Main image for Gorges Half Marathon 2018 Time to Read: ~11 min


I had big plans to train properly for this. I really planned to sign up for the Rochester Marathon on my Mom's birthday in September. My sister was thinking of coming out and I spent a lot of time making a training plan for the two events. Marathon training needed to start a few weeks before Gorges so they overlapped well. Then ... my sister got hurt. She was on the fence about doing it anyway but she tore her calf muscle and that made me think it was highly unlikely she'd be up for it. And ... I was told I'd be able to return to my long-term substitute math teaching job for Fall (most likely)
so that puts a marathon 3 weeks into school. Then, I feel like I'm always on the edge with almost having plantar fasciitis so was marathon training really smart? The marathon will happen during adult cross country. Last year I did a 50K right before the start of that season and the long slow distance isn't the best for meshing with short fast running.

So why am I sharing all this in this post? Well, I wrote a plan and I kind of followed it, but without the intensity that I had originally hoped to have. Scott was intensely following the Run Less Run Faster plan that I'd followed when I tried to PR for Flower City awhile ago (I didn't PR but had a fine race). It was effective but it turned every run into a hard effort - there were no casual fun run opportunities. I didn't care for that. However, I did try to do my speed days on his speed days and I used my new Hanson marathon book for some things. I think this is actually what I am most sad about with not training for Rochester - not getting to follow the Hanson book's plan. In fact as I write this I'm feeling like I should change my mind. There's still time ... maybe?


Training went mostly well. I did a good job with adding speed to my workouts and I hit the distances needed for proper half marathon training. I ran a lot of my longer runs on the Black Diamond trail. Whenever I run that trail I am filled with gratitude for it. To have a lovely easy trail that is connected to a challenging trail that can take me all the way to Ithaca is amazing. For two of my runs I started in Trumansburg and ran to Ithaca and snagged a ride home. That's super fun - all downhill! Not the best training but fun. One day we were staying in my friend Kathey's lake house for Cornell graduation weekend (we rent our house out)
and we went out to get a smoothie at Starbucks after our respective runs. I had a long slow relaxing run to Ithaca and Scott had a crazy fast long run around Trumansburg before picking me up.

A great track workout

Most of the speed training I did was in our neighborhood. It is ~ .4 miles and it works well for 800 repeats (or any distance, really). I can loop back by my house and get water from the mailbox and there's a bathroom if needed. However, everything is still an estimate and one day I decided I was going to use the wonderful new track facility we have at our school complex. The only problem? Track practice was in session. It didn't work for me to go after practice so I figured I'd give it a go. Worst case I'd have to go home and use the neighborhood. Scott does this all the time, but he is available in the morning when no one is using the facility.

I ran my warm-up to the track (about 1.5 miles give or take)
and saw all my students out there for their modified practice along with the varsity kids. I had to do three one mile repeats with a 400 cool down (4 minutes)
on the track at threshold pace (8 min miles). This was surprisingly FUN! I enjoyed running by the long jumpers, high jumpers, hurdlers and just seeing all the kids out and about. As I ran I thanked Mithacal Milers because without that program I would NEVER have had the courage to be out on our track doing repeats like this! I thought back to middle school and high school track and remembered some key moments.

  • Skipping track in 7th grade to go out for ice-cream with a friend and when caught (quickly)
    by our parents telling them that there was no practice - we were let out for good behavior. We were both promptly grounded for the weekend!
  • Going to Invitationals and laying in the sun, hair drenched in Sun-In trying to turn blonde. The coach told us it wasn't a good idea. We should be under the bleachers staying in the shade and cool. Of course I didn't listen and had terrible race results.
  • Arriving late to practice and hitting the warm-up run of the "horn" around the 3 school buildings. I remember desperately grabbing my friend Erika's shoulder and begging her not to leave me if I couldn't keep up.

I realized all my track memories are pretty much negative. I endured the sport and was terrible at everything I tried. As I watched these kids I had regret that I didn't enjoy the opportunity! But I could also see that the set-up of track is an introvert's nightmare, especially a not so athletically competent introvert. It would have taken a very emotionally intelligent coach for me to have enjoyed it. I'm rather surprised I stuck it out! However, to my athletic, confident adult self, it looked like a lot of fun.

One of my students said to me the next day, "Do you run every day?" I told her I ran most days but that I only did speed work like that once a week. She said, "Wow I thought I worked hard. You are amazing!" I smiled as she went on to talk about her goals for getting faster and how she was inspired to push herself harder next year. I thought that was great! It is fun to inspire the kids and gain inspiration from them.

