It is always nice to be able to check one of your running goals of the list for the year. I was able to check off one of my running goals for 2019 at my first race of the year. So that is obviously a great way to start of the racing season. I ran the 2019 Skunk Cabbage Classic hosted by the Finger Lakes Running Club . My goal was to improve on my half marathon PR that I set at this raced last year. The race went well for me and I was able to knock 5 minutes of my previous PR and that could be the end of the story but it’s not.
Achieving a new PR at this race while something I wanted to accomplish this year it was not on the top of my list as I wrote about my running goals earlier this year. What lead to my success at this goal was the focus I placed on other goals this year; Enjoy running more, Run with my friends, and Enjoy the process. This year while I have been training and have a training plan I have not been a slave to my training plan. I have been flexible and done what I can when I can that fits in with other things I want to do even if it means doing different workouts or different distances. I have been fortunate enough to be able to run more frequently with my friends this year than last year during my training. A big help in achieving that came when I was able to change my work schedule. But prioritizing running with my friends once again meant being flexible and doing what makes it work so that we can run together so I can enjoy running more and share more miles with my friends.
Race day was a great day. The race takes place right around my birthday and what better way to celebrate ones birthday than with a race. The weather was nice perhaps too nice, but better than the previous year’s winter wonderland. My wife, who is amazingly supportive of all my running shenanigans was there to support me and cheer me on. The plan for the race was for me to run the entire race with my friend while I achieved a PR. I was looking forward to sharing miles together because we have never actually run a race together before. She’s a roadie and I’m a trail junky so our preferences and skill sets do not often align. 3 miles in she knew it wasn’t going to be a good day for her at this race. She knew that I had a goal to PR at this race and she told me to go ahead and leave her and run the pace I wanted to because she knew it wasn’t going to work out the way I had planned. I am thankful that she did that because if she hadn’t I would have stayed with her and I wouldn’t have had the race I ended up having. I would have enjoyed running with her but I would not have been able to see what I was capable of. I am thankful that she was willing to run on alone knowing full well that the day for her was going to entail some suffering and I would have stayed with her and she could have had company and support to help make the race more enjoyable for her but she wasn’t going to ask me to give up my goal to stay with her.
Through three miles I knew I was still relatively close to what my goal pace of 8:40 minutes/miles would need to be in order to achieve the PR that I was after, and you can see that looking back at my mile split times. I figured I would just need to speed up just a little bit in order to achieve a new PR. I made a conscious effort to pick up my pace a little bit. I was running at what left like a good relatively comfortable pace. I was working a little but I wasn’t exerting myself too hard. When I look back at what my pace ended up being it seems hard to even think that because I never expected to run this pace. I run with a Garmin Forerunner 230 watch to track my runs. Prior to the race I set up pace alerts on my watch to notify me when I was going too fast or too slow. The too slow pace alert was set with the purpose of making sure I stayed close enough to my goal pace to achieve a PR and I had set that at an 8:50 pace. The too fast alert was set to make sure I did not run too hard and burn myself out so that I would crash later on in the race resulting in a different way of not achieving my goal. This is a relatively hilly course with approximately 600 ft. of elevation gain over the course of the half marathon distance. I fully expected that there would be times when my too slow alert would be chiming me. I expected that most of those alerts would be chiming off on some of the steeper or longer sections of climbing the uphills. I also fully expected that there would be times when I would have the too fast alert chiming at me. What I expected was to have the too fast alert chiming at me during the steeper downhill sections after completing the climb up a hill. And those two occurrences did come to pass.
What I did not expect to happen is to have my too fast time alert chime at me pretty consistently for probably 9 miles of the race. As my watch began to beep and buzz pretty regularly alerting me that I was going too fast I really wasn’t sure what to make of it. I am not an experienced runner at trying to run races with a goal time and pace in mind. This is only the second time I have gone into a race with the specific goal of setting a PR at a specific time goal. So as my watch continued to alert me I began to think more and more about my run. Once I got to the half-way point I really wasn’t sure what to do. Each time my watch sounded an alert that I was going to fast I began to actively think maybe I should slow down. I thought about my experiences and how I have felt training. I thought about how my body felt. I knew from my training that I was capable of running as fast or faster than I was currently running, but that was for shorter distances. I knew from my training that I was capable of running more miles than was required for this race, but that was typically at a slower pace. I was pretty confident that I could run my goal pace for the entire race and PR just as planned. What I did not know is if I could keep this pace up for the rest of the race and finish without blowing up and destroying my shot at a PR.
