2019 Syracuse Half

From Two to Four

I signed up for this race 2 years ago with Scott. It was going to be a date weekend in November 2018. Neither of the kids wanted to join us so we got a hotel in downtown and looked forward to the chance to have a romantic running weekend. Then, late summer of 2018 I got a stress fracture in my right foot. I had already registered for a season of adult cross country and I had this race in the books. Luckily they allow deferrals, so we moved our plan to 2019. However, we realized that Elizabeth would be at college by then. We’d probably switch our plan to drive up the morning of the race instead of leaving Xander home alone overnight. We asked him about the race and he surprised us by saying he would love to run it. Our date weekend would be a 3 person event. It would be fun. Just over a month before the race Elizabeth texted and asked if she could join us in the half. “Sure why not?” we replied, followed by “how much running have you been doing?” Just two months prior I had asked her if she wanted to jump in and do the Rochester Half with us. We hadn’t registered but she is in college in Rochester so we thought it would be fun. She said she was done with doing untrained half marathons and wanted to be prepared for the next one. I reminded her of that and she said she would be fine. She had been running up to 5 miles and thought she could handle it. Now our adventure for 2 was a full family affair!

Run Less, Run Faster

I bought the book Run Less, Run Faster years ago and I followed the training plan for the Flower City Half. It was an intense plan that took me through ski season. What I remember most from that time is coming home from a ski race with the kids and pushing myself out the door to run repeats or a fast tempo run. It was so challenging. At the time I struggled with it because I wanted to run more and I wanted to run with friends. The workout gives each run a very specific purpose, making it hard to have conversational runs with friends fit into training and still manage the paces of the workout.

I’ve been struggling to get back into a good space with running since my stress fracture. Since my available times to run rarely line up with my friends’ times to run, now seemed like a perfect time to pick the book back up. I was drawn to the focus and the cross training aspect and decided to give it a go. I based all the training for an 8:50 minute mile based on my most recent half marathon time from the Gorges Half 2019. I did most of the workouts and a lot of cross training. I loved that it was flexible for fitting in BodyPump, yoga, Bikram yoga, cycling, rowing and more. I struggled to hit paces, and the long runs with pace goals were really hard, but it definitely gave me a focus. I love that it takes you to 15 miles for a half. That would definitely come back to help on race day.

The training plan. I checked the things I actually did. Cross training is all in Strava.

Packet pick-up

We hopped in the car at 2:30 on Saturday and picked Xander up from his job at Finger Lakes Running Company. We went into the store to look at gear, taking the opportunity to give him Christmas ideas while we were there. Then we walked over to Purity Ice Cream and got ice-cream (very indulgent and only because Xander hadn’t packed lunch for his shift) and headed up to Fleet Feet in Syracuse for packet pick-up. Pick-up was quick and soon we were heading off to get an early dinner at Pastabilities. They don’t take reservations and we knew they’d be crowded, but when we heard that it was a 2 hour wait we decided pasta was not going to be part of our evening. We didn’t have a plan B so we just strolled around Amory Square until we found something appealing. The Hops Spot was just down the street and there was no wait. Burgers and beer it was. We had a great dinner, enjoying the time to reconnect with each other after what had been a crazy weekend so far. We got back to the hotel around 6:45 and we were all asleep by 7:30. The time change has really messed us up!

Race morning

I naturally awoke just before the 5:30 alarm. Scott had thought to refill our Gimme coffee growler yesterday and bring it with us. So, I enjoyed some iced cold brew coffee while reading the New York Times. The kids eventually woke up and we watched the news while enjoying Honey Stinger waffles and peanut butter. We had some debate over breakfast. We normally do bagels with peanut butter pre-race, but the hotel didn’t have a toaster and Elizabeth wasn’t jazzed to have cold bagels and peanut butter. Scott is a Honey Stinger ambassador so he mentioned we could have the waffles. Xander usually eats a bowl of peanut butter for breakfast, so we thought why not combine the two? After breakfast we got ready and did the million bathroom trip thing IN the room since were only a 10 minute walk from the start.

