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Pittsburgh Marathon: Tell me that guy's not from the CDC (03 May 2009 at 22:42)
So today I ran the Pittsburgh Marathon, I lovely jaunt through Pittsburgh's many distinct neighborhoods. My time was pants. Embarrassing, really, at 4h13m17s. I say that because my first marathon last year I did in a respectable 3h23m04s. But I knew this would happen: I had lost a month and a half of training because of a mysterious back injury, and then when I got mysteriously better I immediately overtrained myself into some kind of other illness, and so I was totally out of shape for this event. Since I knew I was not going to have a shot at beating my personal best, and who wants to try hard and put in a mediocre-bad non-best time, I decided yesterday that I would run in costume. Costumes are a kind of marathon tradition, though there were hardly any other costumes in Pittsburgh this year, surprisingly. I only have pretty much one costume making strategy, which is to use a full-body Tyvek jumpsuit with something written on it and maybe some kind of props. This time it was a timely reference. I wore it as a hazmat suit, and picked up a respirator at the hardware store too (all sold out at the drugstore, somewhat alarmingly), then emblazoned it with "CDC — INFLUENZA UNIT" and on the back "H1N1 INFLUENZA-A 2009". This was the first time I ever wore a costume in a race but I really liked it. Lots of cheering people (or others in the race) got it, and it is really fun to hear them mention it or pick up the cheer volume/directedness as you go by, since 4 hours is a pretty long and potentially boring period without stimulus. 1/3 of people approximately thought it was just doctor scrubs, which I can understand because med students are in the habit of around here wearing their scrubs to the coffeeshop or the Shadyside X gym or whatever, I think as a way to attract mates. (Obviously they do not make good workout clothes nor would it be any particular hardship to change.) But if the costume was scrubs it would be dumb to write CDC INFLUENZA UNIT H1N1 all over it. At least one other comment suggested the interpretation that I was an escaped prisoner, which I think is funny, especially the idea that I might have escaped and run 26 miles only to end up right where I started, back at the penitentiary. The downsides of this costume are multitudinous: e.g. the respirator made it basically impossible to breathe. I wore it for the first mile and a half but it was like sucking bigtime wind, whereas the first few miles are usually super easy. So most of the race I had that around my chin and maybe covering my mouth but breathing from the nose, except that I'd put the hood and mask on again when I sussed that a cheering and photography gauntlet was coming up—even though then it was soaked in sweat and gatorade so I'd be inhaling that moistness—because it definitely increased the cheering factor. Here's what it looks like with all options enabled:

H1N1 swine flu costume at Pittsburgh Marathon 2009
(Thx to Nels for this photo.)


Downside #2 is majorer: Fact: That suit is basically waterproof to protect the skin or underclothes, so it just stores up sweat drops and heat to make a sort of stinko jacuzzi inside. After a few miles I took off the clothes I had underneath, which helped a bit, and I also ran for a bit with the top down bare-chest just me holding it like an oversized jacuzzi diaper, but then I thought if I'm going to do a costume marathon I should really wear a costume the whole time. Anyway, this did not help my speed but it would have been shit anyway.

Why did I suxx so much? The costume was some trouble but the lack of training was the biggest component. This was a good lesson. I felt much worse running this than I did putting in a very much better time in SF. Training works. I also thought this course was pretty hard. You can't really tell it from the elevation chart, but lots of it is these rolling up- and down-hills. The three-mile continuous climb comes at pretty much the worst time, and it was responsible for offing me and a few friends. The weather started out and ended perfect but there was some water on the road from a storm yesterday and it drizzled a bit more, and by mile 16ish my shoes were soaked with juice, which actually really sucks because it makes the shoes a lot heavier and harder to move and blister-raisins up your feet in an uncomfortable way. I also got some bigtime muscle cramps, I don't know why. The 4-mile bike trip to and fro probably did not help.

Big ups to the folks from the CMU running club, most of which were doing their first marathons and many of which put me to shame. Thanks a lot to all the friends that showed neighborhood pride by coming out to cheer (sometimes in multiple locations!).

