Pennsylvania for over 45 years, traveled all over the world and have never been to the city 4.5 hours to our West. It is the place we Eastern-PA-er’s usually refer to when we hear of a PA town that we have no idea where it is. “Oh that must be out near Pittsburgh somewhere…” is the typical phrase. If you ever meet someone who is from Pittsburgh or grew up there, they have nothing but great things to say about it and there is a large sense of pride for their city. My wife has been itching to visit there recently and came to the realization that the only way she could get me out there was to find some type of endurance event to sign up for. She saw the Pittsburgh Marathon table at the last years’ Runner’s World Half Marathon race expo and made a B-Line for it. Before I knew it we were signing up for the Half Marathon in 2014.
Over the months that passed between signing up for the event and the event itself, my wifes’ knees had not cooperated with her training. She eventually came to the realization that she was not going to be able to do the race. So it was down to just me, but we were still doing a long weekend in P-Burgh.
We made the 4 1/2 hour drive west on the PA Turnpike on Friday morning after I knocked out my long swim for the week. It was a recovery week for me so it worked out pretty well with the race on Sunday. My wife had performed in-depth analysis on all the restaurants in the Pittsburgh area locating all “farm-to-table”, organic restaurants. They were also required to have at least one vegetarian or vegan option for me. Dining out for us has become much more complicated these days since my wife has changed to eating a more “cavewoman”-like diet and me being the plant-based vegan. Although I sometimes slide into more of a vegetarian while traveling just to make things a little easier.
The big leather couches in the dining room of BRGR in the Shadyside district of Pittsburgh
Our first stop in Pittsburgh was BRGR on the Eastside of the city. They also have a couple other locations, one of which is in the PNC Park baseball complex. The place was really good and they have an extensive draught beer selection. This came in handy for my new favorite social network, Untappd! They have good selection of handcrafted burgers which you can get with the roll or lettuce for any of you carnivorous folks out there. For the veg-head, the “Santa Fe Hippy” burger is outstanding! I think this is the best veggie burger I have ever had in my life. I knew when we left here that we would be back again before we left. At least once.
We made a quick stop at the Whole Foods Market just down the street, before making our way to our hotel. One of good friends is from Pittsburgh and her dad had helped us with where we would should stay. We stayed at the Hampton Inn just north of the city which was a very nice hotel and the location made the logistics for getting in and out of the city very easy. It is a short drive to get to the “T” light rail line at the Allegheny station which is right next to Heinz Field. Two stops and you were in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh. It made the whole experience very enjoyable. Especially considering all of the events that were going on downtown that weekend. Marathon of 30,000 people, Penguins playoff games, and Pirates baseball games.
We settled into our nice room at the Hampton Inn on McKnight Road and before we knew it is was time to head out for dinner. For dinner, we had made reservations at Salt of the Earth (NaCl) which was also located on the East side of the city not too far from BRGR in the Garfield neighborhood. The area looks like it had been pretty run down at some point but they were working to bring it back to life a bit. The NaCl looked to be the “seed” for doing that as it stuck out well against some of the more dingy buildings around it. Although the lime green Mexican restaurant up the street did its fair share of sticking out too. Salt of the Earth is a pretty trendy looking place, with a very high ceiling and the dining room lined with long tables providing a more communal dining experience. The bar wrapped around the perimeter of the dining room on two sides and a large chalkboard wall and a large front window took the other sides. We were seated upstairs in a loft-like area that overlooked the downstairs in the middle. It was kind of odd décor since there was nothing on the walls. It was also very warm up there since all the heat had eminated up there.
To start off I had the White Asparagus soup and my wife had the Steak Tartare(ugh!). The soup was a puree soup with some almonds on top for garnish. It was very good. My wife seemed to enjoy her raw animal flesh and said that the pickled vegetables added to the flavor. It looked like dog food to me though. For my entrée I had the Tofu Curry which was also very good. It was a mix of spice and sweet and was definitely a unique mix. My wife enjoyed the Duck entrée but said that the carrot puree that came with it didn’t really blend well with the asparagus and duck.
It was also Craft Beer Week in Pittsburgh so I hit it at a good time. NaCl was running a food pairing with Shawneecraft brewery this evening so I was able to sample their Double IPA along with my meal. It was pretty good. After dinner, we stopped at Toast! Kitchen and Wine Bar for a nightcap. My wife was itching for a glass of wine and the wine at Salt of the Earth was a bit pricy for her taste. Toast had sampler taste size glasses of wine which was perfect for her. I enjoyed a Lagunitas IPA, which I had had in San Francisco last month and also a Breckenridge Brewery Ophelia(draught) which I didn’t care for. I am not a fan of wheat beers. I traded the Ophelia in for a Dogfish 90 minute IPA, which is always good.
