Main image for Skunk Cabbage Half Marathon 2018 Time to Read: ~10 min


This race is usually a big social event for my family. Scott always races it and I always run for fun with friends. I don't think it was ever purposeful that I wouldn't race it, instead the timing and the fact that the race was local has always made it feel like it would be fun as a crew. Our kids normally run the 10K and it is our official kick-off to the running season.

How I found myself running alone

This year was different. My son Xander was having his final day of his school musical and his call time was noon. We couldn't get him back in time for a noon call so he had to drop from the 10K. At her last golf lesson, Elizabeth was trying to find a time for her next one and she said, "Mom, what about 9 am on the 8th of April?" I said, "Sure. It just means you can't do Skunk and you have to drive yourself to Rochester for the lesson." With a busy week and weekend, Elizabeth decided she'd rather take the lesson slot than run a 10K and then wait around for Scott and me before being able to go home. So, no family crew.

And then the friends: many weren't running for one reason or another this year. Christina had been sick mid-winter long enough for it to derail her running, Tonya dropped back to the 10K, Katie hurt her ankle, Anne isn't in Ithaca anymore, Brenda was handing out medals at the end, Jenny and Chantelle weren't running ... and the list goes on. Sure, I knew plenty of people there, but no one I had run with in the past or knew well enough to run 13.1 miles with was going to be out there today. It was decided for me: I'd run solo.

Me, Scott and Joel Cisne outside, pre-race

Me, Scott and Joel Cisne outside, pre-race

Race goals

Last month Scott and I took the RRCA Level 1 Coaching Class in Ithaca. We're now both certified running coaches! I'm starting to think about how I'll use this certification. As part of our training we talked a lot about pacing and motivation. I've paced my daughter and son through 2 half marathons each. I've also paced Christina to her course PR for Skunk and helped her through a rough half marathon race last spring. Today I would be my own coach. My goals:

  • Run respectably but do not race.
  • Run even splits for first 10 and then shoot for negative splits for the end.
  • Have fun!

I didn't want to race this because I've always considered it a social run. I didn't want to have the pre-race stress that comes with having a time goal in mind. My next half marathon can be that race. Today I wanted to run hard enough for it to feel like a good effort but not so hard that I couldn't keep a thought in my head.


We arrived and Scott and I chatted briefly with a couple of people before dropping our stuff and saying goodbye. He was going to warm-up and get ready to shoot for a crazy fast race going for first masters again. Spoiler alert: he did it!! He got a course PR for himself too. And that was with us foolishly going out for beer after Xander's show the night before. Maybe beer isn't such a bad pre-race choice after all? I stood in the bathroom line and then moseyed outside to the start line. That was a good plan as the line was crazy long and I just barely made it outdoors in time.

When I lined up I felt sad. I looked around and didn't see too may people I knew. Actually, I didn't see anyone that I knew. I felt a little like I was at the Flower City Half or the Syracuse Half, just a part of a large crowd of strangers. I don't mind this feeling in those places - in fact it is one of the things I like about out of town races. I just have a different expectation for the Skunk. The feeling passed as the guy next to me and I started talking about clothing for the race and wished each other luck. Soon the horn blew and we were off.

By the miles

My sad feelings evaporated as we started. I was instantly happy and I decided to run in that sweet spot of not too fast and not too slow. This would be a race for me to think about a million things, thoughts could stay in my head (and because I ran a reasonable pace, I'd even remember them later) and the crazy changing weather could just be part of the day's story too, though I didn't yet realize it!

Mile 1 - 2

I started out really slow. I looked at my watch and it was in the 10s. Very atypical for me but okay. My pace started to settle out just over a half mile in. 9 minute mile starting pace. I could work with that. I knew 9:09 was a 2 hour half and I would be perfectly okay with anything under 2 hours. My goal for first 2 miles was to try hard not to have the average pace slip into the 8s.

I passed fellow FLRC runner Amelia at the one mile mark. Amelia had a stroke that greatly affected her mobility and was out for the 10K with an early start. She works so hard to improve her running and is very successful. Her courage and perseverance inspires me.

Soon after this I saw the back of a woman's shirt that said,

"It's not when you finish, it's why you finish."

That's nice. Hmmm. I thought about that for awhile. Why was I running this race? For fun? For challenge? For something to do? As a way to avoid a solo training run? All of the above. Then, I looked at the person attached to the shirt. Headphones. This is a no headphone race. They are very strict about it. I spent the next few minutes irritated. Then, I realized that she was choosing to take a risk that I was unwilling to take. Instead of wasting time being angry, I decided to count how many people passed by me wearing headphones. During the time that I focused on this, I counted headphones on 5 people.

Somewhere in these miles fellow runners and friends Angela and Jess passed me. This was where I briefly (and jealously) thought "Why didn't you decide to race this?" as they ran by. However, I would stick with  my plan. Even splits are not my forte so why not give it a go?

Mile 3-5

These miles are when my thoughts started to settle. I got stuck in my head. At mile 3 my mind turned to my teaching job. We are learning percents and percent equations in my Math 7 class and over break I read a book that is filled with statistics. I remember sharing stat after stat with Scott as he laughed at how intensely focused I was on these numbers. I took screen shots of pages and later shared them with my principal to ask what he thought about talking about some of these stats in class, doing math problems with them etc. Of course I'd have to modify the passages for 7th grade reading levels and select some of the less depressing statistics (the book is about the death gap in America based on race and income level, among other things. I was halfway through this modification, having spent some time on it before we left for the race).

This led me down the rabbit hole in thoughts to statistics in general to wonder why I never took anything beyond the required stats course in college. Then I started to think about my goal in grade 7: to inspire the kids to realize there is more than just numbers in statistics. You can do so much with the knowledge and these numbers paint a very detailed story.

My stats thinking led me to where we are with Elizabeth and her college search. As a junior she's in the thick of that. She's looking for schools that offer piano performance and an opportunity to play collegiate golf and limiting her search area to the Northeast. We've been looking at school stats on a really cool site for athletes. The site has helped us narrow her search down to 7 schools. Their stats page for each school is now making it easier to form a mental image of the school before contacting coaches and doing in-person tours. Soon I was out of my head and back on the road.

Mile 5-8

Somewhere in this corridor my thoughts turned to running. For most of this time we're on a main road on the left shoulder. It is a perfectly pleasant run if you are running alone, but I remember this part of the course as challenging when running with friends. The shoulder is narrow and cars are whizzing by the entire time. Sometime during this stretch I caught Jessica and we briefly ran near each other. There was a water stop so I grabbed some Gatorade. I've learned enough to know that even when it is cold outside I need to stay hydrated.

As I was running along I heard two guys behind me talking about an ultra event. I'm guessing they were talking about a 100 mile race. "You know, some people do the entire race, not as a relay." They went on, "They don't run the whole thing you know. They walk a lot." As they passed me I had to bite my tongue not to try to enter their conversation. I've run a 100 mile as a relay and I've watched my sister run a 100 mile solo. Scott has done a couple of 50 mile races and during my own ultras (50Ks) I've learned so much about ultra running. I remember sitting down with my sister the day before Western States as she shared her pace charts. I remember wondering how she could average paces of 18 and 20 minute miles. Now that I've been through these things I understand. I wondered for a bit whether these guys would do their own ultra endurance events and remember that conversation, laughing at their former selves at some later date.

"Halfway there!" a water stop volunteer shouted as I grabbed water at mile 6.5. "Not helpful," I thought. It was right at this halfway point that we turned off the busy road and onto a smaller road with little to no traffic. I looked up ahead and saw ominous clouds. "Here comes the snow" I said aloud. Seriously, about 30 seconds later it started snowing. The woman I was running next to at the time burst out laughing.

"Beer Near?" Miles 8-10

Somewhere on this stretch the local Hashers are out with beer. There is a legit water stop but they also offer beer. The familiar "beer near" comment always makes me smile. This stop is where Christina had her first mimosa a couple of years ago and we had such fun talking about mimosas for days after. Normally my friend Jessica is serving beer here but today she was on the course running. I decided not to take the beer or water. Somewhere around mile 8 that I passed Angela. She was looking the other way so I didn't shout anything at her as I went by.

Shortly after the beer stop I caught up with my friend Elizabeth. Her son is in school with my daughter Elizabeth and we struck up a conversation in the snow. It was mostly about how we couldn't see ANYTHING. At this point it felt like a spring blizzard! Suddenly I felt grateful that I hadn't chosen to wear sunglasses.

We turned up the hill. This hill is short but steep, and the end of this hill marks what I consider to be the end of the course. It is all downhill from there and it is only 3 miles so ... race over. Every hill I approach I remember my sister's words of wisdom from early in my running years, "equal effort." I focused on getting up the hill with a strong effort knowing it was all downhill from there.

Time to negative split! Miles 10 - 11.5

My average pace to this point was 9:03, give or take. It kept changing. My goal now was to get down to high 8s and not speed up too quickly. Secondary goal, don't let Elizabeth and Angela catch you again. Okay, so I am not racing and I know this, but now that I'm actively trying to speed up it would be a blow to have either of them pass by me at this point.

Soon I was at the last water stop. I walked through it and got another Gatorade. I remember running this portion with Christina and trying to motivate her. It was a low point for her largely because I looked at my watch and realized that if we didn't pick up our pace a 2 hour finish was out of range. As a result, I pushed her faster than she was ready to go. I would learn from this as I coached myself today. Not racing means not racing. It doesn't mean suddenly sprinting the last 3 miles to make up for 10 miles of comfortable running.

I love the home stretch of this race. For some reason I started to think about marriage. Scott and I are approaching our 20th wedding anniversary. I felt grateful that we are getting to experience 20 years of marriage and thought about how different our marriage is now than it was in the first 5 years. I like it better. It is more raw and real than those early years. Yesterday I delivered a wedding cake and got to see some friends in their 90s. They are still happily married, but age has taken its toll on both of them. I left the delivery saying to Scott, "Age can be cruel." He agreed, but then we talked about all the amazing things about aging too. More wisdom, yes, plus the depth of love and commitment we have to each other.

Pick off 10!

When I ran with Christina I asked her to try to pick off 10 people in the last portion of the race. I decided to do this today too. Catch 10 people and don't let anyone new pass you. I can do that. It is a great mind game to end a race with. I was able to catch just 10 people, reaching my goal. One thing that pleased me is that while it is easy to motivate a friend, I always thought it would be hard to motivate myself. However, I found it rather easy to motivate myself. I think the experience of running with Christina and coaching my kids through their own half marathons made it easier to coach myself.

Good enough for an age group #3

I was happy to see that I placed 3rd in my age group. Sure, it wasn't a PR or a goal race or even racing, but it was nice! I was proud of myself anyway.

Next steps

The best thing about the Skunk is that it makes me think about the season. What will I focus on this year? How will I train? What are my goals? In the week since the race I've determined all those things. Here's my plan.

  • I will race Gorges Half. It will be my first time racing it. It is a deceptively hard course and I look forward to the challenge. I have to plan my training.
  • I will run the Rochester Marathon on September 23rd. The first time I ran this marathon it was with my sister on my Mom's birthday (September 23rd) and it was also my first marathon. It lands on my Mom's birthday again this year. I've invited my sister and she's considering it. I will use the Hanson Method to train. I bought this book during my coaching training (literally from my phone) and it is appealing to me. I am super psyched to try it out.
  • Lastly, I'll look forward to training for my one and only triathlon this summer. I am signed up for the intermediate distance of the Cayuga Lake Triathlon. I ADORE this race and I am grateful for its ability to motivate me to keep up with my swimming and biking. Without it, I wouldn't swim and I'd probably stall with biking. I can't wait to have Elizabeth kayak for me from my friend Kathey's house. I adore our swim sessions. I look forward to weekly rides on the tri course as soon as it warms up.