Race Report: Skunk Cabbage Half Marathon


Today I ran my first half marathon! 

I have never been a big fan of running. It always felt really hard, I felt slow, and I'd get really hot. The past few years I've just been running enough to make it through sprint and olympic distance triathlons, so I never ran more than 6 miles at once. 

Every winter I usually struggle with being stuck inside all the time -- I'm outside so much in the summer and I hate being cooped up in the winter, but I don't want to ride my bike outside all winter. So, I thought that maybe I could run outside in the winter. I knew I wouldn't stick with it if I didn't have a goal or something I was training for, and the Skunk Cabbage race is really inexpensive, so, I signed up! When I originally signed up I wasn't even sure if I would end up doing it. I just wanted something to motivate me to get outside. I also used to think that there was NO WAY I'd ever be able to run that far, and I don't like feeling like I can't do something. So, this was definitely a challenge for myself as well.


I did not follow a training plan, and I really didn't start running until the middle or end of January I think. I looked at training plans that tell you how many miles to run each day but I thought that would stress me out if I missed one or didn't feel like doing it. So, I just ran when the weather wasn't miserable and when I felt like it. I also continued to ride my bike on the indoor trainer as well.

The first few runs were uneventful but as I started increasing mileage, past the six miles that I had run in the past, my knees and IT bands started hurting. I realized I probably added on too many miles too quickly. I think mentally I needed to be sure that I could run a long distance to feel comfortable doing this race -- so I wanted to get up to 10 miles quickly, but my body didn't like the abrupt change. I switched to doing multiple, shorter runs (4-8 miles) a few times a week instead of just doing one long run on the weekends. This helped with the knees a lot. I also found that running on the shoulder of the road when I could helped my knees as well.

I mostly trained alone but I did go on a few runs with some friends. Running with friends is so much better! But for logistical reasons I usually went by myself. I spent a lot of time in the Ellis Hollow area, which is where the race was. I live and work close to it so it was easy, and I got to know the course pretty well. I bike on those roads all the time, but running on them is very different. I managed to get a few double-digit runs in. The longest training run (and the longest run I had ever done in my life) was 11 miles last Sunday. I was a bit nervous about having to run an additional two for the race, but, I felt OK with 11 and I figured the race atmosphere could help get me through.



I intended to do a few short easy runs the week before the race but I ended up being really busy and it didn't happen. I did some easy spinning on my bike trainer yesterday to loosen up my legs, and did some stretches. Last night we went to see Trevor Noah at Ithaca College, which kind of screwed up my dinner plans. We didn't end up eating dinner until we got home around 10:30. Not ideal, but, oh well.

The race didn't start until 10am which was nice. I woke up at 8 and leisurely had breakfast (oatmeal with lots of mix-ins: peanut butter, cinnamon, honey, almonds, coconut, and a banana). I drove to campus around 9:30am and wandered around a little bit. I found Amy when we all gathered for the beginning of the half. I ran 11 miles with her last weekend. I decided I wasn't going to try to stick with her for the race -- since I had never done this distance I wanted to make sure I did what was right for me instead of trying to stay with someone else.

It was very warm today - mid 60s, sunny. I had not done any training in temps this warm. I wore capris, a short sleeve shirt, and a 1/4 zip pullover. I took the pullover off before we started and I am glad we did.


The Race

The first part of the race is through campus and everyone was pretty bunched together, as expected. I was running rather slow but that was OK with me since I considered this part of the warm up. Once we got onto 366 things spread out a little more.

The first water stop was at the corner of Dodge and Stevenson, and Lesley was working there, so I threw my long sleeve shirt (which was tied around my waist) into her car through the open window when I went by. Then I plodded up Dodge. I had run up Dodge several times while training and I'm glad I did. Lots of people were walking up it. 

Once I got off of Dodge and into Ellis Hollow I felt pretty good - I had done a lot of training here, I knew these roads. I thought I might be kind of bored running this long by myself and with no music but it was totally fine. I wasn't running right next to anyone but there were always people pretty close by so there were lots of distractions, and I was just jazzed that I was even doing this. I paused at the next water stop and got a half cup of water to put into my bottle I was carrying with me. I put the top of my water bottle on while I was running and it didn't go on straight so I was splashing water all over for a while. I stopped again at a water stop where the course takes a slight left onto Ellis Hollow Creek to put more water in, and that was enough to last me the rest of the race.

Ellis Hollow was mostly uneventful. I was feeling good - not tired really, good spirits. Throughout the entire race I focused on how much I had left to do, not how much I had done so far. Examples:

I've got ten miles to go - I've done 10 miles before! I can do this!

8 miles left. I did a bunch of 8 mile runs. This is no big deal.

Six miles left. That's a 10k - I've done that after swimming and biking! No problem.

4 miles left - that's just like a little post-run work I've done.etc.


As I neared the end of Ellis Hollow Creek I thought about the short, steep hill approaching on Turkey Hill. I had included that stupid hill in many of my training runs too, although I had never trained on it after running 10 miles. Lots of people were walking, but I made it up without stopping! I certainly wasn't moving fast - people walking weren't that much slower than I was, but...I kept running. I was super excited when I made the left turn onto Stevenson at the top of that hill - it's all downhill or flat from here! I knew I was going to be OK!

I passed Lesley at the water stop at the corner of Dodge again and she high-fived me and a bunch of the people there cheered for me. I checked my watch (was running with my new Moto360 Sport) and saw it had frozen at mile 9.8. Damnit! 

The last two miles were a little tough - I was annoyed that my watch wasn't working and I didn't know my pace or exact distance or time. I was planning to use that to motivate me at the end. It was also kind of windy and hot on 366 coming back towards campus.

I made the last left turn and only had a short distance to go before crossing the finish line! I was so happy! I finished in 2:08. I didn't have a time goal - I just wanted to be able to train for and do this without getting injured and hoped to not have to walk during the race.

The rest of the day

I hung around for a little while after finishing, had half a banana and some chocolate milk and chatted with people. My legs started to feel pretty stiff so I walked back to my car and did some stretches when I got home. Everyone was telling me to eat something really delicious, but my stomach was feeling kind of weird when I got home. I showered, made a sandwich, then laid on the couch for a while. Later in the evening we met Steve and Kate at Sweet Melissa's for the first soft serve ice cream of the year, then got burritos at Viva to take home and eat.

I thought my legs would be killing me, and they are tired, but not as bad as I thought. I'll use my foam roller before I go to bed and hopefully I won't be limping tomorrow.

Final Thoughts

In 2010 I did the 10k at the Skunk Cabbage. I had only run 6 miles once or twice before then, I didn't know anything about racing, and I was way overdressed. I was so hot and uncomfortable the whole race. i wore sneakers that I hadn't trained in and my feet hurt for DAYS. It was awful. I didn't do any running races for a long time and I never thought I'd be back for a half marathon! Today when I was running, at mile 10, I passed the turn-around point for the 10k. I thought about myself being there 7 years ago, and where I was in my fitness journey then. I never thought I'd be able to do a half marathon - running 13 miles literally seemed impossible to me (until about 4 months ago). So I'm pretty damn happy about completing this race today.