After a good nights sleep we had breakfast at the hotel. The conti breakfast was one of the best ones I have seen, but there was a large group of kids in green t-shirts infiltrating it when we went down there so it was pretty hard to get what you wanted. I ended up going down an hour later and it was smooth sailing. I enjoyed a fresh Belgian Waffle which was rather delicious. While we ate in the room, we researched our logistics in the city for the day. We would do a dry run of our plan for Sunday Race morning just to familiarize ourselves with it. Park at the Carnegie Science Museum/Heinz Field, then T-rail to downtown. Piece of cake!
We then walked around the city a bit and headed over to the area called “The Strip.” A lot of outdoor markets and things along the way. It was about a mile and quarter, but seemed a bit longer. Our plan was to hit the Church Brew Works for lunch which was another 1.25 miles past the strip. On the way I decided we would catch a bus back into town. I hate how we always seem to walk all over the place the day before my races. I should be taking it easy.
Church Brew Works was really cool. It was an old church converted to a brew pub. Food was pretty good and the Thunderhead IPA was excellent. I found out later that the Thunderhead IPA was not actually brewed by the Church Brew Works. Oh well it was good. To eat I had pizza and pierogies. Kind of lame, but I was rushed to order and kind of choked. Regardless, it was tasty.
After lunch, we then took the bus back to downtown. It worked out well because it had started raining. The bus stop had a bit of shelter so it was a good decision. We then went to the convention center for the packet-pickup and expo. It was a huge expo and there were tons of people pouring in and out. This was bigger than the San Francisco Rock ‘n’ Roll Expo. We collected our swag and were out of there. The rain was just stopping as we left.
Next, we walked downtown a bit and ended up at Point State Park. This is the triangular-shaped park at the convergence of the three rivers. Very nice park with a fountain and nice landscaping. We ended taking a little siesta due to the insulin surge and beer buzz from lunch on the river wall that runs along the Monongahela River side. The sun had come out and it was quite nice out. The breeze had a nice coolness that balanced out the heat of the sun.
After walking around a bit, we decided to go to dinner a little earlier than planned. We had reservations at Six Penn Kitchen for 6:30pm on OpenTable, but I was into eating a little earlier with the race tomorrow. They agreed to seat us early, so we did. It was a really good meal. I think the best one we had in Pittsburgh. Service was outstanding too. We decided to split a bottle of wine, which probably wasn’t the wisest decision for me with the race tomorrow but what they hell. The wine was called the “Immortal Zin” which I though was funny since we were at the Church Brew Works for lunch. It was a whole religious, alcohol theme today. We started out with the house salad, which was a really good salad. I had the Garden Risotto and Denise had the Braised Short Ribs. Both were outstanding. Denise said the Short Ribs were amazing and she was kind of uncertain about it when she ordered. Great meal and worth a stop for sure.
Post-dinner, we made our way back out of the city and up the highway to our hotel. Early to bed since I had to get up at 4:30am for the race. I will create a separate post for the Race Report and will add a link here once I get it done.
After the race, we quickly made our way out of the city and back to the hotel. It was still before 10am, so I was able to get last dibs on the hotel breakfast buffet. We then showered up and headed north to the BRGR located in Cranberry Township mall. It was about 20 minutes north of the hotel. This one was quite a bit larger and they had almost double the beer selection. I had another great veggie burger and best of all was a Mojo IPA that was a NITRO tap. Yummy! It was like a creamy Boddington-style IPA. This put a damper on my trying any other types of beers and I ended up having two of them. So good!
Mojo IPA NITRO!
We then headed over to a nearby Whole Foods. My wife had gotten some Gouda cheese at the other store and was desperately seeking more to stock up on. She was pretty psyched to find they had a bunch of it too.
We then headed back to the Hotel and I headed down to the Hotel Pool. I was going to jump in the hot tub but there was an older couple in there and the guy was massaging the lady’s shoulders, so I decided not to crash their party and jump in the pool for bit. They eventually left and I jumped in the hot tub for a bit. This was then followed up with a little nap afterwards.
For dinner we had made reservations at Spoon also through OpenTable. I am a big fan of OpenTable. Here is a list of all the Pittsburgh restaurants they serve. Spoon is the big brother restaurant of BRGR and is located right next store to the Shadyside BRGR location. Spoon is a little more fancy and expensive than BRGR. The food there is well presented, but portions are pretty small. They are also pretty lacking in vegetarian or vegan options on the menu, but most places in Pittsburgh are. I had their only option which was the Spring Vegetable Tasting, which consisted of saffron and mushroom rice “grits” , white asparagus puree, artichokes and fava beans. It was pretty good again not a lot of food for someone who just ran a half marathon. My wife had more steak tartare (“raw meat”) for appetizer and the duck for entrée. She said it was good.