Speaking of bigtime, I made the KDKA news. Check out the rousing story Supporters Cheer On Marathon Runners for my one-second appearance at about 1:43. They don't even explain or mention my costume, so I guess they must have just thought I give a mean high-five, which is true.
Category:  races (10 comments — almost 6 years ago)   [ comment ]
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39m33s or ⊥! (28 Sep 2008 at 14:25)
Phew! That was freakin' brutal. But I did it: I got under 40 minutes (this time safely under at an official 39m33s) in this mostly-downhill 10K (6.21 miles). I prepared and trained a lot for this race (maybe not as much as the marathon, but still I took it pretty seriously) and yesterday was my first 29th birthday so I didn't really behave myself on Friday night, but I'm really glad I got my goal time so I can retire from the 10K distance. I hate that distance. Super long distances are painful, but not because I run at an uncomfortable pace, just that I do it for hours. I like that better. 5K is fine because you suffer bad but it's over in 20 minutes. 10K I feel like I am pushing just as hard (indeed my 5K split in this race was my fastest ever 5K and my time was less than twice my Run Around The Square time), just for twice as long. Pukey. The whole long uphill parts on 5th Avenue and Boulevard of the Allies I was continuously doing that giving up game, like literally visualizing myself pulling over to stop at a specific spot coming up twenty yards down the road, really succumbing to it, but then when I get to that point declining (it's really more like forgetting than declining). I don't know how to explain this, really. Anyway, it was definitely my hardest race. I'll run it again, but I currently don't feel any need to improve or match this time.

I don't have any race plans in the near future (basically, I'm heading back to full-time Pac Tommery) so you won't have to see this template for a while, but I must:
ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED
Official 10K under 40 minutes
Categories:  momentous  races (18 comments — almost 4 years ago)   [ comment ]
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Runnin' with the Devil (06 Sep 2008 at 14:40)
Music, running, music, running. That's all there is to do on Tom 7 Radar these days. I even have a music post queued up next. Oh, actually, I have a non-music and non-running post queued up too, phew.

But here's the thing: 'tis the season. So I got up at 4:45am and took public transportation to the IKEA Half Marathon in Robinson, which starts in a shopping center. No kidding. After a big downhill for the first 3/4 mile (which IMO they should get rid of, since I think it cheapens the race) it's a loop out and back on the Montour Trail, which is pretty nice. It is reminiscent of the Farmington Canal in New Haven county. These running stories are tedious but I wanted to share two things. First is I registered in the morning right before the race and smirked when I saw my bib at the top of the pile:

IKEA did 6/6/6


Yeah, really 666. I mean, it's even in bright-ass red. I got some good comments on this one. The other thing is that even though I wasn't taking this race very seriously (in terms of preparation; I definitely ran it hard) I ended up achieving another personal goal, which was to run a half-marathon under 1h30m. I'm not sure exactly what my official time was, but I timed myself at 1h27m48s, which works out to a pace of about 6m45s per mile. It's a small race too (something like 700 runners) so I also got 3rd place in my age group with that time, though I don't know what that age group is (for all I know it could be exactly-28-year-olds). So anyway,

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED
Half Marathon under 1h30m
Categories:  momentous  races (2 comments — almost 9 years ago)   [ comment ]
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Run around the Square, 2008 (23 Aug 2008 at 11:59)
ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED
Official 5K time under 20:00


Phew. This race was a lot hillier (meaning up-hillier) than I thought it was going to be, but I did it, finishing in 19m54s, which is a pace of 6m24.3s per mile. Lots of people were telling me it should be easy for me to break 20 minutes, but it wasn't. I think I'm just not built for middle-distance.

