• Sluggish start? Not a problem Lovato takes 1st in women’s half-Ironman

    6/30/08

    By Drew Rubenstein
    The Dominion Post

    Within minutes of winning the women’s half-Ironman event, Amanda Lovato was handed a plate with a banana, oranges and watermelon on it.

    The fit and slender 35-year-old professional triathlete took one look, put it on the seat next to her and looked back at the volunteers.

    “Can I get something greasy?” Lovato said. “Like pizza?”

    Wait. Really?

    Lovato, who finished the event (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run) in four hours, 40 minutes and 16 seconds, is a self-proclaimed health freak, at least most of the time, with certain food allergies.

    “You have a headache when you finish, it’s almost like you have a little bit of a handover because you are so dehydrated,” Lovato said. “I kind of binge afterwards.”

    The volunteers came back with a plate full of pasta, and Lovato smiled, and not just because she won the top $4,000 purse at Sunday’s fourth annual MedExpress Spirit of Morgantown Triathlon. Following a race, she indulged herself with whatever kind of food sounds good at the time.

    It lasts “usually just for today. Pizza hamburgers, stuff like that,” Lovato said with a laugh.

    For most of Sunday’s race, Lovato felt a little out of it, saying she struggled to get herself going.

    “The first hour I felt so bad, but then finally I started to feel better,” Lovato said.

    She was the last professional to exit Monongahela RIver after the swim, and even after jumping on the bike, she wondered if her legs would loosen up.

    “It was hard. Usually I am pretty good on the run, but today it was the bike. I think I caught the girls at about two hours,” Lovato said. “I just felt like crap, and finally it started to come around. You never know, sometimes you feels amazing and nothing goes wrong, and sometimes you feel like crap.”

    Eventually, Lovato, who placed third in the Morgantown race in 2007, found her groove and comfortably set herself away from the pack by the end of the bike ride. FIrst-year pro Becky Witinok-Huber places second at 4:47:40, winning $1,750.

    “I am totally stoked. How can you not be happy winning?” Lovato said. “You have to trust it comes around. Thank God it did.”

    Lovato made up the ground on the bike despite facing the hard rain. It’s just a part of the sport, where some triathletes remain just as aggressive and others become more cautious when facing slippery roads.

    “On one of the turns, a guy in front of me crashed, and it was kind of scary because he took a pretty bad spill. But you train for the worst and hope for the best,” Witinok-Huber said. “I think the people who are more versatile and not afraid of the hills, wind and rain are going to perform better.”

    Lovato admitted the weather on Sunday did play a factor.

    “You always have to be careful in the rain,” Lovato said. “I am sort of a safety girl. I don’t like to fall or crash. I’ve crashed one too many times.”

    Witinok-Huber, 23, and Lovato became training partners in Boulder, Colo., about four weeks ago. Lovato joined Witinok-Huber’s swimming group, and the two may soon begin biking and running together, too.

    “I have never raced against her. I know she is a very talented runner,” Witinok-Huber said. “She proved strong on the bike today.”

    It was Witinok-Huber’s first time breaking five hours in the half-Ironman, but she still has a lot to learn in both improving her timed in each event and mastering the finer details of transitioning within the triathlon itself.

    When Witinok-Huber got out of the water and approached her bike, she realized she didn’t have any rubber bands.

    “Usually you rubber band your shoes to the bike,” she said. “What happened when I got on, the pedal wasn’t going around because I didn’t have a rubber band and my shoe fell off. I had to go back and get it and put it back on, instead of having a total fly-over, where you jump on the bike and you pedal and the rubber bands break That cost me at least 30 seconds.”

    Despite the rough beginning, Lovato thought she responded well to still pull out the title.

    “I love it. I will be back next year. I love the people here. I love the race director,” Lovato said. “I love this venue. This is what triathlon is all about.”