I listened to my body. I felt pretty good. I did not feel like I was working too hard. I did not feel like I was getting tired to the point I would need to slow down. I listened to my heart and I listened to my soul. I run because I want to find out what I am capable of. I run because I like the feeling of challenging myself and succeeding. I like to push myself to do new things. I was feeling good and I was running better than I ever expected to. My heart and soul was telling me not to waste that. There are many days when a run feels bad and you have to grind. Enjoy the day when everything is clicking. Let your body ride this wave as long as you can. See what you are truly capable of on this day. I could slow down and try to ensure a PR, but who knows what effect that would actually have. But if I slowed down and was cautious I would never know what I could do I pushed myself on this day. Would I PR? Probably. Would I be happy with a PR? Sure. Would I be satisfied? Would I feel like I did my best? No. I would always know I left something on the table that day. I decided I would continue at the faster than anticipated pace and listen to my body and if my body told m,e I actually needed to slow down not as a precaution but because my body just couldn’t go that pace anymore then and only then would I slow down. If this lead to me not getting that PR it would be a disappointment but at least I would know that I left it all out on the course.
Around mile 8 my right hip got a little tight. This made me a little nervous. I reconsidered slowing down. Was the tightness in my hip a sign that I was pushing too hard and I should slow down? After just feeling the sensation in my hip out a little to get a better sense of it while I was running it seemed like even though I could feel tightness it wasn’t necessarily pain, it was more like a slight discomfort. More importantly the tightness did not seem to be affecting my running. My gait seemed to remain essentially the same gait I normally have, which by any standard is not pretty but gets the job done. I decided I would proceed as before. Continue running the pace I was running comfortably until it became necessary to slow down. If the discomfort in my hip progressed to something more like pain then I would slow down. Fortunately that did not happen and I was able to run without any increasing pain the rest of the race. That was such a relief.
It’s funny how you can be essentially be running the race of your life and then still find yet another goal to strive for in the midst of it. When I got to within a couple miles of the finish I looked at my watch and I thought maybe I would have a chance if I pushed myself a little faster I would be able to run this half marathon in under 1 hour and 50 minutes a time that previously I had not thought possible for this race. It is hard for me to reconcile how my training, the race day, and my body all coincided to let me have this great day of running where I could be running at a pace I really did not expect to be running and then still have enough left in the tank to try to surge for the last couple of miles to strive for an even faster time. I ran the fastest splits of the entire day on those last two miles, which to be fair are a bit of a downhill. I don’t know how that would have went if they weren’t. When I got within sight of the clock and could finally read the official time I saw it closing in on 1:50. I ran as hard as I could, but I was just short of going sub 1:50. I couldn’t quite get there in time. I finished with a time of 1:50:11.
It’s funny how you can have the best run of your life and then still be just a bit disappointed because you didn’t quite get this goal that you just made up on the fly mid run because you were having such a good race. I was super excited to have run a half marathon in the time I did. I was even more excited that I did so without any significant pain by the end. The first 3 half marathons I ever ran I remember the end of them feeling excruciating getting through the finish and then post-race. Training is really paying off in terms of result times I run and in how I feel during and after a race.
I said repeatedly after the race that I was happy with my time and I don’t think it is a time I will improve on any time soon since it was much faster than I had even planned to run for this race. I ran about 20 seconds faster per mile than I planned on running. I took 5 minutes off my previous PR. It wasn’t long before my mind started to shift and think differently about this though. I achieved this outcome for a half marathon while I have been in the midst of training for a succession of trail ultra marathons. The training has not necessarily been geared towards running my fastest half marathon specifically. My results are just the product of my improving level of fitness due to overall improved and consistent training. I like the half marathon distance on the roads so I like to run at least 1 each year even if it is not my main goal. So what would I be able to do if I actually trained specifically for a half marathon and trained specifically to improve on my new PR in the half marathon distance? Maybe this is something to think about for next year.