Mistakes: Well, I didn't prepare for this as well as the marathon. I didn't eat as well the last couple of weeks, and I ate way too much pasta last night (anyway carbo-loading doesn't really do anything for this kind of race; it should have been about eating something that wouldn't upset my stomach) and drank too much coffee and not enough water in the morning. The biggest mistake was probably rushing off at the beginning of the race with the front of the pack. These people were running like a 5m15s/mile pace, which is way faster than I need to crack 20 minutes, and that tired me out. After finishing the first mile in 5m41s, the race started to get uphill. I was surprised because I naively thought that since it started up in Regent Square and ended down in the park, it would be all downhill. So on mile 2 I was feeling really crappy, like I needed to give up. (Thinking about giving up is a sure-fire way to crapify your race. Every time it happens you might as well knock 10 seconds off the final time.) And then I started feeling like I should conserve my energy because there was this relentless uphill, and I didn't want to die later. (Recall I was thinking that my first mile was stupidly fast, by this point already.) That second mile was a pace of 7m14s, which is pants. The third mistake is that the third mile is almost all downhill, especially the tail end, and I should have flat-out booked it in that section. Instead I was still worried about conserving my energy. Really all of these big mistakes can be traced back to not knowing the course before running it. Dumb. At least I won't have that problem in the Great Race. Of course all of that stuff accounts for maybe 10–15 seconds at most, so no big deal. I'd certainly be kicking myself more if I had come in just over 20 instead of just under.

Correct: Red Laces are still rocking it, but that was sort of an obvious choice because this race is mostly on gravel and not long so feet/knee shock is not an issue. The parts that were on Pittsburgh/Swissvale's brick and cobblestone roads I wisely ran up on the sidewalk. The sidewalk is treacherous too, but not as bad as the stones. I wore only shorts and shoes, GPS watch and car key. No water stops. The biggest victory was a mental one. Even though I was mentally giving up a few times, even in essence composing the alternative version of this blog post where I am talking mostly about mistakes and excuses for why I didn't meet my goal, in the last year or so I've learned a super important race principle. This will sound obvious. I often go into these races thinking, okay Tom, today is the day and this race I am going to really push myself and try to do X (where X is e.g. break 20 minutes). Then some distance into the race I am feeling garbagey and this makes me think, drat, today is not the day. I'm not up to it today. I made some kind of mistake. And the principle is just: The reason I feel garbagey is that I am pushing hard, and that's what it feels like, and to try hard is to feel this way, no matter the day. (This incidentally is how I know I didn't push hard enough in the marathon, which is that I didn't feel that way until mile 25 or something at which point it was basically over anyway.) So the success is the several times I felt like I should slow down because I'm not going to make my goal anyway, not slowing down, or not slowing down as much as I'm prone to at least. Also then there was beer and friends at the end and that was nice.

Next goal is to break 40 minutes in the Pittsburgh Great Race, which is twice the distance, but I think the course is easier. I am more serious about that, but that just means the personal stakes are higher. Think how many Gamer Points I'll have before year's end??
Categories:  momentous  races (3 comments — almost 9 years ago)   [ comment ]
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Marathon managed! (03 Aug 2008 at 15:56)
Oh, red laces! You did not let me down.