Dress for the weather

The last time I ran this race it was a spring race and it was a snowstorm. Scott ran the race the year it was branded SyraCrazy because it was literally a blizzard. This year’s weather was pretty close to PR weather, but it was also some of the first cold weather running most of us would be doing. I brought options; heavier shirt and lighter shirt, wind vest and wind protecting jacket, light weight bottoms and heavier bottoms, heavy ear band and light one, heavy winter gloves and lighter running gloves. I’d wear my running skirt with any of the choices. It has pockets to hold a Honey Stinger Gel and it keeps my tights from falling down. Now at 6 am I was trying to decide heavy vs light for it all. I ultimately chose a mix. I’d wear the lightweight leggings and shirt and vest and the heavy ear band. I opened up hand warmers just in case and put them in my vest pocket and at the last second I chose the lighter gloves. That was very BRAVE for me. I know a potential pitfall is that my hands get sweaty and then very cold in the heavy gloves.

The start line

Aah the start line. The energy was amazing! We had planned to spend 10 minutes in the OnCenter staying warm but didn’t need to. Instead we all said our goodbyes and lined up. Scott went to the front, Xander went up a little bit and Elizabeth and I popped into the 9-11 minute mile area. We talked and absorbed the energy from the crowd. I kept thinking I should be further up and I’d be doing a lot of dodging and weaving for the first 2 miles, but I also just wanted to enjoy the chance to hang together at the start. Soon the gun went off and we were all starting our respective races.

With Elizabeth right before the race start!
The kids and Scott before we split up to race.

All alone in the midst of thousands

This is my favorite part of racing. Being surrounded by people but all alone at the same time. I had Apple Dance Radio on and I was just running and dodging and weaving through people. The first two miles are a steady uphill for the most part. I loved running by people and around people and listening to music. I took in the signs and the cheering and enjoyed watching people run with flags, run in fun outfits and just run. I was a little bummed at how hard it was to hold a pace but knew it was my fault for starting too far back. It isn’t easy to weave around people when the crowd is this dense. It reminded me a lot of the Tower of Terror 13K that Scott and I did in Disney where you were constantly jockeying for placement. However, by the top of the hill a bit past mile 2 things started to thin out just enough. I saw a sign that said, “run like someone just called you a jogger” and I laughed out loud. I subconsciously picked up the pace a bit as I cut the tangent to make the turn.

Speaking of tangents

Every time a corner came I fondly remembered my time in physical therapy when I was a new runner. I had hurt my IT band and had runners knee after embracing the barefoot running movement and jumping two feet in to using Five Fingers. After a few weeks of marathon training where I had pushed things so far I couldn’t bear weight on my left leg, I found myself at Sports Medicine getting a diagnosis. I met Brian Lee and I credit him for not only fixing my running form but helping me realize runners need to cross train. He encouraged me to get strength training back in, and to add cycling, yoga and more. A bonus? He taught me all about running the tangents in races. Now in every race I look ahead and make sure to see which direction we are turning and plan ahead to make sure I take the shortest route. After the race I mentioned something about this to Elizabeth and she said she remembered her first half in Philly when the two of us ran together and I told her all about how to take the most efficient line. It is a fond memory for her too.

The first few miles

I love the first few miles of a race. My mind things of SO many great things. I wrote a book, planned out adventures, reflected on how different aspects of my life are going and just generally felt grateful for the opportunity to run. I’ve spent most of the last few months either working in my classroom (I teach middle school), working at my part-time home bakery, or training. I haven’t really taken time to connect with friends or family. Today it was fun to get out of the zip code, and just remember that the world is bigger than the one mile of my home and classroom. I felt inspired to make time to get more than just what must be accomplished completed. I also felt true joy being out here on the course. I’m so grateful that my foot healed and I can run!

5K split

I ran by the 5K pad and saw 29 and change. Yikes. I am not running this race hoping to have a PR or even a crazy fast race, but a 29 and change 5K was slower than I had trained for. I knew I started too far back but thought I had made up the time. It wasn’t until about a 1/4 mile past the mark that I realized that was the start from the actual gun. It had taken me almost 2 minutes to get to the start line. I looked at my watch and relaxed. I was doing ok.

Speaking of splits. I would end up happy with my mostly even splits. That was the goal!

