Skunk Cabbage Half Marathon Report

>> Monday, April 12, 2010

Yesterday morning, Stephen and I drove to Ithaca, NY, to run the Skunk Cabbage Classic Half Marathon. Since our ultimate goal race is the Lehigh Valley Half at the end of this month -- we decided to run the event as a pace workout. For me, shifting gears isn't difficult. I welcome the opportunity to participate in an event, knowing full well that I will not push myself to the limit. To Stephen, not racing a race is, well, painful. But in order to save up enough energy (and save our legs), pace instead of race was necessary in this case.

Originally, we thought temps would be in the low 50s with a bit of light rain. Cloudy for sure. But when we arrived, we were blinded by early morning sun. The weather, indeed, was a surprise. And a good one. Especially to me -- the last time I ran this race was way back in 2004. I was 20, and it was my very first half marathon . . . EVER. Throughout, the temperature wavered around 38 degrees with wind driving sleet into my face the entire time.

Let's discuss the first time I ran this race, because it's a fun story about why you shouldn't do too much too soon. Prior to my run that April morning over six years ago, the longest run I had completed was around an hour and thirty-five minutes (so, likely 9 miles -- I used to run in minutes, not miles). Back then, I mostly raced 5Ks and 10Ks. I don't really know how it happened. In the month before the race, I started running a bit longer and thought that if I could break 1 hr and 30, I could most certainly run a half. Sure. I was 20. My body was resilient (I had hardly experienced injury at this point in my running career). Why not?

So, I woke early . . . drove to the race all by myself . . . and ran. In the driving sleet. In the freezing cold. Up and down rolling hills. Barely trained. And at the end, I called my parents (who lived about 2 hours away) because I was so happy. A finish time of 2:04:32 wasn't bad. I had finished the whole distance with minimal walking. Oh, wait. And I could hardly walk afterward! So, my mom and dad came up to visit for the day, take me out to eat, and help me deal with my injury (by taking me to the doctor). For the whole two months after the race, my left foot was bound in one of those Velcro casts because -- BIG SURPRISE -- I had earned myself not only the title of half-marathoner, but also of big-idiot. OK. That's harsh. But my 20-year-old cockiness had led to a severe overuse injury.

So, let this be a lesson to you all. I eventually recovered (above, I'm dancing for joy that summer, when I was finally sans-cast). But don't run a race you're not prepared for. I paid the price, big time.

Back to the 2010 edition of Skunk Cabbage. The race has grown immensely. In 2004, there were 218 participants. This year? 465 folks from across the area met to run thirteen point one in the sun. And that's just for the half. The event's 10K also attracted an impressive field of about equal size. The registration location moved from Barton Hall to Bartels Hall (which I think is a relatively new facility on Cornell University's campus). Anyway, THAT was also a huge improvement -- tons of space. Tons of bathrooms. Just really well organized. We registered. Warmed up with a quick mile on a nearby track. And watched the 10Kers go off and do their thing.

Our race started at 15 minutes after 10AM. I feel like the second after we lined up, the gun went off. Many people commented about how there was "little build-up" to the start. But, we were off. The wind was definitely present . . . blowing against me for the whole first two miles. And it was shortly after this point that we started to see the leaders of the 10K come in for their finish (their course was an out-and-back, ours was a loop). Stephen initially planned to run the 10K, but he figured getting in a nice long run would work better for his training. Those top racers looked incredibly fierce, though. I'm sure he would have rocked it.

Also around this time, I found myself next to this guy in his early 40s. He was spitting every five seconds (and that's honestly no exaggeration) and cursing at any car that dare challenge him to run on the side of the road ("Today's MY day to own the road, they can just move around. MOVE AROUND!"). Yikes. I made the mistake of sharing our 3-mile split with him. And after that, he attached himself at my hip and asked for the splits the entire race. "Is that one of them GPS watches?" he asked, seeming rather confused at the magical contraption. "Uh, yeah." Anyway, we'll get to the rest of the race in a minute. But seriously! Have you ever encountered someone who just wouldn't leave you alone?

I wanted to run this race for myself. I didn't want to push myself. But then this guy won't leave me alone, and all of a sudden MY time became about HIM. And I tried countless times to rid myself of the burden. Saying things like: "I think I'd like to slow down now, I'm not really racing today." He'd pull ahead for a bit . . . but on several occasions he actually came BACK to run with me! His negative energy was definitely horrible. He even told one of the cops to "piss off" when the cop told him to move to the side of the road (the course was open to traffic).

I don't want to go on and on and on about him. But this race wasn't the best, and it's mostly because this dude ruined it for me. I found my thoughts completely consumed with him -- and his spitting, which sprayed in my face a few times -- until we reached the final hill (and it was a biggie) around mile 10. He wasn't so good on hills, so I'd always pass him, and then he'd catch up again. But on this particular hill -- I heard him talking to me . . . and I simply chose to ignore him. I hate being rude. But after that, he pulled way ahead (again, I wasn't racing -- so those last two miles, I resisted the urge to get that final kick). He ended up finishing about 40 seconds ahead of me. And at the end of the race, he reached over and gave me this gigantic, sweaty hug (he was wearing a cotton t-shirt that was sopping wet!). I was too exhausted to resist. Ew!

Rude, awful race "partner" aside, I enjoyed my tour of the countryside near Cornell. I guess in my first time through the course, the weather had consumed my thoughts -- so I didn't realize how rolling it actually is. Here's an elevation chart Stephen got from his Garmin.

Yikes! Luckily, we've both been training on a few (mild) hills around our neighborhood in preparation. I was also around this crew of three college-age boys who were running their first half. They were a riot. We'd go up a hill, and on the downhill, they'd let out this comical sigh of relief. Basically, they were joking around the whole time. Which annoyed me just a tad because they thought the race was a bit of a joke . . . however, they redeemed themselves at the end when one of the three had fallen way behind. The two I was still around said -- "hey, let's go get him . . . we're finishing this together!" Awww.

As I closed in on the last half mile, I did increase my speed just slightly. I knew I wouldn't break 1:50 . . . but was completely OK with that. I'll try at Lehigh (which has fewer hills). As I rounded the corner and saw the finish, the clock read 1:50:30 . . . so I gunned it and finished in 1:50:47. A PR for me by just over 3 minutes. And by over 14 minutes from my last time running the race. Stephen did well, too, finishing 7th overall in 1:20:15.

We couldn't have asked for a more gorgeous day. Maybe a bit less wind (even Stephen says at one point, he felt like he was being pushed backward). But the volunteers were fantastic, the route was scenic, the other runners -- for the most part -- were nice, and the after-race festivities were great. Lots of food, massages, and socializing. Impressive for a race of this size . . .

So what's next for us? Well, we got a little crazy and signed up for yet ANOTHER race this weekend. Here's what's in store for the (never home)makers (so far) through October.
  • Lehigh Valley Half Marathon (4/25)
  • Lake Placid Half Marathon (6/13)
  • Laurel Fest 10K (6/19)
  • Boilermaker 15K (7/11)
  • Wineglass Marathon (10/3)

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