So, this morning I got up at 4:30, made coffee, and biked 3 miles to downtown on a funny folding bike (courtesy Jake) to run the San Francisco marathon. This was my first marathon. I've been "training" for it for about 2 months, which for me means running a hard 4 hilly miles every day, or a semi-gentle longer (10–15-ish) one on the weekend. I was also trying to watch my calorie intake, which is much harder than running every day, it turns out. Anyway training is boring and over. Let's not talk about that. I was a little worried about running in this race because I had never run that far before (the previous farthest was a very painful 22 miles with a number of pain-increasing circumstances), and I was worried that it would be really physically hard (particulary as respects "The Wall"). I was even more worried about injury, particularly to my right knee which has a chronic pain issue at distance and had been acting up this past week. (I think that I get these pains psychosomatically to some degree when I know I'm about to do something intense, like I actually think my body is inventing pain to try to discourage me from doing it because it usually goes away after I tell it Shut Up and run for a few miles.) Even though I did a half-marathon in like 1:40 or so, and I'm much better than I was then, I had my expectations set pretty low (it turns out, stupidly low) for this race: I said to myself and those who asked that I would be happy with 3h45m and disappointed if I didn't come in under 4 hours. My sights were stupidly low because I finished in 3h23m04s, which is approximately the 90–95th percentile (depending who you count)! And I definitely could have done better. Here's what happened. I was a little late to the start line because the biking was slower than I thought and the chaining of the bike was a more complex knotting and folding problem than I thought, and the lines for the porto-potties were a lot longer and slower than I thought, so I ended up starting with the 4h–4h15m wave, which is even a slower pace than I thought I wanted, and is definitely a lot slower than I now know I want. And that's fine because it's actually pretty fun and encouraging to be passing people the whole time, and you get better cheering when you do so, as long as there is enough room to be passing people safely and non-obnoxiously. And so I was carefully running a 7:55/mi pace which felt sluggish but I thought it was the right thing because I didn't want to feel shitty later when I got to the last 10 miles. Then we got to the Golden Gate Bridge. This is almost certainly the most beautiful part of the course. They blocked off two traffic lanes for us; one out and one back. But the lanes are pretty narrow and there was no out-of-band sidewalk option, so I kept getting stuck behind some people who were running side-by-side and I couldn't get around them, not even if I was signaling and dashing to the other side of the lane, because over there were some other more people bunched up. I can't even blame them because they were all moseying along at the same pace that was appropriate for the wave they started in because they are more punctual than me. But this was really fucking annoying because 7:55 felt slow already and 9:15 or whatever was really slow. So when I finally finished this bridge part, which is about mile 11, and I was not feeling basically any fatigue and I was feeling this annoyance of not having been able to go as fast as I had wanted, and finally there was room to run around people, I really opened it up and that felt great. My knee was hurting and then later my foot, but I ignored it and it eventually went away. I ran the rest of the race at what I would guess was an average pace of 7:00 or so. I could have pushed harder there, but it didn't feel sluggish at least and I was still a bit worried about body changes at mile 20ish, so I was content to continue and get a much better time than I had thought. I'm honestly a little disappointed that it wasn't harder. It didn't feel bad or hard at all until mile 22, even, and then I only had to check my watch to push a little to keep up the 7:00 pace. Only at mile 24.5 did I turn to someone else and go, "This sucks!" and at that point you can hardly complain. So I am certainly happy with my time and I'm definitely happy with being able to run continuously (ok, with one bathroom break) for that long although I feel a bit like a chump for underestimating myself. If I had just pushed a smidge harder from the beginning I could have almost certainly qualified for Boston (3h10m), which I had previously thought was like a life-long goal of mine but now I think I should just do the next time I make marathon.

Here are some things that worked out well:
  • The bike was a good way to get down there. At 5:20 there is nobody on the road. I didn't have to deal with any parking nonsense.
  • Arriving in SF yesterday with EDT jet lag made it much easier to get up at 4:30.
  • I "carbo loaded" on Friday and Saturday and this seems to have worked? On Saturday with dinner I had 3 beers of light strength. This is a personal racing trick. They contain carbs too, and make it easier to relax and get a good night's sleep, as long as you don't get dehydrated. I think I did the right thing drinking at the water stations and having power-gel at mile 18 because I didn't have any wall problems that I could detect.
  • Red Laces worked out great. Thank you blog-readers for putting me at ease about this choice. I was scared at mile 8 when the knee pain came, but it went away. I also have this chronic under-nail blister that I think is going to result in one of my toenails falling off (gross) but I don't think that is a shoe issue but a weird toe angles issue.
  • The clothes were right. This was a concern for me because San Francisco has such weirdo temperatures and micro-climates. I wore shorts, a t-shirt, a long-sleeve shirt, and a hat. In the early morning and on the bridge the long-sleeves were good. Then I ditched that layer and ran the next 8 miles with the t-shirt, then I ditched the t-shirt and ran the rest in just the shorts. I held onto the hat, because it is light and it's something to wipe up sweat with. Not carrying stuff (including clothes on your body) does make a noticeable difference. I could have ditched earlier, but I'm glad I had the long sleeves for the bridge.
  • I ran hard on the downhills. This is a good place to make up time, and it is especially fun because you get good cheers when you are conspicuously pushing hard. I think the concern is acute injury, but I have a lot of practice from Pittsburgh hills.