The Duquesne Incline(aka Vernicular) on South Side of Pittsburgh.
After dinner we ventured over to the Duquesne Incline which is a funicular that runs up-and-down the steep hill on the South Side of the city. We parked across the street and took the steps and pedestrian bridge over the road to the station house, paid our $2.50 each and road to the top. We were the only ones in the car which was pretty cool. There is a small museum at the top and an overlook of the city. They had large wrought-iron bars around it so it was kind hard to get any pictures on the tripod. There was also a bunch of East-Asian tourists jockeying for position too. The view of the city was pretty nice though.
Pittsburgh At night. Not the greatest shot, but you get the idea. Tripod mounted here but it was windy and I was trying to squeeze lens between a wrought iron gate. Really, you couldn’t ame a little room for people to take some pictures??
We took a walk down the street hoping to get some better views but it was totally blocked by either houses or restaurants. Since it was Sunday night most of them were closed. We did manage to finagle a glass of wine at La Mont Restaurant by the manager who was nice enough to serve us despite the bartender going home already. It was a really nice view from there through the large picture windows. The place seemed like it was out of the 20’s with the large glass beaded chandeliers and very ornate woodworking on the walls and ceiling. The people eating there seemed ot be out of the 20’s too, except for the one girl with the skin-tight red sequined pants. Hmmm? I hope that was his daughter?
Denise excited for her ride on the “incline”.
Our ride back down was solo too. It was a great finish to a nice weekend to our city to the west. The city has a very special feel to it. It is big city with a small town feel to it. I always felt very safe here and it is so easy to get around. I think it will only get better in time. Hope to get back again soon.
Last night in Pittsburgh. Glass of Wine at Le Mont overlooking the city. Great weekend in the city to our west.
We enjoyed another hotel breakfast and then packed up our stuff. We made one last stop at BRGR for lunch and then we were on our way back east on the PA Turnpike. Denise ended up getting sleepy, so I took over on the drive home. We had a pretty smooth drive with no traffic issues. It was a fun weekend, but back to reality.
Some photos of the local aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Managed to escape without any issues and power & internet still on. Some homes around are without power. I got lucky on this one. Rough night of sleeping with major winds/gusts and occasional blue flashes from transformers exploding. Temperatures dropping into 40’s which could be rough for those without power.
Nov 3, 2012 Update – Headed over to Rodale Fitness Park this afternoon for a short run. Many of the tall timbers that shade the back half of the track were snapped off. Pretty sad scene.
It’s hard to believe I have embarked on my third triathlon already in the last year. The Steelman was one I had steered away from last year due to a longer than usual swim. The Steelman Sprint consists of a 860yd(0.5 mile) swim, a 15 mi. bike and a 5k(3mi) run. This year it seemed to be the missing piece to my puzzle. I am preparing for my first Olympic distance tri, The Quakerman, this September which is also at Lake Nockamixon. I had attended two open water swim clinics at Nockamixon earlier in the summer to hone up on my weakest sport of the three. The clinic left me with good amount of confidence in the swim. So in order to keep that rolling, I thought the Steelman sprint was the perfect event to parlay that confidence. The Steelman sprint swim is a half mile which is only a tenth less the Quakerman Olympic swim and all other sprints I had done previous were only a quarter mile. The only bad thing about the timing of this event was that I pulled a calf muscle(soleus) about a week and half before the event. I had laid off it totally after it occurred and babied it with ice and rest, so I wasn’t sure if I was going to last the whole run or not. The worst thing would be if I totally ripped it and could not attend the Quakerman. So if I got any pain it would be a walk event.
The Steelman event is very well organized and has been recognized by Triathlon magazine as well as good reviews from competitors. The coordinator had sent a slew of emails out notifying everyone of every little thing came up, in addition to an 80+ page Athletes document with full instructions. No lack of communication here! I decided to head down there on Saturday to do my packet picket and do an easy ride of the bike course. They had a little mini-expo setup so I picked up a few things for my new bike.