A spring cold strikes

Three days before the Gorges Half I came down with a cold. Determined not to let it take hold I drank a lot of water and didn't exercise. The afternoon it first hit I came home from school and Scott said, "What are your fitness goals today?"

"I just want to survive. I have no goals." I said glumly and started baking.

Despite my best efforts the cold took hold and I spent two nights awake sucking cough drops for my crazy bad sore throat. Then, the day before the race I had the fortunate opportunity to be part of the leadership team for a full day event at school. This meant I got to check in on all the classrooms all morning long, giving me flexibility. I was able to consume excessive amounts of water. Goal: flush this cold out of my system. By then it had moved into my chest and I was struggling with breathing, but my throat was mostly better. I felt pretty optimistic by the end of the day that I'd be able to run the race.

That night the cold locked in again and I caved and took nighttime cold medicine. I hadn't slept in 2 days and I was just eager to get any rest that I could before the run.

And then there were three

This race was to be just Scott and me. We had asked the kids if they wanted to run and they both decided to take a year off. We asked them about volunteering and they thought they'd enjoy the morning at home since it was an early start and they hadn't seen much of each other lately. However, it was most convenient for us to have them go to pick up our packets because they already had to be in Ithaca. As they picked them up, someone asked Elizabeth if they were running. "No she said, we're not trained." They went on to ask if they might know who the other Dawsons were that had signed up. Elizabeth said she doubted it but then they read the names. "Elizabeth Dawson and Xander Dawson." Someone else said, "oh no that's a different family. They all run."

"That's actually us." replied Elizabeth. "We just didn't train so we didn't think we were signed up." She picked up the bibs and they laughed about it on the way home. There was no way her brother was going to be able to run a half marathon - he struggled with heel pain during track and hadn't run at all since track ended.  Elizabeth surprised us when she got home by saying, "I think I might wing it." Fair enough - she'd been running short distances and she knew she could complete the distance even if she had to walk. She is also old enough to be out on the course solo and untrained without me worrying about her. We invited Xander to take the bus in to join us for the post race meal that he had paid for but he declined. He wanted to have time to practice piano and relax.

Race day

I woke up groggy - the downside of taking night time cold medicine. I was not exactly excited and very excited at the same time. It is fun to rise to the challenge of something when you aren't feeling up to it. We all had different goals:

  • Lize.r.d. wanted to finish!
  • Scott hoped to PR and win masters or first age group.
  • I scrapped the original intent of a PR due to my cold but hoped to have a "respectable best effort race" for the condition I was in.

My Dad picked us up to take us to the start line and we wandered to the start. I saw a few people I knew but not too many. I missed having Christina there with me and we arrived late enough (purposely because we didn't want to have to go to the bathroom a million times after arriving)
that the time was mostly functional and minimal. We said our goodbyes to each other and lined up at the start line in totally different spots. I turned on my playlist and then paused it and set my intention. Don't go out too fast. Don't change your mind and try to PR. Just run comfortably. This should be doable enough, I thought.

Start line

Start line

Lies at the start line

Right before the gun went off the woman next to me asked if I had any goals. "Just to finish." I said. Why would I say that? I knew I could finish. My goal was not just to finish. It was as if by saying aloud, "I want to have a 1:50ish" would make it so that didn't happen. She had a water pack and she looked nervous and I know I look like someone who would have a goal that was more than "just finish" so I felt bad about saying that to her. Next time ... honesty. This little statement could be why I just missed the nice round number of 1:50. Payback for lying.

The trail

This race starts on a road and then intersects midway down the Black Diamond Trail. It is a lovely start with the very obvious danger of going out too fast. Last year I started running too fast with Christina and we paid for it later. I would try to stay at an 8:30 for this race. (had I bothered to do the math or look this up I would have realized that this would give me a 1:51:26 and may have shot for a bit faster - round numbers are always nicer to have as a result).
The first miles were uneventful. I enjoyed Lindsey Sterling in my mix (my go-to training music)
so it felt rather like a training run. As I neared Cass Park I could feel myself getting scared. This was where Christina started to struggle last year. I remember wondering if I would have been okay if I had been solo. I remember hitting that wall of heat and humidity and being afraid.

Cass Park

I don't like running in this park at all. It is dreadfully flat and mind-numbingly boring to me. I sometimes say no to friends who ask me to run here just even for a short 3 miles just because I dislike it so much. However, it was part of the race course so run it I would. As I emerged from the trail there was no wall of heat like the prior year. The weather was more temperate and the humidity was lower. I was surprised to be keeping pace nicely. I ran along the waterfront trying to enjoy it and succeeded. Soon I was at the Jewelbox where my friend Brenda was volunteering to direct traffic. I got a boost from seeing her.