  • Here are some mistakes:
  • As mentioned, the worst thing was being super wrong about the pace I'd be able to keep up. Embarrassing. Even if I had known the actual time to qualify for Boston (I thought it was 3h30m) I could have pushed harder in the second half and probably gotten it, once I realized. Well, there are lots of marathons. I will try again.
  • In training, I should have started calorie restriction later, since I was at my minimum weight last weekend, not this one. And that process is not fun.
  • I wrote a crazy-long and boring blog post about it. Seriously, a lot of people have been telling me that they want to hear "all about it", etc., so I hope those people are happy, and regular readers who like to read about interesting things and projects are simply not reading this far.
  • I knew that I was planning on ditching both shirts, so I definitely should have left a backup shirt with the bike. That was dumb. It is cold when you are not running. They had these mylar blankets that they were giving out as some kind of weird robot/superhero swag, so what I did was to tie that around my naked upper body and then punch holes through it for my arms, which looked absolutely ridiculous. Biking down was a great warmup, but the bike trip back uphill in the cold and looking ridiculous after running that far actually rather sucked. It was a little disturbing how few comments/looks I got, which I guess speaks to San Francisco's level of weird-tolerance in general.


  • Finally, some observations:
  • San Francisco is famously hilly, of course (though not as hilly as Pittsburgh, in my opinion). The marathon route is amusingly flat, however. The biggest hill is the one going up to the Golden Gate Bridge, which isn't really that bad. Like when I was running in Portland, I definitely noticed the locals (at least I assume they were predominantly locals) suffering substantially on hills. I just thought this was funny in Portland, but I was disappointed with the San Franciscans, who I feel should be representin' the local terrain. The Pittsburgh marathon, which is coming back in 2009 and does not go out of its way to be flat despite the naturally hilly terrain, will be interesting for this reason. In my opinion we should actually craft the course to be maximally brutal, which, coupled with Pittsburgh's unpredictable weather and poor air quality, could help us get a reputation as one of the most abusive US marathons. Because we ought to excel along at least one dimension, right?
  • I like trains a lot.
  • It is weird and I don't understand why I saw so many people running on the sidewalk in the opposite direction of the marathon. What are they doing?
  • It is weird and scary when I see someone running like this:
    Disturbingly non-ergonomic running style
    Scary not just because I don't have my regular drawing tools with me and so I have to draw this awkward animation on this crappy mac trackpad, but scary because I think if I ran 400m with this kicking the heels out to the side style—let alone 26.2 miles!—I would ruin my knees forever. I saw at least 4 women running this way. I think that they have bad friends.


  • OK: I apologize for this post. Do not unsubscribe. I promise the next will either be short, or be about an interesting project, or written in an amusing style. Right now I am too wiped out to do any of those.
    Categories:  popular  momentous  races (30 comments — almost 9 years ago)   [ comment ]
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    Random Distance Run 2008 (02 May 2008 at 22:50)
    Today was the sixth annual Random Distance Run. Like usual I made the t-shirts: Here you can see the design for the front and back. I decided to try something different on the front (this is 1968 Olympics Theme) and I am running kind of dry on CS puns for the back—but fortunately there were twice as many real sponsors this year so I only needed two. (I had to recreate several of the logos by hand in vector format, though, urgh.)

    I also ran in the race, which was 1¾ miles this year. I came in 4th place. I am pretty happy with that.
    Categories:  drawings  races (5 comments — almost 9 years ago)   [ comment ]
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    Pretty Wrong Race (23 Sep 2006 at 12:48)
    Hi! I'm finally back from a series of time-consumed weeks that I will tell you about in separate posts in order. Two fridays ago I ran in the CMU SCS "Pretty Good Race", and I tried hard to do well. Play an easy game of "Where's tom7?!" Unfortunately since there was nobody nearby to follow and I was in the zone, I accidentally took a wrong turn and only did 90% of the course, so my effort was for naught. Embarrassing, right? Had I kept up my pace for the entire distance, I would have finished in about 20m30s. So my goal remains to do an official 5K in under 20...
    Category:  races   [ comment ]
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    Ingenious Scientists Complete 34.6-mile ''Death March'' (28 Jun 2006 at 00:02)
    Ingenious Scientists Complete 34.6-mile ''Death March''
    951×591 version
    Well, we did it: a 34.6 mile hike, from sun rise to sunset on a single day, across the entirety of the "brutal" Rachel Carson Trail. (results here—it took us about 14 hours, but it's not a race!) I put the word brutal in quotes because that is how the Rachel Carson Trail challenge web-site describes it, I guess to make it seem like more of a double-dog dare. You can see the route zoomed out above (or google earth it yourself) across the north side of the Allegheny river, with an embedded elevation profile. Here's a representative image:



    So you can see it goes up and down, and in this particular case the people are all clumped up because of a series of very trecherous muddy descents and ascents that really amounted to short rock climbs with mud instead of rocks.

    I wasn't having a rough time at all until about the 26th mile, when my feet and ankles were hurting really bad, just from the repeated stepping. (26 miles is something like 60,000 steps for each foot!) An ace bandage got me through it, but by the end my feet had never hurt so bad in my life. Fortunately I have recovered quickly (tomorrow I'm aiming to start running again) and even used that crippled time to put in a bunch of good work on the programming contest, which is coming up in three weeks! (!)

    Somewhere out there someone has pictures of our group at every checkpoint, so you can do a 5-frame time laps photo to see us become more and more weary and enmuddened. Here's a picture of Cortney and I at the very end, though I think we were deliberately trying to look beleaguered the sentiment is not far off:

    Categories:  momentous  races (7 comments — almost 10 years ago)   [ comment ]
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    Back! (06 Jun 2006 at 17:21)
    Back!
    I know yinz are like "Where is Tom? Did he die?" The answer is, no, my friends, I am sitting right at my computer and I did not kick the bucket or purchase any farms! True, though, that I have not posted an update in some time. So, what's been going on?

    Well, up above is a picture of me finishing the Cleveland Half-Marathon, which I posted about in the previous entry. This was my first visit to Cleveland and my first time running that kind of distance, and all-in-all I declare it a success! Cleveland is a nice city (despite warnings I've heard to the contrary), though it is a bit too driving-oriented for my tastes. Also, during our visit there was a bloom of what I think were mayflies. They were everywhere, like when we were walking around we'd inhale them and they crawled all over the Automatic ATM Machine and the walls and my car and themselves and that was pretty sick. We got dinner at the Great Lakes brewpub, which I love because I love brewpubs. It isn't my favorite brewery, but they had a lovely pale ale special to the pub, and a delicious veggie burger. OK, right, so we had to get up at 5:00am for the run itself and it was pretty cold and raining for almost the whole race. It wasn't really that bad though, and that's mainly because the course is quite flat and I'll trade hills for rain any day! Cortney and Alvin biked around town to cheer for us at various points of the race, which was really nice and motivating. I finished in 1h46m (pace of 8:09) and ran the whole time except for a bathroom break at the 10K mark. I feel like I should have done better, but I had only run a total of sixteen minutes in the two weeks prior, so I wasn't really trained for it. Now I want to run a real marathon sometime in the next year. If I don't do it, yinz all should chastize me for being a lame slacker!

    Song of the month for May is Jonathan Coulton's Mandelbrot Set, which I learned about from Joshuah via Moira. It's totally cheesy and has a very TMBG-like educational subject matter, but I love it for its Van Halen porta synth and lyrics that incorporate phrases like "disdain for pure mathematics and unique geometrical insights." I lollerskated for real.

    What's been keeping me away from the internet and everything for the last week is a workshop deadline for which I submitted two papers; one an updated version of my old draft about Grid/ML, and one a new paper about Separate Compilation for Standard ML. The latter was an extremely painful process that took up day and night for the whole weekend. I am glad to be done with that. As far as I know, I'll only be working on the programming contest for the next month or so.

    To be continued in a few minutes!
    Categories:  song of the month  races (3 comments — almost 11 years ago)   [ comment ]
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    Random Results (01 May 2006 at 11:47)
    Another fun and busy weekend. On Friday I ran in the Random Distance Run (see also my shirt design). The roll of the dice was <6, 5>, which is just one lap short of the maximum of three miles. But three miles is no problem for me these days. I did pretty well, finishing in 8th place at a pace of 6:20 per mile.

    After that we biked downtown to watch the Pirates play baseball. It was a great experience; the weather was totally lovely, our team played well and it was the first time I've ever been to a professional sporting event and seen my team win!
    Category:  races (7 comments — almost 11 years ago)   [ comment ]
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