The athlete instructions said that sprint distance athletes must be in the park by 5:30AM due to the closing of the main road(RT 563) for the race. We would also not be allowed out of the park until at least 10:30AM that morning. That is a bit of a drag especially for any spectators that want to see you race. Due to this restriction I told my only fan, my wife, that she did not need to attend this one. It is just a training event for me anyway. I thought being there by 5:30AM would give me plenty of time to warm up in each discipline, but the long line at the port-a-potty consumed alot of time and they also closed the transition area at 6:45AM. This was really annoying since my wave of swim didn’t go until 7:45Am! A whole hour of standing around. Fortunately my swim instructor was there to watch the event and I shot the breeze with him for a while.
After standing around for an hour, they finally called my wave for the swim start. When we all got in the water everyone was hanging back from the start buoy except one guy. The announcer made a funny comment about it and we all moved up. The water temperature was 80 degrees, so wetsuits were not USAT legal. I really was prepared for this and had practiced this in the swim clinic. I started out staying to the inside of the buoys. This was nice since there wasn’t any traffic to contend with, but when I tried to get in to round the first turn buoy things got a little congested. Course was a bit of a rectangle with a counter-clockwise direction. Things got a little better after the second turn buoy and everyone started spacing out. I did take a couple breathers on my back, but this was by far the most consistent swim I have had as well as my longest(0.5 mi). The open-water swim clinics I had taken earlier definitely increased my swimming confidence and my ability to relax in the water. Swim Time: 17:50 (Pace: 36:23, 232/537)
T1 was ok. A long jog into the transition got my bike and out of there. Biggest mistake here was running out of transition while being on right side of my bike. I didn’t realize this until I tried to get on my bike and then I had to move around to the other side. This was also my first tri with my new bike, a Quintana Roo Caliente, and I had not practiced any transitions with it. This became quite evident with both T1 and T2. Something to work on for next time, which is the main reason I did this race. One other note is that my Swim Instructor, Scott, was there cheering in the transition area which was pretty motivating. T1 Time: 2:02
I was pretty excited to get out on the bike course with my new tri bike. The Nockamixon bike course on Rt 563 is fairly hilly compared to the past two tri’s I did in NJ, but not that different from what I usually ride at home. I was hoping that this may be a bit of an advantage for me compared to some of the flatlanders in my wave. Coming out of the transition in the marina the first thing you hit is a little steep climb out towards the road. That really wakes the legs up after swimming for 20 mins. I think a couple guys passed me going up it but I ended up passing them before we got out to Rt. 563. This one guy in the Olympic race and I kept jockeying back and forth the whole time. I would pass him on the hills and he would pass me on the flats. It kind of helped keep my motivation to stay with him. Bike Time: 41:12 (Pace 18.6, 45/537)
T2 was a little bit of a rough time. First off I came flying into the dismount area and almost flipped my bike over when I got off. The bike is much lighter than my old bike and I didn’t distribute my weight properly. Nothing a little transition practice cannot cure. Then I could not find my stuff in the transition area. I was a row over and just could not see it. I even had my Austin Powers towel hanging there which I thought would be really noticeable. Apparently not. Despite these hiccups, my time wasn’t too bad. T2 Time: 1:28
The run was the part that I was most wary of due to my calf injury. I didn’t know how long that I could last running without that coming back again. I surely didn’t want to make it worse, so if it did start hurting I would probably be walking the rest of that leg. I started out very slowly making sure I was in my best Chirunning form. My calf felt really good and I started thinking I might be able to run the whole time. Then came the halfway turnaround. About a tenth of a mile after that it felt like someone stabbed my in the back of the leg! Shit! How could that go from feeling fine one second to piercing pain the next? I walked a little bit, but kept giving it another try…nothing. Then I somehow found a form that I could run and it didn’t hurt. I think I was basically keeping that leg straighter, kind of like I had a leg cast on, and was able to make it the whole. It wasn’t fast by any means but if I could salvage my overall race a bit it was worth it. Run Time: 28:16( Pace: 9:07, 321/537)
My overall time was 1:30:45 which is ok. Hey it was only a training race anyway, so I am happy with it. I definitely got some things to work on for my Olympic race which is my high priority. I finished 14 out of 39 in my age group which puts me solidly in the top half. The only thing that kinda stinks is that a solid run could have put me in the top 5 or at least close. But there is always next year. The post-race food was pretty good. Tons of fruit and some pizza and cookies to satisfy my post-race junk food urge. Hung out for a bit, talked with a couple I knew and eventually they let us out of the park.
Place Bib# D Name Age G City St Rank 860ydsw Pace Tran1 Rank 12.8mbk Rate Tran2 Rank 5krun Pace Penalty Final Div/Tot Div Gen/Tot G
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122 638 S Brian Schwind 42 M ALBURTI PA 232 17:50 36:23 2:02 45 41:12 18.6 1:28 321 28:16 9:07 1:30:45 14/39 M40-44 82/291 M