The middle miles

These miles are fun. It is that point in the race when you aren’t tired yet and are so tempted to push pace. My goal for this race was to have even splits so I worked hard against this desire to speed up. When I hit mile 7-8 and there was a lovely downhill I did pick it up. I always remember my sister’s advice when I’m on hills. “Run with the course.” I enjoyed every minute of the beautiful downhill stretch. I had that feeling of exhilaration as I breezed along effortlessly. I knew it would end soon as I saw the arrival of the flat. We had all looked at the course at dinner the night before the race and Scott reminded us of a little out and back in the last few miles. I was close to that.

Mind maps

My 4 mile “Curry Loop” that gave me inspiration for the last 4.

Mile 9 neared and I was getting tired. I had been taking gatorade at water stops since mile 5 and my stomach felt icky from the lump of peanut butter just sitting there. Xander may eat peanut butter every morning but my stomach is not used to it so it turned out to be not the best choice for me. I was tired and we were near the out and back portion. Suddenly I had great gratitude for training. With 4 miles left to go I had a great mind image for my run. All that is left is the Curry loop. This is a regular 4 mile loop for me. I know how I feel on the 4 mile loop and had an image for the distance of 4 miles. Soon, I was down to 3 and a new image replaced the Curry loop. Our neighborhood 3 miler. I knew what that felt like too. Muster up the energy to run the 3 miler my mind told me. And so on.

Almost a wipe out

Just after mile 10 my left foot didn’t lift high enough. It scuffed the ground and I caught myself in a near fall. My head jerked forward and back and my arms went out to catch me. I heard the people behind me gasp and ask “are you ok?” and wondered if I was going to go down or make it. I didn’t fall but my body was jarred. I immediately started post race language of “well I was doing ok and then I almost fell and my last 3 miles were really slow.” I jolted myself back to reality. “Really Amy, is that going to be your story? You were doing fine and you almost fell? That ruined your race?” No that would not be my story. I had trained fine for this and I didn’t fall. I could run 2.5 more miles.

Get more comfortable with being uncomfortable

We keep telling Xander that he will have better cross country races as soon as he embraces getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. I felt my pace slipping. I was tired and had just over 2 miles to go. Could I turn that advice on myself? I would try. My body remembered the repeats and the tempo runs and I used that muscle memory to pick my pace back up to what it has been for most of the race. I focused on form and breathing and watched my pace return. I wasn’t comfortable.

With a mile to go I became enamored with a man’s pink shoes. Keep the pink shoes in sight became my mantra. Soon I recognized the area and knew it was time to kick things up for the end. I ran it in strong and got my medal.

Post race

I connected with Scott and Xander and heard all about their races. Scott came in 2nd in his age group with a 1:29 and change and Xander was 25th in his with a 1:37 and change. This was a HUGE PR for Xander and I felt really happy for him. We chatted with a colleague and his wife who had come up to run and we waited for Elizabeth to finish. After awhile we got too cold and even though we knew she was close by this point we knew we had to get inside.

Once inside the OnCenter we enjoyed the festivities of a great post race party. They had pizza and apples and bagels and cookies along with a race morning pancake breakfast. We didn’t indulge too much – after all we were heading to Viva to celebrate! Scott picked up his prize ($25 to Dinosaur BBQ yay!) and we slowly walked back to the hotel to shower and change to get ready for our drive home.

With Scott at Viva.

The kids at Viva.

Results and final thoughts

1:53:46; Overall 771/3166 Age Group 15/223

This was great fun! Ironically I’m glad that I ended up having to defer and to go through the stress fracture experience last year. It gave me a new appreciation for having the ability to run. I feel more grateful and grounded in my fitness this year. I’m not focused on miles for the sake of miles and I respect cross training more than ever before. Xander would like to tackle a full marathon in the spring so we’re contemplating what that will look like and whether we’re ready to embrace the training required. Because of school, summer programs and cross country, Xander has a limited time frame to do a marathon, so we have to look at late May – July. Right now we’re tentatively thinking maybe the Cayuga Trails 50 (the 50k option). I think our December will be full of many decisions for us all! Right now we’re all looking forward to the Gorges Half in June and Scott and I are excited about the Skunk Cabbage half in April.

2 Comments

  1. Great report. Loved the “keep the pink shoes in sight” and “getting comfortable with being ” mantras. Nice work! Congrats!

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