Another unusual aspect of this race for me was that I was completely focused on my time so I took zero photos. Something I almost never do. So all the videos and photos we taken by my wife.
I have been trying to volunteer at some of the races I photograph. Usually my volunteer duties keep me stationed at the race start line and then I can head out to photograph the race before it starts. For this edition of the Southern Tier Running Club Red Baron Half Marathon I volunteers to help with course set up. This entailed putting cones and signs along the entire 13.1 mile course. I really didn’t know how long this process would take, but I was pretty sure we would be back in time for me to get prepared to photograph the race. As we slowly drove the course and set up the necessary equipment it seemed to be taking a long time to me. As the time neared noon I began to have a significant increase in anxiety, fearing perhaps unrealistically that we would not get back in time for the start of the race. I think the biggest problem for me was that I was not in control of the situation. I couldn’t just leave (We were all riding in one car together doing course set up.) when I needed to and there was nothing I could do to speed things up. Also, I was 13 miles away from where my camera was.
We did arrive back to the staging area for the beginning of the race in plenty of time despite my anxiety. There was even enough time for me to help out getting some last minute stuff done there as well. Then I headed out to the start finish line to take a few photographs of the beginning of the race.
When I photograph a race I want to not only get great shots of the runners themselves but I want to get shots that have great backgrounds that show off the race course as well. Last year I was able to photograph the race from two separate locations, one near the beginning of the course on a more scenic location and one at the finish line in town. Due to changes in the race course layout (which were significant improvements over the past) the field of runners would be much more spread out than last year by the time they arrived at the location I was at last year. That would require me to stay there for a longer time to get photographs of all the runners, which is generally my goal, before moving down to a different location. I was afraid that with the speed of some of our great runners I would not be able to photograph all the runners near the beginning and get back to the finish line in time to capture the race winners.
I made a strategic decision to pick the one most scenic location I could that I felt embodied the race at which to take the vast majority of the race photographs. I think I made the right decision. I was able to capture a few photographs at the stat line of the race beginning. Then I drove down to about mile 10.5 and waited for the runners to arrive scouting the spot a little better and finding just the right place and angle to take photos from.
The location I chose is where on road turns onto another nice wide road right in front of where I was positioned. I would be able to see the runners approaching and turn the corner to move towards me. This to me is the most scenic spot on the course that in my opinion as one who has run it is pretty nice and scenic. There is a steep cliff that parallels the road the runners are turning on. There are a variety of deciduous and evergreen trees as well as other vegetation growing or attempting to grow up the vertical cliff. I love the combination of runners pounding the pavement combined with the natural beauty of the course with the rock cliffs and tress in the background. I really wanted to get as much of that cliff into the photographs as possible while still filling the majority of the frame with the runner themselves. To do this I decided to shot at a slightly upward looking angle for a lot of the shots. The photos that I took from that angle came out great. My clothing decisions for that idea did not mesh nearly as well. It cost me a pair of jeans. Check out my post on Instagram to see that outcome. So I did not shoot from that angle quite as much as I would have liked. But I am still very happy with how the vast majority of the photographs came out.
I was able to post the photographs to the runners the next day. People seemed to be looking at the photographs as soon as I posted them in the morning as a few orders were placed as well as receiving a few messages from people interested in the photos. Comments are always great from the running community. I receive great feedback from them and I always appreciate reading their words of support on social media.
If you have any questions or comments about my photographs from Red Baron or any other aspect of my race photograph please feel free to reach out and get in touch. Thank you.
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I love this series of photos of this American Staffordshire Terrier moving through the weave poles during agility competition at the Wine Country Circuit Dog Shows at Sampson State Park in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate, New York.
I was recently in the Ithaca area getting some trail running in. Post run I went to Buttermilk falls to relax and do some writing. Then I decided what better way to cap off the days trip than to hike down into the gorge and photograph one of my favorite natural places. My knees did not enjoy this post run decision, but I took my time and enjoyed myself and captured some nice images. Enjoy.