Now it is a race

A bit after mile 9 I saw my friend Katie working and I picked up a new spring in my step. It is always so fun to receive encouragement from friends volunteering on the course! And it just so happened I was running along admiring the back of a woman's sports bra only to find as I passed by her that she is someone I bake cakes for. Scott often delivers cakes for me so I haven't seen Alicia much in person. She was having a strong race and looking good! After seeing her a song that I like by Sir Rosevelt came on my mix. The title of the song is, "The Bravest." Here are some of the lyrics:

When you're tryin'
Ya tryin'
Ya tryin'
To be strong
When you're dyin'
Ya dyin'
Ya dyin'
To hold on
Cause we only got one shot to make it
You could be the bravest
You could be the greatest
Set the world on fire
Burn a little higher
Oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh
You could make em stand up
Make the people put their hands up
You can be a champion
Oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh
A champion is someone who gets up
Even when they can't
They don't come to get it all
They come to give it all
And legends are made
In moments like this
You could be the bravest
You could be the greatest
Set the world on fire
Burn a little higher

Rounding a corner in Stewart Park

Rounding a corner in Stewart Park

Okay, here I am at mile 10 and I really have plenty of energy. I took things slow and steady and knew I could do 3 miles well for the last bit. Soon I was nearing the bridges in Stewart Park. These bridges are the type of bridge that you have to be in lockstep with others or you have this horrible jarring motion. As I crossed the first bridge I passed by a woman I know. I wished her good luck and continued on. I could tell she was working hard and probably shooting for a PR that day.

Just 1/4 mile later she passed me by. I looked at my watch - I was currently doing 7:30. Too fast already and she was blowing by me. "Hmmm she really wants this." I thought. "Good for her." Today was not a race type of day for me. I dialed my pace back and continued my comfortable running. Check - goal 3 was sticking - "Don't change your mind and try to PR. Run comfortably." Still it is hard when you feel capable of running better not to change your mind this late in a race. But, one thing I have learned from doing a lot of races is that you need to embrace the day and do what you feel works for you on that day. So, while I did speed up a bit and I did try to catch her for just a bit, I was smart enough to look at my watch and acknowledge that it wasn't my race if I was chasing someone for the last 3 miles.

The last mile

As I neared the end I was tired. My feet hurt. I love my zero drop Topos but they are super great for me up to mile 10 and then the last 3 miles my feet always hurt. I saw Scott and he cheered me on. The finish line was uneventful - I didn't have a ton of energy or desire to race it in but I did my best with it. I was annoyed to see that I hadn't hit 1:50 on the clock. It has nothing to do with anything but the key numbers for me are 1:45 and 1:50. 1:45 is my hopeful time for when I try to PR (current PR on a half is Wineglass 2014 with a 1:46.11). I'm in better shape now than I was then and I still think a new PR is possible, but I was super sad that I wasn't physically able to go for it today because this course is a perfect PR opportunity.

Shoe laces

I ran into my friend Steve and was intrigued by his shoe lacing system. Of course as I was marveling I decided to ask him if I could take a picture. Here is the snazzy lace system that his friend does for him if you want to give it a go.

Snazzy? Yes.

Snazzy? Yes.

Waiting for Liz.e.r.d. and post race

I saw my friend Alicia after the run. I think she finished right behind me. Her family had adorable shirts made for the race. Super fun! I caught up with my friend Scott as we both waited for our kids and he waited for his wife Laura. My husband Scott texted that he was going to run Elizabeth in. I thought they must be close then and stopped walking, getting ready to cheer. While I was waiting, my friends Jess, Joel and Carrie ran by. I nabbed a picture of this fun spirited crew of running friends.

Jess, Joel and Carrie

Jess, Joel and Carrie

Soon Scott and Elizabeth came toward the finish line. I cheered loudly "Go Liz.e.r.d" as she went by. Scott had gone to run her in not sure if she'd be happy to have the support and it turned out to be a great decision. She was grateful for her Dad's encouragement and really pleased to see him!



We grabbed food and beer and caught up with friends, listened to music and enjoyed the festive atmosphere. This race has a really awesome post-race vibe. Ian always puts on a great event!! It is one of the things that keeps us coming back every year.




Scott came in 8th and was first in his age group with a 1:23:17 - a new PR for him! Read his race report. I was 213th with a 1:50:32 and 4th in my age group. Elizabeth came in 663rd at 2:17:42 and was 10th in her age group. Alicia was 3 seconds behind me and the woman I leapfrogged with was 5 seconds behind me.

Official Results


The watermarked photo on this page is from Ron Heerkens Jr. of Goat Factory Media. Official race photos were free this year!

Goat Factory Media: Allison Usavage: