My Annual Half Marathon | Skunk Cabbage 2022 | Finger Lakes Running Club
I don’t run a lot of road races, but I like to run a half marathon each year. For me the half marathon is the perfect distance on the road. It really hits the sweet spot. Just the right amount of challenge no matter how you are approaching it.
Apparently Skunk Cabbage Classic by the Finger Lakes Running Club has become my annual tradition. It is not a particularly easy course and I think that is part of what I like about it. It is a bit hilly so it adds another dimension to it.
This year my plan was to shoot for a half marathon PR. I ran right around 1 hr. 50 min on this course back in 2019. I have run this course 4 times now.
Training for the Skunk
My training has really been different over the years when I have run Skunk Cabbage. In 2018 and 2019 I was training for ultra-marathons and fit in the half marathon as part of my training. In 2020 or 2021 the race ended up being virtual due to the pandemic. During that year I didn’t have any big ultra-marathon plans so I stuck to a more traditional half marathon training plan. Speed work during the week and slowly building up the long runs on the weekends until I reach half marathon distance. That felt so strange after logging so many miles the past 2 years training for ultras. But I set off on a flat and fast course I west out for myself and nearly PR’d.
This year I tried to strike a balance. I decided since I had gotten used to logging more miles I would do that during my training. Especially after another year of ultra-marathons in 2021. After taking it easy for months after my last ultra in 2021 I started by building my long run base back up in January for my half marathon training. By the end of January I was ready to tackle 13 miles. Every long run in February and March until I started to taper for the race I ran a long run of 13 miles. Getting those legs ready for that distance.
I’m not really a racer
I don’t do enough racing to really know, especially not enough road racing. Racing where I am trying to push my pace as fast as I can. But I always feel like one of my biggest problems is my pacing. I cannot hold a steady pace. I constantly find myself running too fast then I have to slow down and slow down too much and find myself stuck on that yo-yo up and down with my pace.
So I hatched a plan to try and rectify that. Most training plans include some form of speed work, usually alternating between different types of speed work like intervals etc. I decided I was going to just run one kind of speed work. Essentially just work on my steady state pacing. Tempo runs near my goal pace every speed work day. I needed to run under 8:22 pace so my goal for my tempo runs was to run an 8:30 pace every mile.
I was not sure how this tempo run idea was going to work out. My plan was to start my speed workouts at 5 miles and eventually I worked my way up to 8 mile runs with a goal pace of 8:30 pace for every mile. These runs went better than I had expected. Almost every time out I ran most of my miles at faster than goal pace. And at the end of each workout I even had something left to push for a final mile faster than the rest. My overall pace on these runs was often close to what I needed to hit on race day. This was encouraging especially after my 8 mile run a few weeks out.
The forecast for race day was not looking great. I am totally fine with a race day where it is cool and sunless. But, It was looking like it was going to be potentially rainy and cold. When we arrived to the race venue it was drizzling. Fortunately as it got close to start time for the race it stopped raining and felt a bit warmer. I was able to ditch my raincoat, gloves, and buff. Just running in my light weight track pants and a t-shirt with a quarter zip over it would be plenty warm.
And then before I knew it we were of. It took me longer than I thought it would to find my legs and get anywhere near the speed I was looking to have. I also apparently forgot how much of the very beginning even of this course was uphill. I had imagined the start at least would be somewhat flat. Wrong.
Once I found the speed I was looking for I just could not sustain it. Not with the slow rising hill I was climbing for around 15 minutes in the beginning of the race.
After that it flattens out a bit with only modest changes in elevation. I was able to pick up my speed here but still could not find any consistency.
Then at a little before 30 minutes into the race the climbing begins again. This section of climbing took me around 20 minutes. In the beginning of this climb my speed was ok. Not at all consistent but overall not too far off from my goal pace. At least not until near the end of this climb where it gets steeper for a bit and then my pace plummeted.
After that at least there was a reprieve with a good chunk of mostly downhill running. From here on out it is a mix of shorter steeper climbs for the next 30 minutes.
I think for me one of the biggest challenges aside from just the hills in general is the shape of the hills. Most of the climbs are longer more gradual elevations. This makes them more runnable. That’s fine. But the descent after most of the climbs are short and steep. This allows me to get my pace up, but doesn’t allow me much time to recover.
I end up running hard up the climb to try to maintain a decent pace. Then I end up running hard down the steep backside of the hill to make up time because the downhill is so short. I didn’t ever have a chance to take my foot off the gas to let myself recover at all. Maybe that was a mistake. I should have gone a little easier somewhere. On the hills or on the descents is the question.
Then there is the mile 10 climb. It is not a huge climb in terms of total elevation change but it is the steepest climb on the course. My plan was to run it the whole way up. But I was completely gassed. I got a little over half way and decided to walk a little bit to let my body recover. It’s not like I was running fast up that hill anyway. Might as well give myself a break for a second. Then after little bit of walking I ran the rest of the way up the hill and ran down the other side. That really rejuvenated me for a bit. That downhill gave me a boost and I felt like I was running pretty good for the next mile.
That high coming off the hill didn’t last though. Shortly thereafter and the bottom fell out from under it all and my pace really dropped off for about 5 minutes. That was really discouraging because this last 3 miles of the course is all essentially flat or downhill. I was really banking on being able to have something left in the tank to give it a good push through here. But I really had nothing left. Mile 13 which is essentially all downhill did end up being one of my fastest miles of the race, but by then it was too late to make up enough time to PR.
I finished in a time of 1:53:21. My third fastest half marathon time. This was 3 minutes slower than my fastest time.
Despite not achieving the goal of having a PR that I was hoping to have I was still pretty happy with the outcome. I don’t know if I have ever run a race where I have felt more miserable physically from beginning to end than this race. Nothing felt right. Constitutionally the whole race I just felt like I was struggling. I could feel my body not performing to its potential. Like it was fighting me. The whole race I felt like I was red lining it, but not getting the results I had come to expect in my training.
And maybe I was red lining it. Looking at my data afterword my heart rate was high almost the entire race. My heart rate does normally get high eventually while out running hard but it does not usually jump up into the red that fast and stay there that consistently. I know the heart rate monitor on a watch is not likely to be 100% accurate if there is at least some internal consistency in how the watch measures the heart rate data then my heart rate was still a lot higher than my hardest speed workout here I ran 8 miles at almost goal race pace and a lot different from my long runs just running at an easy pace.
So it wasn’t just the distance and it wasn’t just the speed that made the heart rate jump up. Maybe it was starting of immediately with a climb. And then my heart rate could never really recover. None of my speed work had hills. And most of my long runs didn’t have much significant elevation change.
For next time
Maybe I need to prepare more for the elevation change than I thought. Perhaps I underestimated how important it would be tio incorporate hills into my other workouts. I did have weekly hill repeat workouts, but they were separate from speed work and from long runs. Maybe that is why I did so well in a year where I was focused on training for a trail ultra marathon where I knew I had to worry about climbing. My training had a lot of elevation change built into it.
One thing I really like about using Strava (see my Strava link here Kyle Reynold.) is the segments feature. IT allows me to see how my running is different on different parts of a race over time. What I learned about this race was that despite being slower overall I had 2 PR’s on segments. The segments were both road climbs. And maybe that is where the problem is. It might not be great for me to be setting PR’s on the climbs during a hilly road race where I am trying to run my fastest overall time. Maybe that was just too much for me to handle.
It’s all hard
One thing I have learned is that every type of running is hard in its own way. Sprinting a road 5k, hard. PR a road half marathon, hard. Pushing yourself on a hilly and technical trail 25k, hard. Climbing all the climb on a challenging trail 50k, hard. Slogging through the mud on the trails for 50 miles, hard. Grinding out every last mile to survive a 100 mile race, hard.
Some races feel hard the whole way for me like trying to run as hard as I can for a road 5k or half marathon. Others the hard sinks in over time. The farther you go and the longer you are out there the more hard you have to survive. It might not feel so bad at first but by the end you are definitely ready to be done. For me a the 5k and half marathons on the road the pain and suffering is pretty high by the end of the race to really push myself, but the second I stop it’s over and I feel almost instantly refreshed. The longer races I attempt my not feel as much acute pain but they take longer to recover from once I finally cross that finish line.
Thank you for joining me on the blog today to read about my experience running the 2022 Skunk Cabbage Half.
In addition to running race I love to photograph races as well. Check out this link to a gallery of some of my race photography.